As I write I ponder whether this will signify anything to you at all - you may not even recall it, but on that Mythical day, I know you saw me do it. I saw you see me do it.
You remember when we were kids and every Sunday, August to May, concerned Football? Sunday League Kids’ Football. If we played at home the pitch was in walking distance of our houses. When we played away, a convoy of parents drove us the ten to twenty miles to the game. Our team wasn’t really ever very good. You had excellent innate talent and I had a dogged consistency and monotonously robotic game that hid my natural ineptitude but the team as a whole was very bad. Typically our parents drove ten to twenty miles to see us smashed repeatedly at the hands/feet of bigger boys with hairier legs.
Our team, and parents, put a particular onus on the friendly and social aspects of Football. I think we can both see this now as our parents’ considerate, cushioning, euphemistic way of focusing us on these aspects because it was clear to them that our team would never be burdened by the pressure of success on the field. I am appreciative of my involvement in our team and the valuable lessons in team-working-under-fire, problem-solving-under fire, and the ability to lose gracefully. Repeatedly. Under fire.
I mean to draw your mind to a particular dreaded opponent: Tame Ash F.C. whose pitch was surrounded by rows upon rows of quality, high-yielding, child-enticing, energy-sapping, beautiful, big conker trees. Our parents, wise to this potential distraction, set out earlier for this match due to the inevitable half an hour it would take for us to cease pelting the poor trees with sticks and branches on arrival. This was to make room for the ten allotted minutes of substandard stretching and warming-up followed by a spirited but ultimately contradictory team-talk. I don’t mean to target the coaching staff, your father did an excellent job, but just to express that his task was akin to making a silky football team out of a sow’s ear.
The conkering at Tame Ash F.C. was, you must recall, always a prosperous endeavour and a vigorous upper-body warm up. I recall fondly those times against Tame Ash F.C. The times on the pitch facing Tame Ash I recall less fondly as they were rough and distressing, but I meant the rampant conkering that could occur before these prolonged drubbings.
This particular day, which I’m sure you’ll remember, once I highlight it with great specificity, saw us change into our kits in the cars (there were no changing rooms there) before storming the conker trees without mercy; all fourteen of us, the first eleven and the three subs, making a fifty-yard jog to the pitch last around twenty minutes. Even the opposing team joined the pre-game conkering, although at a distance, guardedly. I had had some minor successes but this particular day the detection of sticks with enough heft to bring down conkers was unusually difficult. As mentioned, I possess a dogged consistency and adaptability and, not to be deterred, I explored alternative and more unconventional missiles. I was thrilled by the discovery of a large but thin chunk of tarmac - about the size of one folded slice of bread or a large, double chocolate bar like a Drifter or a Twix. You and I shared that look, I know you remember that look – a look that said, ‘just throw it, to hell with the consequences’ and I pelted that chunk of dark road-stone high towards the nearest low-hanging fruit.
We played in a blue kit, but the boy running underneath the boughs of that horse-chestnut tree wore a white kit. I have a very stark, clear image in my mind that he was wearing white. The tarmac hadn’t really dislodged more than a few leaves on its way down, taking a few deviations on branches, before striking the boy with the most resounding Tok! sound that I have ever heard. I know you remember the Tok!, Saul. It sounded like opening a coconut with a drywall hammer or the claw part of a claw-hammer. The rich Tok! noise of finally smashing through the husky layer to the sweet fruity meat and cooling milk inside. The boy in white was clearly stunned and reeling when he looked me dead in the eyes (knowingly?) before a thickening gloop of blood cascaded down his face like red spider’s legs and interwove with his tears.
I want to thank you for never informing on me about that incident. As you may recollect, we won that match - scrappily, but we won. One of their best players had been dashed to hospital for several stitches with a suspected concussion. Now, I could not have targeted their best player any more than I targeted the crown of his head from twenty-feet away, but I feel that, as an adult, I would act more honourably than pretending not to notice that he was clearly injured. As an adult I hope that I would not have hurled the tarmac in the first place but, being a pragmatist, I feel that having hurled the tarmac and struck the boy, I would do what any normal adult would do and administer help whilst feigning ignorance of the origin of the tarmac.
Thank you for being a friend to me in a dark time when I thought myself a possible murderer who would learn after the match that I was a wanted bludgeoner and murderer and caver-in of skulls. If it had come to that, I would not have expected you to maintain your silence as you did – not with the inevitable murder investigation. But hold it you did and, as no serious legal repercussions befell me, you became a symbol of strength and solidity, and the contentedness of a guiltless man.
Honourably, Your friend,
* Names changed