What is it all about? Here are the first six chapters to tickle your tastebuds. Watch out for more in the coming weeks.
Chapter 1 - A Morning After
The past two weeks had been like a whirlwind. It seemed like only yesterday that she had boarded the plane to Dubai, and now, just fourteen days later, Lucinda was preparing to leave her English life behind for one of untold riches and luxury.
She lay on the four-poster bed, waiting for her prince to return. Fine, white chiffon shrouded the high sides of the bed, whilst above her the stars twinkled in the evening sky. She could hear the faint, almost tuneless wailing of Arabian music, a sound that she did not care too much for, but which she would have to get used to, without doubt.
The unmistakable scent of jasmine filled the air, and the edges of her powder blue robe billowed gently in the breeze. The fact that the prince's bedroom appeared to be somewhere deep in the Arabian desert troubled her not, for her mind wanted just one thing; her prince.
She could hear his deep, commanding voice, delivered in an almost perfect English baritone, telling his servants to do this and that, clapping his hands and watching them scurry about their business.
She sipped a glass of oh so refreshing mint tea. It contained no drug, but it was a heady liquid, thick with mystique and promise. She lay back once again and felt her anticipation rise as she longed for her prince to come and to take her.
Eventually the unseen room beyond her boudoir became quiet, and then she heard the soft footsteps as her prince approached. She felt the chiffon shroud part, and she closed her eyes, barely breathing as her senses tingled with thoughts of the pleasure to come.
“My darling Lucinda,” he said, his firm hands gripping her arms, and the scents and sounds of the desert seemed to multiply as her head spun. His hands gently stroked her forehead, and then moved down towards her neck. His was the touch of an experienced lover, with every movement heightening her desire. Her robe parted, and as her nipples were exposed to her prince’s gaze she could feel them hardening.
He bent down to kiss her, softly, gently, caressing her lips with his. She felt his fingers exploring every undulation of her skin, and then to her surprise she felt a cold, clammy object flop onto her right breast. She opened her eyes but could not move as the prince's mouth locked on to hers. He breathed, and the overpowering smell of stale spices wafted over her face, inducing nausea as it reached her nose. Her previously luscious bed had become inexplicably uncomfortable, with a hard, stiff, unknown object pressing against the base of her spine.
She shook herself violently, and she was instantly transported back to her own bedroom in Manchester. She hastily removed the cold, clammy hand of her husband Pete from her breast, and skilfully elbowed him in the groin, striking full on the hard object that had caused her so much discomfort. She leaped out of bed, thereby escaping the pungent odour of last night's kebab that hung from his mouth as though he was yet to swallow it, and, in fact, some of it probably was still there.
Unless that was lipstick from the tarty barmaid at The Queen, where Pete had stayed until god knows what hour the previous night, the glistening red substance that could clearly be seen around his jowls, straying onto his cheek like the dried up trail of an injured slug, was almost certainly chilli sauce.
Fucking dreams, she thought to herself as she grabbed her pink, well worn, but truly comfortable housecoat from the back of the bedroom door. They lead you a merry dance and promise you the world, then they fuck you over by bringing you back to reality. And who the fuck is Lucinda?
So began the day of Deirdre Platt.
Chapter 2 - Why God Made Saturday
For Pete Platt, the day was far from beginning, or so he wished. He wasn't surprised at his wife's resistance to his amorous advances, and he wasn’t too disappointed either.
His early morning hard on was the result of needing to piss more than wanting a shag, and his mouth, so hideously abused by a large doner kebab with extra hot chilli sauce and sweetcorn relish just a few hours earlier, screamed at him to get his arse out of bed, rush to the bathroom and gargle some mouthwash, followed by at least a pint of ice cold water, before even thinking about emptying his bladder.
His brain, however, had other ideas. He rolled onto his back and allowed his eyes to open just enough to detect the tatty old housecoat sweep out of the bedroom. The movement of his body had the unfortunate effect of allowing air, if that is the correct term, to come sweeping out from under the quilt, and the putrid stench of kebab and beer filled farts wafted over his already assaulted senses. He tightened the covers around his neck and drifted his mind back to the previous evening. Eight or nine pints did not seem like a particularly heavy night, so why was his head pounding?
“God I need a piss” seemed to block out all other thoughts. The bathroom door closed loudly, too loudly, as though Deirdre had deliberately made that amount of noise, just to let him know that she was in the bathroom, just to let him know that she would probably be quite some time, and especially just to let him know that she knew that his bladder had had more than it could reasonably be expected to take.
“We had these every night in Corfu,” the voice of Jimmy Nick invaded his slowly increasing consciousness, and he remembered Jimmy slipping large Ouzos into his glass several times until well after “last orders” had been called. He lifted the left cheek of his arse off the bed and released a long, loud fart, then gripped the covers even tighter around his neck. Can a fart ever be considered toxic? He smiled to himself, though “God I need a piss” soon brought him back to reality.
A half-empty pint of orange cordial stood on the bedside table, well within reach, but the orange was such that it seemed to induce thirst rather than quench it, and had almost certainly contributed as much as the kebab to the rancid taste in his mouth. Probably another twisted joke of Deirdre's, buying shitty orange like that, he thought, just like locking herself in the bathroom for hours. God I need a piss. He considered drinking the orange and pissing in the pint pot, or pissing out of the window, which he had done once when Deirdre was away.
Can't do that now, he thought, and he cast his mind back to that darts match in July when he had challenged Jimmy Nick to a pickled onion eating contest. He could hear Jimmy throwing up in the bathroom, but he needed a piss. The window was the only alternative, and at four in the morning nobody would know. He got out of bed, drew back the curtains, opened the window and was met by an icy blast of rain-filled air. Fucking weather. It's July and it's pissing down.
He stood on a chair on his way to kneeling on the windowsill, and then he aimed his cock out of the window and quite literally pissed against the wind. The strong, gusting wind mocked him, but in his mind, this heroic act would provide the basis of many storytelling episodes in the years to come, despite the fact that he got drenched performing it. Just how much was rain and how much was piss was something that he did not want to contemplate, so he closed the window, tugged the curtains back together and returned to his pit, amused at the noise Jimmy was making as the pickled onions came back to haunt him.
