Jam and the bullies
The rugby ball whistles past Jam’s head like a bullet; oblivious to the action, he ponders over today’s art class – his favourite. ‘You are crap’ announces Steve; a baleful, portly, bully with a lust for victimizing and belittling – to feed his insecurities. Jam reinvigorates and sprints after the muddy oval ball; he doesn’t make it far though, skidding in a deep patch of mud – he ends up flat on his backside. Lying on his weak, undeveloped back; the alluring sight of crisp blue sky – turns into pointing and ferocious giggling. A narcissistic PE teacher with a deep hatred for ‘un-sporty’ kids (and adults) joins in and laughs scornfully. ‘Get up you little fairy!’ Mr Mack screams in a sardonic tone, before flexing his chest like a dominant primate.
Jam springs up like a reawakened, mud-encrusted zombie; ‘play properly you fairy’ Mr Mack exclaims from his elephantine mouth. Jam makes a desultory run towards the action; the ball is in his sight, and he advances on an opposing player, aiming for a tackle. Before reaching his target – a chunky obstacle (Steve’s foot) abruptly stops him and once again he finds himself in the deep, dark mud. Feeling like an injured decrepit he pulls himself up and hobbles towards the sniggering, well-fed bully. Jam shoves him, but he remains as still as a sturdy statue; ‘you’re on my team asshole!’ Jam screams; ‘sir sir’ retorts Steve, like a querulous toddler. Within a second – a piercing whistle imbues itself into the disputing kids’ ears; shaking them to attention like a military inspection. ‘Get off the pitch Jam!’ Mr Mack shrieks; Jam’s head lowers towards the grass, and he scurries off rather indignant.
Jam is nearly thirteen and feels different; he can’t quite put his finger on it – he almost feels like he doesn’t belong in school. A little on the recalcitrant side; authority is not his best friend. He hates facts, figures, and orders being barked at him; he would rather develop his creative side in art class; much to the amusement, he receives at home and school.
After rugby practice and a monumental ear-bashing; Jam makes his way to the art studio – he is early, but he doesn’t mind. A gust of icy wind whips up some papers as Ms Eabes, his art teacher opens the door. ‘Come and sit-down young Jam’, she announces in her soothing voice; Jam gives her a nervous smile and complies. The studio is warm, with an old fashioned, retro feel to it; classic cars, brick phones, and funky architecture align the bumpy white wall montages, immediately making Jam relax. ‘Tell me about your day’ she asks – ‘you look a little flustered’. Jam proceeds to tell her about the rugby, the bullying, and the ear-bashing – she sits down and empathizes with him. When Jam has finished telling her about his day; she counters with some words of her own.
‘You may not become a rugby player, but you may become an artist. You may not become a musician, but you may write about one. You may not construct million-pound business deals, but you may construct million-pound mansions. You may not win at fighting battles, but you may win at fighting someone’s mental battle. Everyone is different and has much-needed skills to offer. The world is a gigantic, fascinating place we are still figuring out; why not believe in yourself and make the most of your brief time on it. Do whatever makes you happy, never let negativity or adversity gain the upper hand. You will face mental walls and challenges but smash them down with indomitable spirit and never stop moving forward. Always treat others how you would like to be treated, and never judge people’
The wise words absorb into Jam’s brain like a sponge, and he spends the entire art class producing some of his best work. After class, Jam heads out of the art studio and walks towards the school gate; the day is over. Passing a classroom on his right, he hears sobbing and turns his head as he stops. Immediately in front of Jam, wailing like a new-born is Steve; being attended to by a teacher, nursing his lip as blood and tears drip onto his white shirt. ‘Got what was coming to him’ whispers past Jam’s ear, as a few kids head for the gates of freedom.
Outside the gates, ensuring war does not break out, loiters a few stoutly teachers, deep in conversation. Standing by himself flexing – is the well avoided Mr Mack. He spots Jam and can’t resist shouting – ‘tuck that shirt in fairy!’; he duly obliges. As Jam smiles, he thinks to himself – I will never turn out like him.
Jam and the weasel
Jam’s stubborn shoelace dangles from his size 6 Adidas; he’s lost count of how many times he’s tucked it in today. Hopping onto his yellow BMX – he visualizes himself somersaulting over his handlebars and landing on his tender skull; with a lone trainer stuck in the spokes. Jam grimaces as he raises his knee – leans forward and scoops the lace tightly under the bridge of his foot; he can’t take any chances he thinks. As Jam looks back up – a souped-up white escort screeches past, playing drum n bass at top volume; the driver is about eighteen years old, wearing a black cap with a peace sign imprinted on it; he has a scrawny, freckled face – slightly pointed like a weasel.
The lad sticks his middle finger up at Jam and sniggers like a jubilant child, who’s just discovered swearing. Jam thinks of the irony as he scowls at his peace cap. Jam’s thoughts overrun him again; he thinks – please, please crash, as he visions the offensive driver in tears, as his pride and joy bursts into flames. The car races off and the weasel remains jubilant, nodding his cap to the erratic tunes blasting out of his stolen stereo.
