A BRIEF HISTORY OF PETTY CRIME
written and performed by Jimmy Hogg
ONE NIGHT ONLY @
The Staircase Theatre,
21 Dundum St. N, Hamilton
Friday November 3rd, 8pm
“Part Rik Mayall, Eric Idle and Eddie Izzard, bellowing British
comedy-actor Jimmy Hogg whips around the stage like an excitable
Labrador puppy… Hysterically tangential.” -Now Toronto
***** “Dickens would love this guy.”- Orlando Sentinel
After a decade of touring Canada and the U.S. and fresh from a 23-show
stint at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Englishman, Jimmy Hogg
unleashes his multiple-award winning solo show A Brief History of
Petty Crime in Hamilton. A tale of juvenile delinquency, growing up on
the streets of Plymouth; physical, fast-paced, hilarious storytelling-
with a car crash and plenty of tangents.
“He’s got a wickedly rapid, sometimes bitterly sharp, delivery.” CBC
Jimmy Hogg is a writer, comedian and storyteller who has made his name
on the North American Fringe circuit over the last decade with his
high-energy, physical, tangental style. Comparisons to Eddie Izzard,
Rik Mayall and John Oliver are frequent if not always accurate or
“Hogg is uproariously funny… a wonderful storyteller.”- theatreinlondon.ca
He has numerous awards and merits including: BEST OF FRINGE- Toronto
(2008, 2009), San Francisco (2006), Boulder (2006, 2008), Minnesota
(2006, 2007, 2008), Cincinnati (2009); OUTSTANDING COMEDY AWARD Ottawa
“Hogg is irresistibly charming, enthusiastic and adorable- a gifted
physical performer.”- nytheatre.com
For the REAL fans, play in full, below:
And I’m walking through Plymouth city centre, it’s recently been pedestrianized and locals are enjoying the thrill of shopping unimpeded by traffic. And I’m trundling along at a leisurely pace, trying to hide the morbid fear and gut-wrenching paranoia that is symptomatic of my age and social class, while, at the same time projecting my individuality and staunch anti-establishment sentiments.
And then they are there in front of me- the pigs, the narcs, the fuzz, the filth- two coppers, staring right at me, pointing and nodding their heads. Guilt seizes me and roots me to the spot. “Excuse me, sir.” They’re talking to me! “Excuse me, sir. We were just wondering if you’d like to participate in an I.D. parade.” “I haven’t done anything!” “We know that sir, we just need some gents to make up the numbers in an I.D. parade- we have our suspect back at the station… You’d be compensated for your time sir.” “Compensated? Really? How much?” “Ten pounds, cash.” “And all I have to do is just stand there?” “Takes about forty-five minutes, sir.” “Brilliant.”
So I’m stood in a line with four other fellas and the coppers bring in the suspect- of what, we haven’t ben told- and he picks his place in the line- number three- and I am bumped down to number five. Lights shine in our eyes as a witness behind the screen tries to identify the offender and suspects the suspect, but doesn’t give an unequivocal one hundred per cent I.D. which is what they need to make it count, take him to court, get a conviction and put him away. Before the second witness is brought out number four- to my right- asks number three- the suspect- to his right, what he’s been accused of.
“My fucking ex reckons I stole her tamazipan ‘script’ don’t she- but I wasn’t nowhere near the chemist, I was at my Gran’s having Findus’ Crispy Pancakes- ham and cheese- she’s just being a mental case cos I dumped her, pretended she was pregnant before that and did her fucking nut when I blanked her- what does she expect, walking into my work when I’m with the boys- and now she’s doing all this shit, when I know she just went and sold her tamazipan to her dealer down in Swilly- cunts got a pit-bull he has, nasty little thing, otherwise I’d have been round there and given him a fucking slap.” “Shut it, Radcliffe!” “Well, he asked!”
And then he is silenced as the police prepare the next witness and I realise that this guy is potentially going to prison for allegedly stealing his ex-girlfriend’s prescription drugs and I decide, I decide I shall spare him this fate. And the lights are on us once again and the second witness behind the screen surveys the six assembled men and I transform my visage into a menacing scowl. It’s a look I’ve learned to perfect whilst walking down the street in order to prevent being beaten up by random thuggish types. I am Pacino, I am De Niro, I am Olivier. “I think it’s number five,” we hear The Witness say over the speaker-system. “Are you sure?” asks one of the coppers. “Yes, I’m sure- it’s him. I saw him in the chemist picking up a prescription. Number five.”