“God I really need a piss,” his bladder was now screaming. The window was not an option at eight o'clock on a Saturday morning, and as he heard movement in the next room he silently prayed that his two daughters, Sophie aged seven and Charlotte aged five, would not choose the next five minutes to burst into the room and jump on him, as they tended to do most weekends.
Mercifully, he heard the door to the bathroom open and his wife's footsteps descending the stairs. Unfortunately, before the words “God I need a piss” had time to form, he heard the giggling of his daughters, followed by the bathroom door closing again as Charlie and Sophie both unwittingly taunted him as they brushed their teeth.
He sat up on the edge of the bed, preparing for the dash when the bathroom door next opened, but the pain that had been tiptoeing around the back of his head suddenly rushed forward, smashing in to his temple, and then continued to batter him like a woodpecker on a particularly bad acid trip. He reached into the drawer of his bedside table and fumbled for a pack of extra strength Anadin. He popped four out of the packet and threw them all into his mouth. A couple of swallows later, all that was left of them was a chalky taste at the back of his throat, but at least that was preferable to kebab and dodgy orange cordial.
You can't fuck about with headaches, especially on a Saturday, was one of Pete's many mottoes.
The bathroom door opened once more and he heard the two girls heading downstairs. This was his chance. He steeled himself, threw back the covers, and in a triumph of adrenalin over physical condition he staggered to the bathroom. He instinctively sat on the toilet and felt the relief as his bladder started to empty, but as the adrenalin subsided the woodpecker returned, and this time it seemed to have brought its friends along too.
He reached for a toothbrush; any would do, and then squirted a small amount of toothpaste onto the bristles. He started gently, as he knew he must. First the front, then the sides. It was too soon to attempt the back ones just yet. He stood up and quickly grabbed the sink to steady himself, gripping the toothbrush in his teeth. He stroked it onto his tongue and then went for the all over brush. This almost proved to be a big mistake as the back of his throat wretched, screaming at him not to send anything else down there, and enough was enough. He drank the life saving cold water directly from the tap, and then he looked at himself in the full-length mirror. His dark but greying hair stuck up in places and was matted to his head in others, his eyes were bloodshot, and his complexion was pale.
You look rough, he thought. Another couple of hours in bed would be great, but this was Saturday. Footie Day. Sure, he had his responsibilities in the morning, but the rest of the day was his, and that thought alone made him feel better. He turned on the shower, and as he stood under the refreshing stream of hot water he could feel his headache leaving the building. One thing was for sure, he had to be looking and feeling at his best by the time he met Deirdre's icy stare downstairs. He had stayed out later than expected last night, and both he and she knew it.
Why didn't he just say “Sorry,” she would forgive him and they would have a laugh about it? He knew that was not going to happen, never had and never would. She demanded her pound of flesh and he was now used to giving it to her. Women were like that to Pete. You crossed the line, and you had to pay. They were different creatures to blokes who would more than likely laugh off such an indiscretion.
Pete had been called “sexist” many times, and it certainly was not a tag that he was ashamed of. He was not the kind of “you leave the loo seat up and I need it down” kind of sexist. Oh no. In that situation if he came in pissed and the loo seat was down he was far more likely to pee all over it rather than to lift it up. Pete was more of a sexist in the subjects that really mattered. Subjects like football, beer, and more football. These were purely a man's domain, and a woman had no reason nor right to get involved.
He dried himself off, looked at himself in the mirror and thought, looking good. He breathed out and watched his bloated belly flop outwards and downwards. His lack of conditioning was dismissed with the thought that a couple of sessions at the gym would sort that out, but realistically this was never going to happen. He wasn't fat, exactly, but he wasn't thin either. “That old knee injury that made me give up football” was his usual excuse to himself, but the onset of middle aged spread had started a lot earlier than that.
His clothes from the previous night were strewn across the bathroom floor. As he picked them up, the stale odour of smoke was enough to tell him that they could not be worn again, so he dumped them in the washing basket and returned to the bedroom. But where were his jeans? They were not with the rest of his clothes, and they were essential, if only because they had all of his money in them, or at least what was left of it. It was beyond even Deirdre's twisted imagination to wash them, notes and all, at that time on a Saturday morning, or so he believed.
He picked out one of his best pairs of underpants, not the tatty greying ones that were ok for work and visiting her mother in, it was Saturday after all. Next, he grabbed his second favourite pair of jeans from the wardrobe, quickly pulled them up, breathed in, fastened the top button, and then breathed out again. His City shirt took pride of place in the wardrobe and was easy to find, so he put this on, and then a pair of new white socks, always white with jeans, and headed for the judge and jury that was Deirdre waiting for him in the kitchen.
In the lounge, the girls were watching Saturday morning television with bowls of cereal on their laps. He spied his jeans, twisted into a tangle in the middle of the floor, and then he remembered that he had watched Sky Sports for an unusually long period of time the previous evening, long enough to see the “Premier League News” information come up at least three times.
In the kitchen, Deirdre was sipping a cup of tea whilst rifling through old newspapers that she had accumulated throughout the week.
“Morning love,” Pete said, an opening gambit delivered in almost apologetic tones. He knew he would be in the doghouse, the next thirty seconds would tell him exactly which doghouse he was in; the centrally heated one with carpets that any pampered pooch would envy, or the dilapidated one held together by rusty nails that no one ever cleaned the shit out of, and in truth, the one he deserved.
“Morning, I've made you a shopping list,” was the unexpected reply. “The kettle's just boiled if you want a brew. I'm taking the girls for their dress fitting this morning, so I need you to get the shopping.”
The joy of the statement was still settling in as she waltzed out of the room and ran upstairs, pausing only to shout, “Come on girls, we don't want to be late,” as she passed the lounge.
Fantastic, he thought. Deirdre needed him to do something out of the ordinary, so she could not be properly mad at him. He knew he could expect a barbed comment or two later, but at least he would have a peaceful morning, and he would be pissed by the time he saw her again. Unless, of course, he got home after she had gone to bed, in which case he could expect things to be twice as bad tomorrow! And he quite liked shopping.
