Written In These Walls - an extract
In 2013 I had a life-changing event. Written In These Walls is my personal journey charting my life from birth to that event. It is my chance to tell my story.
What follows is an edited version of a standalone chapter, which was used as a life writing assignment for my degree studies and received high marks from my tutor.
Boys on Tour - The Emerald Isle
Growing up we never went on family holidays. We did things together and had days out. But we never had what you would consider a proper holiday.
That changed when I met Steve. In 2000 I started working in the finance department of my local hospital. Steve and I sat opposite each other and over time became good friends. My first proper holiday came in 2006. To mark turning 30 Steve and I spent a long weekend in New York. It was an amazing holiday and we crammed so much in: Central Park, Rockefeller Plaza and of course The Empire State Building just to name a few. As that holiday ended, we vowed this would be the first of what would become our annual lads’ holiday.
A few months later we decided it was time to plan our next adventure. One evening over a Chinese takeaway we got our heads together; and by the end of the evening, we had our destination, flights and hotel all booked. We were off to Dublin!
Of the two of us, I’m definitely more organised. All packed and ready the night before, with my suitcase waiting by the front door. However, when I arrived at Steve’s house he hadn’t even started packing. I think it’s one of the reasons we get on so well. Our personalities seem to complement one another — me private and reserved, and him boisterous and always joking!
Our trip to New York was my first time on an airplane, and to say I was nervous would be an understatement. Several trips to the toilet even before we got on the plane! Thankfully, this time, my nerves were nowhere in sight. In fact, I was looking forward to it. That feeling as you taxi to the runway, the force of the acceleration pushing you into your seat and that feeling in the pit of your stomach at take-off. But Steve’s nerves were very apparent, not really helped by me constantly pointing out of the window and commenting on what I could see. I love the feeling of flying, especially the outbound flight. Signifying the start of an adventure.
Our New York trip had been meticulously planned with lots of pre-booked events. However, for this trip, we decided to take our chances with nothing prearranged! We had a couple of ideas of things we wanted to do or see, but it was going to be the stereotypical lads’ weekend. We didn’t even book airport transfers to get us to our hotel.
I don't know if you have ever been to Dublin. But it’s not exactly a huge city. Our hotel was on the outskirts of ‘Temple Bar’; basically, an area full of pubs, clubs and restaurants. Upon leaving the airport we simply hopped on a bus hoping for the best! Of course, I wasn’t keen on this plan. So, with Google Maps in hand, I found our hotel and tracked how far away we actually were; forcing Steve off the bus as soon as we were close.
It was almost lunchtime by the time we checked in so we had the best part of a day to start our break. Both hungry and definitely in need of a drink. There was only one place to go, the hotel bar! A couple of rounds of sandwiches and, of course, a couple of pints of Guinness to wash them down. Followed by a couple more for good measure.
Stomachs full and not wanting to waste any time we set off through the city. Despite not actually having anything booked we had done some research on things we could do should the mood take us. After walking for no more than 20 minutes we spotted a signpost to one such activity. Looking at each other we simply nodded in mutual agreement, clearly both having the same idea. Weaving in and out of the streets we soon arrived at our destination, The Guinness Factory. The actual tour was more interesting than I had thought it would be. Learning about the brewing process and getting some free samples along the way. Usually, these tours end at the obligatory gift shop, but not this one. Their tour ends with a complimentary pint in the roof-top bar with a 360-degree view of the city. Definitely a much better way to end things. Naturally, there is still that gift shop as you leave the factory; selling, of course, Guinness themed merchandise! Having had our fourth pint since first arriving in Dublin five hours earlier we headed back to our hotel to unpack, have a quick rest and freshen up for the evening.
During our walk around the streets earlier we’d spotted a number of restaurants that appealed. Once ready, and suitably quenched from yet another pint of the black stuff, we headed to dinner. A lovely little Italian restaurant. Exactly what we needed to soak up all the days alcohol! After dinner, we staggered back to the hotel bar and began working through their cocktail menu. Both chatting and content. That was all about to change when Steve decided to change the topic. I have no idea why, or how, but he managed to steer the conversation to relationships and sex. But I didn’t feel comfortable and wanted to stop this before it started.
“Why are we talking about this?”
“Why not?” came his reply. “I’m just interested.”
“I don’t wanna talk about this.”
“I just don’t. What should we do tomorrow?”, I asked desperately trying to change the subject.
But he wasn’t about to let it go. “Why not? I’m interested and only trying to help.”
“Yeah,” he said. “with anything you want to tell me.”
“Nope,” I replied trying to shut him down.
But he was relentless. “Really? Nothing?”
