An English Boy in New York (2 page)

BOOK: An English Boy in New York
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Sunday 21st April

Megan texted me this morning and said she won't be coming to New York. I'm too bummed to write about it just now. I'm focusing on possible replacements instead. Here's the list so far, in order of preference.

Jessica Swallow

Joz

Freddie

Mum

Mrs Frensham

Joe Boyle

Natasha

Gex

Feel a bit bad about Gex but can you imagine him being let loose in New York? Guns are practically compulsory there. Gex is obsessed with guns. He's taken to carrying around a replica Browning 45mm (which is actually a water pistol. He has loads of water pistols). I had a bad dream last night, in which I was driving over the Brooklyn Bridge pursued by a thousand cop cars, sirens ablaze, with Gex in the passenger seat, hanging out of the window and firing at the cop convoy with his Super-Sopper Aqua Blaster.

So, all things considered, Gex is bottom of the list.

But I can't
really
ask Jessica Swallow to go with me, can I?

Then again, it would solve the issue around taking another student with me. I could tell her I need to be accompanied by a responsible adult and that my parents are unavailable, or dead, or something, and that she's my only option and did I mention Executive Club? Hang on. What am I thinking? I have a girlfriend who, even though she's let me down, is a bit miserable at the mo. Also Jessica Swallow is happily back together with Hampton FC legend Joe Boyle. If I tear their relationship apart, then Joe's form on the pitch will suffer again and Hampton FC will definitely be relegated this year. I can't have that on my conscience.

I crossed Jessica Swallow firmly off the list with a marker pen.

I'll talk to Joz tomorrow.

9.13pm

I caught Mum and Dad playing Rude Scrabble on the iPad this evening. They denied it but I know what they're up to. They've adjusted the settings so they get fifty bonus points by putting down swear words. I won't go into details because this is a diary that will be read by my probation officer, but needless to say Dad was delighted when mum put
SHAFT
near a triple-word score because he happened to have two
C
s, a
K
and a blank.

I've made them delete all the rude words they added to the dictionary.

‘I play Scrabble with Molly sometimes,' I pointed out to Mum. ‘I don't want her pressing the Hint button and having it suggest she adds
J-O-B
to the word
HAND
.'

Mum looked a bit sheepish then, and she promised she wouldn't do it again, but Dad was cracking up in the kitchen, so I don't trust them one iota.

‘It looks like Megan can't come to New York,' I said as Dad came back in, breathing weirdly and with a red face.

‘Have you broken up already?' Mum asked, a bit too quickly. I looked at her in hurt surprise.

‘No,' I said. ‘But thanks for immediately jumping to that conclusion. ‘

‘So why isn't she going?' Dad asked.

I explained about her gran, that she hadn't been well for a while and in any case thought my name was Simon. I didn't say that I thought it was a poor excuse but maybe they picked it up from my tone.

‘When I get old,' Dad said. ‘Put me on a flight to Switzerland. I don't want to be a burden to anyone.' He says things like this a lot. But I suspect when it comes to the crunch Molly and I won't be able to prise his fingers away from the boarding gate at Heathrow.

‘I've changed my mind,' he'll squeal. ‘I don't want to go with dignity.'

I'll have to get something in writing.

I'm joking.

Monday 22nd April

You know how in fly-on-the-wall documentaries the producers often have to inject some artificial tension into the story? They might be filming some B-list celeb learning how to do something for the first time, like baking a cake, or recording a song, or performing open-heart surgery and there'll be a phone call they're nervously waiting for where they find out if the cake rose, or the song got to number one, or the patient survived.

‘This is the big moment,' the voice-over person (usually Dermot O'Leary) will say. ‘If things have gone badly, it could mean the end of (insert B-list celeb's name here)'s career in baking/singing/cardio surgery.'

Well, my whole life is like that. A series of moderately dramatic episodes and a constant, low-level anxiety. There's the occasional properly exciting moment, of course, like when I won at the All-UK Knitting Championship. But mostly it's minor triumphs or, more often, slight disappointments.

I popped into the school office at break today.

Lloyd Manning was sitting outside Mrs Tyler's office looking thunderous.