He picked up the list that had been neatly written out for him. It was a long list, and he noticed a couple of items designed to embarrass him, but he was used to it. “Tampons” and “Haemorrhoid Cream”. He had been there before. Deirdre's mother suffered from terrible piles, and the cream was for her. He could not remember the brand, but he knew what the pack looked like so no problem there. Tampons were a trickier one. He knew that she would expect him to either buy the wrong one, in which case she could give him a hard time, or find an assistant to help him out, which would cause him no end of embarrassment. Pete, however, was smarter than that. He got into bother for buying Tesco Value Shampoo once when she had simply written “shampoo”, and ever since then he always checked first for ambiguity. “Tampons” came in all shapes and sizes, and the only way to be sure which ones she wanted was to check her current box.
He looked at the rest of the list. Bloody useless. Pete considered himself to be a bit of an expert at shopping, and it was almost an insult when the girl at the checkout, and one of the joys of shopping was ensuring that you were “checked out” by the fittest girl available, asked him, “Do you need any help with your packing sir?” The key to shopping was to get it out of the way as quickly as possible, and the key to this was to have a list that ran in roughly the same order as the shelves. So putting bananas next to washing up liquid, or baked beans next to fresh fish, not that Deirdre ever put fresh fish on the shopping list, she hated the stuff, was not ideal. In Pete's opinion, Deirdre's lists were written the same way her mind worked, a series of random thoughts thrown together that get the job done but in a very roundabout way.
He flicked the switch on the kettle again and then headed upstairs to sort out the tampon issue, shouting, “Come on girls, your mother's waiting,” as he passed the lounge.
Deirdre was standing in her best white underwear, looking a lot hornier than she did in her housecoat. Pete fancied one there and then but knew he had no chance, and out of respect for his stay in the doghouse he refrained from giving her cute arse a friendly tap as he brushed past her. He opened the bathroom cabinet and found a box of Super Size Lillets, with just two remaining.
A thought crossed his mind, emanating from his groin, that a bit of forward planning would not go amiss. “How urgent are the Lillets love?” he asked, glancing over as she effortlessly zipped up her jeans. She still had the figure that had first attracted him to her.
In his mind he thought, if she needs the Lillets now then there's no chance of a jump later so I might as well stay out, and her reply quickly cleared up any misunderstanding.
“You don't need to worry about that, darlin',” she said, leaving him in no doubt that his particular doghouse was at the wrong end of the street.
He was disappointed for a moment, but this was Saturday. Footie Day. He stared at himself in the bathroom mirror and slapped some aftershave onto his stubble. That particular habit went back to his teenage days when aftershave was almost guaranteed to pull a bird, although he could never actually remember it working.
He went downstairs, passed by his daughters running in the opposite direction and squabbling about god knows what, as they usually did. He went into the lounge and flicked the television onto Sky Sports News, which had just gone to an advert break. He could hear the sounds of domestic bliss upstairs, as Deirdre first scolded Charlotte, and then Sophie.
Just a few more minutes, he thought, and they will be gone. This was Saturday. A day to be away from the family. A day when boys could and would be boys. An age-old tradition that Deirdre, bless her, had never tried to curtail. And this Saturday could turn out to be better than most because Deirdre was taking the kids for a dress fitting, as they were soon to be bridesmaids at his sister Samantha's wedding. He would be free of them much earlier than normal.
Thoughts of the wedding reminded him of a little problem. It was not only his sister's wedding, it was also the wedding of his best mate Johnny, and perhaps because they had been mates for years, Pete was appalled at the way his kid sister had picked on him, trodden on him, virtually forced him into marriage, and then would not let him have a proper stag do. The first part of this was only true in Pete's mind, but the fact that she said that there was no way Johnny was going to Amsterdam before the wedding added up to her being the “Wicked Witch Of The West” in Pete's eyes, even if she was his own flesh and blood.
It wasn't just Johnny, you see. If Johnny could not have his stag do in Amsterdam, a time-honoured tradition that Pete considered to be every man's right, no one else would have the excuse to go, and that was simply not on. Pete knew that his sister was a very determined woman in matters such as this, and he knew that it was well beyond his capabilities to persuade her otherwise, but he had not given up hope altogether.
Deirdre was busy organising the kids, and the gut-wrenching feeling in her stomach told her that she was about to come on, but today she was going to enjoy herself. A large dose of Evening Primrose Oil might help, a large glass or two of Chardonnay definitely would, but there would be time for that later.
“Charlotte, Sophie, will you two stop messing about and get dressed. We've got to be at the shop in half an hour.” She could not remember the first time that she had felt like this when her period was due, but she knew that she could be a real bitch because of it. It did not matter if it was Pete, Samantha, her mum or even the girls, at the wrong time of the month she hated everyone. She turned her attention towards Pete. Look at the state of him, she thought. Stood there like a lap dog just waiting to get me and the girls out of the house, the bastard. God he stunk this morning, I'll be glad to get rid of him for the day.
The girls finally arrived, and the look of relief on Pete's face was probably matched by the same look on her own. Thank fuck for that, she thought. Deirdre did not swear very often, but at the wrong time of the month, her thoughts were permanently littered with four-letter words. She went into the kitchen, took a couple of EPOs from the drawer and downed them with a swig of water. She noticed that Pete had washed the pots, and that he had made an attempt to clear away the breakfast things. Her heart did not quite melt, it never could at this time of the month, but for now, he was once again vaguely human.
Pete noticed that Deirdre's voice had reached the pitch of a wailing banshee, and she was staring at him in an unpleasant manner, as though she had something particularly nasty in store for him. He got the girls' hats and coats off the rack and put them ready on the chair at the foot of the stairs.
If everything doesn't run smoothly now, there could be serious problems later, he thought, and in his mind he could picture the nightmare scenario of Deirdre throwing a tantrum and leaving him to take the kids for the dress fitting. Things could not get any worse than that, except perhaps when the big day came and the dresses didn't fit because Pete had done the fitting run, and that would ruin the whole day, and that would ruin Sam's whole life, and his best mate would never forgive him… At this point, he realised that his mind had wandered just a little too far. Of course his mate would forgive him. Wouldn't give it a second thought. That's what mates do!