Ready to go – Jam flicks his blonde hair out of his deep blue eyes and puts his foot down; off to the pub he goes (to meet his Uncle). Whizzing through the country lanes, the sun splits the clouds and spring tantalizes the open air. Emerald green hedges and yellow daffodils merge with the roadside, sucking the winter blues from Jam’s mood. A nearby woodpecker strums away meticulously like it’s performing a song for Jam; he slows down and salutes it, then speeds up again. Turning into a sharp-left bend he begins a downhill descent. A red-faced, red-haired, middle-aged man is walking his dog up the hill; a shaggy Irish Wolfhound – nearly as tall as Jam. Jam says ‘hello’ to the man but receives no reply; he mutters ‘tosser’ under his breath as he comes to the end of the hill and arrives at the “dog and otter” public house.
Jam parks his BMX outside the pub and heads through the dilapidated door; he nods at the landlady and she replies ‘hello son’ in her deep, manly voice. Her spotty pink, kebab patty arms make Jam quiver as he witnesses her pouring a pint. Walking through the restaurant area, he passes a tanned, old couple, who look like their conversation died out fifteen years ago. Jam’s face drops as he sees Weasel sat by a noisy, tropical fruit machine; he’s with a girl and appears to be talking about fighting as he mimics a head-but and says ‘innit’ several times. He then proceeds to tell the girl he has a boot-full of stolen stereos. The girl looks ecstatic and brushes her slimy black hair to the side of her pasty, sun-starved face. She re-joins with ‘is it, that’s mental’ before taking a swig of her alcopop.
Jam strides past, avoiding eye contact with Weasel, but Jam’s young ears suffer a malicious under the breath onslaught aimed his way; followed by ‘haha’ from Weasel’s ghoulish looking date. Jam finds his uncle Tony at the back of the pub, by the pool table. ‘Alright mate’ Tony announces in his deep booming voice ‘Alright’ Jam retorts in his not quite broken voice. Tony picks up two pool cues, making them look like twiglets with his wide, muscular arms. Jam looks up at him like he’s a merry superhero as Tony gulps his pint and burps.
The back of the pub is quiet with a low beamed ceiling, lined in copper coloured lampshades – dimly lighting the pool table. Wall paintings of the village’s landmarks (a church and a school) space out carelessly and unevenly, making Jam twitchy. The sticky red carpet has lost its clarity through the beer spillage and crisp crumbs, that have now absorbed into its soft textures. ‘Rack ’em up’ Tony exclaims; ‘Cool’ Jam retorts as he follows his Uncle’s instructions.
The triangle of balls smashes and scatters the table like a ping pong show – as Jam makes his break. ‘You are on fire’ Tony booms from his well-developed lungs. They continue to play and declare a draw after they forget how many games they’ve had. Deep in conversation – Jam tells Tony about Weasel and the incident earlier today. Two pints down – Tony thinks that he’s a genius as he quickly darts out the back door announcing – ‘I’m just popping to the shop for a paper’.
Three minutes later – uncle Tony is back, and Jam thinks – he’s either a gigantic lightweight or he’s just won the lottery as he’s grinning like a Cheshire cat. A tall, well-built man, with a shaved head, enters the pub and strolls up to the bar bellowing out ‘can I buy you a drink’ to the entire pub; which consists of the old couple, Weasel, the girl, and the landlady. They all accept the offer and the old couple find something to talk about; mostly – what a lovely young gentleman he is. Unfortunately, they get drowned out with Weasel’s latest story; involving him punching someone through a windscreen and stealing their car stereo.
‘Sorry to interrupt’ announces the man as he delivers the drinks to Weasel’s table; ‘fanks, yeah yeah, innit’ is the reply the man receives when he asks – ‘one hooch, one Stella?’ ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I’m after a stereo and couldn’t help overhearing’ he continues. Weasel’s face lights up and he ushers the man out of the back door to his escort; naturally, he blasts out his drum n bass as this is how he conducts business.
It all goes silent; a distant woodpecker pecks, an Irish wolfhound howls, a pasty white girl moans, and a kid and his uncle cry with laughter. Immediately outside the pub, slowly cruises the second white car Jam has seen today; this time with POLICE written on the side and Weasel in the back, howling like the wolfhound. The well-built man steps back into the pub and says – ‘thanks for the tip-off’. The old couple both nod, wave and leave the pub. The old man complains about the youth of today as he wheel-spins out of the carpark, annoyed he didn’t get his stereo.
Max and the mushrooms (Max narrates)
It was my thirteenth birthday; six whole months had flown by since we’d moved to the little Berkshire village, all the way from Cornwall. I rather missed my early morning dog walks; down on the beach – waves crashing off the rocks as the sun rose: beaming like a distant, hazy sphere; bright orange glow, spellbinding horizons, beach BBQs over long, lazy, sun-drenched days. Anyway – that was over, now it was tall, woody forests, luscious acres of rolling green fields, and a strong stench of manure. Enough to make you retch up your breakfast; which is exactly what I did the morning my friend Jam knocked on the door and force-fed me a magic mushroom.
