All that Gary Glitter music blaring from the clapboard hall orifices must have triggered some kind of primeval survival instinct within me. Vapours from the newly-sited Chinese takeaway hung in the village air over the crossroads and away into the woods. There had been a really bad feeling about crossing the threshold of the local disco from the very start. Trouble loomed large even before my vision could properly adjust to the DJ’s jarring light-set. Wearing his leather biker’s jacket and bovver boots, red-faced and bleary-eyed, the biggest bruiser for miles around had placed himself right by the door on one of those stackable grey plastic chairs you find in halls everywhere. Jimmy Hetheridge was obviously waiting for someone. And that someone would, of course, be me: Vinny Ball. Two years older, and at least twice my size, this teenage monster had a terrible reputation for violence. Just his spoken name ushered in a kind of silent respect.
Now, Jimmy Hetheridge’s girlfriend, from an adjoining village, had been coming up to see me over the last few weeks, and I rather had the hots for her, too. So. During the next song – Boney M, probably – the bull-necked and revengeful beast came up to me in the middle of the dance floor.
‘You who I think you are, you black cunt?’
His confused silence was all the time I needed to get hold of Doug Sawyer and lure him away with the promise of some stolen drinks-cupboard liquor. We had made it past the crossroads and were close to the woods where the drink was concealed when a great hollering erupted behind us, followed by the thuddering of big army boots on the new tarmac path.
This is it, I thought, nearly wetting myself.
‘Why did you say you weren’t him?’
‘You been seeing my bird?’
‘He has, Jimmy! He has!’
This second voice belonged to a curious individual who had developed a rather strange obsession over me. Back in the disco, he had asserted to Hetheridge that I wasn’t in fact the person who he thought I was; now he was trying to drop me right in it.
‘He has, Jimmy!’
‘Listen,’ said Jimmy, getting his face close up to mine so that I could smell the Watneys on his breath. ‘I don’t want you going anywhere near her, understand?’
Perhaps he could smell my fear in return because after that warning he became quite warm-hearted and avuncular.
‘You go anywhere near my bird, and I’ll break every bone in your body, even if I have to go to jail for it. Got that?’
‘That’s all right then. You coming back?’
‘We’re gonna get some booze.’
‘All right. I’ll see you later.’
‘Can I come?’ pipes up Ronald Oakley, seemingly having forgotten that just nine seconds earlier he was doing everything he could to have me severely beaten up.
‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘Oh, all right,’ and off he goes with Jimmy Hetheridge back to the disco, while Doug and I knock back the previously hidden hooch, which gives me the courage to go back up the road and once more face the strains of Shawaddywaddy and Mud.
Only afterwards did I think, black cunt? I’d been called a cunt many times: a shitty cunt, fucking cunt, useless cunt, curly cunt, and countless other variations on that part of the female anatomy – the normal retort was, ‘At least I’m useful, what about you?’ But as far as black cunt was concerned, this had never occurred before. I’d never been called a black anything. I’d never even thought of myself as black.