Pete and Lloyd have been mentioning for some time that they are going to move somewhere else, to get their own house, to stop drinking, to do this, to do that, yet somehow whenever I pass the pitch they are still sat there chirping, beers and spliffs in hand, and Bailey the dog curled up in his basket.
So, understandably, when Pete informs me that his Ma has found accommodation up north near his hometown of Mansfield, I take the news with a generous pinch of salt. Especially after hearing it is a two-bedroom semidetached house with an allotment, costing £400 a month. As Pete is on benefits on account of his stomach ulcers – drinking – and Lloyd is on the sick for something or other mental health related, they can somehow afford to live there.
I do not ask the whys and wherefores, because it quite obviously will not occur.
Throughout the long train journey up north, gazing at the summery fields, enjoying my last couple of quiet hours before entering the madhouse, I remain in some state of disbelief, unable to imagine either of the pissed-up pair sleeping in an enclosed space, still less, on mattresses. I will believe it when (or if) I see it.
Arriving at the train station, walking through the open unmanned barriers, I am greeted by the sight of Lloyd sat inside the waiting area. His beard actually shaven, his shirt open, face and chest deeply tanned, beanie hat still on his matted grey hair – and of course, can of special brew in one hand, large spliff in the other. He gives me a big hug, and we go outside to see Pete, bearing a massive toothless grin, holding Bailey the dog, who jumps up on my chest.
En route ‘home’, they tell me about the housewarming party they held recently, predictably ending in farce. After failing to kick out some uninvited unsavoury types, Lloyd tried to crack the whip with the crackheads and ended up causing pandemonium, to which the police were called by sleepless neighbours.
This, I found out, is an all too common occurrence. The street is locally known as ‘Coronation Street’, because there is forever drama and visits from the police, who attend to the various public and domestic disturbances. Pete and Lloyd find it hilarious. Walking down Coronation Street, as drably depressing as any stretch of council house estate in England, they give me the rundown of their neighbours.
Next door live some Polish gentlemen. Upon moving into their house, Pete and Lloyd detected a strong scent of marijuana in their loft. They first concluded that the previous tenants must have been growers. However, the smell persisted, and seemed to emanate strongly from the wall connecting their loft with that of the Polish household. What does Lloyd do? Pop next door to ingratiate himself with the neighbours, with the tried and tested method of blackmailing them for cut-price marijuana. He was successful.
The other side of the street lives a Romanian family, also dope growers and dealers. Pete and Lloyd did not formally introduce themselves to this family, who apparently do not speak English, but they have befriended their 15 year old son, who we are about to meet. (The other Romanian neighbours next-door to Pete and Lloyd we shall meet later on.)
We arrive at their house, miserably indistinguishable from the rest on Coronation Street, with its door left wide open, revealing their lounge: television blearing cheesy disco music on Clubland TV, a small heap of drug detritus on the table, a pet lizard in a terrarium, and a parakeet perched on top of a birdcage. Pete tells me that the music is “for the parrot”, and without delay persuades Polly the parakeet to demonstrate its English, which it did forthwith to my shock and amusement. I had never been told to fuck off by a parakeet before.
We go out to the garden, a thin strip of land, effectively borderless, both fences flattened, freely open to view or trespass. It has a small greenhouse, to their credit filled with vegetables. The old bricks, tiles and stones which littered the garden are piled beside the house, kindly done by some neighbours, compensated with dope. Sat near the end of the garden is the young Romanian lad I mentioned from across the street, with his girlfriend, both in rickety garden chairs smoking spliffs at a grotty wooden table.
The pièce de résistance, though, is the pond. Pete and Lloyd excitedly tell me how they dug out the back quarter of their garden (can we assume after attaining council permission?), lined it with a massive blue tarpaulin, filled it with water, and then threw in some fish they caught from the big pond in their local park (again, let us assume with all requisite permissions).
