Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of the book for you:
It is a sunny day in Hull, but this is doing very little to lift the spirits of Ronald. He is miffed at missing the first home game of the season between Hull City and Oxford United because his wife, Joyce, has chosen this exact moment to go into labour and he is required to look after their first born, Lisa. He waits near the telephone to find out whether the sodding thing is a boy or a girl.
Joyce couldn’t have waited until Sunday before her waters broke, or even have the decency to deliver during the depressing opening away loss to Charlton. Bob and Bill were both going, and Ronald had detected amusement in Bob’s voice when he’d phoned him to explain as soon as the ambulance had left that morning.
“Oh that’s a tragedy mate,” Bob had said on hearing the news. “Never mind.
Good luck to your dear wife, pass on our regards. We’ll let you know how we get on.”
“Cheers,” Ronald mumbled, not at all impressed by the lack of disappointment in Bob’s voice.
The thing was that Bob had never forgiven Ronald for pushing Bob out of the back of a truck when the two were on National Service in Germany in 1956. Bob had landed on his knee thus putting to an abrupt end his promising career in Rugby League. At least that was Bob’s story. Bob’s Rugby League potential grows every time he re-tells the story of the truck, but no-one has ever verified his actual chances of playing for Hull Kingston Rovers.
“Look, daddy,” Lisa, his two-year-old daughter is holding up what appears to be a shiny bird’s nest whose long shiny branches are trailing into the living room or the front room as they call it in Ronald’s house.
“Oh, Christ!” he says as he realised that what Lisa is holding is not a bird’s nest but a bundle of tape that Lisa has somehow managed to extract from his pride and joy, a Philips reel to reel tape recorder.
Ronald belongs to a tape club where members copy each other’s record collections and where the more creative members, Ronald, Bill and Bob being among them, attempt to recreate classic moments in audio such as Goon Show episodes and or Tony Hancock sketches.
The trio had just finished recreating Peter Seller’s Balham Gateway to the South, and now, there it sits in the chocolatey sticky hands of his two-year-old daughter.
“What are you doing? Give me that!” he shouts, snatching the crumpled mess from the astonished toddler who stares at the angry adult stealing her toy for a moment before bursting into noisy tears.
“This is not a plaything,” he chastises, anger still dominating any feelings of sympathy he might have for his daughter who begins screaming as he tries to collect the trail of tape and put the disheveled clump somewhere out of reach.
“Mummy, mummy,” Lisa manages to mould her cries into words.
“Mummy isn’t here,” Ronald snaps, angry that his daughter should want to turn to his wife in her moment of anguish but this encourages Lisa to scream louder in a way which is fast approaching hysteria.
Ronald looks at his daughter, still rooted to the spot where she had, moments ago, presented him with her shiny discovery just to have it ripped from her hands amidst a torrent of rage.
His mood softens.
“Come here princess,” he suggests to the weeping child who wants nothing to do with him.
Ronald kneels down in front of her, offering a hug but Lisa turns her back.
“Well I’m sorry darling,” Ronald snaps again, the anger resurfacing. “But that was Daddy’s tape. It took daddy and his friends ages to make that bloody thing.”
This latest outburst does not have the desired effect unless the desired effect is to make Lisa cry and ask for her mummy even louder which Ronald wouldn’t have thought possible a second earlier.
The telephone rings.
Ronald looks at the phone, looks at his crying daughter, then back at the ringing telephone.
“Hold on princess, I’ll be back in a second.”
Lisa ignores her father and focusses on her crying.
“Hello?” Ronald presses the receiver against his ear. “Aye, speaking…aye, is everything OK?….I’m sorry, could you say that again?…aye…I see…thank you.”
Ronald places the receiver back on the phone and sinks into an armchair.
“Christ,” he says in a tone so out of keeping with his usual countenance that even Lisa stops blubbering and turns to see what has happened. “Twins.”
Lisa stares at her dumbfounded daddy. Ronald stares back at Lisa for a moment before snapping out of his trance, offering an apologetic smile to his little girl and holding out his arms for her to run into. With tentative steps, she goes to him, and he sweeps her up in a big hug.
“You’re going to have two little brothers,” he announces.
“No!” Lisa declares as if it was a question of eating her peas.
