1: Yellow Fellow in Unmellow Peril

(This is the first chapter (and first draft) of the book I was going on about in the foreword here. As this is a blog and I write about various other random subjects, I will create a new category for this thread so that it can be followed more easily- I will also handily number the sections so that both you and I can stitch the bloody thing together at a later stage. As I am prone to childish swearing, and as this book has no working title, I will call the category “Wanking Title“. That way, I may even get in a few random googlers who are looking to spank the monkey. And so…)

It was Christmas Day, back in the 90s and the big film was about to start on BBC1.

“Your dad’ll be down in a minute,” my stepmother said. “He’s been wanting to see Jurassic Park ever since it came out.”

A creak of floorboards above indicated that dad was indeed in the process of descending. This was swiftly followed by a terrific slither and crash as he tumbled headlong down the fifteen stairs, braining himself on one of his umpteen naval battle paintings, before collapsing in a sprawled and untidy heap on the living room carpet.

It was quite an entrance.

And even though I had seen dad fall down the stairs before on more than one occasion, this time it had absolutely nothing to do with the booze. He had packed that up nearly two years previously- at around about the same time as his liver had packed up and gone all cirrhosis on him.

“Aaah,” he sighed, clearly in pain.

We gently helped him up onto the sofa and I went through the motions of trying to watch the Beeb’s Big Event while in the background my stepmother frantically phoned for an ambulance. As it was an existing condition, this meant calling hospitals directly and- it being Christmas Day and all- nobody would be able to take him in until the next day.

*  *  *

I hadn’t even enjoyed Jurassic Park that much at the cinema, if I’m being honest, and sitting there next to a wheezing and possibly dying father somehow made the film even less enjoyable. Dad wasn’t even focussing on the screen. His eyes kept either closing or turning upwards, the whites a nasty shade of yellow.

He didn’t miss much, frankly- and even had he been well, he would probably have been displeased at Spielberg’s mid-period mawkishness. Let the velociraptaurs eat the kids, for heaven’s sake. That’s what we really wanted to see.

As the credits rolled, I helped my stepmother carry dad upstairs for an early night. He was surprisingly light for a fifty-three year old, particularly how he had been such a larger-than-life character only three or four years before. But that was back then, before the 1994 crash that had led the government to put up interest rates to an eyewatering 14%, which in turn had led my father’s business partner to run off to Guernsey, leaving dad with all the business debts.

He had hit the bottle in the wake of this, of course. He wasn’t exactly shy about hitting the bottle when times were good, either- often asking for three or four fingers of vodka with his water. As he stood to lose everything- a successful pub business, a thatched cottage, three cars and a house full of naval antiques- he had started requesting more fingers than one hand could cope with.

When I sometimes refused, he would disgustedly go and got the bottle himself, drinking it neat and with barely a shiver.

Suggestions that he had- perhaps- a drinking problem- were of course met with by roaring belligerence, angry denunciations and terrifying displays of drunken defiance, all of which thrilled my stepmother, who would then go and fill up his glass herself. This occasional exercise was almost enough to stop her developing an enormously fat arse over the few years they were together. But not quite.

But it was while I was away on tour (as a children’s actor, no less) and my sister was living and working in Hong Kong that dad had fallen fully under her spell. She had poisoned his mind against his children, we would later learn, so that what scraps were left of his mighty empire would all go to her, via a bare-bones off-the-peg will that he never signed and which was never witnessed. But still, she would eventually find a way to make the document legal, in the process destroying his prior will (the one that split everything three ways).

(This is all a work of fiction, by the way, and in no way, shape or form a memoir. In real life people aren’t actually horrible enough to poison people’s minds against their own offspring, thereby dooming them to a life of random poverty and bizarre misadventure.)  [1]

* * *

Boxing Day saw an early ambulance take dad away-first to Alcester and then to the Liver Unit at Queen Elizabeth’s hospital, Birmingham, where he was joined- eventually- by myself, my stepmother, my grandmother and her husband (a step-grandfather who was so tight with money he would wear three or four sweaters simultaneously rather than turn the heating up).

We were later joined by my father’s sister, my Auntie Vera, her second husband Scott and, eventually, my Big Gay Cousin who rushed down after finishing work, despite the fact that he and my father hadn’t spoken since BGC had come out. Of the closet, I mean- not work. Dad hadn’t actually spoken to any of us since his Christmas Day tumble had rendered him practically catatonic.

Disturbing tubes and needles were stuck in him, machines monitoring his failing processes with a series of pings and bleeps. Nurses and doctors pored over printouts with the dispassion of company auditors entering equations in spreadsheets.

“You’re going to be all right, Arthur. You’re going to be all right,” my stepmother kept repeating, squeezing his arm.

“Please don’t touch the patient,” a nurse said. “He’s in rather a fragile state.”

* * *

Not knowing what to do, I went with BGC outside where we both smoked cigarettes and miserably shivered in the winter sleet.

We hadn’t spoken since his ‘coming out’ incident several years before and- although we had always been close as children- I wasn’t too sure who this person was these days.

Dad had forbidden me from having any contact with him in case he tried to ‘turn’ me and, although I was fairly secure that that wouldn’t be likely to happen (if only on the grounds of incest) I wasn’t sure exactly how BGC felt about dad, me or the rest of the family. He had been the Black Sheep for years and really rather revelled in the role (or so I had heard- but this was from my grandmother, for whom any form of levity was likely the work of the Devil).

“So,” he began. “How are you? I mean, apart from the dad thing.”

“Not too good, actually,” I said. “I was due back on tour with this children’s theatre but I’m not sure I can face it, what with all this.”

“How is the acting going?”

“We get up at four, drive a hundred miles, perform a load of shit in smelly tights at some primary school or other, drive for another fifty, do the same thing again then drive back to our grotty digs. The tour manager’s completely insane and we’re on our second Harlequin. The first one had a nervous breakdown.”

“Not too good, then.”

He went to give me a hug and I flinched, just a little.

“I’m your fucking cousin. Give me a hug!” he said.

This time, I relaxed into his comforting and familiar, family form. I started crying. It was the first time I had allowed myself to do that.

“I really missed you,” I said, sobbing.

“I missed you too, cousin,” he replied softly.

“I’m really sorry about dad.”

“Shh. Me too.”

We finished our hug and he gave me one of his Marlboro Lights.

“You’re coming home with me tonight,” he said. “I’ll look after you. Mandy’s got her own family who can look after her.” (My stepmother’s actual real name is Mandy- I see no reason to protect her identity; though I refer you to my prior disclaimer [1].)

We drove away in BGC’s knackered old Mini, puffs of black smoke trailing behind us up the motorway. And when we got to his we got massively drunk on red wine until we both blacked out.

[1] I’ve been told to put in this disclaimer by someone I work with who has a PhD in Literature and advises that unless you’re either really famous or actually a good writer, people aren’t interested in reality at all any more. Unless it’s on television. Then, they’ll watch any old shit.


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