“And the lion will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep…”
I’m not a believer in fate, but nor am I entirely convinced that, for most of us, free will also is limitless. I think the ideas that we live in a meritocracy and that hard work will reap dividends are a joke.
Some people have no chance from the start. Some people get dealt a shitty hand and some have a full house. It’s not fair, and I don’t expect it to be really, but I would like it if those who really have been lucky would give the poor sods who haven’t been a bit of a break now and then and stop wittering on about how level the playing field is for everyone and they just worked harder. It’s one thing, having to accept that some people have it made from day one, it’s quite another to accept them telling you that they got there on merit.
This entry is about a girl I knew who never stood a chance. Some people said it was her own fault, but I don’t subscribe to that particular point of view.
After breaking up with Poor Sharon because she was prepared to accept me as I was, despite my being a twat, I almost immediately started going out with Nicola. I’ve briefly mentioned her before, but as I appear to be going through the old little black book, at least metaphorically, she comes next.
Nicola was from Holderness Road which, in Hull, is known as ‘Road’, at least on the east side. On the west side, ‘Road’ is Hessle Road. They’re pretty similar in a lot of ways, principally they’re big, long and riddled with abject poverty.
She lived with her parents and her little brother and sister. I taught her little sister at David Lister, she was alright too.
We met at Sils, which was primarily a gay club on Park Street which, like everything else really, was in west Hull. We got talking and she came back to our house on Desmond Avenue for a bit of a sing-song. Ploggy was convinced he was ‘in’ with her and didn’t leave my room until about five in the morning, leaving just her and me to get on with it. It didn’t help in terms of the burgeoning, “We can’t go out with anyone because Middlerabbit immediately gets off with them before we can do anything about it” movement that was growing in popularity at number 11.
We started going out, and it was good. We were both dirt poor, but it didn’t matter. It was still alright. We didn’t need any money, really.
Nicola wasn’t like Sharon in that she didn’t put me on a pedestal. She took the piss, which I think is healthy, especially with me. We were both big readers; I didn’t expect her to be. She gave the impression that she was pretty much the salt of the earth type, but there were hidden depths, which I also enjoyed. Her favourite book was ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert, which I hadn’t and haven’t read. Other than that, she was into pretty populist stuff: Stephen King, James Herbert, things like that. My perspective is that you ought to be reading, but I don’t really think it makes much difference what you read. I’m not about to get snobbish about Dan Brown – not that I’ve read any of it – even though it’s not my cup of tea. Reading Dan Brown’s better than not reading anything at all. I expect… Anyway, I have read a fair bit of Stephen King and James Herbert and I like them both. I especially enjoyed Stephen King’s introductions and afterwords to his books, which might make me even more plebeian, but there you go. He struggles with the endings of books, Stephen King, but I don’t mind that either, really. As I had thousands of books and liked to spread the joy, I lent her a few books that I thought might count as being a bit more highbrow than those from the ‘Modern Horror’ section in Smiths, but still with half a foot in the spooky: a book of Daphne Du Maurier short stories that had ‘Don’t Look Now’ and ‘The Birds’ included; an MR James collection, and ‘Rebecca’, also by Du Maurier. She dug them, as well she might, because they’re fucking ace.
When I met her parents, they were a bit wary of me, being a university graduate and training to be a teacher. Her dad was a second hand car dealer and her mum worked in a shop, so I think they might have thought I was a bit – well, I don’t know, clever? Posh? Not obviously on heroin? She’d dabbled. Before I knew her – not that I’d never come across it – and that worried them. Theirs was a generation that didn’t really come across illicit drugs too often; they were boozers. They were alright though. To an extent. A bit flakey, maybe. Full of good intentions.
She’d passed a scholarship when she was at Junior school and been given a subsidised place at the local public school – she wasn’t a moron by any stretch – but due to a family situation that I won’t go into here – she was removed three months before her GCSEs, which she never took. If she was uptight about anything, it was that people thought she was thick.
Nicola’s best friend was a girl called Jane who was older than me. She wasn’t taken with me at all. Given my record – which I wasn’t into divulging to girls I’d started going out with for obvious reasons if you’ve been reading the rest of this blog – I didn’t blame her, but I think her reasons might have been a bit nefarious.
Jane was a bit controlling. Nicola was a nice kid, but lacked self-confidence and that, I would say, quite appealed to Jane in terms of the opportunity to manipulate another person. Such people exist. For all my faults, and God knows there are plenty of them, I’m not one of them. I want people to have their own ideas. Still…
Jane barely tolerated me because, I think, Nicola was more taken with me than her, and I was into her being pretty much independent, neither of which were very appealing things to Jane.
We pottered along nicely for quite a while until I met her in a pub – she was with Jane – and she told me that she’d met someone to whom she was really attracted. I looked at Jane’s face, which was smug and knew that it would be one of her mates.
I was pissed off about it. Unusually for me, I’d not done anything dreadful and yet here I was, back on the city limits of Dumpsville, automatically making my way back to my metaphorical bedsit, with which I was most familiar.
