Arndale Centre, Astra, Bacofoil, Chevette, Colonel Sanders, Existentialism, Headingley, Hot Wings, James Bond films, KFC, Lightwater Valley, Meanwood Valley, Per Ardua Ad Astra, Royal Air Force, Tetley's beer, The Skyrack, urban farm, urban foxes, WD40, Yorkshire Ripper
The ‘G’ registered white Astra sped through a red light on Headingley
Lane and took a crazy right turn up a quiet residential street, on
Gary was high on speed, but only the vehicular variety. In his mirror,
he could see the shadowy faces of his three mates, their mouths agog
with inane laughter and the sensation of being on a seemingly out-of-
control roller coaster. This was cheaper than Lightwater Valley and the whole
escapade would give them the ‘street cred’ they craved back at St Augustine’s
Watch this! he shouted, as he took an unmade stretch of road, rutted with
pot-holes, which steeply descended towards The Ridge.
They felt Tetley’s beer slosh around their stomachs as the car’s suspension
rocked violently and its exhaust scraped sickeningly on some large stones.
It was so dark on The Ridge. You were on top of the world and all the lights
of Meanwood Valley twinkled from the dark shapes of densely-packed back-
to-backs. Leeds slept and Gary and his pals emerged from the car, almost
reverentially. The trees gave a rural impression.
The urban farm’s down there, remarked Gary, lighting up a fag. He
remembered being taken there by his Dad and kid brother, Alan. They’ve
got horses and stuff.
So what? commented Brian. Who needs horses when you can have
Gary leant over the driver’s seat and released the handbrake. The others
pushed on the rear bumper.
As if in slow motion, they watched the Astra tilt forwards and then lurch.
It somersaulted once, like a stunt car in a James Bond film, and then rolled
on its side against a scrub-like bush. It had only travelled a hundred yards
or so down the slope.
(Photo 2006 Lewis Collard)
Gary chucked his cigarette stub inside and the lighter fuel which had drenched
the upholstery performed its ignition.
The darkness was illuminated by a spectral bonfire.
To Woodhouse then I came,
Burning, burning, burning, burning…
Gary recalled his English teacher reading out something like that the
previous week. The rhythms had remained with him along with an
incendiary craving. No one else had been paying attention.
Scarper! he shouted and they headed for Kentucky Fried at the Arndale
Centre, just round the corner from the site of The Yorkshire Ripper’s final
The boxes of congealed chicken debris- Hot Wings– were thrown into a
hedge for the urban foxes to sniff out.
We had ‘Hot Wings’ tonight, a’ right! Brian joked.
They started a competitive routine, sniggering as they built on Hot Wings; Hot
Lips, Hot Chick and Hot Rod.
Gary fingered the Royal Air Force badge on his hoodie. Dad had given it to
him after they had all been to an airshow. It had been in his sock drawer.
Speed and Flight. Freedom.
But Mum had laughed. You were never airborne. Derek. Admit it. You were
nowt but a filing clerk.
Like Father; like sons. She always put her menfolk down… Took pleasure
in’t clippin’ wings, so she did. No wonder the old man had scarpered. That’s
what Terry always said.
Where have you been, you piece of dirt? snarled Gary’s mum. You’ve got
school in’t mornin’. Don’t waken Alan up. Terry’s still at The Skyrack, lucky
for you. Get out of my sight, or I’ll crack you one!
A’right – don’t have a nervous breakdown. He ducked instinctively, avoiding a
blow to his head.
The bedroom door needed some WD40. It creaked and Alan roused his head
from under the duvet.
A’right? Any joy?
This wasn’t an Existential interrogative,
Shurrup. Mum’ll hear us. No problem, Gary swaggered.
What’s twoccin’? Alan persisted.
Takin’ without t’owners’ consent, our kid. Now shut it.
Stepping out of his jeans, he threw his soiled hoodie into a corner before
climbing in beside Alan.
You stink of bonfires, Alan said. And Colonel Sanders. Did you get an Astra?
Yeah, it’s down The Ridge. I’ll show you tomorrow if you don’t believe me.
Alan had to be content with that, for Terry had come back from t’pub and,
from the sounds in the hall, it were better to pretend to be asleep…
Gary had felt responsible for Alan ever since their Dad had left. Dad had
never owned an Astra; he had possessed a beaten-up old Chevette, with
Bacofoil filling the wings.
Every wing has a silver lining, he had once quipped.
He still had a silver halo for Gary and Alan. but it had slipped somewhat in
their mother’s eyes. She wouldn’t let him back into the house, the idle slob.
Terry was relatively new. Her toy boy. He wasn’t too bad when he was
sober, which wasn’t often. But, at least he had a job. Sometimes he gave
you a couple of notes and told you to get lost, or to get kitted out down
t’ market. Other times, he told you to go to Hell.