“Aye lass, you are,” he explains to the infant’s shaking head. “Come on. You’re hungry. Shall we go and get some grub? Some chips?”
Lisa’s shaking head becomes a slow nod and Ronald gives her a bigger hug before leading her by the hand through the already open front door. Pulling it closed behind him without bothering to lock it.
The Ringtons Tea van is attempting a seven-point turn in the otherwise empty cul-de-sac. Ronald exchanges nods with the driver in a kind of ‘we both know we’re men of the world, and I’m just taking my daughter to the chip shop, and my wife’s just given birth to two more, so my penis still works’ kind of way.
Ronald calculates he can sit down to his dinner just in time to listen to the Radio commentary of the rugby if he can get to the chippy and back without bumping into any neighbours who will be bursting to know the exact weight, time of birth and names of his new offspring.
The last thought causes Ronald to check himself. He and Joyce had already agreed on Jennifer if it was a girl and James if it was a boy, but now two boys had thrown the issue wide open again. Bloody hell. It had been torturous enough arriving at the first two names. To have to agree on another one was almost more than Ronald can bear.
“Come on,” he tugs on the arm of the two-year-old whose tiny feet are moving as fast as they can, but Ronald is eager to get to the chip shop and back before any neighbours spot them.
I’ll be so lonely baby,
I’ll be so lonely baby,
I’ll be so lonely I could die
The last song he had heard on the radio is still swimming around his head, and he hums it as they crossed the road to Bottom Fisheries which stands on the corner as it has done for what seems like forever.
Lisa is intimidated by the chip shop. It isn’t the size of the hot stainless steel fryers which tower above her. Or the grease which nestles in every corner. Or the loud humour of the old man who serves the chips whom she doesn’t understand, although all of these things are enough to scare a two-year-old. It is the fibreglass likeness of a small girl with blond hair and a blue dress, clutching a fibreglass teddy bear in one arm and a collection box in the other. The girl has some contraption strapped to one leg, and she stands with her weight on her good leg, showing off the strange contraption on her other, a combination of metal bars and leather straps. Lisa’s daddy gives her a large copper disk of a two pence coin to drop in one of the two slots, there is one in the fibreglass collection box and then another, in the head of the teddy bear. She always chooses the teddy bear thinking it might make it feel a bit better and forget for a while that it has a slot in its head.
“Alright Ron?” says John the chip shop owner.
He pulls a fresh batch of chips out of the fryer and tips them out.
“And hello little lady,” he says as he leans over the counter to smile at Lisa who hides behind her father’s leg. “And how old are you now?”
“Two,” Ronald answers for her.
“Two and a half,” Lisa corrects, almost whispering.
“Sorry, two and a half,” Ronald sets the record straight.
“And how about Joyce?”
“Twins,” Ronald repeats. “She went in this morning. Just got the call.”
“Congratulations.” John wipes a greasy hand on his filthy apron and offers it to Ronald to shake. “They’ll keep you busy. When are you going to see them?”
“Tomorrow,” Ronald improvised. He hadn’t thought about it, his mind is still on the Bottom Rovers game starting soon, but he guesses he will have to leave Lisa with a neighbour while he drives the five miles to the maternity hospital to view the fruit of his loins.
“Give my love to Joyce,” says John. “What’ll it be?”
“Pattie, fish, chips and peas wrapped please John.”
“Coming right up,” says the old man.
He scoops a fish out of the fryer and setting it down for some of the excess fat to drip off.
“Fifty p please.”
Ronald hands over a collection of change and takes the parcel of newspaper which wraps his dinner.
“And here’s something to help you celebrate,” says John.
He reaches into a fridge and pulling out a can of Shandy Bass which he offers to Ronald with a big smile.
“Cheers mate,” says Ronald, thinking as he follows Lisa out of the shop that John is the last of the big spenders.
Ronald leads Lisa back towards home, eager to get there before the game starts and the chips get cold. He rounds the corner of the cul-de-sac. The coast is clear, he is into the home straight. Less than fifty yards now.
Damn. Mary, the next door neighbour. A big woman in her sixties whom Ronald wishes would mind her own business but whom he nevertheless relies on for babysitting from time to time. Mary is a bit of a chatterbox, and Ronald finds it almost impossible to extract himself from a conversation once sucked in. He was sure to miss the start of the game now…