The girls came running downstairs and instinctively put on their hats and coats. They were both very excited about the wedding, and the dress fitting was yet another stage that added to the thrill. Pete feigned his own version of excitement and told them to be “good for mummy.” Deirdre dashed out of the kitchen, her streaked blond hair looking a little dishevelled which added to her allure.
“Don’t leave the place in a mess,” she said, as she grabbed the keys off the table. “What do you take me for?” joked Pete as he kissed each of the girls in turn.
She went for the door where the girls waited as Pete unlocked it.
“Have a good time,” he called as they rushed out into the cold air, then turning to Deirdre he said, “and you.”
She gave him a quick peck on the cheek as she said, “See you later, have fun,” and her perfume lingered with him as she disappeared down the path.
She still loves me, he thought as he paused to watch the television, harbouring genuine feelings of affection for a brief moment, before these were replaced by those of regret as he once again realised that it was “the wrong time of the month”, and that there was no way he would be getting his end away tonight.
Chapter 3 - A Bad Start To The Day
In his fragile condition, Pete realised that breakfast was essential, and quantity definitely had an advantage over quality. Still feeling delicate, he opted for coffee and a banana, followed by a sweet, sugary doughnut, and then another.
Blood sugar's probably a bit low, he decided as he fought to stave off chronic dehydration. Each bitter mouthful of coffee was a struggle, so he ditched the last half cup down the sink and poured himself a pint of water.
Many would consider the huge American style fridge to be a monstrosity in their relatively small kitchen, but on occasions like this it was a godsend, dispensing ice at the touch of a noisy button to chill the water further. The refreshingly cold liquid started to work almost immediately, and he concentrated on his headache. Still there, but definitely weakening. He emptied the contents of yesterday's jeans on to the kitchen worktop. A twenty, three pound coins and a load of shrapnel. He threw the shrapnel into his “penny pot” on the kitchen windowsill, pocketed the rest and picked up the shopping list.
In the lounge, he could hear that Sky Sports News were running a feature on celebrity fans. “Pointless,” he said out loud, and as he walked into the room he could see that the Premier League News was on display for the millionth time. It was time for action.
He added “bacon” and “mushrooms” to the list, two items that Deirdre never touched and, therefore, never bought, grabbed his keys and headed for the door.
The fresh air hit him like a hammer. Exhilarating, but the cold reminded him that he still had a headache. Another thought crossed his mind. It was now approaching nine o'clock, and he had been drinking until well past midnight. He would almost certainly still be over the legal limit for driving, and another half an hour would not make much difference to his day, so he went back inside the house.
He quickly poured himself another pint of iced water, turned the television back on and collapsed onto the soft, welcoming sofa, flicking his shoes off with his feet as he did so. The momentary throbbing in his head once again subsided to a dull ache, and he closed his eyes, still listening to the various celebrities trying to gain reflected glory from their adopted teams, and offering their misguided opinions as to how they would fare for the rest of the season.
“Who fuckin' cares?” he muttered, as Mick Hucknall suggested that Manchester United should win the league.
Peace would not come, and he tossed and turned, carefully nursing his hangover like a newborn baby, until the doorbell rang. He did not remember leaving the door open, but when he opened his eyes his thirty-something, blonde, next door neighbour was leaning over him, wearing a top that revealed just a little more than it should, but not as much as it could.
Pete could smell her expensive perfume as she spoke in a soft, sexy voice. “I saw Deirdre go out and…”
Pete's mind was in a tangle. Why would this babe, who had last seen him pissing against her garden wall in the early hours of last Sunday morning, suddenly let herself in to his house, half dressed, knowing that he was on his own? He closed his eyes and opened them again. When his eyes focused, the Sky Sports News clock said “10.28”.
Shit! He'd fallen asleep and now his whole day was in danger of being ruined.
He dashed outside and saw Miss Thirty-Something in the garden. Another dream, he thought to himself? “Morning Jo,” he ventured, though he noticed that she was now well wrapped up in baggy jeans and baggy jumper, unlike a few minutes earlier in his lounge.
“Hey Pete,” she called, and he paused momentarily. “If you get arseholed tonight try to piss in your own garden.”
Pete shrugged, feigned a laugh and continued to his car. Guess not, he thought, answering his own question about whether or not he was still dreaming. But at least his headache had gone.
Chapter 4 - Supermarket Sweep
His battered old Ford Escort, Pete had never been into cars, they were simply something that would get him from A to B, started first time and he was soon on his way. The first set of traffic lights mocked him by turning to red as he approached. Typical, he thought, assuming that fate would conspire against him as he was already late.
He took the opportunity to adjust the radio dial to Talk Sport, where all conversation seemed to centre around who would play on England's left side later that day. The second set of lights were also on red, and as the third started to change he accelerated, and decided that he was going through them anyway.
He finally pulled in to the Tesco car park, driving past the “Cashpoint Cripples”, before finding a space a good way from the store entrance. Saturday mornings were always busy at Tesco, and when time is short the situation seems infinitely worse. He walked purposefully over to the trollies and wheeled one inside. Swiftly and skilfully negotiating the fruit and vegetables, he just about had time to notice that once again there was a mountain of passion fruit.
When are Tesco going to realise that people round here wouldn't know what to do with a passion fruit unless it was served up on a naked Asian bird? He smiled as this thought quickly ran riot in his mind. A naked Asian bird danced in front of him, her jet black and perfectly straight hair teasing him as it seemed to caress her small, brown nipples. A young boy ran a shopping trolley into the back of his legs, which immediately brought him back to the present. He turned around sharply just as the mother grabbed hold of her son, intent on scolding the child and apologising to Pete at the same time.
“I'm so sorry,” she said, flashing her dark eyes at him.
“S'alright. No harm done,” Pete replied. He noticed that the woman in front of him was in her thirties, and well made up, even for a shopping trip at that time on a Saturday morning. Probably looking for fresh meat, he thought, and he was suddenly transported into another sexual fantasy, in which the woman before him was dressed in nothing but an open butcher's coat. He was brought back to Saturday morning just as suddenly when a man appeared next to her, carrying two bottles of wine.
