Crazy, fucked up 48 hours we've had – thanks again to everyone who has been in touch. Rob, as always, thanks for being the best thing in my life. I'd happily take a bullet for you and smile while doing it.
To paraphrase the Gogos, I wonder at times like this if the whole world has lost its head.
Well, probably not – just some of it.
Anyway, enough of the general love-in and back to business.
It's 2002 and Irene is pissed off, but hatching a plan. Rob and I are the only ones in the house working as Bob is claiming to suffer from a mysterious ailment, the cure for which would appear to be several gallons of milk per day and to continue smoking like a factory. He does not see a doctor at any point to confirm what's wrong, but self-certifies and signs himself off. He doesn't sign on and claim JSA or housing benefit because 'his pride' won't allow him to. Irene is actually forbidden from working herself as Bob fears she will either meet someone else or stash fifty pence a week under a floorboard until she has enough money to escape. Deano appears to be spending most of his time in a drink and drug-addled haze and nobody appears to have a problem with this.
Well, Irene has come into some money and she's talking to Rob and I about escaping. Our wonderful, fantastic grandmother is no longer with us, having suffered a stroke and then a heartbreaking cognitive decline until her passing was actually a relief to all concerned. I'd stopped going to the hospital shortly before she died, simply because I couldn't cope with watching the brave, strong, immensely independent woman who I remembered winding up like this. Not really recognising who I was, technically alive but deceased in every other sense, unable to do anything without assistance and myself stood there, unable to do anything to ease the pain. I've never made my mind up about assisted suicide but if she'd asked me to smother her with the pillow there and then...well, I had a financial stake in it so it would have looked somewhat suspicious.
RIP and God bless you Elizabeth. Hope to see you up there some day.
I didn't have a financial stake in it for long though. We inherited a small sum of money which could only be taken after our 21st birthday, unless our parents signed a consent form. Well, Bob was straight in there telling us to get it into a building society account, claiming that the Chorley and District Building Society were paying out SEVEN PER CENT interest. Look, the only bank accounts you'll find with terms so generous are those where you might be able to help yourself to a spot of Nazi war gold from the vault while you're there. Perhaps the Zurich and District Building Society offer such a deal, but nowhere near where we lived. For once I put my foot down and told him no early withdrawal would be taking place and I'd be respecting Elizabeth's wishes. Wishes I took deadly seriously. Rob, to his great credit, followed suit.
What Bob really wanted was to get his own greedy paws on that money, whether it was for his own gain or simply to stop us from having it. So, not long after being rebuffed on this score and after a couple of weeks of sulking, he developed his mystery illness and proceeded to spend the next three months on his big fat arse at home. The bills still need paying and 'pride' is preventing him from claiming any sort of welfare entitlement. Rob and I are doing what we can, paying a bit extra and passing up our social lives while trying to hide our disgust at the circus that's surrounding us. This was a house in which the adults seemed to behave like children and vice versa. Rob's got a day off work, but, not for the first time, Irene wakes him up in the early hours. I know because, despite us both being adults, we were still sleeping in bunk beds, three to a room.
“Rob, I need you to go to the cashpoint right now and get some money out” - I genuinely forget the amount.
So, Rob dutifully trudges down to the cashpoint and makes a withdrawal, having just been paid. He then gets a second instruction, to take the money up to a housing association office in the morning, sign as Mr Robert Pearce and ask no questions.
That way, they'll tell you no lies...
So he does exactly as he's told, but gets a nasty surprise and some feedback he wasn't anticipating. “Thankyou Mr Pearce, would you like to know what this means?” asks the useless bureaucrat operating on the nod, just one of the millions that seem to have been recruited onto the public payroll to wreck our lives over the years. Anyway, perhaps I'm being overly harsh on the poor sod, “go on then” says Rob, more than a tad curious as to the enormity of what he'd just done. The response crystalises everything.
“It means you won't be evicted. You continue living there as normal”.