“Nope, it’s just different for me.” I knew I’d said too much. “I don’t want to talk about this.”
“Different?” Realising I was on the brink of saying something seemed to spur him on. “Different how?”
“It doesn’t matter, let’s drop it.” I wanted to run and hide and got up to leave, however with his next words I instantly sank back into my seat.
“Well, it’s different ‘cos you’re gay.”
I fell silent and my head dropped. At that moment I just wanted the ground at my feet to crumble away and for me to fall through the cracks. I didn’t know what to say or do. I felt a hand on my shoulder. His hand. I looked up to see him standing next to me.
Looking me squarely in the eye he said, “It’s okay. It doesn't matter to me. I just want you to be happy.”
I sat there in silence, not knowing what to say.
“Say something,” he said.
Standing up I put my arms around him. “Thank you,” I whispered.
Sitting back down we chatted some more. It turns out he and his wife had their suspicions for a while but were waiting for me to say. I made him promise not to say anything to anyone else. It was one thing revealing it to him, but I wasn’t ready to start telling everyone else. I’d tell people in my own time.
That night I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time and woke the next morning feeling extremely refreshed. As if all the baggage I had been carrying around for so long was gone. Reaching across to the nightstand I grabbed my phone.
Steve startled and sat upright. “What’s happened?”
“Late?” He rubbed his sleepy eyes.
“Is that all?” He started to get comfy and return to his slumber.
“Come on. We’ve got 30 minutes,” I said. “I’ve paid for it, and I’m going to have it!”
The breakfast room was empty by the time we arrived. But the staff were extremely accommodating, allowing us a little extra time and even cooking us some fresh bacon and sausages; and with Steve being vegetarian that meant more for me! Stomachs full, especially mine, we returned to our room and got ready for the day.
Again, with no fixed plans we just headed off to explore. To be honest, other than drinking there isn’t really that much to do in Dublin, not that we were complaining. However, there was one other attraction that we wanted to see. Having walked for the best part of the morning, our heads finally clearing from the haze of the previous night, my feet were tired and getting sore. But thankfully Dublin Zoo was in sight. The zoo was far bigger than either of us had expected and had all of the standard creatures you’d expect. The compulsory gift shop was very typical of most zoos too, with many stuffed toy animals to choose from. However, we opted for a more unusual souvenir. The inner child in us couldn’t resist. There was a small photo booth with a green screen behind. We chose our background and posed accordingly. Our completed photo showed us kneeling on a log seemingly scared by a pride of approaching lions!
Once back at the hotel we freshened up and changed for another evening. Having not eaten since breakfast, we wanted something fast and filling. Luckily there was the perfect place a short walk away, Planet Hollywood. Both into films being sat amongst all of the memorabilia was perfect. Burgers and more Guinness ensued. For the rest of the evening, we went from pub to pub moving closer to a nightclub somewhere in the area. Ending the night dancing away on their rooftop bar. It was business as usual between us. Despite my revelation, the previous evening, nothing had changed and our friendship remains as strong as ever to this day.
For our last, and shortest, day we crossed the River Liffey and headed to the Jamison’s Whiskey Distillery. Unfortunately, being a Sunday, this was closed! So, to kill the few hours until our flight we opted to go to the nearby cinema. After the film, our time in Dublin was at an end. Neither of us wanted to go home and back to the 9-to-5. But this little adventure was over.
Pusher is the first book in a trilogy of stories centred around people with special abilities.
It follows a young man called Nick who, we learn early on, has the ability to read peoples minds. The extract that follows is taken from the opening chapter. But as the story continues it jumps back to when Nick was younger and first found his ability.
“Bugger!” Nick said to himself realising he had missed the last tube home.
It was late on a cold December evening in Central London, and Nick had just left the bar where he spent most nights and, as usual, he was the last to leave. He stood outside the closed entrance to Goodge Street station pondering his next move.
“Guess it’s a burger and the night bus for me.” A few minutes later, chicken burger in hand, he made his way down the road towards Oxford Street.
The bars lining Old Compton Street were also closing for the night, kicking out the last of the revellers. Lucie had said her goodbyes before heading home to her boyfriend. As she got to the end of the street, she stopped for a final wave goodbye and a look back at her group of girlfriends she had just left. Of course she was tempted to run after them and continue the night partying, but the draw of seeing her boyfriend won out.
“Oh, excuse me,” Lucie said as she bumped into someone.
“Whoa there!” Nick said as he dropped his half-eaten burger in the process. Ever the gentlemen Nick grabbed her before she fell completely to the ground.
“I’m so sorry,” Lucie said once she had composed herself.
Nick just stood there holding her, their skin touching. Something flashed in his mind, a vision of this girl he had only just met. He remained motionless and his eyes completely glazed over.
