by Andrew Foote
Pip tended the fire then came back over to talk to me.
"Will you read to us again Ed?"
"You liked the story then?"
"Well, yeah. We all of us did.
Sometimes I get lucky and manage to slip in to a cinema and that's cool, but it's kind of all set out for you but last night, I dunno, it was like I could close my eyes and make up my own film set, places by the sea I went to when I was young, people I saw, the boats waiting out at sea, you know, waiting to come into harbour…… what you read to us sort of came to life somehow."
"Boats or ships?"
"What's the difference?"
"I'm not sure!
They call submarines boats but they're huge some of them, yet coasters can be smaller and they're called ships."
"I once saw the film 'Das Boot", do you know it?"
"Yes. I read the book as well…… awesome!
It was so weird the way they described the tension of the moment, the battle of wits and skill between the Captain of the British destroyer and the German U boat Commander, but told from the perspective of the Germans…… never come across that before."
"I know and it made me cry, the ending especially."
"Just goes to show that there's good inside everyone if you choose to look for it I guess."
"Still got it?"
"The book? Don't think so but if we could get into a library……?"
"I might know a way? Leave it with me!"
"Uh-uh! Too risky and apart from anything else, that book is ages old and more than likely wouldn't be on the shelf now…… but if I could get on line.....?"
Five days and two books later, the weather took a turn for the better. We never did get any snow which made moving around less of an issue but what got to me was the fact that none of the kids were in any hurry to leave.
I pulled Callum to one side but his response was casual.
"We're lumbered with the little shits and it's all down to you."
"Me? What did I do?"
"Read to them, fire their imagination, that's what? I can see just how much they love it, I feel the same way but we've made a rod for our own backs here."
"But it's very risky them all being here, isn't it? What if we get sussed and the police come calling? Before, they would've netted the two of us but now there's like nineteen of us."
"I wouldn't worry about it.
If the police suspect anything which I have to say is not likely, then they wouldn't expect to find a fucking army of kids, would they? No, maybe two or three so they wouldn't go off half-cocked and surround the place or send in a fucking swat team, they'd just send two or three, so most of the kids would make it out of here.
What you've got to remember is that these kids know a thing or two about avoiding trouble, and anyway, they know the risks. If one of them did get picked up and put into care, you can bet your last penny they'd get the fuck out pretty bloody quick."
"Wouldn't they like, put them in prison?"
"For doing what exactly? What crime have they committed? So they're run-aways, so sodding what?"
"There was one little lad who got picked up by the social services a while back and he never even made it as far as a care home.
This bloke and his woman assistant nabbed him and shoved him into their car so they could get him to a home, the doors were locked of course, but as they came to a set of lights, he told them he was going to puke. They opened the window and he was gone in a heartbeat, disappeared down an alleyway never to be seen by the social ever again!
Any idea who that might've been?"
"Nah, not me. Try Pip? He's got a brain in that head of his…… just a pity he won't ever get to make the most of it."
"Yes, I could see him pulling a stunt like that! Anyhow, that's the other thing. None of them are getting even a basic education and that's really sad."
"Well, you were looking for summat to occupy your time? Why don't you do something for them?"
"Yeah grammar school boy, you. You're bright, I mean that's pretty obvious, so what if you were to say charge them a quid each per morning, that comes out at eighteen pounds a day as I count myself in as well, so what's that over a five day week Ed?"
"Ninety quid. Not very much is it."
"It's better than the fuck-all you're bringing to the party right now!"
"Sorry, that was low even by my standards.
You're a well special bloke and I wouldn't mind if you had to live here for nothing 'cos…… oh fuck it! I'd miss you if you left."
"Yeah, fucking really. Now shut the fuck up 'cos you're making me squirm!"
"Whoo-hoo! Is Callum getting all embarrassed then?"
"I thought I told you to shut up!"
"Look, I happen to like you, like really, really like you, so now will you please, FUCKING SHUT UP!"
"Yeah. Okay. Shut-up mode is on."
Callum gave me the briefest of hugs then pushed me away but the smile on his face spoke to me.
I studied his face before speaking.
"It's okay you know? I'm not made of glass?"
"That hug. It was nice and I thank you for it."
"You're welcome. Just make the most of it 'cos hugs isn't my speciality."
"That should read aren't, not isn't."
That evening, as had now become routine, we mobbed Ronny's place and seated upstairs and out of sight, we all pigged out on chicken, ham and leak pie, mashed potatoes and peas followed by a treacle pudding and custard.
Ronny was charging us two pounds fifty per head and the thought crossed my mind that he could hardly be covering his costs, so managing to find him in the kitchen, I decided to ask him.
"Look Ronny, it's not like we're complaining but aren't you being over-generous?
Seriously now, you can hardly be making a cent out of us at your prices?"
"I'm not even covering the cost of the food but what you've got to remember is this Ed. If you lot didn't scoff it, I'd have to chuck it out so a little is better than bugger-all."
"Yes well, but even so……"
"Listen to me for a moment.