Bob, with his head either in the sand or up his arse, had completely neglected to consider the impact of his own behaviour on other people. We were THIS close to being made homeless as young adults and, with his (putting it politely) patchy employment record, where else would he have had to go? It's worth pointing out just how much you need to do in order for the council to evict you from one of their houses. All of this despite paying our way and then some. Irene had kept this rather important detail from the rest of us, putting Bob's feelings before anyone and anything else, including dealing with reality as it presented itself. I would only hear this story years after the fact, but it was utterly jaw-dropping when I did.
And...had my kid brother just unwittingly committed an act of serious fraud by signing and doing this in our Dad's name?
And...had my kid brother just unwittingly committed an act of serious fraud by signing and doing this in our Dad's name?
Not long after this, Rob would attempt to move out, and Irene would push Bob's buttons to the extent that he ended up being beaten up and left shaken by the experience. Yes, his own mother behaved like a fucking ganglord and had her son physically attacked – probably to maintain the source of cheap credit she had going. Whenever she claims “I stayed with him for the kids” I always remember shit like this. The reality is he was far more important to her than any of us will ever be – and, being human, I can't just 'let it go' or 'move on' from something like that. The pain of knowing this is too real, and will probably stay with me forever.
Anyway, Bob got his money, eventually. Irene starts talking to me about (what I understood to be) the full extent of our financial woes, how Bob is turning down work while sat on his arse as it's 'beneath him', doesn't pay what he thinks he's worth or whatever and the bills are racking up, unpaid. We're thousands of pounds down and have more going out than coming in. His lifestyle requirements haven't changed and there doesn't seem to be an overwhelming desire on his part to change that situation. Fucking parasite. And she loved him more than she loved us. I will never, ever get my head around that. Then she starts crying, probably genuinely and not something you would learn at drama school. I realise the enormity of the situation “go up the bank, sign the form and do what you need to do with the money – just pay me back when her house is sold”.
Shamefully, I persuade Rob to do the same thing.
Shortly afterwards, she makes a decision. The second that house is sold, she's off down to the south coast. Rob and I are welcome to join her, as is Lauren. I suppose she wanted people who would pull their weight and not be a constant burden, and quite what Deano would make of this, having subsequently 'swapped sides' in the parental situation and become 'her rock' I'm not quite sure. She's gonna leave Bob and him behind and, for shame, I'm attracted by the bribe of whatever help is available to get me through a degree course - talk about gerrymandering. Rob and I agree immediately to the idea, not just in principle but to invest ourselves in it financially and emotionally. He even tells his boss not to consider him for promotion or anything like that because he won't be around for much longer. He's fully signed up to this.
I, on the other hand, just stop trying so hard, knowing I'll be out of there soon enough. There will be no 'handing' your notice in' here. It's pack a few bags in a military operation one morning and we're on the run. If he manages to track us down, we stand and fight. We're both ready and are willing to give up our jobs and every personal tie we have up here to make this work. All she has to do is say “when” and the operation goes into overdrive. Then, nothing for weeks, until the next thing we hear. Bob and her tell us that they're moving to Scotland, that we are (sort of) 'allowed' to come up there with them but our lives are down here. I seem to have missed the family meeting at which this was first discussed, but since when did our feelings about anything count for shit? Does she understand the enormity of what she's done here?
I mean, was she double-crossing us, using Rob and I to do nothing more than indulge a fantasy in her head? Has she realised the extent of the sacrifice that we were ready to make at the drop of a hat, and how she's utterly fucked us over?
Not for the first or last time, Rob and I had been thoroughly shafted.
It's 1992 and Irene is pregnant by the bloke she now claims she couldn't stand the sight of anytime after about 1985. Work that one out. They seem to regard this as cause for celebration, so she's either a phenomenal actress or full of shit...and no, she didn't actually go to drama school so draw your own. Anyway, we're pulled into a 'family meeting' which rarely happened as, generally speaking, decisions were made and the rest of us left to clear up the carnage left by their general incompetence. I offer nothing, wondering what the 'right' answer is but aware that we're overcrowded already. Rob is wishing they hadn't confused him with someone who gave a shit and wants this rather tedious episode to end before he tops himself. Deano then offers up a Derek Bentley-esque salvo that I'll never forget.
