I like to think I could steal through life without having any real impact on the people I interact with. It suits a selfish need to abrogate any kind of responsibility.
There is one person I've had quite an impact on, quite literally.
I first met Derek at school, he had a friend with a stutter (and the unfortunate name of Ecclestone). Ecclestone could spend 45 minutes introducing himself, and when I pointed this out to him Derek promptly hit me with a desk. We have been the best of friends ever since.
Derek has a fascinating face. Not classically handsome you understand, but one of those faces that you could look at for ages trying to work out what's going on there, or maybe what happened to cause some of the more peculiar contours. I know the answers and I get a nice warm glow when I see people take a second look at what is effectively my handiwork.
Before I go into any detail, don't go feeling too sorry for Derek, he was much blander before my work began....and it's not all been one way traffic, this is the friend who said he'd direct me all the way home from school, with my duffle coat on back to front and the hood up, and then guided me onto a busy dual carriageway!! How we laughed.....
We've always ridden motorbikes, in the early days with more enthusiasm than skill or self defence. I bought a huge cow of a Suzuki one Thursday afternoon in the summer holiday during the time when we were working hard at getting thrown out of our respective Universities. On Friday I had the bike MOT'd and insured, and on Saturday I demolished it on a country lane in North Wales with Derek as a pillion passenger. Neither of knows quite what happened, we've agreed it was a patch of gravel (and nothing to do with the fact that we had just left the pub en route to a party). Whatever, it was quite a messy one as crashes go. Derek must have stayed with the bike for longer than me, I remember waking up in the road and seeing him lying 50 feet away, back lit by the waning headlight of the bike which was stuck in a ditch another 50 feet further on. I couldn't move at all, and Derek wasn't showing any signs of life.....for horrible minutes I really thought I'd topped him, and then - sweet joy - a pick up truck came around the corner, from the direction of the pub we had left, and ran Derek over. He was lucky, it was just his leg, but it was very comforting to hear him yelp with pain. The pick up didn't stop, I expect it was being driven by a drunken farmer, but they must have called an ambulance from a safe distance.
We spent 2 weeks in a surgical ward in Colwyn Bay hospital. I think we both had a couple of quite tricky days with numerous injuries. We found out later in our stay that the more seriously ill you were, the closer your bed was to the nursing station at the head of the ward. That first night Derek was terrified out of wits when he apparently died. It's all very confusing when you are in shock and being kept awake, Derek did in fact overhear a conversation along the lines of "I think he's passed away, get the duty Doctor" and was struggling to deny his demise by blowing spit bubbles....but it was the chap in the next bed who the local surgical team had helped off this mortal coil with a botched procedure (I'm sure I saw ladybird books on transplant surgery in the library).
We had a fairly comprehensive collection of broken bones, bruises and contusions between us. Of the more notable nasties I had landed on the clutch handle, which had broken off and managed to make it's way through my midriff and out the other side, and I was the better off.......did I mention that Derek was wearing an open face helmet? How remiss (of him). Derek had ingeniously used his face as a brake on the road and was missing one entire eyebrow and quite a large piece of his nose.
Even by the time we left the hospital his appearance was still a bit of a shock to the uninitiated and earned various expressions of disgust, admiration or sympathy depending on the constitution of the observer.
It took many months of painstaking reconstructive surgery and skin grafts to put humpty dumpty back together again. Even then there were several noticeable lumps, knobbles and scars that weren’t on the original contour map of his face. (I like to think of the consultant muttering darkly about making a silk purse out of sow’s ear).
It didn’t stop us going out though, in fact we couldn’t wait to show of our scars, in the misguided belief that girls are somehow attracted to oozing flesh wounds. I found an opportunity to embellish my handiwork at a party one night. The girl’s mother had kindly cut a tray of sandwiches before she went out (god knows what she thought “party” meant). Anyway, during the course of the night somebody let the Jack Russell out of the kitchen and into the living room where the main bulk of the drunken debauch was well underway. Derek, having had more than his fare share (of booze) took pity on the startled pooch and fed it slices of ham from the sandwiches, and they soon getting on very well. Now whether it was a genuine attempt to remove the last barrier with the dog, or to impress the girls (some of who had come over to watch, it did look very cute as it sat up and waited for the next ham slice), we’ll never know. Derek slid off the chair, on to all fours, nose to recovering nose with his new found friend.
