Mr Stringer

Right Frank.
Sir –
You’re 15, I don’t expect stupid behaviour at your age.
But Sir.
What’s your problem, eh?
Sir, it’s the others.
What Others?
The lads are on at me.  All the time.
Why don’t you report it?
That makes them do it more.
We have a Bullying Policy Frank.
No point, Sir.
How So?
It’s my brother and his mates.

Right.   I see.  Well, I’ll keep my eyes open.
If I see it myself, then I’ll take the matter
into my own hands.  OK Son?
He claps Frankie on the back.

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Next Day at School

Frankie’s walking down the corridor –
it’s break and full of kids charging
through and round. Rucksacks,
bags and kit jostle for space.
Up ahead Paddy’s mates see him coming
knot their heads, then as he passes
a foot goes out, Frankie trips
laughter cracks the group,
they splinter off, Dec kicks him
as he goes, hisses Hom.

It’s Football – Frankie hates it
but Dad stopped Mam from writing notes:
Football’s what he needs!
Today they’re doing laps around the pitch
in shorts and T shirt; up ahead
he sees Dec struggling to run,
Frankie catches up
sails past and shouts:
I’ve seen betta legs on a snookah table!
Other runners bray like sheep –
heh heh heh.

It’s R.E. in the afternoon,
Frank goes to a vacant seat
around a table. Dec appears from nowhere
elbows him and sits.  Frank moves to another
space, two lads lean together, block him
out, girls are sniggering – no-one’s
making room.  Then Paddy
waves him over, Frankie looks around
Mr Stringer’s irritated:
Find a chair – settle down.
Reluctantly Frankie goes to Paddy
who pats the chair, but as Frank sits
Paddy kicks it away and he falls
bangs his back. The classroom titters,
Mr Stringer shouts at Frank:
Stop messing about..
Sir!
See me after.
Frank tussles the chair
away from Paddy and sits apart
looking out the window, but sees
Paddy pretending to rub his eyes
and cry making Becca laugh.

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Reasons

I wasn’t ready
I wasn’t at ease
I wasn’t sober.

he pushes himself to swim faster
I wasn’t sober
I wasn’t ready
I wasn’t at ease.

He focuses on the way his arm
slices the water, on a pattern
of breathing,
he slips into a rhythm
calms down,
this is what I can do –

he becomes a swimming machine.

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Practice Harder

Frankie gets out the house early.
The world’s different
at that time of day –
he can hear the birds
the traffic on the western bypass
like a distant sea,
the alchies haven’t gathered
on the bench at the entrance
to Elswick Park yet.  It’s just him
and his thoughts.  The Pool
opens at seven a.m. for serious swimming:
a few old gadgies huffing and puffing
for their hearts, and then him
powering up and down
trying to stop the video
in his head
replaying the date with Becca
over and over.

Frank remembers in Year 6
Paddy said: Right
who’d you snog
if yer could have anybody ?
He lied quickly:
Madonna ?
Oh Aye, Paddy agreed, And Kylie
Mm, Frank hummed,
Paddy counted on his fingers:
Beyonce and Cat Deeley.
Frank couldn’t think of any names
apart from Derek
and he couldn’t tell Paddy
that he’d already kissed him
once.

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Becca’s second date

The door bell rings.
It’s Becca.
Frankie stares
saying nowt,
he’s hot and red, she’s cool,
but her eyes flit about:
Is Paddy there?
Frankie turns and shouts.
Paddy comes tumbling down the stairs
smelling like a can of Lynx
his shirt ironed, his ears pink
every inch The Lad,
Hiya he grins, turns and winks
at Frankie, and off they go.

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Revenge

But next week
when he sees the hickey
on Becca’s neck
he just knows she’s got another lad,
trying to make him feel bad –
then he finds out
who it is.

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Google Earth

At school next day, Becca makes a show
of avoiding Frankie; Corinne takes him
off to the Art Room to hang.
It’s quiet and he tells her
it was the drink
that made him sick.
They’re arsing about on computer,
Corinne says
Look at this –
she types in words and there’s an image
of the earth from outer space
then it’s zooming in
and zooming in on Britain
England,
The North East
Newcastle
The Tyne
the Estate
their road
his house
and with a lurch
Frankie realises the world
could spy on him
and he shouts
Turn it off!

