Friday, 30 December 2011

The Demon of New Year's Eve

A demon walked the house on New Year's Eve. Clara had seen it. Before she had seen it she had thought things misplaced. But now she knew the demon moved things. The year before last the demon had picked up a glasses case in full view, removed her glasses and worn them awhile before casting them to one side. One lens had smashed against the hearth.

The demon looked a lot like Gary. It had the same posture as him, the same way of walking. Clara knew Gary well enough to recognise the little half-smile even on a lipless mouth on a face of cracked red-black skin. When Clara had seen it last year she was certain the demon had tried to talk to her in his voice. For a while she had entertained the notion that the demon was Gary. The thought had not entirely left her.

Like a child leaving milk and mince pies for Santa Claus, Clara had left out a few things for the demon Gary this year. Nothing dramatic; a Sunday newspaper, a drink of tea without milk or sugar and the wedding ring Gary had worn when he had been alive. Clara sat and waited on the staircase, listening for the sounds of movement.

A four minutes to midnight she heard the distinct sound of newspaper being rattled. She leapt to her feet and rushed into the living room. He was there before her, his naked skin cracked like cooling lava, thumbing through the newspaper as Gary had done. Her breath caught as she looked at him.


The demon Gary looked up from his reading. There it was, the half-smile, the conspiratorial look that had always passed between them... and then a nod in the direction of his hands. Clara looked. The ring was there, on the fourth finger of his left hand. The engraving could still be read. 'To have and to hold'.

"Oh, Gary..." Clara reached up to kiss him. "I've missed you. I want you back." Their mouths met. His skin was hot and almost crumbly, like hot coal. She felt the tingles of old come back to her; she had forgotten Gary had made her feel like this.

They broke apart. Gary's smile was still on his face. Throwing the newspaper aside, he pulled her in again.

After they separated for the second time, Clara felt something like coal-dust on her face. Moving to brush it away, she saw the skin of her hands start to blacken and crack. It no longer felt like skin belonging to her, more like a strange glove she controlled on the end of her arm.

"Gary, what is this?"

Demon Gary smiled again, sadly, this time, turned his back and disappeared. Clara soon followed him.

Saturday, 24 December 2011


Christmas is well underway in the Wilson household. It's our tradition to have Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, so I've already thoroughly overindulged. I'd challenge anyone to not do the same when offered a plate of turkey, pork, pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, roast parsnips, carrots, peas, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and apple sauce. With a Christmas pudding and gloriously thick custard to finish. Five and a bit hours on I still don't particularly fancy eating anything else. Maybe I'll have a turkey/pork sandwich in an hour or two.

In truth, it's been in full swing since the carol service last Sunday. I've always enjoyed the carol service. I don't do much singing (and I'm not very good at it - Wrisoccers who experienced my rare appearances singing at the karaoke will attest to that, as will members of the St Andrews congregation who were within twenty yards of me), but it's nice to belt out the carols with some feeling. Even though I do think that 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing' is better suited to the end of a carol service and 'O Come All Ye Faithful' is a better call to worship at the start, and not the other way round.

It's not been the same without having my sister around. Yes, I've talked to her a few times on Skype over the last few days, but I've missed the banter and her high-pitched squeaks of 'It's Christmas!' every couple of hours. Next Christmas will be better, with her actually here.

I'll end the post in time-honoured fashion: Merry Christmas one and all. Good will to all men (women, children and four-armed aliens from the planet Oud). Have a good one.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

A season with St Andrews (part four)

In football, everything ends. It might be a contract or a match or a time spent playing at a stadium. Nothing exists in perpetuity. The end of the season is a godsend for some, an annoyance for others. The end of my season playing for St Andrews was something of both.

It was late in the season when we found a bit of form. Even our performance against Christ The King was much improved. Our final few results included a 1-1 draw with St Saviours, the only game we took the lead in all season. And on the final day of the season we went to Trinity and only conceded half a dozen.

That game against Trinity was a rarity, taking place in midweek rather than on a Saturday morning. It was about a 6pm kick-off, as I remember. We assembled early, some of the lads coming straight from school. The whole evening had a strange feeling to it, as though it were something more than just the season coming to a close (although I'll admit that this may be hindsight). It was a beautiful evening for playing football.

