“We can’t afford it”
I was a kid, I knew that. I knew we couldn’t afford it but still, I was a kid. You’ve got to ask, right? And I did. I stood there in Boots with a cassette in my hand, sometimes it was the same one, sometimes it was a different one, a different price and I’d ask. “Mum, can we buy this one?”
I knew we couldn’t afford it because I knew my dad was out of work. I knew my mum was out of work. It wasn’t long ago they were in work but then it sort of changed. I just knew that one day there was work, then there was none and then my parents stayed at home. I’d been brought up, in the main, by my nan and grandad whilst my mum and dad went off to work. Then I wasn’t.
I knew that whatever small amount of money they’d had, that was gone. It didn’t take long to work through and spend, not when you’ve got a kid. I knew that then, I was the kid. They told me. I knew the food changed. Sumptuous home cooked meals replaced with mince and something, chips and something, staples to get by. And the portions were smaller. I knew that. I knew it because I felt hungry.
But they did it all the same the Christmas before. They bought me that computer, they bought me some games. I didn’t even have to pull the homework stunt, “it’s for the future”. They knew.
I was a daydreamer. In many ways, I still am. I still drift off sometimes into my own little world. I watch my own kid running round the garden chasing imaginary Daleks with his lightsabre and I remember that. I remember what it’s like. I once dreamt that the shed was a portal to another dimension, an exciting dimension where things happened, where I could fight Daleks myself and win and I’d win because it was a better place where I could win.
When I was fighting Daleks I wouldn’t have to pretend I couldn’t hear my mum crying at night.
I’d come home from school, I’d do the things I had to do then I’d rush and play the computer. My parents never really complained too much about this, I couldn’t quite understand why. Everyone else, they got told off for spending too long on the computer but not me. From the time I’d finished doing the stuff I needed to do then had my tea, I could stay on the computer until bedtime. I didn’t always but I did a lot.
I remember walking to school talking to the headmaster. He had a Speccy too, just like me. “I’ll copy you some games if you give me money for the tapes”. No, I said. My dad can already get me games. Even if he couldn’t I’d have lied. I’d have lied because I knew my parents didn’t have the money for tapes really. “Don’t say we’ve got no money, please”. I respected that even if I didn’t understand why I couldn’t tell anyone.
But I was a kid. And yeah, I had lots of games copied. C90′s galore filled with videogames. I’d play so many, I’d discover so many. But I was a kid and a kid in Boots faced with a rack of videogames, videogames like everyone else could have in boxes, no fast forwarding required, I wanted that too.
“We can’t afford it”
I’d walk along the street on the way up to Boots, hanging off my mum’s arm and I’d try and think of ways I could get my mum or my dad to buy me a tape. I knew it wasn’t so simple, I knew there was no work and with no work came no money and with no money came no chance. I knew that. So how could I get a chance? How could I change that?
“Mum, can I write to the Prime Minister?”
“What do you want to do that for?”
I looked at my mum like she was stupid. Why wouldn’t I want to write to the Prime Minister? I’d got it sussed. If, when I got home, I could write a letter to the Prime Minister then I could let her know that my mum, my dad, they weren’t happy. That they had no job and no hope of finding any. That this town, this town had no work because places were closing down all the time. I knew they were closing down because my mum’s friends, they were out of work now too. My dad’s friends, they were out of work now too. I asked why. “Because the place they worked has closed”.
I was a kid. I thought the Prime Minister was supposed to care. I had a plan and it’d pan out like this.
I’d go home, I’d write to the Prime Minister. I’d say how bad things were here, how sad my parents were, how sad my parents friends were. How much they wanted to work and then I’d post it. It’d go off to 10 Downing Street and the butler would take it to the Prime Minister. She’d open it, she’d read my story and she’d wonder if it was true. So to find out, she’d come down, she’d visit the town and I’d show her the route we took to the town centre. Not over the bridge, under the bridge. If we went over the bridge she’d miss most of what I wanted her to see. I’d walk her past the flats and I’d say “don’t go in the flats, they’re not very nice and the people there are angry” and she’d understand. I couldn’t take her there, they smelt of wee but that’d be what I’d say.
I’d walk her that way because she could see the places that were closed. I’d tell her how the clouds smelt like trumps and the sky always seemed grey here. I’d point at the litter on the ground, the chip papers, the sweet wrappers and say how they never seemed to get cleared up round here, they just blew around for a while until they settled in a hedge and I’d show her the hedges filled with papers so she’d know I wasn’t lying. I’d walk her to Boots and I’d tell her that all I wanted, all I really wanted was for my mum to be happy enough, to have enough food so that she could buy me a computer game or two.
And she’d understand. She’d look at the town, she’d walked with me this far and she’d know what to do. She’d send some money to the council, that’s what she’d do. She’d send some money to the council and the town would sparkle again and when it sparkled, the shops would reopen, the factories would come back because who wouldn’t want to live in such a beautiful place? And she’d do this and then she’d get in her car and leave and I’d say “thank you”. That was it, that was the plan.
“I don’t think she reads kid’s letters”, my mum said.
I came home from school the next day and my mum told me we were going out. There was a new store up town and we had to go and visit it. Off we set, my mum, my grandad and me. It was a long walk, we walked up under the bridge, across the smaller railway bridge, up the road I’d planned on showing the Prime Minister. We kept walking, we walked past the town centre, this was further than I’d ever been. My eyes lit up when we finally got there, a shop that sold nothing but computer games. Incredible.
“Mum, can I have this?”, I held up a copy of Psytron. I’d be lying if I told you now I hadn’t chosen it because it came in the biggest of all the boxes.
My mum took it from my hands and went to the counter, Psytron bought and bagged. My grandad smiled at her and off we went back home.
“Say thank you to your grandad too”
I didn’t know why but I thanked him anyway. Then we went home and played computer games.