“Are these ok love?” he asked, and she nodded as he placed them carefully into her trolley. A moment later she was gone, no doubt discussing the merits of cornflakes as opposed to Coco Pops as her unruly child rammed another unsuspecting shopper. She had her chance, thought Pete, but he had to get on.
He had heard a tale that men think about sex every six seconds, and he often wondered who took part in a survey like that and how they worked it out. Every six seconds. That must allow for a lot of time asleep. How about every single second whilst you're awake, and probably a fair number when you're asleep. Every chance encounter that Pete stumbled across seemed to point him, one way or another, firmly in the direction of sex.
He was about to move towards the milk when he spotted tomatoes at the bottom of the list. He cursed his wife, went back to grab some and continued on his way. Coffee, baked beans, tuna, it was all going smoothly, and then he reached the final aisle where tampons and haemorrhoid cream awaited.
An attractive young lady was looking up and down the shelves, and then she grabbed a packet of tampons that fell on to the floor. Normally his chivalry would step in, and he would pick them up for her, but he figured that any woman buying tampons was likely to be in a foul mood, so he grabbed Deirdre's pack and turned around to the medical supplies.
At last his task was done. He had mentally ticked off everything on the list, and he headed for the checkout. His mood had brightened considerably from earlier in the day, and he hummed a tune in his head as he could almost taste his first pint. All of the checkouts were busy, as was to be expected at eleven o'clock on a Saturday morning, so he chose a queue behind a young lad on his own, who in turn was behind a couple that seemed to be expecting the end of the world based on the amount of groceries that they had bought.
The checkout girl was certainly not the fittest in the line, but to Pete she looked as if she was up for a laugh, and who knows, maybe a shag.
Pete started every encounter with a woman with the same question in his mind, “What are the chances of getting a shag?” and he found that this was a sound basis to make a judgement on just about everything.
The couple wheeled their two trolley loads away, gently bickering as couples that go shopping together are prone to do. The young lad paid for his newspapers, ready meals and breakfast cereal, and finally it was Pete's turn.
“Would you like any help with your packing?” the approaching middle age and desperate checkout girl asked.
Spotting the name tag Pete used this to his advantage. “No ta Susan, but I'll have two lucky dips for tonight please, I think it's my lucky day.”
“Just remember who sold you the tickets then,” said Susan, laughing just a little too loudly for Pete's liking.
She definitely wants it, he thought, as he finished packing and paid with his well used credit card. He wheeled his trolley along to the cash machine. Despite the presence of two vehicles alongside the machine, there was only one person in the queue, a youngish man who looked like he was not long out of university. Pete fidgeted nervously in the cold, wanting to get on with his day. The man at the cash machine was in no such hurry, and he seemed to be going through the whole range of transactions on offer. Then, to further Pete's annoyance, the man's mobile phone rang, and he continued organising his life electronically whilst speaking to someone that Pete could not see, did not know, but already hated.
Eventually the man collected some cash and walked away, and Pete was able to get some of his own. He pocketed a hundred whilst wheeling the trolley to his car, and then he quickly threw the shopping into the boot before setting off for home. The traffic lights were a little friendlier this time, and he was back in no time. He quickly unpacked, realising as he did so that he had forgotten tin foil, so he scribbled a quick note to Deirdre. “No tin foil at Tesco. Luv P”, an unbelievable line but at least it would make her think that he had actually made an effort.
He sent Johnny, his best mate and fiancé to his sister, a text message to tell him that he was on his way, and then he locked the door and set off down the garden path. There was no sign of his neighbour, though her baggy jumper was resting on the gate. Had something happened to her? Should he wait? He glanced at her upstairs windows, half expecting to see her naked, or at least topless, but there was no sign of movement, and this was Saturday. Footie day. And it was almost twelve o'clock. If she wanted him, she would just have to wait. And if her jumper got nicked there was nothing that Pete could do about it.
Chapter 5 - The Problem
His route took him through his lower middle class estate, where there was little sign of life except for very keen gardeners doing their mid November tidying up. He progressed through the council estate where the scenery changed. Dozens of urchins were on the streets, kicking footballs or cans, or throwing stones. This was a scene that was very familiar to Pete, as he spent his formative years doing exactly the same. The council estate was where he grew up, and although, at times, it could be harsh, it held many happy memories. Playing football until all hours of the night. Having a quick fag before heading for home. The ice cream van that came around every Sunday, and his first shag on the edge of the recreation area. For Pete, a list of happy memories was incomplete unless one of those memories involved sex. As he progressed into his teenage years, he and his friends used to terrorise the neighbourhood, and no doubt these kids would do the same, although Pete quite liked to have a bit of banter with them.
He turned a corner and came to semi detached land, where his sister Samantha had decided that she and Johnny would set up home.
He reached their house, the only one in the street with a natural wood finish on the front door, and knocked firmly. Samantha answered, and her dishevelled appearance showed that he had interrupted a fairly heavy cleaning operation.
“Is he ready sis?” he asked, not bothering to wait for an answer as he strolled inside.
“Take your shoes off. I've just mopped the floor,” she barked, and Pete sensed he could have some fun.
“Not long now,” he continued, “just another three months isn't it?”
“Yes, and it's about time your mate started to take a bit more interest.”
“Now sis, that's not what blokes do. You do enough worrying for the pair of you. If Johnny did the same, you'd never get anywhere. He's got enough on his plate worrying about this stag do.”
“That's your job, and bed and breakfast in Blackpool shouldn't take much organising, or you could come back on the last train if you don't fancy staying over.”
The difficult part of this, as far as Pete was concerned, was that Samantha did not have an ounce of sarcasm in her voice. If she had her way the stag do would indeed be in Blackpool, and Johnny would be back home in time for supper. Fortunately for Johnny, he had asked Pete Platt to be his best man, and the single most important thing about being a best man was to organise a decent stag do. And the only place to organise a decent stag do was Amsterdam, so Amsterdam it must be.