Although we were beaten, there were plenty of positives to take from the game. Our young lads had come on over the course of the season. I could measure my own progress as a footballer in terms of school playground performances, where I went from an als0-ran to one of the go-to picks over the course of the year. In year five I'd notched about a dozen goals; in year six it was forty-odd. My confidence on the ball was improving by the week, and I'd even started making clumsy tackles on the bigger lads we faced. I wasn't alone in this development. Had the team stuck together for another season I have no doubt that we'd have started to pick up some much better results. St Aidans and Ravensthorpe Mosques in particular were nothing to be frightened of, and we'd already shown we could compete with St Saviours. The end of season five-a-side tournaments ended with us putting in two good showings, including a third-placed finish in the under 12s tournament (a team in which I made a big contribution, playing every game).

It wasn't to be. After a 1999/2000 season where we earned a grand total of two points from 18 games (and been knocked out of the cup in the first round), a lot of players didn't want to play for St Andrews any more. In hindsight, it's hard to blame them, but at the time I felt betrayed by my teammates. When the time came for player registration for 2000/01, I was one of only four players who signed for St Andrews. The team - which had played in the Mirfield District Church League since the 1920s - was forced to disband.

In later years I played against some of those I played with in my St Andrews days. It was always a bittersweet experience. It was good to see them doing well playing for other teams, but I couldn't forget that these were players who had turned their back on St Andrews. When I was younger I'd wanted to play for St Andrews with a passion. I'd followed my dad and Uncle John up to Knowl Park to watch a side with my Uncle John's son, Joe, and all manner of other talented players. I wanted to be one of them. I was for a season, but I always wish that I'd played for them for longer.

But I carried on playing in the Church League. When it came to signing for another side, I knew who I wanted to move to. I went to Trinity.

Monday, 19 December 2011

A season with St Andrews (part three)

Playing wide on the left or up front for the worst team in the league isn't a fun experience. The number of touches I took all season could be counted up on your fingers. I certainly don't remember making any particularly telling contributions, other than trudging back to the halfway line for yet another restart after chasing back in vain.

One day I certainly didn't get a touch was when we first visited Hopton. Hopton played down beyond the primary school, at the best ground in Mirfield. Not only was the pitch itself bordered by proper terracing, but there was a little stand on some banking behind the home dugout. The away dugout was on the opposite side. There were even some proper dressing rooms and showers in a cabin a little away from the pitch. It was a rare treat to play there.

I'd been there before, when my dad took me along to the previous season's cup final. It's another case of 'don't ask me...', because I can't remember anything else about it, other than that I'm fairly certain Hopton were the side who lost to Christ The King. Losing cup finals on your home patch can't be much fun.

On this particular morning, it was raining. When the car pulled up outside the ground I was straight into the away dressing room, shielding myself from the cold sheets of rain. A gale was blowing, meaning the stuff came down in entirely the wrong direction. Reaching the warm changing room was a relief. I grabbed a shirt (14 again - it had become my number) and sat down, waiting for the word to go out and warm up. A couple more lads came in, and it looked like we would at least have a full complement (even if it ended up being a wet, miserable complement who lost 15-0, there is something to be said for having all eleven out there).

Instead, the game was postponed. In my four years playing in the Church League, it was the only postponement. The re-arranged game took place the following week, and we lost 5-1. I was absent from that side. I was ill that day, and ended up curled up at home waiting for Final Score to come on so I could find out how Town had done away at wherever we were. At church the following morning Anthony reported a good performance and a goal from Luke, the no.7 from pre-season.

Another bad day came when we played Trinity at our place. We lost (again). But the worst part wasn't the defeat. It was the day my next-door neighbour, Matthew, broke his ankle in a challenge. I'd never faced a serious injury before, and seeing him carried off wasn't a nice experience. Being on the subs bench at the time meant I was nowhere near the incident, but as I remember it he and one of our lads went into a 50-50. His ankle was caught in the wet ground and the combined weight of him and the challenger resulted in the ankle giving way. I don't think he played for Trinity again, being too old the following season.

Memories of home games from that season merge into one, but I have another memory of another heavy defeat to Christ The King which just showed us as being inexperienced and lacking that bit of spirit which would have seen us right against the better sides. We lost 14-0. Heads dropped. It's not easy for kids to pick themselves up when they're being dumped to the ground week-in, week-out, no matter how much encouragement they're given.

By this time, we had a hard-tackling midfielder in the mix. Keady was a capable player, and he went on to play for St Aidans for a couple of seasons, including their title-winning year. But he was another youngster - being 11 at the time - and Kings' older lads just bypassed him. I hated playing Kings by this point. In a league where fair play and sportsmanship were two of the main values shared by most teams, they were a bunch of arrogant, bullying toerags. They gloried in humiliating teams and didn't like it when the opposition had some fight in them. Had we any fight in us they'd have probably got nasty, but we didn't, so they just went about taking the mickey with their every touch.