I've got kids back home and me and the missus try to give them a decent life. You kids, well you're a different matter. On your uppers, no real future worth a wank, like a lost generation and like as not, through no fault of your own. Sure, I could turn you away, call the law or whatever, but the way I see it is, what good would it do? You'd only run away again."
"You don't extend your good-will to those adults out there, well not that I'm aware of?"
"No I don't.
I'm not some bloody drop-in centre for every drug addict, drunk or mental case, the state should do their bit when it comes to them, but lack of funding, shortage of trained staff or, if my guess is correct, just plain disinterest means nothing gets done."
"Sorry if I've over-stepped the mark. None of my business what you do or why you do it."
"Don't worry about it Ed. So long as you're all fed and watered, I can rest easy in my bed safe in the knowledge that I've done my best by you."
Back in our garret we began settling in to an evening of story-telling but before I started, I put Callum's idea of schooling to the kids.
"Well, that's about the size of it.
As I see it, none of us have much of a future to look forward to and without the basics like reading, writing and some mathematics under your belt, nobody would even think about offering you work.
So who's up for it then?"
There was a brief exchange of conversation before one by one, they cautiously raised their hands.
Tigger voiced one concern however.
"We'll need paper and pencils and you don't even have a blackboard Ed."
"Yes I know. So we've got a few logistical problems but nothing we can't sort between us.
Let's get back to the story and over the next couple of days, give some thought to how we might get this show on the road."
Two days on, Malc and Tiny tuned up puffing and sweating under the weight of a large cardboard box.
"That looks interesting?"
"We think it is! Wait 'till you see what we've managed to thieve."
Malc opened the box and inside were a pile of lined exercise books, a couple of reams of white A4 size card, a box of white chalk and another that contained an assortment of coloured ones. To top it all, they'd managed to find a couple of boxes of pencils, some rulers, erasers, pencil sharpeners and a blackboard wiper.
"Shit you blokes? Where on earth did you get this lot from?"
"You don't need to know that! Let's just say that this place had left a skylight open, Tiny managed to get in and open a down stairs window so we rifled the contents of the storeroom.
I bet they'll be surprised 'cos we left a whole load of laptops behind!"
Tiny chirped up and looking disgruntled muttered,
"Yeah and we could've flogged those and made us some money."
I thought about his comment for a moment.
"Maybe something to think about for another time.
Computer skills are very important but if you can't even read or write, computers will be useless to you.
All we need to get started is a blackboard so got any ideas?"
"Best you have a word with Callum, I think he's working on something out the back."
I found Callum outside on his hands and knees painting the sheet of hardboard he'd used to block off the fireplace.
"Once I've finished painting, this'll be your blackboard. I em……..borrowed a tin of bitumen from next door together with a paint brush so with a bit of luck and all assuming it don't piss down overnight, it'll be dry by the morning."
Hey, if it's not dry, I could always use you, you look like a fucking nigger!"
"Don't use that word, it's disrespectful."
"Oh I'm so very sorry, rent boy?"
"Fucking ex-rent boy, retired rent boy even."
"Oh yeah? Since when!"
"Since the last time you gave me grief…… if you must know!"
"Why? I mean I'm really, really pleased but……"
"Why? It upset you, that's sodding why?"
"Yeah you're right, it did. You're very special and you deserve something better than selling your…… cute body. Look, I know you made a stack of cash doing it but honest to Christ Callum? I need you, want you to be around, so given that you could catch all sorts of hideous infections, I don't want your money and neither do I want to find myself hiding behind a tree in some cemetery, watching as they bury your remains six foot under."
"So I'm cute now, am I?" He grinned.
"Yeah well, I only get to see you undressed twice a week at the swimming pool when we take a shower and then there are other people about so…… hang a-fucking-bout? What are you trying to say here? Are you suggesting that I perve on you?"
"Well I perve on you so why not?"
"You're bad, did you know that?"
"Yep! Bad's my middle name haha!"
"I used to charge a fortune for that but…… beings as it's you…… no charge Ed!"
I knelt down beside him and leaning over, I kissed him on the forehead.
"God Callum? You can be a real twatt sometimes!"
Story time over for another night so as Pip tended the fire, I spoke to the assembled.
"Looks like we'll be ready to rock by tomorrow morning guys. Those of you who are still up for a bit of education, can we say, get breakfast done and dusted then once any little jobs are out of the way, we can make a start.
Charlie stuck up his hand.
"Ed? Will you be caning us if we mess up?"
"Fuck no! What brought that question on Cha?"
"Nuffin'? I was just wonderin'?"
A voice from one of the boxes spoke up.
"He's disappointed! Charlie's loves a bit of S&M, don't you Cha!"
"Fuck off Abe. I don't go tellin' about your um…… specialities, do I?"
"I guess. Chill out Cha? Only kidding you?"
I'm knackered so I'm going to hit the sack…… or should that read newspapers."
Another voice from another box.
"Yeah, well it would do if you could actually fucking read!"
Charlie rolled his eyes and grinning at me whispered,
"He's right, but you're going to take care of that, aren't you Ed."
"Going to give it my best shot Cha.
Go and get some sleep, okay?"
Good night Ed."
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