And he walked. Number Three, the suspect, the bloke accused of stealing his ex-girlfriends prescription drugs- he walked away scot free. And I walked away with a crisp ten-pound note and a smile on my face.
Six weeks later Number Three would stab his ex-girlfriend seventeen times in the chest, neck and hands and then the black cloud formed over my head and I realised that mu karma was fucked for the rest of my life.
A scream. Blackout. Lights up.
My Dad and I had an arrangement. I could borrow the car whenever I wanted to provided that I replaced the petrol and, if stopped by the police, I would state that I had taken the car without his permission. The car had no road tax, no MOT- which means it wasn’t deemed road worthy- and I wasn’t insured to drive it. Also… I didn’t have a driving license. Naturally this concerned my Mum but there was little that she could do other that sit back, clutch her apron, furrow her brow and hope for the best. But my Dad trusted me, he had faith in me, he’d taken me out in the car before and he’d remarked that I was a much better driver than my older brother, who actually had a driving license.
So, we had out arrangement.
I’d take the car out on Friday and Saturday nights and cruise around the places that people with cars cruised around and park in the places that people with cars parked in before I drove home and put my key in the front door to settle my Mother’s nerves and ensure that she had a good nights sleep.
It’s Saturday and I’ve got wind of a party out in the sticks by an old quarry. And, because I have transportation, I can go. But wait. I understand what kind of party it’s going to be- lots of people drinking heavily and dry-humping and maybe someone’s actually managed to score some hash. But I’m conscientious enough. I’m not going to drink, I’m not going to smoke, the opportunity to dry hump is highly unlikely to present itself- I’m just going there to show my face and hopefully elevate my social status. I’ll get to the dry-humping later, circumstances permitting.
So Chilli and I drive off in the red Volkswagen Polo as my Mum waves anxiously from the window and I pretend to ignore her and the maternal portent she oozes. Chilli waves back, he loves my Mum, he doesn’t really have one of his own and so he’s adopted mine. Which is fine with me because it splits her focus and therefore she worries about me less.
Chilli’s my best friend by the way. The first real best-friend I’ve ever had. We were jointly and severally the new kids at the rough school where I copied his French homework and gave him a handful of crisps in return. We shared feelings of displacement, frustration and sexual inadequacy as well as the usual disdain for authority and hatred of a God we didn’t actually believe in. And we’re motoring along steadily to the party by the deserted clay mine- we’re excited- we haven’t been to many parties- unless you count sitting around with a handful of spotty, pasty outcasts on a Saturday afternoon drinking litres of No Frills pop and rolling eight-sided die to determine whether Bogar the dwarf, son of Hamley manages to slay Krandar, the Goblin-Wraith King of the Underworld and holder of the Three Black Stones of Roh.
For some people this constitutes a party.
And there are going to be girls there- it’s guaranteed- girls who previously were inaccessible to us because we didn’t have transportation. There’s a posh girl with a double-barrelled surname that Chilli is besotted with, and I haven’t had a chance to hone in yet, I’m in love with any girl that will talk to me. And it doesn’t really matter what happens tonight because we’re just going to bowl in, show our faces and then jet out of there as though we’ve got other parties to go to. We’re going to create our own mythologies, write our own histories. This is our step up the social ladder, or way in to the in crowd- and then we get jobs and girlfriends and white trainers and sovereign rings and out own two piece pool cues which we chalk with green chalk- not the blue chalk, because that’s just standard issue in pubs, it’s for the plebs, the proles, the scum. The green chalk is twice the price and is no way any more effective than the blue stuff, but it means that you’re not a scroat, not a plum, not a numpty- it means you’re a real pool player and you better not let me break because you might not get another shot.
And we’re driving some ten, twelve miles out of the city- it’s the furthest we’ve ever gone in one direction- I feel a little agoraphobic, insecure, but the ill-feeling doesn’t get a chance to root itself, because we turn a corner and we’re there- the middle of nowhere. A dozen cars, four dozen people, a few tents. Everyone stops to see who’s rattling up in the red rust bucket- and we get a reception, we get a round of applause, people actually clap as we emerge from the car- this is a good start, better than I’d imagined in my imagination where I’m actually popular and girls want to touch me.