Standing on the doorstep: grey hoody, baggy blue jeans, and sizeable yellow beanie (joint smoking baby on the logo) – stood the five-two drug lord; his overgrown blonde hair projecting from the fold of his hat, dangling in his excitable blue eyes like a shaggy sheepdog, waiting to be walked. ‘Check this out’ he exclaimed – pulling a handful of pointy-headed, dark, mini mushrooms deep from his zip pocket. ‘They look nice!’ was my instinctive, sarcastic response. ‘Don’t be ungrateful!’ Jam replied – before the force-feeding began – ‘they’re for your birthday!’
My parents’ house was part of an 80s style cul-de-sac – neat looking, square boxes with minimal character, but fully functional for a family of four. Luckily for us – the other occupants had vacated for the morning: walking Rex – our cross-eyed spaniel, with gammon slab tongue and bark that sounded disturbingly like a woman screaming. Checking the clock – we had at least an hour to experiment and celebrate my first day as a teenager.
The mini mushroom tasted revolting, like a slimy, earthy slug – slipping its way through my digestive system. I couldn’t hold it down – like a spawning tadpole – I ran to the sink. The adrenaline took over; barging Jam out the way I flung the bathroom door open and burst like a broken pipe. The immaculate, porcelain sink, became a deep, despairing swamp: filled to the brim with stinking, glutinous, black and brown sick – with a few cheerios floating on the surface – like muddy inflatable rings. I’d never seen anything like it.
‘Maybe we should boil it like tea?’ – was Jam’s heartfelt, sympathetic response. As I turned to face him, hunched over the sink – I caught a reflection of myself in the mirror; pale at the best of times – now looking like I was dressed for Halloween: painted ghostly white, spooky green eyes, and an intricate ginger afro – resembling a clown’s wig; ‘pennywise the puking clown’ was Jam’s hilarious joke: before I punched him as hard as I could on the arm – making him scream like my dog.
Eagerly perched on my white leather sofa: it was time for Saturday morning tea and biscuits. Jam tried to convince me that ‘it’s just like cuppa soup’ – so I necked a cup, trying to think nice thoughts, and not puke on my Mum’s Persian silk rug. Jam’s strategy was to soak up the brown juice with his digestives – mashing up the sweet biscuits with his pursed lips – looking like a grandad sucking a boiled sweet. After a couple of cups each – we decided to clear up the crime scene and make a run for it – before any sober beings returned. A quick note on the side – “gone to the park” and it was time to let the adventure begin.
There was a crispness in the air that mid-October morning; an abruptness that tells you summer has gone: time for your gloomy winter sentence to start. Nevertheless – the old village still had its community spirit; kids riding their bikes, a whistling postie – still in shorts, and in the distance – getting closer – an old lady – big, butch – stomping down the street, side to side: looking like the marshmallow man from Ghostbusters. I turned to face Jam, but he was miles away – looking horizontal – like the wind was pulling him backwards. The marshmallow was getting closer, and closer, mouth wide open; something came out, but the words weren’t in order, so I sank to the pavement laughing – uncontrollably.
Jam was back now – he had an orange stick – he told me it came from space as he glided it through the clouds, assiduously; fiery traces of light glowing majestically – it was beautiful. ‘We need to follow the light’ Jam exclaimed with an earnest sense of conviction – ‘the stick will guide us’. I tried to touch the stick, but my hand was too huge, bright yellow and warm: like I was holding the sun. We must have understood each other’s thoughts as we both began to swim towards the woods; the road had turned into jelly and there was no way anyone could walk on it.
We swam forever, miles it seemed – until a progressive beeping sound caused us to drag ourselves to the side. The laughter was contagious – not that the potato driving the children’s car would have agreed. The giant spud spoke Russian, small black moustache and specs, mouth opening and shutting like Pac-man as he hovered past; slowly disappearing with loud foreign music, blasting out his buggy. We knew we had to get away from the darkness, the people – the enemies, they were coming for us.
Jam held the stick high as it guided us to the woods; a couple of evil-looking kids came screeching past on bikes. We began to make haste – the tunnel to the other side in site. Finally free – we entered the planet of safety. It was like another world, a jungle in space; new breeds of alien birds with purple beaks, dipping at puddles with sharp tongues. Trees that went up for miles; glowing in fairy lights as the sound of baboons echoed through the forest.
We came across a stream – now a canyon – deep, rocky, perpetual cliff edges – tantalizing vertigo, must hold on; ‘wow’ I said to Jam – he faced me – his bloated pupils and glittery green face – grinning in agreement. We sat by the stream, mesmerised by the beauty of it, slowly sinking back to earth. I had no recollection of time, or how long we’d been on our adventure; when the brightness began to slip away and a heavy, exhausting dankness began to cloud my mood – I knew the fun was over. Jam looked at me, announcing – ‘best day ever?’; it was certainly a birthday I’ll never forget.
A.T Hawthorn – 20.7.19