I said, “Yeah? Well you’d better go out with him then, hadn’t you?” and left, attempting with no success to impersonate dignity.
We saw each other out and about because Jane and her new boyfriend lived relatively near me and went to the same places. We were alright with each other, no hoo-hahs. She told me that she hadn’t expected me to say what I had when she’d told me about her now boyfriend. She’d expected me to put up a bit of a fight and had been surprised when I hadn’t. I shrugged. Ne’er mind, eh? She was a good kid: funny. Not daft with it, either. About some things.
She went out with this lad for a few months and then, without warning, turned up at Desmond Avenue looking bereft. I half expected her to be looking for a shoulder to cry on due to her being ditched. It turned out to be a bit worse than that.
She had been dumped, but she was also pregnant.
Nicola was one of those girls who’d had an abortion and was absolutely convinced that, as a result of it, she was now infertile. I’d met a couple of girls who’d said the same thing and I wasn’t about to take any risks. I know that, as a lad, I was supposed to hate condoms and all that. I’d heard some interesting stories from girls I’d been out with about previous boyfriends who claimed they couldn’t get them on, claimed they hurt them, claimed they stopped them feeling anything, including love for them. My schooldays had been blighted by constant fear of AIDS and, as a person who knew exactly what sort of an idiot I was, the prospect of getting someone pregnant and having to look after a baby when I couldn’t even look after myself was enormously unappealing, St Francis of Assisi or not. Nicola had mentioned her supposed infertility to me and I’d decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Jane’s mate evidently hadn’t and had deposited a baby in her belly.
Sat in my room, smoking fags and drinking tea, Nicola looked unhappy. I asked her if she was going to keep it. She said she didn’t know. She kept going on about how she couldn’t believe she was pregnant after she’d convinced herself that she was barren, which I found irritating, but you know, I wasn’t going to start haranguing her now that particular horse had bolted. I supposed she had enough on her plate.
She asked me what I thought she should do. I told her I’d get rid, but as a bloke, maybe my opinion didn’t or shouldn’t count for very much.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know why she was telling me and I asked her why she was. She said it was because she didn’t feel she had anyone else to talk to, which surprised me. I didn’t bring Jane up.
I asked her what her new boyfriend thought about it. He’d done one the instant she told him she was pregnant. No interest or acceptance of responsibility at all.
I asked her what her mam and dad thought about it. They were pleased. Looking forward to their first grandchild.
She looked downhearted and sullen. As she was still smoking, I thought that probably she would go for the termination. To check, I asked if she fancied going to the pub, which she did. At the pub, I asked her what she wanted and she went for orange juice, which told me the opposite story. That, or she was worried about FAS, but not a having a smaller baby.
When the date came through for her first scan, I went with her because she didn’t want her parents there and she didn’t have anybody else. I didn’t mind, but I did think that if she went through with the scan and saw the ultrasound pictures, she would almost certainly keep it. I didn’t say that to her.
Once she saw the ultrasound images, she knew she couldn’t get rid of it and decided to keep it. We weren’t going out, but she’d started coming round quite often. I didn’t mind. I felt bad for her.
Her mum and dad told her that they were going to convert their loft so that she and the baby would have somewhere safe to live, with a degree of independence and a bit of help, too. I was dubious. From what I could gather, they were a bit flakey and I wondered if they’d actually do it.
One night, I’d gotten myself shitfaced on various and Nicola turned up. I don’t know how else to say it, so I’ll just come out with it. We shagged. At least she wouldn’t be getting pregnant, eh?
Come the morning, waking up next to her, I didn’t know what to think. Part of me knew I’d taken advantage: she was lonely and pregnant. Part of me considered that perhaps we could make a go of it with her baby, but I wasn’t convinced, really and didn’t suggest it. Another man’s baby? To be honest, it wasn’t even that. It was a bit, but not really. I think what it mainly was, was fear. Fear that I could run away from that she couldn’t.
Still, having reconnected – literally – we slipped back into having it off quite often and, more or less going out again. It just sort of happened. That sounds like bollocks and, let’s face it, it is a bit. On the other hand, it pretty much did. Just happen, I mean. Nothing was ever said. I thought maybe it would have been kinder – better – to have just turned her away when she’d first knocked on my door after finding herself with child, but I hadn’t, so no point worrying about that.
As time sped along and her due date crept closer, I had no idea what to do about any of it. The rest of the house at Desmond Ave were all groovy and encouraging. If we’d been hippies, probably we’d have all shared babysitting duties, but we weren’t.
One night, the phone rang. She’d gone into labour and would I go with her to the hospital. She didn’t want either of her parents there. They’d not converted the loft. Their house wasn’t big enough they told her. She’d have to get herself a place.
I took a taxi to the maternity hospital and held her hand as she gave birth.
At some point during her labour, the midwife asked me if I thought the baby would look like me. I told her I doubted it. Nicola looked concerned. The midwife asked why. I told her the truth. Nicola looked at the ceiling obliviously.