Not without problems, though. Pete and Lloyd allege their other Romanian next-door neighbours walked over the flattened fence, stole some of their fish and ate them. It sounds far-fetched, but Pete treats his animals like family. I am sure he would notice if they went missing. At least they are not blaming the immigrants for stealing their jobs – not that any person on Coronation Street has (a legitimate) one – just for stealing their fish. Fish they abducted from the park pond.
The young Romanian lad is lovely, 15 year old kid just dropped out of school, dealing the dope he skims off his parents grow operation. Pete and Lloyd treat him like family, and say he comes around every day. They call him “our kid” (pronounced “ah kid”), like they started calling me a few years back. They are still as welcoming as they were before they had walls and a roof to their name. They live a literally open-door and flattened-fence policy.
I am treated to a tour of the house. Two bedrooms upstairs, each with a mattress on the floor, both littered with beer cans, spliff and cig butts, and permeated by a sour stench, assumedly not cleaned after their crackhead-crashed party. Or before, for that matter.
They have an empty loft that reeks of dope. They have a small kitchen and a sofa where one would ordinarily place a dining table. All in all, it is an astonishingly nice and civilised attempt at having a home. Bailey the dog is loving it, Pete tells me, sleeping in a different room, chair or sofa each night, relishing the warmth and comfort.
After a smoke and a drink or six in the garden, the “adults” launch a campaign to visit the local park. The park itself is beautiful, as is much of this end of England. Far more spacious and ancient-feeling than the cramped, citied south. Yet it still feels abject, like Coronation Street. A group of young, assumedly jobless youths sit in the sun on the park lawn. Some say hello to Bailey, most look up at us with dead-red eyes as Pete and Lloyd introduce me, sporting my ridiculous dungarees, top-knot and head tattoo. Lloyd informs me they are smoking spice. As we walk off he says, “Children are growing up too young.”
We spend the remainder of the afternoon sat by the pond, watching the ducks fluff their feathers, laughing at the audacity of the pair in fishing from it, and have the craic about Brighton times. Notably, having a house has solved none of their problems, which seem to have stalked them northward, foremost amongst which being Lloyd’s rampant alcoholism.
Lloyd gave sobriety a bash down in Brighton, failing on the second day, “Shaking like a shitting dog, man.” He has failed up north too, falling out with Pete over the matter. Pete denied him booze for as long as he could, before Lloyd’s concerning withdrawal symptoms and abusive behaviour worsened became too much. Pete caved. It is sad that Lloyd successfully weaned Pete off the spice but Pete cannot wean Lloyd off the special brew.
They also have much less money, which they made plenty of tapping coin down in Brighton. Now they live in something approximating a slum, no friends or connections to speak of, sandwiched between Polish drug dealers and Romanian fish bandits, drama and violence every which where, with little money because nobody has any to give.
Both Pete and Lloyd admit to me they miss Brighton. Freshly housed. Garden, allotment, cut-price dope to boot, yet they miss getting drunk and sleeping on the pavement down south.
We waft back to Coronation Street, into the house, where Clubland TV is still pumping and things become hazy. I bravely offer to cook us some food, resulting in an eminently unappetising mess of undercooked potatoes and overcooked eggs. Not even Bailey the dog ate it. I did, out of sheer hunger, and pride. I curl up on the dining room sofa next to Bailey and fall fast asleep.
I awake at the crack of dawn to the sound of that God-forsaken music. I go into the lounge to turn it the hell off. Door is wide open. Parakeet atop its cage. Pete is laying where he fell, splayed across the armchair, back arched over it in the most uncomfortable position conceivable, revealing his hairy beer belly, heaving up and down as he snores away contentedly. I guess my disbelief when imagining them sleeping on mattresses was justified.
Clumsily shutting off the television, I rouse Pete, who in turn goes upstairs to wake up Lloyd, and we pop outside for a breakfast beer and bifter. The last we had all together, in fact, though I did not know that at the time. After having a couple more constitutionals and saying goodbye to the young Romanian lad, we waft back towards the station, where my train is delayed, and we are blessed with a few more stolen minutes to laugh, drink and smoke together.
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