“Now, now,” he scolded, “you can't give a man a proper send off in Blackpool.”
“If you think he's going to Amsterdam you can think again. God knows what he'd come back with from over there.”
“Clogs and tulips,” joked Pete, and then he gambled. “What's up? Don't you trust him? You shouldn't be planning to spend the rest of your life with a bloke if you don't trust him.”
“It's not him I don't trust. It's you! Anyway, I've confiscated his passport. He won't be getting it back until we head off to Lanzarote on our honeymoon.”
Pete had not expected this turn of events, but he thought on his feet. “What if we go to Dublin? He'll need his passport for that.”
“Sonia from work went there last week. You can use your driving licence as photo id. Looks like you're out of luck on this one Pete.”
Footsteps could be heard upstairs, and Johnny came down fastening his shirt as he did so. Pete noticed his pale cheeks and gaunt expression. He had never been fat, but Pete thought that the stress of the wedding was taking its toll. Even his short, previously jet-black hair was starting to show grey around the edges.
“About time,” Pete complained, “come on or we'll be late.”
“Ha!” laughed Sam. “Late for what? It's not like the pub's going anywhere.”
“Women will never understand,” said Pete, and he quickly slipped his shoes back on and headed out of the door.
“See you later love,” said Johnny, and he gave her a brief peck as she offered him her cheek.
“Don't be too late,” she called as he closed the door behind him, and Pete took this as yet another sign that Samantha was trying very hard to change his best mate, and if he was not careful she might well succeed.
Pete's mind drifted into thoughts about his own situation. When I got married things were just the same the week after as they were the week before. Sure, things changed a bit when the kids arrived, but not too much, and now they are back to normal. I used to get pissed in the pub before we got married and I made it clear that I would continue to get pissed in the pub afterwards. And she respected me all the more for that. I mean, after all, I was only trying to preserve the man she fell in love with. The mental image of Deirdre kneeling adoringly before him somehow brought him back to the present.
“Don't be too late,” he laughed. “Doesn't she know what day it is?”
Johnny looked at the floor. “We're looking at hymns tomorrow, so I've got to have my wits about me.”
“Oh for fucks sake!” exclaimed Pete. “You're not getting married until February, and who gives a toss about hymns? Nobody ever sings anyway apart from the vicar and the choir. Let her choose her own and tell her its fine by you.”
“You know Samantha,” said Johnny. “When she sets her mind to something it's very hard to get her to change it.”
They crossed the road and headed for the open fields where Pete had played football every weekend until his bad knee had persuaded him to give it up.
“It's dry enough to cut straight across the rec,” he said, and they headed for the first set of goalposts where three boys were kicking a yellow football.
“Never had yellow balls when we were kids,” Johnny sighed, and Pete didn't need a second invitation.
“I scored a great goal here once. Beat four men, got driven wide, then chipped the 'keeper from an impossible angle. Do you remember?”
“Yeah I do,” said Johnny, “I also remember the three own goals you scored in the same net.”
“Is that true what Samantha said about your passport?” Pete decided to change the subject.
“Yes,” said Johnny, “as soon as you mentioned Amsterdam last week she took it out of the box where we keep all the legal stuff, and she's hidden it. Said I can't have it back until we're on our way to Lanzarote.”
“Fuckin' women!” At which point Pete raced off amongst the kids, took the ball, turned and shot in one movement. Unfortunately, the same movement saw him overbalance, and he fell on his arse, much to the amusement of Johnny and the boys.
They continued on their way and soon came to the red brick pub known as “The Queen”.
Chapter 6 - The Queen
The Queen was actually called “The King’s Arms”, but everyone had called it “The Queen” for as long as anyone could remember, and this was all down to a misunderstanding about a previous landlord who was mistakenly assumed to be gay.
Pete loved The Queen, and had done so ever since he had his first pint in there just after his fourteenth birthday. The smell, the banter, the friendly faces. Everyone had time for him in there, and no one mithered him. If he could live there, and just nip home every now and again for the good times, that would be just great. He had never actually suggested this to Deirdre, and he was fairly sure that the suggestion would not go down well, so he looked upon his time spent in The Queen as heaven sent, and it was time he enjoyed all the more for that.
Pete and Johnny were the first customers that particular Saturday lunchtime, proving that Pete’s fears about being late were thoroughly unfounded, but on a Saturday, things are best not left to chance.
“I’ll get ‘em,” announced Pete, and he strode to the bar as Johnny sat down.
Bob, the landlord, was still in his vest, stained baggy tracksuit bottoms and slippers, as he was every Saturday lunchtime until well after one o'clock.
“Afternoon Pete,” was the only conversation required as Bob poured two pints of lager, and Pete handed over a crisp, new ten pound note from the cash machine.
Bob gave him his change and Pete went to sit down with Johnny. The door opened, and Murph shuffled in.
Even less conversation was required with Murph. He nodded in Bob’s direction, grunted at Pete and Johnny and continued across the pub to his customary table in the corner. Bob came from behind the bar carrying a pint of bitter, and he placed it in front of Murph who was counting out his change. Murph carried a copy of The Sun, and he opened it as Bob sat down. They spoke in hushed tones.
This ritual happened just about every Saturday, as Murph supposedly picked one or more dead certs for the afternoon racing. Certs that he would only ever share with Bob.
Although he had been going in the same pub as Pete for many years, they did not really know each other, but they sometimes exchanged views on racing or football, and occasionally women.
Johnny knew Murph slightly better. He was in his late sixties, and his wife used to look after Johnny when he was a baby. It was a great shock to Johnny when she died of cancer three years ago, but Murph just seemed to get on with things.
“He was miserable before she died, and he is still miserable,” was Pete’s opinion, and there was nothing more to discuss.
Bob walked back to the bar as Pete called out, “Get the telly on will yer?”, and Bob aimed the remote at the new flat screen television that burst into life.
It was almost permanently tuned to Sky Sports News, and today was no exception. Jeff Stelling was making jokes about Hartlepool, whilst the studio was full of pundits from all over the British Isles, as it was a weekend of international football.
