On Saturday I bumped into an old friend, she was part of a writing club I belonged too where we all dedicated time to write our opus. It reminded me how long it really has been since I’ve written any long form prose and crafted a novel. I have been very busy writing comic strips, short children’s stories about heroic Teddy Bears and occasionally knocking out some flash fiction. I have been neglecting novel-writing, is time to return to crafting a contemporary fiction story?
In this special Writing Without Fear I present to you the complete opening chapter to Legends Of An Englishman, the last full prose novel I started to write, and drifted away from due to many other life obligations… But may be returning to… After all if Fabula Zero taught you anything, you have to find your ending.
Chapter 1 – Because the Lady Loves
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How, I hear you ask? Okay, maybe I don’t hear you ask that, but I am standing here on a dreary August morning at Heathrow Airport looking at a departure board. On the verge of taking the biggest leap of faith in my life, about to head out to live in the USA, to leave everything and everyone I’ve ever known for the love of one woman. How I got to this point, how this happened, how one woman stole my heart after the very many I’ve loved is hard to explain, even to myself. I was about to set off on the biggest little adventure I will ever have and with no idea how it all really happened to me. They say life comes at you fast when you’re busy living it… Well, this one moment hit me square in the face.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself and should start my story from the beginning. That’s what all stories have, a beginning, middle and an end, right? I have been told when you write about your life you should start with the most tragic thing you can think of, that way you will have the audience’s sympathy on your side. After that it is a walk. This is my story, my life, how a small town lad from an East Midland town ended up standing here in a departure lounge waiting to head out to the USA, and everything else that happened in between. So instead of starting with tragedy I’m going to do something very different. I’m going to start with one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done. Not sure if it’s going to get your sympathy. I am sure though it will give you an idea how far I’ve come. The journey has been a bumpy one, sometimes silly and mostly fun. It’s full of life, love (I believe whole heartily that the love you make is equal to the love you take), idiocy, insanity and more than a little hardheadedness. I swear to you now with my hand on my heart that this is a completely true and factual account of my life with absolutely no embellishments. Everything that I tell you here is completely utterly true and no matter how ridiculous it seems it has really happened to me… Honest.
Okay, we good?
Right, let’s start… I’m going to turn the clock back, way, way back to my youth in the late eighties, time of bad clothing, hair bands and summer sound tracks, when I was a gawky awkward teenager growing up in Melton Mowbray, a town famous for Pork Pies and producing a cheese that was named after another town. It’s not a bad little place; of course it’s much bigger now and lost some of the small town charm. This was where I grew up; I was that odd kid, lost amongst hundreds of other kids, nothing special about me, slightly taller than I should have been at my age, quiet and actually fairly shy. I went to school where I was invisible, hung out with my mates, and lived in fear of hand-me-downs from my two very much older brothers. This is where it all began and the place where I executed one of the dumbest things I have ever done in my life.
Let me introduce you to my two mates. First off there was Roy, short kid, black hair, wide shoulders, totally unable to string two sentences together without lying outrageously; and John, shorter, blonde and always fidgeting. Together we were counted amongst the school invisibles, the nobodies, never invited to the cool parties, picked on by the school bullies and generally experiencing the rougher side of social interaction. If school life was a ladder we would be below the dirt that the ladder stands on, and really I think we didn’t even rate that high. We grew up in the era of the VHS movie tapes and BBC Top of the Pops which had a huge influence on us and our spare time. Of course we didn’t spend all our time glued to a TV. We did what every teenager did–we rode our bikes thinking we were on big ole’ American hogs, talked about girls, tried to date girls, worked part time badly paying jobs, and generally found ways to waste time. No matter what we did though, we always returned to our steady diet of bad American teen movies where the underdog always got the girl. It didn’t take long for us to find out that watching these movies was a great way to see half naked girls, but also it convinced us that the way to get a girl of our dreams was to make an insane grand gesture, preferably with a good soundtrack urging us on. Hence our youth was filled with bad movie clichés where we all failed in amazing ways to get the girl. Looking back it was a wonder I ever kissed a girl, let alone finally making it the promised land of going all the way.
My grand gesture and my dumbest moment both go hand in hand and involve a girl named Samantha Jenkins, she of fairy blonde hair and sapphire blue eyes, a voice so gentle and soft you swear birds sang, and little violins played when she spoke. Every day we would pass in the school hallway and she would smile at me, and it was like a ray of sunshine on a very wet day. She was, for this hormonally charged teenager, the most perfect girl I had ever seen. I was determined to win the heart of this fair maiden and we would live happily ever after, have a romance that would make the stars weep, or at least be worthy of a movie musical montage.
You see, I had a plan to win her over. It was so cunning it couldn’t fail. During my childhood, a popular mixed chocolate confectionery ran this amazing advert where a mysterious man in black would risk life and limb overcoming amazing obstacles, diving out of planes to deliver this tray of chocolate confectionery to his lady. He leaves with a calling card of a silhouetted man in black, instantly winning the girl’s heart. She would swoon in his arms and the announcer would say ‘Because the Lady Loves…’ Very James Bond, and most importantly the chocolates were affordable on my weekly joke of paycheck money. I would find a way to sneak into Samantha’s home and leave the chocolates with mystery man card in her room. She would see I would overcome any obstacle to show my confectionery affection and I would win her heart. Then cue music, titles and a happily ever after.