“Get rid of it”.
Wow. Just wow.
Well, I'm gonna stand up for the fella on two counts – no agendas here. First up, if you're going to ask people how they feel about something, then their actual feelings about the subject can't then be off limits. If in reality you could not give two shits about the way this impacts on other people then don't indulge in the facade of pretending you do. Secondly, he observed that this 'little princess' would be spoiled rotten, indulged with all of their time and resources, with the rest of their children painfully neglected and regarded as second class citizens. I have to say this would turn out to be the single smartest thing he has ever said about anything, ever. Every last word would be made gradually more profound by the events that subsequently followed, every last minute, every last pound that was invested in the child that Irene had actually wanted all along. The rest of us had simply come up with the wrong answer and the wrong genitalia.
Quite how Lauren would react to reading this I don't know, but then she seems to have far more time for Deano than she does for Rob or myself. Personally, I think the truth is rather important.
The trouble with our family is they keep re-writing history simply to make themselves feel better.
I mean, how do you reason with someone who's lying to him or herself?
My drinking buddies have gone home, but I'm staying out, flying solo. I've just got away from the Wolseley mafia, have bought myself some new furniture and I'm celebrating. Do I put myself in the clear and drop this complete cunt right in it by disclosing exactly who he's been having it away with? One to ponder over a beer, and another one, then a couple of whiskeys. I'm bored but do I want to go home? Fuck it, let's hit a club. I'm close to the dancefloor and, contrary to my style, I force a smile from a rather attractive lady sat across from me. She smiles back. After a couple of minutes I sidle over and introduce myself. Apparently, she's from Brazil, doesn't speak fluent English but her mate does, and she confirms that I'd been spoken about in terms of (something along the lines of) “not bad”. I'm now chatting someone up through an interpretor. This is fucking brilliant.
We have a few drinks and a dance, then Celia, Elizette and I stop at a kebab shop to plan the immediate future. I was never a kebabs man myself, even back in the bad old days when I ate meat. I had donner meat a few times and always imagined that to be what dog might taste like. They're both stunningly attractive, so what the fuck are they doing with me? Someone tells Celia she has a 'nice rack' and is promptly told to fuck off. It's true though, they would definitely keep your ears warm in a blizzard. However, I'm spending the night with Elizette, although I do suggest (half in jest) that there might be room in my bed for all three of us. We jump in a cab and I'm putting on my pokerface, keeping it cool. Chicks love that, don't they?
Celia's on the couch and Elizette and I head off to cross a few language barriers and indulge in the altogether more universal lexicon of lurv. Nice body, fucking NICE body. Way, way, nicer than mine. You could have bagged yourself an absolute player, but seem to have settled for mediocrity instead. Celia told me she'd been 'lonely' and hadn't had contact with a bloke for a while, so maybe that's it. We both understand what this is – this isn't the start of something wonderful, it's just hot, steamy and thoroughly meaningless, utterly casual sex. And I put in the performance of a lifetime. The headboard is sounding like the intro to Blue Monday and she's wailing her approval in Portugese. Eventually, everyone is happy and I pass out with her in my arms. So nihilistic, so pointless and yet so curiously beautiful in the same time.
While this is happening, Celia starts to feel she's missing out, so wanders into my brother's room in the hope of seducing him. “FUCK OFF!!” is the shout from the next room and I try not to laugh. Babe, I'm sure I could have gone one more round, awkward as it might have been. I wake up and need to get them home as they have no money. I give them enough for a cab, swap numbers with both of them and then go to the fridge. There are two half-eaten and decomposing kebabs in there, full to the brim with evil donner nastiness. I suppose I was always a vegetarian in spirit, although I'd continue down the carnivorous path for a while longer. We'd speak once again, but the three of us knew the score. This was just one of those brief encounters, a fucking good one, but it had zero mileage whatsoever.
And to answer the original question, no she didn't.
I'll leave you with one of the records I've been listening to while putting this together.
Take it easy and I'll catch you next time.