‘What have you done this time?' I asked. I was full of courage knowing that he couldn't very well start gouging my eyes out here in the office.

He ignored me.

‘Don't talk to him,' called Miss Lucie the receptionist. ‘What do you want here, anyway?'

‘Is Mrs Tyler free?' I asked.

She was, as it happened, and Miss Lucie told me to go straight in.

‘Hi, Ben,' she said brightly. ‘What can I do for you?' Mrs Tyler's been a lot happier since I won the knitting competition. I'm not saying it was entirely down to me, but a week after the win, Virilia announced a new three-year sponsorship for the school. We're now the Virilia Academy of Excellence in Mathematics and Agriculture. The sports hall is getting a new roof and has now been renamed the Virilia Academy Stadium of Dreams.

‘You know how I won that knitting competition,' I began.

‘Yes. Thank you,' she said.

‘Well, I've been given two tickets to go to KnitFair USA. In New York.'

‘How wonderful.'

‘But it's in term time. In a couple of weeks, as it happens.'

She frowned and paused.

Dermot O'Leary popped up in my head and started speaking in a quiet, concerned voice. ‘Will Mrs Tyler allow Ben to travel to the US? If she doesn't, it could mean the end of Ben's hopes.'

‘How long would you be going for?'

‘A week, just a week,' I said. ‘And a day, because I'd fly back on the Monday.'

‘And you said you had two tickets? Will your mother be going with you?'

‘Er  … '

‘Another student?'

‘Possibly  … ' I said slowly, trying to gauge her reaction.

‘Who?'

‘I'm not sure yet,' I replied. ‘I have a few options.'

‘I'm happy for you to go, Ben,' she said. ‘Mr Hollis from Virilia will be delighted to hear you are pursuing your knitting interests. You know they are very keen for us to develop our entrepreneurial focus. I am however less sure about allowing
two
students to go. I'd have to be reassured that it would be in the long-term interests of the other student as well.'

Oh God. Looks like it might have to be my mother after all, if I don't think of something quick.

* * *

Dear Ms Gunter,

Thank you for your letter dated 19
h
April, requesting my attendance at a Waypoint Assessment Conversation on the 4
th
May. I am emailing you today to ask if it would be possible to re-arrange the date for that appointment as I will be in New York at that time attending KnitFair USA.

Sorry about this. I am free the week before, or the week after. Or indeed any other week. My calendar is almost entirely empty right up until the SuperStitch Eisteddfod in Wokingham on the 24
th
June.

Best wishes,

Ben

So about five seconds after sending that email I get a call from Ms Gunter.

‘Hello, Ben? It's Claudia Gunter here from West Meon Probation Services.'

‘Hi, Ms Gunter, I just sent you an email!'

‘I know you did, Ben. That's why I'm calling.'

‘Good news about KnitFair, isn't it?'

‘Well  … '

‘Top male knitter Fabrice Gentile is going to be there. And there's a demonstration of a new system for shearing a sheep, treating and dying the wool and knitting it into a jumper all in a hundred and twenty minutes.'

‘I'm sure it's going to be a blast, Ben,' she said. ‘The problem is that you can't go.'

The incidental music swelled and Dermot piped up again. ‘It's a crushing blow for Ben. And completely out of the blue.'

‘What?' I spluttered. ‘Why not?'

‘You're on probation, Ben! One of the terms of your probation is that you don't leave the country.'

The room swam and I felt a bit sick.

‘But you were there when I won the prize,' I protested. ‘Why didn't you tell me then?'

‘I thought it was next year's KnitFair they were talking about.'

‘I was just getting back on the straight and narrow,' I said. ‘A disappointing setback like this could force me back into a life of crime.'

‘You shoplifted a bottle of Tia Maria from Tesco,' Ms Gunter said in a withering tone. ‘You're not Tony Soprano.'

‘It was Martini Rosso, actually,' I reminded her. ‘From
Waitrose
.'

‘Couldn't you phone them up and ask if you can attend next year's show?' she said.

‘I've already got e-tickets!' I said. ‘They're not going to want me next year. Especially if I have to tell them I'm a hoodlum.'