The entire operation was cleverly planned and would take place that Saturday night. Skillful observations from the week before had informed me that her parents went to the local Tennis Club, and they had no pets, specifically dogs, that I could see. Which would make my task of stealthily infiltrating the Jenkins household that much easier. It was winter time, so I rode my eighteen-speed mountain bike to the edge of her street, taking care to arrive just as it was starting to get dark, and readied my commando gear of woolly hat, black gloves and bomber jacket, just like what the man wore in the adverts. I parked my bicycle in a hedge and, using my experience from years of reading weekly Warlord comics, sneaked up on the Jenkins house which was right at the end of the street, and oddly enough was the last house on the outskirts of Melton itself.
As I got to the house a light came on in an upstairs window and I quickly shrank back into the shadows as demonstrated by Agent Warlord in my last comic book. There framed in the window was Samantha, wearing a white nightgown, hair down, blue eyes shining as she shut her curtains. Even now I remember her looking like a goddess and I almost dropped my chocolates right there and then. I combat-rolled into the front garden and slinked up to the side of the house. I saw my egress point, and thanks to Samantha now knew where her bedroom was. The drainpipe would lead to the window, but how would I open it? As I pondered the point, I heard a car pull up and I scarpered into the back garden of the house. In the darkness, I ran straight through what felt like a small marsh and almost lost one of my prized fake Nike basketball trainers.
However, the back garden did yield an easier entrance as the back door was unlocked. Clutching my chocolates, I made my way into the house, which smelled delightfully of Samantha, and paused in the kitchen. I caught some movement in the front room and, leaving muddy foot prints all the way, I went up the stairs spider fashion, the end of my quest almost in sight. I glanced around the landing–no lights on except what was filtering up from below–and I delivered the chocolates with card to her room, putting them on her dressing table. Wow, I was in Samantha Jenkins room. I was in a girl’s room who wasn’t related to me or my mates. This was previously unknown territory to me. I was breaking new ground and the kudos later would be tremendous. I looked around; it was crammed with posters, pink fluffy things and her smell. I had made it!
Then I heard voices on the stairs, Samantha wasn’t alone. She had another boy here with her and I recognized the voice. It was Nick Carlton, he of Bros Band blonde hair, he who was eighteen months older than me, he who had a car that was a Ford Cortina MkIV (the first car owner’s Ferrari), and therefore by extension easily got all the chicks. He was here with the love of my life (okay, of that week). My anger knew no bounds and I plotted revenge. Until I heard them come upstairs. Nick Carlton had one more defining feature. He was taller than me and from all accounts could handle himself in a fight. Me, I was an abject coward who had grown to like his face in the order he saw it in the mirror. Thinking quickly, I opened Samantha’s side window, feeling for the drainpipe. Then I swung out, deftly closing the window behind me in a display of dexterity and athleticism that would have left my Physical Education teacher speechless.
Of course gravity had something else to say about this, and the drainpipe popped from its moorings, sending me speedily sliding down the front of house. In my panic I let go, swinging around to the side of the building, thinking for some reason there was another drainpipe to grab. Instead I collided with the side of the house and fell back first into the Jenkins marsh and lay there feeling triumphant. I had, despite my state, succeeded in delivering my chocolates and got away undetected. I lay in the marsh slowly sinking into the ooze with a huge smile on my face until I heard a growl just behind my ear. Not only was this unexpected, it wasn’t a growl from a normal-sized dog. It was a growl from a very pissed off, biggest looking Alsatian I had ever seen, and it was sneering right at me. It seemed the Jenkins actually did have a dog, although given the size it could have been a small horse. It looked at me, I looked at it. It growled, I smiled and slowly wiggled away from it. It snarled, I quickly sat up, feeling the mud suck at my clothing and found my feet. I felt more than saw it leap and it hit me square in the back, but I wasn’t stopping for any one. I left one of my basketball trainers sunk in the marsh as I ran from their property, the dog snapping at my heels all the way.
All around me I saw the lights in the neighborhood go on as I scrambled away from that dog. Somehow I managed to lose my other shoe, which became the dog’s chew toy. I yanked my bicycle out of the hedge and rode back home as fast as I could, where I was rewarded with an immediate grounding when I couldn’t really explain why I was shoeless and covered in mud. Still, I had done it, despite Nick Carlton being there. My grand gesture would win out. She would see what I was prepared to do for her; we would have our musical montage. Then it hit me: My plan was flawed from the beginning. I had made the card in perfect mimicry of the commercial and it was a silhouette of a man–no name, no clues of who could have left them. Samantha would have no idea where the chocolates had come from… Epic Fail!
My cunning plan had cost me my fake Nikes and a weekend’s worth of grounding. I was out the money for the box of chocolates, and Samantha Jenkins would be none the wiser it was me. I would remain invisible on her radar, just a nobody she would smile at in the hallway because she really was genuinely a very nice person.
The scale of my failure became clear that following Monday, as I went over the details of my Saturday night shenanigans with my mates. Roy delighted in telling me that Samantha’s entire neighborhood was out searching for a Peeping Tom that had sneaked into her bedroom, and vandalized her father’s water garden. Even the police had been called out. To make things even worse for me, and cutting any hope I would have of telling Samantha it was me that left the chocolates, a sketch of yours truly appeared in the local newspaper, which caused some worrying bowel moving moments. Thankfully it was the era of identikits and it looked nothing like me. The only evidence I had left at the scene was my pair of fake Nikes and they were never found, no doubt eaten by that Alsatian Donkey Horse Dog they called a pet. There you have it, one of the dumbest moments of my life and I still look back at it and try to figure out what on earth was I thinking? And now you all know about it too.
Right, now I’ve got yours and most likely Melton Mowbray’s cold case division’s attention I would like to welcome you to my life, my legend…
So maybe this will be something worth returning too, eh?