The baby was born – a girl – and Nicola moved into a two up, two down ’round the corner from her parents. I bought her a stuffed toy rabbit and called in to say hello and do the washing up, or help out for a bit. The baby was a baby: you know what babies are like. She was very much like most of them.
Our relationship – Nicola’s and mine – stuttered. With her back over the river, baby in tow, things weren’t as they were before. I’d finished my PGCE and started teaching A level psychology at a sixth form in the east Hull villages, so I’d still call in on the pair of them, but it was awkward for all concerned, I think. Probably mainly due to me. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know whether or not I wanted to get involved with her baby and thought that the best thing to do would be to steer pretty well clear, so that the little one wasn’t further confused by a useless twat like me turning up and buggering off when he felt like it. It was one thing pissing grown women off, quite another to ruin a child’s life. It’s not great, still, is it? I know. I know.
After so long, we drifted into – shamefully on my part yet again – just being Friday night fuck buddies. As everyone moved out of Desmond Ave, I thought I needed to do the same and got myself a flat on Pearson Park, which was a lovely place to live. In the mornings, mist hung around it and I’d play ‘Homburg’ by Procol Harum and have my morning cup of tea just gawping at it before I set off to work. When Friday night came around, I’d get the pizza and booze in and Nicola would come ’round, leaving her baby with her little sister babysitting.
That went on for a few months. However long it was, it was too long. It was also not enough – I don’t mean having it off once a week, I mean just having it off and not really doing much else. In addition, Nicola’s home life – never the most stable and secure – was blossoming into total lunacy. Her little sister started going off the rails and was picked up by the coppers, bouling (as they call pushing a pram in Hull) Nicola’s baby along Holderness Road in a tansad (more Hull vernacular) at four in the morning, which led to Social Services getting involved. That led to her little sister no longer being available to babysit on Friday nights anymore and it ended.
Nicola asked that we could have our sordid meetings on another night, but I’d had enough. It wasn’t going anywhere and it needed finishing, which I did. She was stoic about it and, unusually, really pleasant about it. She wrote me a letter thanking me for looking after her when she was pregnant. She said she’d really enjoyed being pregnant and that was because of me. I felt worse. Not bad enough to do anything about it though.
I suppose that, given her having fewer opportunities to go out and what with us living either side of the river and not having friends in common, it was unsurprising that our paths didn’t cross very much after we broke up.
Well, as usual, the village of Hull doesn’t often keep people apart forever and I did see her again – only once that I know of.
It would have been maybe five years later on Whitefriargate (pronounced ‘Whitefr’get’, in case you come to Hull and fancy blending in), coming out of HMV that I heard someone call, “Middlerabbit!” I looked around, and shambling along was a skeletal figure in an anorak, showing me what remained of her teeth and squeezing eyes that were already pissholes in the snow. Several grubby looking kids in tow, blank faces smeared in chocolate, jaws slack.
It was her alright. She asked me how I was doing and I think I nodded. She was a couple of years younger than me. Slim, pretty and funny – mostly – was how I remembered and choose to remember her. I asked her how she was and her impersonation of breeziness would have been more impressive had she not aged about sixty years in five and walked with a limp.
I was shocked. We’ve all seen the anti-smack adverts showing bonny lasses in the ‘before’ panel and a hollow cheeked zombie in the ‘after’ one, but it doesn’t really prepare you for seeing it actually happen to somebody’s face that you knew before.
I smiled and said goodbye and the pair of us went off in opposite directions, stumbling for different reasons.
The poor kid didn’t stand a chance. She never did. She overdosed in some shithole and never woke up. Another one.
And that makes me think, you know? It makes me think about whether the same thing would have happened had she not dumped me and gotten pregnant with a student who promptly crapped himself and buggered off. I don’t think it would have made much difference, if I’m being honest. Not even necessarily because of her: I’d have ballsed it up at some point even if she hadn’t. At best, I think it would have merely delayed the inevitable. On the other hand, maybe it’s my fault. Don’t think I haven’t thought about it, even if I try not to when it wends its way through my brain.
That wasn’t quite it, though because it turned out I later taught her daughter. The one whose birth I witnessed. I didn’t know it was her until she’d left, probably fortunately for all concerned. She was a good kid and didn’t look like her mother at all. About a year after she’d left, I got a reference request from her, which I was happy to provide, but the details that came through had, for some reason, her application form which contained an undeniable reference to Nicola. I don’t know whether her daughter knew anything about what had happened between her mother and me; I doubt it. If she did, she didn’t let on.
She was generally fairly quiet in my lessons, but not subdued. I remember putting some behaviour log into whatever the computer system was and finding to my surprise that she was a total pain in the arse in most of her other subjects. I told her I’d seen her behaviour log and asked her how come she behaved herself for me when she didn’t for most other teachers.
“Well, you’re quite funny,” she said without giving the slightest impression that she had ever found anything funny in her entire life. “For a teacher, anyway…”
You don’t often find much in the way of dry humour among teenagers, in my experience. So I gave her a good reference and hoped for the best.
She must have been among the gaggle of cocoa stained kids with Nicola when I last saw her. And I just thought, the wheel keeps on turning, doesn’t it?