The one time I worried them in that game came because they were so obsessed with playing about and humiliating the opposition they missed the little lad closing down the man on the ball. He played a short backpass under pressure, which the keeper had to be sharp to pounce on. Had this been the Trinity team I played for the following year, there would have been six or seven players appealing for the free-kick, with accompanying shouts from the touchline. As it was, only I appealed to the ref, and that was a half-hearted arm in the air and imploring look in the official's direction. He was able to wave the appeals away, despite the fact it was a blatant backpass.

My dislike of Kings was growing with every game.

Friday, 16 December 2011

A season with St Andrews (part two)

No one likes losing. Losing hurts. When you've given your all and still come out second-best, there is at least some comfort. But when you're utterly humiliated by a defeat there's no comfort. The result burns an indelible mark into your memory, something that will never, ever be forgotten.

My third game playing for St Andrews was the first time I experienced absolute humiliation on a football pitch, and remains my worst-ever day when playing. Whilst results weren't exactly great, there had been positives to take from early performances. We'd shown heart, not giving up even when 7-0 down against St Saviours. Some of our young players showed talent, even if because we were all young we were at a distinct disadvantage against bigger, older sides.

Unfortunately, we were beaten before we even turned up at Christ The King that morning. Our young side had its ranks depleted. Our goalkeeper - who was also our captain and most experienced player - couldn't make it. We were down to the eleven who would play the full game, with no substitutes available. Kings, on the other hand, were a big side, full of older players, reigning league champions and cup holders. They were already top of the league.

I don't remember each and every goal. After twelve years, I don't think anyone would remember every one of twenty-six that went in. What I remember most was our best defender, John, being sent off for not having shinpads. I remember rotating our goalkeeper. I remember chasing back in vain more than once as Kings cut through a demoralised midfield and defence to sweep home yet another after drawing the unfortunate goalkeeper. And to this day I can see one of their players rolling the ball onto the line, getting onto his hands and knees and heading it over the line, our defence already making its way back into positions for yet another restart while our keeper stood, hands on hips, watching on in utter bemusement at what was going on.

Christ The King 26-0 St Andrews was my blackest day playing.

People handle defeats in different ways. Some get demoralised. Some get angry. In the short term, I grew to fear what Kings could do when they turned it on. They were miles better than us. But in the longer term, once I'd left St Andrews, that result turned into a spur. Revenge is a potent motivator before a match.

We never lost another game so heavily. Defeat was almost a formality, but never by that magnitude. A few weeks later we'd lost a couple more (to Trinity and Hopton) and found ourselves facing St Aidans at their place once again.

We were stronger than the side who had faced Kings. Our keeper was back. We'd found a midfielder who would stick a boot in. One or two older lads were playing for us. Despite quite a few defeats on the spin, we were fairly confident. We'd just faced three of the best sides in the league, and Aidans, after their promising start, had faltered. All in all, the spirit in the camp was good. We had 17 players on the day, and so we could finally play our strongest side.

We were a goal to nil down at half-time. Anthony rallied the troops, and we equalised soon after the restart. Don't ask me who scored; I only remember the order of goals. We were soon behind again, punished for lax defending. But, with only a few minutes to go, we levelled it again. The subs bench went mental. The encouragement for those out on the field was tremendous for the last few moments, and we held on for a point - our first point of the season. It was one of only three games I didn't play in that year, but it's one of my strongest - and happiest - memories of my days with St Andrews.

The following week we were dumped out of the Sonder Heating Cup by Ravensthorpe Mosques, who brushed us aside with a double-figures performance. I did play in that one.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

A season at St Andrews (part one)

Kirklees Council called off all matches (football, rugby and otherwise) on its pitches this weekend. Rainfall over the last few days has been heavy, and pitches have become waterlogged. No player wants to play on a waterlogged pitch, especially when it's freezing, likely to rain some more, and they're likely to be in a side on the receiving end of a drubbing, so the decision makes perfect sense. I certainly wouldn't have fancied it yesterday.

But just thinking about it reminded me about my days playing in the Church League, competing against interesting opposition on appalling pitches. I spent four years playing in the Church League on Saturday mornings, turning out for St Andrews in my first year before spending three years playing for Trinity. Many of the mornings I played were cold and miserable, but I loved almost every minute I spent out there.