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Becca’s House

is small but it has a garden
there’s a plastic red and yellow car
on the small patch of grass
and a soft football.
The wooden door looks worn
there’s a cat flap in it
and as Frankie walks up the path
there’s a whining noise
that makes him jump
he can’t see where it’s coming from.
Before he can ring the bell
Becca’s opened the door:
I saw yer coming.

There’s the weird noise again and Frankie looks round.
Oh, that’s Shearer. The cat.
She laughs and turns, he follows her in,
I thought yer might not come.
Frankie laughs but says nowt.

They sit in the front room,
there’s photos and pictures and vases
standing on lacy things with pretend flowers
a coal fire that’s really electric
a fat settee,
chairs with lacy things on the arms and back,
two different sorts of wallpaper
top and bottom of the walls.
There’s a big TV
in the corner and piles of DVDs
of The Tweenies. It feels
full of stuff and he feels
as if he’ll knock something over
D’yer want a drink?
Where’s yer brother?
Upstairs.  Asleep.
Well..
There’s a bottle of vodka.  An I got coke or orange.
Frankie laughs but says nowt.

He doesn’t really want to drink it,
but after two the others get easier.
Becca puts on a Tweenies video
they’re laughing, sitting side by side.
After a while Becca says:
Haway then
and goes out the living room
he follows, feeling a bit dazy;
Becca grabs his hand in the dim hall
Haway! and pulls him upstairs.
Her bedroom is pinky white
and there’s a poster of Beckham
and they agree he looks fit.
Then Becca puts her arms round Frankie’s neck,
she’s a giant shadow on the wall,
pushes herself against him and he freezes.
Haway says Becca and tries to kiss him
Frankie sort of kisses her back
then Becca says:
Ha ye not kissed a lass before?
Frankie says: Aye
but he doesn’t say it was his cousin
and it was on the cheek at Christmas.
Then Becca pulls him down onto the bed
they lie on their sides, Frankie closes his eyes
trying to think what Becca wants him to do
so he puts a hand round her back.
She presses closer, her hair smells clean
Frankie kisses it and she sighs.
He feels her tits pressed against him,
she’s biting his lip
and pushing her tongue
into his mouth.
He feels like a big dog is slavering him.
He’s dizzy, not sure how long they’ve been lying there
then Becca’s hand’s on his zip
like worms wriggling into his kecks;
he’s hot and tight and uncomfortable
he puts a hand down and grabs her wrist.
What’s the marra like?
Don’t yer fancy me?

He swings his legs over the edge of the bed
and is sick all over her pink carpet.
Becca jumps up, pulling her skirt:
Fer fuck’s sake !
I didn’t mean to.
Haway – I’ll have ter clean up
before me ma gets in.
Frankie’s on his knees in the bog
Becca’s on her knees
scrubbing the carpet.
He puts his head round her door:
I’d better gan.
Aye, she doesn’t turn round
she’s attacking the floor
there’s a stink of puke and lemon.

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The date with Becca

They agree to meet at the Gate, see a film.

It’s all lit up like Hollywood,

Corinne says she’ll hang around

too keep him company till Becca comes.

There’s been a match –

the Toon Army are out in force:

all that black and white

lads and men marching, pushing and shoving.

Above, the starlings are wheeling

black dots against the evening sky

like they can’t decide where to rest.

Frankie can smell the hot dog and onions

from a stall with a tatty sign: Toon Sarnie.

He feels greasy, palms slippy

he’s walking in slow circles

wondering which direction she’ll come from,

says to Corinne: What’ll I say?

Then his mobile rings and it’s her:

I’m really sorry Frankie

me mam says I’ve got to babysit me brother.

Oh.

You can come over if yer want, I’ve got some DVDs.

Aye, ok.

Frankie’s all for going home

but Corinne’s not having any of it:

Paddy’ll never let yer forget it, man,

drags him to the bus stop

waves him goodbye.

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