So, the evening progresses, we chit chat, we mingle, we mix, we tell jokes and laugh enthusiastically at those of others. A jug of Scrumpy comes round and I explain proudly that I can’t because I’m driving. Chilli, on the other hand, takes a couple of glugs each time the jug comes around- he’s getting into the spirit of things, getting in there amongst it. Quickly, I succumb and drink a small plastic cup of cider. The legal limit if five units of alcohol. I’m way under, it’s fine, I’m just being overly cautious. But okay, that’s enough, now it’s time to go. We have to create this mythology, we have to garner kudos. I drag Chilli away from the smouldering Imogen Butler-Cole, we jump into the faithful steed and we’re off.
Cruising along the dual-carriageway at a very legal sixty miler an hour, garrulously exchanging details of our encounters with the opposite sex, both running on a high, mine purely natural. The yellow-white lights pass on my right and the red streak out ahead as we follow the convoy of traffic back into town. Chilli’s got a phone number, a time to call and a confirmation that he’s ‘sweet’. I have a series of flirtations and some innocuous forearm touching to take with me. Elated we head towards a roundabout some way off. I begin to ease on the brake, giving myself plenty of time to come to a halt at the roundabout should the flow of traffic to my right deem it necessary. And then there’s a moment. It passes. I apply more pressure to the break and nothing happens, I look down at my feet and check from right to left- accelerator, break, clutch, A, B, C. My right foot is in the middle, it’s on the brake. I look up, we’re not slowing, if anything we appear to be going faster- or perhaps the imminence of disaster makes it appear so. Then time slows down and expands in the most dramatic way- slower than the slowest of slow-motion action sequences in a made-for-TV drama where they excessively slow down and repeat the stunts and explosions to make the most of them because they’re few and far between. An as I head towards my death all I can think is, “This is my fucking Dad’s fault.”
It wouldn’t be a lie, perhaps just an exaggeration to say that everything I learned about crime I’d learned from my Dad. He was a natural born cheapskate with a taste for luxuries and so anything he could procure gratis he saw as a great victory- against who, I was never quite sure. My Dad came from a typically poor background- a baby boomer born in 1946 in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of somewhere unimportant about thirty miles from nothing in particular. He had porridge for breakfast, gruel for dinner and bread and lard for tea. The only fruit he ate were wind-fall cooking apples, blackberries that grew by the side of the road and tinned-prunes which he was force-fed when he was constipated. The only meat they had were rabbits which he fed and knew by name and his Dad- my Granddad- kept in the backyard in hutches stacked six high and four abreast. They had fish once a month and a bird twice a year, he had three paper rounds from which he earned tuppence a month, half of which went towards buying his new school uniform each year. The toilet was at the end of the garden path, past the dog kennel, behind the shed- and the bath was in front of the fire place between the wireless and the comfy chair. In short he grew up poor, he’d been dealt cards from the bottom of the pack his entire life and he knew it. Adulthood, for him, was a chance to get his own back- but he wasn’t big and he wasn’t strong, so he had to be wily.
With my Dad we would sneak into stuff for free all the time- the cinema, the zoo, the grounds of a stately home- and if we were ever caught then his face would become a mask of innocence as he opened his palms and gestured towards us forlornly as though we were Dickensian orphans being sent to the workhouse.
His most audacious score happened on the day we’d finished landscaping the back garden of our new house. My Dad and I had turned this small plot of land into a thing of beauty, but it was lacking something. Later that evening we’re sat in the beer garden of The Miner’s Arms, a country pub about six or seven miles from our house where you could spend hours chasing sheep, identifying various forms of fecal matter and sucking in the country air. My Dad sups a beer and my brother my sister and I share a Coke and a few bags of crisps- salt and vinegar for my brother, cheese and onion for my sister, and something meat flavoured for me. It’s a little chilly, so there’s no-one else in the beer garden and, noting this, it occurs to my Dad that one of the hefty wooden benches we’re sat upon would look good in our newly coiffured garden. He asks us- his children- our thoughts on pinching it. My brother huffs and puffs and says nothing- he’s got enough on his plate what with the new arrival of wiry pubic hair, inch-deep blackheads and the realisation that everything our parents have ever said to him is, to some degree a fabrication of the truth- he’s even started referring to our portly Father as “The Mountain Of Misinformation.” My sister on the other hand waits to se what I say and I’m my Father’s son and all for a little mischief, so she chimes in her agreement as my brother folds his arms and groans. Finishing his pint, my Dad drops the glasses into the pub, saving the bar staff a trip and ensuring that no-one pops out to retrieve them and catches us in the act. We jump into the car, my Dad starts the engine, reverses and then heaves the hefty wooden bench into the hatchback of our FSO Polonez- a cheap, boxy Polish car- like a poorly designed, unreliable Volvo with none of the safety features. The bench is hanging out of the back, but we have no time to lose and speed off to present our spoils to my Mum. “David George Hogg, what do you think you’re playing at, teaching our kids to steal. Oi, you lot, oi, if I catch any of you taking what’s not yours you’ll get the wooden spoon. Do you hear me? I mean it does look nice in the garden, don’t get me wrong- gives it a nice rustic feel.”