My dad played in the same league when he was a kid. Back then, the league was in its halcyon days. There were a dozen teams or more, with dozens of boys between the ages of 9 and 16 turning out every week. He later went on to manage a team in the league and was president by the time I started playing for St Andrews, the same team he'd played and managed. In 1999, the age was restricted from 10-14 (or year 6 to year 10 in school terms), and the league had fewer sides, though local Catholic church St Aidans were involved for the first time.

It would be fair to say St Andrews weren't very good. In fact, we were awful, and we'd been a side struggling at the bottom of the league for a decade or more. Even as a five-year-old being taken along to watch I was used to seeing eleven grey-clad players trudging off after a heavy defeat, and things had become even worse by the time of my debut. At the other end of the table, Christ The King were sweeping all before them. Trinity and Hopton were good sides, while Ravensthorpe Mosques were no pushover for the top teams. St Aidens were the unknown quantity, whilst St Saviours were the next-weakest side in the division.

I played for St Andrews for the first time in September 1999 in a pre-season friendly at St Aidans, who played at Crossley Fields. By this time the awful numberless grey/silver concoction straight from the 1980s had gone, and we wore white shirts with green trim with black shorts (provided someone had black shorts). It was a novel feeling, pulling on the no.14 shirt for my church. I felt ten feet tall. This was the moment I'd waited for since I was old enough to tag along with my dad. I was sure that I'd score. I had to, after waiting for so long.

Sadly, St Aidans weren't in a mood for indulging me in my dreams. They won 6-0. I played in midfield and barely got a touch against two bullish 12-year-olds. The lad playing alongside me - Luke, wearing 7 - was like me, a waif who couldn't play against two bigger lads like that.

Not to worry. It was only a friendly. My optimism was undimmed despite the evidence of the past ten years. I was sure St Andrews would go on to have a good season. Sadly, our side was too young. Although the aggregate age of players on the field couldn't be over 130 under league rules (meaning younger lads and older players could get a game at the same time), all the other sides were bigger and older. We were a collection of 10- and 11-year-olds who had never played 11-a-side before.

I don't remember my competitive debut for St Andrews, but it was probably a heavy defeat at home (Knowl Park). I do, however, remember playing away at St Saviours on the second day of the season. It was my first start, and it was the only time my mum came to watch rather than my dad. In later seasons they came together a couple of times (more on that later), but on this occasion it was my mum on the touchline with Anthony (the manager) and a team mate's mum (another from church). I played up front for the first time, getting my hands on the no.10 shirt for the first time.

Saviours played down in Ravensthorpe, along the road towards the old council dump. There was a grassy verge where the home manager, parents and other supporters had taken up residence, with Anthony and our contingent banished to the other side. To one end, a pylon loomed over the pitch while the road ran parallel with the other dead-ball line. All in all, a pretty typical venue for a game like that.

Saviours themselves were a side we didn't enjoy facing that season. They were a side who still wore the same shirts they had in the 80s, a red shirt with white and blue trim, one shoulder covered by a patch of white. It was hardly elegant (think of Bolton's shirt this season in the colours I mentioned and you'd not be a million miles from the mark). And apparently they bought into the 1980s lower league idea of hitting the ball as hard as they could, even if an opposition player was in the way. And their management was even worse. It wasn't a cajoling, encouraging management - it was aggressive, critical. The language they used - whilst not out of place in adult football - was appalling. And it was this language which caused my mother to confront one man in particular in what was the first notable incident of my football career.

It didn't help the result. We still got beaten 7-1. But that was nothing compared to my third game, and first against Christ The King.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

General December update

It's all right. The lack of updates doesn't mean that I'm dead. It just means I'm a bit busier on account of having found some temporary (and voluntary) work. And that I'm hitting the trail for pupillage again.

NaNoWriMo fizzled out in the end. I'll be honest - I don't think the premise suits me and my style. Although the discipline is a good thing, having such high targets to hit is a nightmare, especially when I have a habit of writing only one day in three. Trying to hit my usual 3,000 words a week is more than enough for me! On the other hand, I've got some good work that I can take elements from to other projects.

I've managed to get submitting stories again, after a period where I couldn't finish a story for the life in me. The Strange Ways of Electronic Leprechauns went off to Daily Science Fiction last week, and I'm hoping for a response in the next week or so.

I mentioned that I'm back on the pupillage trail. My work at the solicitors has sparked something I thought was worked out of me, and since I started work there I've been phoning places like the CPS and downloading mini-pupillage application forms from chambers websites. And my applications for jobs have been honed down to being purely legal in nature. If I can get something like a paralegal post for a year or two while I'm waiting for pupillage opportunities, then I'll be happy as a pig in muck.