“Charlie Nicholas, Martin O’Neill, Matt Le Tissier, I wouldn’t bet on any of their selections. What do they know about football, except maybe Martin O’Neill? At least he had the good sense to turn down the United job.” Pete was off on one of his many football rants.
Three more of their friends entered the pub a short time later. Tosh, a shaven headed labourer, who supplemented his meagre wage with a succession of dodgy deals that centred around stolen electrical goods, and who acquired his nickname from the fact that at one time most of his deals involved Toshiba televisions, was first to the bar.
“Three pints please Bob, and make sure you fill 'em up.” Bob knew that Tosh was pulling his leg, but he did not like his manner. He had always considered Tosh to be a bit too cocky, but he was a very good customer. Even more so than Pete, as Tosh had no home to speak of, and as a result he was in The Queen most nights.
Second in line was Jimmy Nick, a tall, good looking man, who had a hint of a suntan having returned recently from Greece. Jimmy spotted Johnny and Pete, and immediately burst into song. “He's gettin' married in the morning, ding dong the bells are gonna chime.” He had done this virtually every time he had seen Johnny since the announcement that he was getting married, and Johnny was growing tired of it. Unfortunately for Johnny, Jimmy was not.
“Give it a rest will you,” Johnny said, with as much good humour as he could muster. Mike Stewart, who did not have a nickname other than Mikey or Stew, was the third member of the group. He had thick red hair and a short fuse to match, and he decided that he had to point out the error of his ways to Jimmy.
“You’ve got it wrong mate, before he ties the knot he's got an even more important date.” Now it was Mike's turn to sing. “When its spring again we'll sing again,” and Jimmy and Tosh did not need a second invitation to join in with the chorus, “Tulips from Amsterdam.”
They laughed at their own collective joke and sat down with Pete and Johnny.
“You were wasted last night,” Jimmy aimed his remark at Pete. “I bet you got hell when you got in. In fact, when did you get in, 'cos when you left here you were with Tracey?”
There were a few sniggers and nudges, but Pete was used to this. He quite often left with Tracey, and they went their separate ways at the kebab shop. He was sure she was up for a shag at some point, he'd just not got round to it yet. His favourite scenario had her bent over the pool table gripping a pool ball tightly in each hand when all of the customers had gone, or maybe just a quickie behind the kebab shop, where her discarded knickers would be the only evidence that anything had ever happened. If he put his mind to it, Pete could imagine over a hundred ways in which to consummate this relationship when he finally did get round to it.
“It was that fuckin' Ouzo of yours Jimmy. It's lethal stuff. You could put it straight in your car to stop it freezing in the winter.”
“The Greeks love it, can't get enough of it,” replied Jimmy, at which point Bob shouted across from the bar.
“We don't sell Ouzo,” and although he would never do anything about it, it served as a warning shot across the bows if any of them decided to bring illicit alcohol into his pub again.
It had no effect, in fact, it had become a bit of a tradition that if any of the gang went on holiday, they would always bring back a bottle of the local booze, and it would almost always be consumed on a Friday night in The Queen.
Within half an hour Richie Johnson, a fresh faced twenty year old who worked with Tosh, and Terry Bradley, an old mate of Pete's who had the biggest collection of vintage City shirts imaginable, had joined them in The Queen. Richie always gelled his hair into various spikes and sported the latest designer gear, although most of it was fake. He wore a single stud in his left ear, and used every opportunity to check himself out in the mirror. Terry, on the other hand, amply filled even the most generous of football shirts, and his jeans were straight from the shelves of a supermarket. His greying thatch was thinning rapidly, and his ears and nose sprouted hair that had never been trimmed. They sat down with Pete and the others, and without any effort at all, it was Saturday. Footie Day. Most of them met there every week. There were rare exceptions, of course, but from August to May, this was the nearest that any of them were ever likely to get to heaven.
It wasn't just the football, and it wasn't just the pub. It wasn't the comfort of purely male company. It was more than the sum of all of that. That indefinable quality of living that the Irish refer to as “The Craic”, and The Queen on a Saturday afternoon had it in abundance.
Chapter 7 – Preferences
“Right then Pete, how far on are you with this stag do? I presume we're going to the Dam.” Tosh was a veteran of Amsterdam trips, having been there four times before.
Richie, who had never been and could only imagine how wonderful it would be, was as keen as any of them.
“I'm definitely going, even if I have to take a week off work.”
“I'll sort the hotel out if you want. I know this great little place with free hardcore porn on the telly.” Tosh seemed to have it all sussed.
The naivete of Richie came to the fore. “What do you mean? In the bar, or what?”
“Yeah. Everyone gets a beer and the entire hotel watch gangbangs and all sorts on a big screen.”
“Brilliant,” said Richie, still trying to get his head around whether he actually liked this arrangement or not.
“He means in your room you berk,” said Johnny, then he continued with his particularly bad news. “Anyway, you won't need to worry about that. Samantha's put her foot down. She said there's no way I am going to Amsterdam on my stag do.”
“What's it got to do with her?” asked Tosh, with eyes fixed and staring straight at Johnny. “It's your last chance of freedom.”
“He had that the night before their first date. Its been downhill since then,” said Pete, inducing a resigned shrug from Johnny.
Tosh continued, “She's got no right telling you what you can and can't do. She can start that if and when you actually get round to tying the knot. Don't worry about her, we'll pretend to kidnap you, and then she can blame the rest of us.”
“It's not that easy,” Pete interrupted, and he knew more than anyone just how devious his sister could be. “She's nicked his passport. Says he can't have it back until the honeymoon.”
“The crafty bitch, no offence Johnny,” said Tosh.
Johnny laughed nervously, “None taken mate, it's a bit of a crap situation.”
“No problem,” Jimmy Nick joined in. “Just tell her that if you don't get your passport back the wedding's off.”
The simplicity seemed evident in Jimmy's mind, but even as he said it he knew that there was absolutely no chance of it happening.
“The outlook is not good,” conceded Pete, “but I couldn't say one hundred percent that we're not going. You should never say never.”