And I’m not only killing myself, but I’m also killing my best friend. I’m the one driving, I’m the one behind the wheel, I’m the one without a license, I’m the one who knows that the car isn’t road worthy. I’m responsible. Chilli’s family are going to blame me and my family for eternity. I’ve started a vendetta of Lorcaesque proportions- my Mum’s going to see images of blood and death everywhere, she’s going to be unable to ride cars. Our funerals are going to be marred by violent outbreaks- and then my Mum’s going to blame my Dad for letting me drive and my Dad’s going to crushed by guilt and become a lonely recluse drinking his pension money away in the sterile recesses of a Witherspoon’s pub, or equivalent soulless boozer of the time.
Instinctively I turn the wheel to my right to try and go around the roundabout and avoid the oncoming traffic.
My Dad’s just going to sit there nursing a half of their cheapest bitter. The bar staff are going to feel sorry for him.
Somewhere I can hear the screeching of tires on tarmac. I don’t quite believe it, but it’s the tires of Volkswagen Polo, we’re going into a skid.
Every now and then one of them’s going to feel particularly sorry for him and buy him a drink. He’s going to make them feel worse by saying, “You remind me of my boy, Jimmy.”
I’m gripping the wheel tightly, my hands purple and white like tinned corned beef. My right leg is locked on the brake. Every muscle willing the car to stop.
“Jimmy died in a car crash. He was only a kid, had his whole life ahead of him…”
By the time I was sixteen, I’d had enough of school and I left home too, and Chilli and I moved into a small hostel for disenfranchised youth funded by some secular Christian organization. There were less than a dozen of us, all between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one. Chilli and I didn’t really fit in amongst these violent, drug-addicted miscreants, but we stayed there nonetheless. The hostel was presided over by Vernon who ran the place and lived upstairs with Deirdra, his Missus- a squat, podgy kind of creature, with more than a passing resemblance for one of those steamed Chinese pork buns- she kept her excessive flesh wrapped tightly in varying shades of purple spandex as if to suggest that she’d just come from a workout or was getting ready to go to one- the whole charade foiled by the fact that Deirdra had perpetual shards of doughnut icing hanging from her bleached moustache, like frosted stalactites one imagines on the face of a yeti. Vernon was no oil painting- a lumbering Neolithite with huge forehead like a slice of Wonderbread that had a dent in the middle of it where someone had whacked him with an iron bar and a cranium dotted with patches of wiry brown hair redolent of a patient in a psychiatric ward.
Now what with such unbecoming mentors and wayward peers it was just a matter of time before Chilli and I strayed from the straight and narrow. To begin with we’d just shoplift a little bit, just a few small things- cheese, butter a jar of pesto. But then we got better, more confident, more ambitious. After a while it wasn’t what we needed to steal, it was what we could get away with stealing.
And as the car flips I watch the windscreen dissolve in front of me, shattering outwards into a thousand tiny pieces which I reach out for or imagine myself reaching out for. And there’s a strange sensation of leaning to one side which I assume must be the intense G-force . I casually wonder how many times we’ve gone round and if it looks anything like that army jeep at the beginning of The A-Team. I look over at Chilli. He’s relaxed. He’s smiling that cheeky, elfish grin of his. He tells me it’s going to be okay, he’s done this before, it’s going to be a cinch.
