You had me at first click – Part Three

By the time they reached their teens Johnny (or John, as he now liked to be called) and Jenny (who now answered to Jen) had changed. They were still close, in part because they still lived on the same street, but John was now a slave to rugger, whereas Jen had shed her tomboy persona like a snake sheds its skin, and was now partial to more traditionally feminine pursuits like ballet and book club.

But one Saturday in the autumn of 1984, everything changed. John was walking home from rugby practice through the local park. The late afternoon sun easily penetrated the thin canopy of skeletal trees above his head, settling on the piles of crisp orange leaves at his feet. He kicked them up as he walked, swinging his gym bag as he went.

When he looked back on that day – as he was prone to doing in subsequent years, no matter how hard he tried to avoid it – he often wondered if he had been humming a tune. It sometimes tortured him not being able to remember, though he knew it was of no significance at all.

The first scream stopped him in his tracks. He looked about him, briefly wondering if he had imagined it. Then he heard the second, and this time there was no doubt in his mind. Someone was being attacked, and they were close by. John threw his gym bag to the ground and spun around in a desperate attempt to locate the sound. To the left of the path was a dense thicket, and when the scream – by now more of a whimper – rang out again he ploughed straight into it, mowing the thick foliage down with his powerful legs.

It didn’t take him long to reach the girl. She was lying in a clearing, her face pressed into the mud. She was naked from the waist down, her white cotton knickers lying several feet away and flecked with blood. Her shoulders were shaking – through cold or fear he couldn’t tell – and she was sobbing with such intensity she sounded more like an animal than a human.

Instinctively John removed his coat and covered the girl’s modesty. She bristled at his touch but didn’t turn towards him. Her hair was wet and stuck to her head in muddy strands. Buried amongst the strands was a piece of material. John gently tugged it out. It was a red ribbon. His blood ran suddenly quite cold.

The girl turned her head then, and looked at him. Her face was so thick with mud she was almost unrecognisable – almost, but not quite. “John?” she whispered as her tear-soaked eyes found his.



Writing this reminded me of a guest house I stayed in when I was in Vashisht in northern India. It was a squalid place which with the benefit of hindsight I should never have stayed in, but I was taken with this view from the rooftop and my little attic room and so I did. The owner was a creep who preyed on vulnerable lone female travellers. i managed to evade his clutches despite his best attempts to get me on my own but the day after I left a girl confided that he’d tried to get her drunk and go into her room. I confronted him and we had a slanging match on the street, with him accusing me of being racist (which I’m absolutely not). With hindsight that was also inadvisable, but sometimes emotion gets the better of you. That day I saw the darker side of travelling alone.

The winning streak

Jasper stood on the edge of the muddy playing field. The other boys had streaked off ahead, their red shirts scattering like wildfire across the pitch. He couldn’t hope to catch up, and even if he could they wouldn’t want him to.

It had always been like this. From his very first day at Thorpe Elementary School for Boys, Jasper had stood out as being different. In truth he could see why. The other boys were slim and lean, whereas he was blubbery as a whale. He did try to eat less, to look more normal, but his mum would dish up a second helping and reassure him he was ‘just big boned,’ and his dad would tell him ‘real men’ didn’t ‘eat like sparrows.’

It was starting to rain now, little spots which Jasper first mistook for midges tapping at his skin, but which soon became fat splodges that splashed onto his forehead and plopped down onto his cheeks. He trudged over to the kit bag, pulled out the shin pads and began the painstaking process of attaching them to his chubby legs. He was half way through when he heard a shout.

“Wait!” It was Mister Johnston, the PE teacher. “Not today Barnes, I’m putting you up front.”

Jasper’s mouth fell open and he dropped the shin pad he was holding in his hand onto the soggy ground.

“Williams can go in goal today,” Mister Johnston continued, unperturbed.

A ripple of dissent ran through the boys on the pitch.

“But Sir,” Brian Williams went to protest, but Mister Johnston held his hand up in a way that told him this was not up for negotiation. He pointed to the goal, and Brian scowled as he took his allotted place.

Jasper removed the shin pad from his left leg, his mind racing. This was unusual. He always played goalkeeper. It was just the natural order of things – put the fat kid in the goal, he can’t run far or fast enough to be a striker. He’d always just accepted it. Why was he being given this chance?

As he passed Mister Johnston the teacher gave him a conspiratorial wink.

Half an hour later the game was drawing to a close. Jasper, who had tried to grasp the opportunity that had presented itself with both hands, had been thwarted by his lack of stamina and inexperience in any position other than the one to which he was accustomed. He stood at the side of the pitch, bent double and wheezing. He was cold and dirty. Mud clung to his legs with the kind of hope he’d clung to as he’d started out thirty minutes previously. But all was lost.

Suddenly, the ball was coming towards him at speed. Jasper looked around him. He was by far the nearest person to it. He looked towards the goal at the far end of the pitch and did a calculation. If he started running now he might just make it.

So he ran, as if his life depended on it. He ran until he had gone past all the other boys and all that stood between him and the goal was Phil Bardsley, the opposing team’s keeper. Phil’s silver braces flashed in warning as Jasper pulled his leg back and delivered an almighty kick to the ball. But there was nothing that could stop the ball in its trajectory to the back of the net.

And from this moment onwards, Jasper had the strangest feeling that there would be nothing stopping him.


I wasn’t sure what image to upload with this post, as I’ve already posted a picture of my triathlon last year, which was my greatest sporting achievement to date (I still can’t believe the chubby six year old I used to be grew up to be a triathlete!) But when I thought about my other greatest sporting achievements to date I decided learning to SCUBA dive last year had to be right up there. It was the most amazing experience diving with the turtles, and something I long to do more of in the future.