‘You're hardly a hoodlum, Ben,' she said patiently.

‘So why can't I go to America?'

Ms Gunter sighed. ‘I'll make some calls. See what I can do.'

‘Thanks, Ms Gunter,' I said, hope surging again.

‘I'm not promising anything, Ben. The Home Office doesn't tend to make exceptions.'

I was so wound up after that roller coaster of a phone call that I couldn't even concentrate on my knitting. The Hoopie I was working on now has a noticeable sag to the left. I'm not even sure how I did it but the hem on the left is two to three inches lower than the right.

I've decided not to tell anyone I might not be going to America. This is the New Ben. Positive Ben. Focused Fletcher. If I pretend everything's OK, maybe it will be.

Tuesday 23rd April

I'm a little concerned about Molly. She came home from school on Friday to tell us she has a boyfriend named Finlay. I was alarmed to hear they'd had what Molly called ‘a romantic moment' on the buddy bench. This turned out to be nothing more worrying than a quiet chat and an exchange of Moshi Monsters which isn't as disturbing as it sounds. Mum and Dad just laughed at the whole thing but I don't think it's right that children of seven should be having relationships. More to the point, what if Finlay and Molly outlast me and Megan?

I caught up with Joz at lunch today and asked him about New York. ‘
Another
knitting fair?' he asked, looking pained. ‘I thought you were over the knitting thing.'

‘I'm not,' I replied. ‘Look, the fair itself is only on the weekend, the week before is just sightseeing and  … '

‘ …  and what?'

‘And the occasional knitting-related media event.'

‘So I'd be like your assistant?'

‘Yeah, like in the Tour de France. My support team.'

‘I drive after you in a car with spare needles on the roof rack?'

‘Yes, and inject me with performance-enhancing potions in the team bus.'

‘Potions?'

‘Tea,' I said. ‘And Hobnobs.'

‘And will we get the chance to go to a bar?'

‘Mmm, not sure about that. You have to be twenty-one to drink in the US.'

‘You're not selling this to me.'

‘I can't believe you're considering turning down the chance to go to KnitFair USA,' I said, agog. ‘They have a monkey there who can crochet. A crocheting monkey!'

He shrugged. ‘Also I don't really want to leave Amelia just at the moment. She's pretty vulnerable.'

‘I can't believe I'm hearing this,' I said. ‘Don Joz the ladykiller. Author of
Fifty Shades of Graham
. International playboy, turns down a chance to go to the US because of some
girl
.'

‘She's not just some girl,' he said. ‘What we have is special.' He underlined this point by hawking a huge, phlegm-filled lugie onto a tree stump a few feet away.

‘She's one lucky little lady,' I said, trying not to be sick and wondering how to change the subject. ‘Any luck with the manuscript?' I asked after some thought. Joz has finished
Fifty Shades of Graham
and has sent it off to a few publishers in London.

‘Couple more rejections,' he muttered.

‘Sorry to hear that,' I said. ‘Maybe erotica is dead.'

‘No chance. Erotica has been around for centuries. I've been researching it.'

‘I bet you have.'

‘I mean literary erotica. Anaïs Nin, Marquis de Sade. It's all free on Kobo.'

‘Wait a minute.
You've
been reading Marquis de Sade?'

‘Well, dipping in.' He leaned towards me and whispered. ‘Did you know he used to eat people's poo?'

‘Really?' I cried. ‘That's disgusting.'

‘He used to make his lovers eat marzipan so the poo wouldn't taste so bad.'

‘If he doesn't like the taste, then why's he eating it?'

‘I know. He should just eat the marzipan,' Joz said. ‘Cut out the middle man.'

‘I'm having a horrible flashback to that night at your place when you made me watch
The Human Caterpillar
,' I said, shuddering and laughing at the same time.

It's a shame Joz can't come to America. He's revolting, and a bit weird, but he's funny.

Well, that's three people off the list. Who's next? Oh yeah. Freddie. Sigh. At least he won't turn me down. He has no girlfriend, no job, no literary pretensions and, as luck would have it, all his grandparents are already dead.

BOOK: An English Boy in New York
8.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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