Paul Anka had a ten-incher called Diana. I saw it once in a junkshop in Preston, of all places. I was pretty impressed and would have loved to have had it, but I didn’t have a record-player at the time, and anyway, I was looking for a blanket. Winter was approaching and I was getting bloody cold sleeping out on Plungington Road every night. I’d been kicked out by my girlfriend after another argument about courgettes and cucumbers. I’ll spare you the gruesome details.
Luckily I managed to steal a blanket from an Oxfam shop – I know, I know, but I was desperate. It snowed that night, so I felt vindicated. What do you want me to do? Freeze to death in Lancashire so that somebody doesn’t die of hunger in Nigeria?
Fortune favours the brave they say. Try telling that to my poor old mate Johnny Parfitt. All right, so he got a medal for what he did over in The Falklands, but it never got pinned to his jacket.
When we were teenagers we used to go sledging at Happy Valley if there was a good fall of snow. The rich kids had proper sledges, but we used any old bit of wood or plastic. Johnny came a cropper there one year as well, not as final that time though. He was the only one brave enough to go down on an old scaffold plank standing up. Broke his collar bone.
We were up there one summer and Johnny dared me to run down the hill. I must have been pretty stupid, because I did. Try it yourself one day. It’s a steep slope and it wasn’t long before my legs couldn’t keep up with my downward momentum. I was right out of control. Fortune did favour me that day in the shape of a gorse bush which arrested my breakneck flight, and I escaped with just a few scratches and bruises. At the top of the hill they were killing themselves. I suppose it must have looked pretty funny.
After Johnny was killed we broke into his dad’s builders yard and stole a scaffold plank – yeah, it probably wasn’t the same one. We buried it in a trench down on the valley floor and made a small slab out of cement on which we inscribed with a stick – JOHNNY WIPED OUT HERE. Our tribute is still there as far as I know, but we dug up the scaffold plank four years later. We sawed it up and used it as the base for a big bonfire on which we burnt an effigy of Diego Maradona dressed in full kit and curly black wig. We had long memories, and yeah, we held grudges.
I went up to Preston not long after that to be with my girlfriend who was starting at college there. She booted me out – we’ve been through that. I was pretty miserable then and I thought about Johnny and my old mates a lot. My stolen blanket and the memory of that curly-headed bastard going up in flames kept me warm.