We like to get away from it all, to get out of the city, to go wandering around the woods and grounds of stately homes that abound in the south-west of England. We take a large lump of chocolatey smooth Moroccan hashish and the passenger ferry over to Mount Edgecombe, and suddenly we’re in a different world, away from the concrete tenement buildings we live in and around. We’re walking in botanical gardens, on narrow maths through well-kept laws and then into dense woodlands where birds chirp and flutter amongst the branches, red squirrels scurry up and down the trunks of vast oaks, rabbit scamper amongst scrub and fern. A young fawn catches my eye as it grazes on some tender leaves and shoots, before skipping off after its Mother. Chilli and I wander and roam and sit and smoke and take it all in until the light begins to fade and then we stroll down to the dock to catch the last ferry home- which has already gone. We pause for a moment and consider walking the ten miles around to the car ferry that runs night and day. We dismiss this idea as it is conceived and decide, quite contentedly just to camp out in the woods build a fire and smoke the night away- there’s plenty of dead wood around and it’s mid-July, so we’ll be fine. Back we traipse into the woods leaving the dock behind and the only pocket of civilization for miles around. We build a fire and sit, picking up where we left off in what we like to call ‘The Conversation’- a continual philosophical dialogue about life, the universe and everything else. Some way into our musings and hypothesisings The Conversation takes a turn and we start talking about our favourite meal- what it would be if you were on death row. I settle for a full-English breakfast, twelve items including black and white pudding, sausages, eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes and all rest of it- Chilli decides upon a ‘good sandwich’ which he details and constructs at great length. Or, if you had to eat one thing for the rest of your life what would it be, instinctively I say, “bacon,” but then I rethink my answer and say, “banana” arguing that it’s full of everything you need. Chilli decides upon fish, explaining that there was a species of early man (NAME) who ate nothing else. And as we argue our various decisions, we realise we’re ravenous, we’re starving, we haven’t eaten for hours. And we’re pretty stoned by now, deeply baked in fact and so the pangs of hunger are all consuming, they’re dominating our thoughts, commanding our attention. We didn’t plan this camping trip very well- we don’t even have anything to drink- we’re parched. Almost as I realise this my throat constricts as the remaining water dissipates. I swallow, and it hurst I’m so dry. This is an emergency- we need food, we need water, we need it now. We put our heads together. Okay, there’s no-one for miles around, there’s no edible vegetation, the seawater is undrinkable- and the chances of catching some wild fowl or game are pretty slim. Although, I do suddenly remember something I’d read in the SAS survival guide about how to catch a seagull. Basically, you just throw some small pieces of bread into the air, which the seagull will catch and swallow immediately. After doing this for a while you then throw a small pebble into the air which the seagull will catch and swallow once again, only this time the sudden weight change sends the seagull crashing to the ground whereupon you rush over and cave its head in with a rock. Or there’s that trick where you feed it bicarbonate of soda and it explodes- I’m not really sure how that works though, something to do with science. But we don’t have any bicarbonate of soda and we don’t have any bread with which to entice the seagulls and it’s dark- and even if it wasn’t dark I don’t think either of us has the stomach to slaughter, cook and then eat a seagull- and I don’t think they’re even edible, are they? Where is the food? Where are the beverages? We both know the answer. The Tea Room. The Team Room is exactly that- a small over-priced boite serving tea, cake, coffee, juice, ice-cream, crisps and confectionaries. It’s run by some snooty middle-class types who pay their teenage staff peanuts and charge unsuspecting tourists a fortune for sub-standard refreshments because they know that there’s nothing else around an if you’re hungry and or thirsty then you have little choice but to patronize the establishment. We hate them, we detest them, we are going to rob the thieving bastards. We are working class heroes, redressing the balance, sharing the wealth, robbing the rich and all that…
We march through the woods urgently planning our heist, already pumped full of adrenalin. Moments later we’re casing the joint, peering through the windows, looking for an alarm system, figuring out the easiest way to get in. After some contemplation we decide that the best thing to do is to charge the double doors and the sheer force will bring us crashing into the cafe whereupon we seize the glorious bounty, filling our pockets with whatever comes to hand and race off back to our camp to gorge ourselves. A few paces back we set ourselves, we nod to one another, we charge, we bounce off and crumple to the floor, clutching our shoulders which have wrapped around to meet our nipples. Then, suddenly, paranoid, ready to call it off, maybe there’s dogs, security, we have no idea what we’re doing, doubt creeps in, “We should go, we should go…” I look into Chilli’s eyes, he’s insanely hungry, he’s not ready to call it off. Plan B. We find a large breeze block and decide that if we target a section of the door we will be able to smash four panes of glass and squeeze through the gap and help ourselves to the loot that is there for the taking. Holding the breeze block between us, we take a few steps back, we set ourselves, we nod, we charge. There is an almighty crashing sound. The wood cracks and splinters, quite remarkably the four panes of glass shatter as planned and we slip though the gap and I’m in the zone, shouting in a whisper, “Go, go, go,” like I’m the leader of some special forces unit on ops, rescuing the Ambassador of some righteous, superior Western country from the evil clutches of some ethnic, extremist, terrorist organisation with shaky morals and dodgy principals who refuse to negotiate unless their list of outrageous demands are met, “Go, go, go!” And we just grab the first few things that come to hand. I pick up a case of grapefruit juice and Chilli gets hold of a couple of boxes of sweets, there seems to be very little else at hand and we have no time to lose- he who hesitates goes home in a body bag etcetera. And we bolt out of there, sprinting through the woods, breathing heavily, too heavily to exchange a word, sweating, panicking, wondering who’ll give chase- the dogs? The guards? Our social-moral consciences? And we’re running and panting and Chilli’s a few yards ahead of me… and he slows down a little, I slow down. He walks. I walk. We stroll. Back at the camp we gorge ourselves on Snickers and Mars Bars and wash it all down with grapefruit juice. (acid reflex)