It didn’t occur to me that it might be a bad time to throw a fresh piece of ham to the dog. It was quite a good shot too, ham is not particularly aerodynamic, but it flew threw the space between their noses, whereby the dog launched itself forward with hungry enthusiasm and caught the ham in mid flight. It’s jaws snapped shut on the slice of meat…unfortunately it’s forward motion meant that they also snapped shut on Derek’s nose.
There’s was a moment of mortified silence before all hell broke loose. Derek leapt up with a shriek with the diminutive dog still firmly attached to his nose. It wasn’t giving up it’s meal easily, but the ham was now firmly attached to Derek’s face by virtue of the Jack Russel’s teeth. They waltzed round and around the living room scattering drinks and people in all directions, Derek pulling on the dog’s legs and wailing like a banshee while his tiny assailant growled and held on for grim death.
Something had to give, and it turned out to be Derek’s skin grafts that were to be the eventual weak link. Exit to casualty, at 3 am with a friend with his head in a tea towel. (Neither the ham or the skin were ever recovered from the scene, but the girl who’s party it was said that her dog was looking smug for days).
Derek’s head went into respite for several months after that, I found myself an unwelcome guest at his home. His mother was quite bitter about the whole affair. However in time I slowly managed to work my way, if not into her good books, then at least off her immediate hit-list (unlike next doors cat which shat in her petunias on seven consecutive nights).
I was allowed to stay over again. Derek’s parent’s house was, without peer, the best place to stay when you’d had a skinful the night before. His mother made huge mugs of hot, sweet tea in the morning and juggled buttery slices of warm toast onto the table. Weeks passed free from incident, and I was a regular hangoveree in their kitchen on a Sunday morning, until one fateful Saturday night where it all went stupidly tits-up once again.
Derek had been taking some kind of kung-fu lessons. He was in the very first stages, where I think you learn how to tie the robe, but as far as he was concerned he was Bruce Lee. We arrived back at his house in the early hours of Sunday morning in severe need of a snack to soak up some of the night’s lager frenzy – he went to the toaster, I went for the butter dish. Derek wanted to show me some “moves” and asked me to throw a few punches, of course we were both bladdered and I couldn’t have fought my way out of a privet hedge – and judging by his responses he still couldn’t tie up his robe properly.
It was while he was salvaging the first two smouldering lumps of charcoal from the toaster that I noticed his mother’s knife rack – when he turned round to show me the clinker with a giggle, I was brandishing the meat cleaver.
Now I swear, we were standing ten feet apart, and I had no intention of getting within five feet of him. I brought my arm round in a slow arc, and was amazed as it seemed to super-extend, go-go gadget arm…….and appalled as Derek, incredibly, drunkenly glued to the floor swayed forward so that the blade of the cleaver sliced through the cartilage at the top of his nose with a soft, neat “snick”.
It was quiet for quite a while. I saw (but I don’t think he did) his mutilated nose slip forward a degree or ten as the top slid away from his face under the weight of the heavier, fleshier bottom portion. Still, not to make a mountain out of a mole hill, he let me patch it up with some antiseptic cream and a plaster…
I sat oblivious to whole incident in the kitchen on Sunday morning, nursing a hangover and cup of tea. We heard Derek before he arrived, tottering down the stairs with the gait of a man who is trying desperately not to move his head. I didn’t even look round, I was too absorbed in my own pain and I’d quite forgotten about the previous nights surgery, and I think so had Derek…..it was his mothers blood curdling scream that brought the whole sorry incident flooding back. I’d left their house by the back door before my tea landed on the table.
So there it is. I am Frankenstein, and less popular than the neighbour’s cat.