Writing my post about Cricket for the ‘C’ post reminded me of another reason why I may have a mental block against the sport. His name was James, a mate of mine at school. He looked like a young Prince Charles, even down to the sticky out ears. He was very English, fantastic at sport, tall, funny and a lovely friend.
He used to entertain us with his impersonations, which was fashionable humour back then. His great passion in life was cricket (and football, and rugby), so his best impersonations were Richie Benaud, Brian Johnstone and other commentators, as well as the rest of the full repertoire of Rory Bremner who was the big impressionist of the eighties and nineties.
I remember a big group of us had gone to a club in Leamington one night, around the time we were leaving school for good, and I stood by the bar chatting to James. As I ordered a round of drinks, Cinzano and Lemonade (it was 1991 and we were a bit posh), I saw one of our friends nudging James and overheard him saying: now, now, kiss her, kiss her! All of sudden, James grabbed me and snogged my head off. I got over the shock to register lots of saliva and a grip that was slightly too hard on my arms.
It led to a few more snogs on subsequent occasions. My dad, who I lived with in those teenage years, went away on a golfing holiday, so I held my first dinner party as I had the house to myself. James was there with a bunch of our mates and we danced together to an eclectic mix of ‘Whole of the Moon’ (was that the Waterboys?), ‘Size of a Cow’ by Wonder Stuff, and ‘I Wanna Sex you Up’ by Colour Me Bad (What can I say? We were young and our taste in music was terrible. Again, ’91.)
Two days after my dinner party, Freddie Mercury died. Two days after that, James had a big argument with his dad and stormed out of their house. At the end of their gravel driveway, he locked eyes with a driver of a car who didn’t slow down. James slipped on the gravel as he tried to stop for the car and slid under the wheels. If memory serves correctly, James didn’t die straightaway. The story goes that his father got to him and held him, and then he died. The rest of the planet wouldn’t shut up about Freddy Mercury, while I hated everything around me because James wouldn’t see it or experience it ever again: the sun, the moon, music, laughter.
He was only eighteen.
At James’s funeral, crowds of people stood outside the packed church, unable to get in. I went to the funeral with Urszula, another girl he’d dated at school before me. I wasn’t quite a girlfriend, but no longer just a friend either. I had a seat in the church, but we didn’t go to the wake. Urszula and I had a drink in a pub on our own and drank to the tall, sexy guy who looked like Prince Charles and made us all laugh with the voices of cricket.
One of the most surreal moments of my life, and I will base a fiction on it one day, was being asked by my dad to go and pick up a Chinese takeaway only a few hours after I’d learned that James had been killed. I remember sitting on the hard window bench waiting for Sweet and Sour Pork and Chicken Chow Mein, looking at the other customers and thinking: don’t these people know what we’ve lost? How can they not know what we’ve lost?
PS. I read the sad news of Richie Benaud’s passing this morning. I wrote this post a few days ago, and it feels like an eery coincidence that I am publishing it today. Rest in Peace, Mr. Benaud. And you, James.
PPS. I honestly can’t remember if Freddie Mercury died first, or James, but there was definitely only a few days in it. Trying to remember those details from so long ago is almost impossible I’m finding.