Then there is silence. There is stillness. For a moment everything is simple, everything is perfect. I’m clutching the wheel and my right foot’s still on the brake. I look down at Chilli, look down at him and realise the car is on its side. Chilli’s fine. I knew he would be. I’m fine. I say, “Let’s go, let’s run, let’s get out of here.” I undo my seatbelt, I climb out of the car. Some cars have stopped, “Are you okay?” Yeah, yeah, we’re okay. We tip the car over so that it rests on all four wheels and then- it’s just a reaction- I jump into the drivers seat- it’s clearly just shock- and I try and start the engine- I don’t know what I’m doing. It fails. I try again. Nothing. I get out and sit by the side of the road and wait for the police to arrive.
It was always like that with us. It was always spontaneous, audacious, always fuelled by some working class chip, a disdain for authority and an impish sense of fun. Walking home one night from the twenty-four hour garage, Chilli stops and presses his face to the mesh fence that runs along to our right. I stop. I do the same. We watch as the Royal Mail postal workers on the night shift haul large sacks of letters and parcels onto trains, into vans, off to be sorted, redirected, misdirected, delivered and lost forever. And then, without a word, Chilli hands me his chocolate milk, scales the mesh fence and heads to his target- one of the sacks of mail- he’s like James Bond moving invisibly in a Russian nuclear base. For a moment I wonder how he’s going undetected and whether it is indeed like one of those James Bond scenarios where the arch villain with a disability and mishmash Eurasian accent is allowing him to go undetected because it’s all part of his elaborate plan from which he derives a perverse pleasure. And then I notice the postal workers themselves- they look tired, they look unfocused, the look… stoned- they’re baked, they’re mashed, they’re cooked- that’s how they manage to do such a mundane task, that’s how it all works. It’s like seeing The Matrix for the first time, that series of green numbers going up and down. “There is no spoon.” And just as I’m piecing it all together, laughing to myself at the ironic brilliance of it all, Chilli heaves a sack big enough to hold the average corpse over the fence and then we’re walking calmly back to our house to look over the goods.
It’s kinda like Christmas, only better, because it’s illegal, it’s illicit, it’s a bonus and we don’t have to share it with anyone and there isn’t the false notion of good will to all men being played out half-heartedly and the insistence that you enjoy yourself no matter how you feel on that particular and the feeling that you and your family are gluttons because you have mountains of food which you have to eat because it’s there and that’s what you do, you have to make yourself sick with food while you watch images of starving babies in Africa- and don’t you ruin Christmas this year boy, you ruined it last year, you will not do that again this year- and your Granny has sent you a gift voucher for WH Smith’s which is essentially just a newsagent and the only things you can buy there are magazines and shitty Jackie Collins novels and the like and so why didn’t she just buy you a magazine or a shitty paperback or give you a voucher for a place where you can actually buy something that you might want, or just give you five pounds, give you the cash, or a cheque- but she doesn’t and so you have this look of disappointment on your face and you feel terrible because she’s old and she doesn’t know and your parents feel bad because they know the only thing you can buy at WH Smith’s is a paperback or a magazine and so they exchange the voucher with you for five pounds in cash- and they don’t even read you parents- except the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail- which definitely don’t fucking count Dad, that is not how you attain a balanced view of the fucking world. And the whole thing just makes you feel terrible because maybe you should be reading paperbacks and magazines and maybe that’s what your Granny is trying to encourage in you, she wants you to read more, she wants you to be educated, well rounded, she wants you to have a better start in life than she had, she’s doing it with love y’know and you just open the card look at the voucher and think, “Oh, great, five pound gift voucher for WH Smith’s, you stupid fucking old cunt, how out of touch can you possibly be? What do you expect me to do with this shit? Why don’t you just hurry up and die so I can have a slice of your money- oh that’s right there isn’t any money cos you spent it all on boiled sweets, figurines of angels and restoring church roofs.” And anyway, this sack of parcels, this stolen sack of mail is better than any Christmas because anything we open is ours to sell. There are books- we can sell. There are clothes- we can sell. There are office supplies and electrical goods- all of these things we can sell. Just as we’re tearing open the last few things, Chilli stops, he’s looking down at his hands in his lap as though they are bleeding. Then he raise them up for me to see what he’s holding- a tiny pair of knitted booty slippers- and then Chilli, masochist that he is- reads from a small card. “I hope these fit you baby Matty, see you son, lots of love, Granny. Kiss, kiss, kiss. This is terrible,” he says, “This is awful- we’re going to hell!”