“Well I think you're being very selfish Johnny boy. It's not just about you and her. You’ve got your mates to think about, and we all want, in fact, we all deserve a trip to Amsterdam after all we've had to go through.” Tosh's opinion was matter of fact, but it did not make the slightest difference to Johnny.
“What can I do? If I haven't got a passport, I can't go to Amsterdam.”
Murph shuffled past on his way to the gents.
“What do you reckon Murph?” asked Terry. “It's every man's right to go to Amsterdam on his stag do. I bet you went to the Dam didn't you?”
Murph scowled at the interruption, and then he realised that he was being spoken to by Terry.
“Don't see the point myself. Never been abroad in my life. Haven't even got a passport, in fact, I've never had one. Never needed one. I can get everything I need to enjoy myself over here. When I got married, we all got pissed in town and walked home. It was a brilliant night, and we didn't have to put up with any bloody foreigners.”
None of them could ever remember Murph making a speech as long as this before, and Terry, who was a gas fitter by trade, continued the conversation. “Is your central heating still playing up?”
“Aye. It's bloody freezing in our house.”
“I'll come and have a look on Monday afternoon. Will you be in?”
“No, I'm out all day Monday, but you can get the key from next door. Number twenty two. She never goes out. I'll tell her you'll be calling.”
At the back of Pete's mind, an idea was starting to form. Nothing concrete. That's the way ideas worked with Pete. They sat and brooded in his head, and he'd build them up bit by bit. This one could get them to Amsterdam, but he still had to get past Samantha. No time to think about it now. This was Saturday. Footie Day. And his glass was almost empty. “Come on Johnny. Has she given you enough pocket money to get a pint in?”
Johnny laughed. “Same again?” A question he did not really need to ask. He came back from the bar with a tray full of pints. “Has anyone heard from The Gringo? I thought she'd have dropped by now.”
The Gringo was Neil Thomas who used to be mercilessly taunted over his Zapata moustache. His mates had long since grown bored of this ritual, but the moustache lived on, as did the nickname.
“I've not heard anything, and I saw his sister this morning. She'd have said if something had happened. He's probably up to his elbow in afterbirth as we speak,” said Tosh.
“I rang him before we set off,” said Terry. “No answer. I'll give him an hour and try again. That's typical of Julie, keeping him at the hospital on a Saturday.”
“At least she's picked an international weekend,” volunteered Pete. “He's not missing any real football.”
A change of subject seemed long overdue to Johnny, and he fired a question at Terry. “Do you reckon you’ll get any cash from Murph? He’s as tight as they come. He still owes Tosh for doing his roof.”
“It’ll probably only be his radiators that need bleeding. And it was Tosh who told me he’d got a great porn stash.”
“Its fantastic,” Tosh reminisced. “Any subject you care to mention, Murph’s got a mag on it. He’d love Amsterdam. Would probably never come home.”
“Don’t you get fed up with people asking you for favours though?” continued Johnny, still trying to keep the conversation away from his stag do.
“It’s not too bad. Women love the uniform. It gets you plenty of action.”
“Like what?” Richie was intrigued.
“Like when I went round to fix your boiler. Your mam came downstairs in this negligee…”
The cheers silenced Richie, but only briefly. “You want to be careful with Murph. If his porn stash is that good, he might fancy batting for the other side. You might turn up there to find him in a sexy outfit.”
“Every hole’s a goal,” said Terry.
Pete had a more pressing problem that he started to explain. “It looks like we may have to look at alternatives for this stag do. What do you fancy? A golf weekend, Blackpool, day at the races, what? I mean, I’ll speak to Samantha, but if she’s nicked his passport that might just be it. So what do you reckon?”
The table was quiet enough for Sky Sports News to interrupt their discussion. “Neil Collinson was injured in a training ground incident.”
“Bet there’s been a fight,” said Richie. “He’ll have wound someone up and got smacked.”
For a while, it seemed that Sky Sports News would prevail, then the door opened and Big Al Walker joined them. Big Al was six foot six tall, and weighed anything between eighteen and twenty five stone, the difference depended upon who was telling the tale, but his size belied the fact that he was really a gentle giant.
Johnny inwardly groaned, realising that the whole stag do situation would be dragged up again, just so that Big Al could be brought up to speed, but Big Al had other ideas. With a pint dwarfed in his massive hand, he sat down and started enthusing about one of the many films that he regularly watched.
“There was a fantastic film on Sky Movies last night. Bruce Willis was in it with that blonde bird. Final something or other it was called. Absolutely brilliant. You’ve got to see it. Johnny, you like Bruce Willis don’t you. You’ll love it.’
“What was it called?” asked Johnny, not really expecting any more information.
“Final err, Final…can’t remember. But it’ll be on again. Just watch out for it. He plays this cop who gets involved with terrorists.”
“I can’t thing of a single bad film that Bruce Willis has made,” Terry commented, and there was only one dissenting voice.
“What about Sixth Sense? That was crap,” said Richie, not afraid to contradict his peers.
“You must be joking. That was a classic,” Terry defended his opinion. “Willis is definitely one of the all time greats. He’s right up there with John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and James Stewart.”
“James Stewart?” Richie laughed. “What has he ever starred in?”
“Stewart’s a great actor. Been in loads of stuff. Not your action hero, more classical, but definitely one of the greats.” Terry was getting just a little bit annoyed, but Pete sought to bring things back down to earth.
“Bruce Willis has certainly come a long way since Moonlighting. I wonder whatever happened to Cybil Sheppherd?”
“He’s not as good as Denzel Washington,” Johnny suggested, though he wasn’t really a film buff.
“What about Samuel L. Jackson?” now it was Jimmy Nick’s turn to give his opinion. “He’s got to be a modern great. Even those adverts he does are classics.”
Tosh brought a sense of reality to the discussion. “It’s funny how you’d watch a film because of the actor who was in it, like Denzel, or Bruce or Clint, but not because of the leading lady. I mean, I’ve never said, I’ve got to watch this film tonight cos Jodie Foster’s in it. I couldn’t give a shit who the leading lady is.”
“That’s dead right,” said Terry, “unless it’s a porno”, and at last everyone agreed.