Then there’s just lots of questions being fired at me-
“What’s your name?” Jimmy, James, James Hogg…
“Where are you from?” Here, I mean, Plymouth, Devonport, although I was born in Portugal…
“Where are you going?” Home, well to my Mum and Dads…
“What have you been doing?” Just hanging out with mates…
“Whose car is it?” It’s my Dad’s…
“Have you had a drink?” Yeah, no, not really.
“Which is it?” Yes, but only a half of cider and that was ages ago.
“We’re going to have to breathalyze you sir.” Okay.
I feel confident, I feel fine, they breathalyze everyone, they have to, it’s part of their mandate- if they stop you for any reason they have to see if you’ve been drinking, it makes perfect sense in a nation where so many deaths are linked to drunken driving, I’m all for it, I’m right behind it, I’m one of its advocates, I’m a staunch supporter of the rule. I’ve got nothing to worry about, it’s procedure, it’s what they have to do, these guys have to play by the rules, they have to fill out reports and file reports and deal with this minor incident when they’d much rather be out there catching rapists and terrorists and paedophiles and all the truly heinous criminals- or maybe they wouldn’t, maybe they’re happy to deal with this non-threatening teenager and a minor traffic violation, something routine and low stress, something where they can exercise their authority and not worry about any violent outbursts from their charge, something where they can patronize, placate and mollycoddle. They’re happy just to plod along, doing the simple thing, not taking any risks, turning their heads as appropriate. And why shouldn’t they be? It’s just a job after all- I’m sure the civil servants of this world don’t rush to file paperwork and answer telephone calls and deal with issues in the hope that they can improve the overall well-being of the individuals that they’re serving in society. No, they’re taking two hour lunch breaks, half hour coffee breaks and idling on the internet whenever they can get away with it.
“Oi Donna, look at this pig, it thinks it’s a sheepdog!”
“Oh that’s funny as fuck that is- have you seen the goat that twats that woman in the face?”
“Steve showed it me this morning- I nearly wet myself.”
“I don’t know where they get it from.”
“It’s proper mental.”
“I just had one lovey.”
“I got some chocolate Hobnobs from Co-op…”
“Oh, go on then, two sugars.”
But for all appearances the constables are officious and exacting in their duties.They produce the contraption that will roughly gauge the booze in my system. I take a big breath- and let it out. The green light does not ignite, the red light however, does. I say goodbye to Chilli who has been waiting patiently for the outcome of my detention and I am escorted into the back of the police car. From the driver’s seat in front of me the constable reads me my rights from a laminated card and I try not to think about prison…
It all comes down to Karma. I have bad Karma and so bad things happen to me. And even if good things do manage to happen I can’t enjoy them because of this black cloud hanging over me. I’m like Pootle the Flump. The Flumps are this little group of fluffy, round, humanoid type creatures- it’s a BBC series for kids- and one day Pootle who’s the main Flump- not in terms of hierarchy, they don’t really have a hierarchical structure in Flump society- Pootle’s just the main Flump, he’s the feature Flump of each episode- he’s being followed around by this black cloud which he just can’t seem to shake and so he goes around and he asks each of the other Flumps for their advice and they give him their various insights into the matter and it doesn’t really help because the cloud is still right their above him, following him around and so he goes up this hill to this cliff top and stands their on the edge- he’s not going to jump, he’s not going to kill himself, it’s not that sort of show, it’s for kids, like I said. And anyway, he stands there and just breaks into song and then the black cloud disappears and he’s bathed in sunshine and he reaches some kind of epiphany and it all makes perfect sense to him- he just has to put his troubles aside and not worry about things to much, not over think everything all the time and it’s all kind of pseudo-Buddhist and spiritual in a way and I don’t even know how it’s meant to be for kids because it’s on at one in the afternoon on weekdays when only toddlers are at home and they’re not going to be able to get their heads around such concepts- And Pootle’s situation doesn’t really apply to me anyway because he’s just an innocent little Flump who’s got a minor case of the blues, it’s not as though he’s being punished for the fact that some Granny somewhere has sent her grandson some little knitted booties and now he’s not going to get them, never going to get them because of some selfish act of thievery.
Prison. A six by four cell being shared with a six feet four inch body-builder called Marjorie. That’s what I imagine it will be like. Marjorie and I. Together. In a cell. It is very well advertised that if you drink and drive you will be prosecuted- which means a fine and/or prison. You hear stories all the time of people being sent away for a couple of years because they were three times over he limit- and okay, I just had a half of cider, but I have no idea how strong it was and how efficiently my body metabolizes alcohol and if I had anything to drink the night before which is still in my system- and so I desperately try and recall what I did the night before tonight and I have no idea, I can’t focus on anything, all I can think about is the notorious mind-fucking properties of scrumpy cider- for all I know I’m paralytic, I’m wasted- I mean you look at the guys with grog-blossom noses who drink the stuff habitually- and they’re professional drinkers, so what chance do I have? What chance do I have?
The ride in the police car is a silent one. I expect that the constables want to talk about their weekends or something but refrain so as to uphold their status and intimidate me further. It works. I am a ball of pure fear. Once at the station I am brought before a sergeant and I empty my pockets of the little they contain and then I fill out a form and wait and fill out another form and then wait a little longer until I am taken into a room which holds the Master Breathalyser- a huge contraption that looks like the first computer ever made. And I am instructed to breathe into the device three times and that if any of the readings are over three-hundred- three- hundred what, I don’t know- but if it’s over three hundred then I am in deep shit and should probably find myself a reliable religion of some kind. I suck the air into my lungs and then exhale into the tube. “Two-sixty,” someone reads from a dial somewhere. I go again, “One-eighty,” the voice says, somewhat deflated. I go a third time, “One twenty-five.” There’s a pause. I’m in the clear- well, I’m not going to prison for drunken driving, I’ll probably have to pay a fine of some kind once I don’t return to the police station in the stipulated seven day period with the driving license I don’t have. I breathe a sigh of relief. The coppers are visibly upset by my innocence. The arresting officer who’d read me my rights from a laminated card gives me a ticking off…
“You’re a very lucky young man.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“You might not be so lucky next time.”
“You should be more careful.”
“Just try and stay out of trouble.”
“Go on then… bugger off.”
And he’s gone, and the other constable takes me back to the sergeant and I fill out some forms and collect my keys, change and sugar-free chewing gum that I’d stolen from Sainsbury’s the day before. I walk out into the night and taste my freedom on the long walk home.
I get back to my parents place. Ordinarily I’d hang the car keys on the brass hook above the cat litter tray and leave, but not this time. This time, Elmo- a black and white cat with a wide face and sympathetic disposition squats in the gravel and looks up at me knowingly. He tips his head to one side as if to say, “They’re in the front room.” My Mum’s sat at the table behind a full ashtray, clutching a cup of tea and my Dad’s on the settee reading the newspaper. Immediately my Mum bursts into tears and hugs me with all the strength she has. My Dad stands, he’s going back to bed, “You alright, son”
“Yeah, I’m alright Dad. Im alright.”
The next day my Dad went down to the police station and explained everything- it turned out that the desk sergeants wayward son had done the same thing not long beforehand. So I go away with paying a small fine of a few hundred quid which the government deducted at a rate of five pounds a fortnight from my unemployment cheque.
I never borrowed my Dad’s car again and my Mum worried about me a little more than she used to- and still, to this day I do not have a driving license. I’m working on it.
Chilli and I stopped smoking marijuana- except for on special occasions and at Fringe festivals- and we got jobs- his in MacDonald’s and mine in the alternative room of The Warehouse nightclub where I opened bottles of beer for goths, metal-heads, punks and hippies- it was brilliant. We started saving our money and planned our next adventure hitchhiking around Europe.
But before we did any of that, in way of redemption, Chilli hand delivered the little knitted booty slippers to baby Matty… But baby Matty was already dead.