“Are you okay?” Lucie asked.
Nick suddenly snapped out of his trance and released his hold. “Sorry, yes I’m fine,” he replied. “You okay?”
“Yes, thanks. Was that my fault?” she asked pointing to what remained of Nick’s burger now at his feet and blushing at the sight of the mayonnaise smear down the front of his hoodie.
“Oh … yeah.”
“Let me buy you another.”
“Kind of you to offer, but I should be cutting down,” he joked patting his stomach.
Lucie gave a smirk, “Well, thanks for catching me.”
“Not a problem, get home safe.” With that the two strangers went their separate ways. However, as he walked away Nick looked back watching her until she was out of view.
As Lucie continued on her way down Charing Cross Road heading towards Leicester Square, she heard the unmistakable sound of her mobile phone in her bag. Pulling it out she looked at the onscreen notification swiping right to open the message from her boyfriend:
“Hi babe. How’s your night going? Missing you!”
Lucie stopped in a nearby doorway to type her reply: “Hey honey. The girls talked me into going to a club. Don’t wait up! xxx” planning on surprising him by arriving home early.
Once sent she locked her phone, placed it back in her bag and continued on her way, unaware of a lone figure now following her. As she walked the lone figure’s pace quickened. By the time she had reached the Hippodrome Casino, on the corner of Leicester Square, they were almost at touching distance. Thankfully, and to the lone figure’s frustration, a large group emerged from the casino engulfing her in the process. Lucie sped up to get some distance and break away from the drunken group; whereas the lone figure slowed down keeping his distance from them himself.
One member of the group approached Lucie. “All right babe?” he said with a very cheesy looking grin.
Lucie rolled her eyes. “Yep.” She thought it was better to be polite rather than telling him where to go. It was late and there were several of them and only one of her.
“Good night so far?” he continued.
“Richard, leave the poor girl alone,” shouted one of his friends.
“Pipe down. She’s fine,” he replied to his friend before turning his attention back to Lucie. “We’re all off to Heaven. Come join us.”
A look of relief came across Lucie’s face assuming that Richard, and possibly some of the rest of his friends, must be gay.
“You been before?”
“Once or twice”
“Cool,” he replied placing his arm around Lucie’s waist.
“Hands,” Lucie said as she brushed him off. Perhaps this guy was straight after all.
“Sorry babe,” he quickly said realising that he had overstepped the mark. “Just being friendly.”
“A little too friendly,” Lucie retorted.
“Sorry, you know I’m gay right?”
“Well, I wasn’t sure.”
“Really? Most of my friends seem to think it’s rather obvious.”
“A group of lads stumbling out of the casino …”
“Yeah, I guess,” he interrupted.
“Come on Rich,” shouted his friends. “Are we going to Heaven or what?”
“Well enjoy the rest of your night,” Richard said as he left Lucie joining his friends.
“Thanks, and you,” she called after him.
Richard and the rest of the group crossed over to the other side of the road, leaving Lucie alone to continue on. But she wasn’t alone. The lone figure, who had kept his distance, was still there. With the group now out of sight the street seemed eerily empty with just Lucie and the stranger still following close behind. She could just make out the sound of footsteps, but she felt safe. She knew these streets and was close to the bus stop she needed but clung to her bag just in case.
Suddenly the lone figure’s pace changed to almost a run, going straight past Lucie towards a side street behind the National Portrait Gallery. Lucie breathed a small sigh of relief. But then, just ahead, she saw them stumble and fall to the ground. She waited for a moment in the hope that they simply pushed themselves up and continued, if not somewhat red-faced. But they didn’t.
“Are you okay?” she shouted. There was no reply. Lucie looked around for someone to help. But the street was empty, and the lone figure was still motionless. Despite her trepidations Lucie couldn’t just stand idly by and ignore them. If the tables were turned, she would want someone to come to her aid. She walked over to the figure and knelt down beside them.
“Are you okay?” she repeated. Again, there was no reply. The figure smelt sweaty and dirty, and she could tell it was a man. No woman would ever smell this bad she thought to herself! But with him face down on the ground, and wearing a black hoodie, she couldn’t see a face. Lucie took his hand feeling for a pulse and heaved a sigh of relief when she found it beating away. Looking around again for someone, anyone, to help and call an ambulance; but still the street was empty.
“I don’t know if you can hear me, but I’m going to call an ambulance,” she said to the seemingly unconscious man. As she stood up, turning her back to him, he began to stir. Without warning he shot up and grabbed her from behind, startling her and causing her to drop her phone; the glass screen splintering as it hit the ground. Lucie instinctively screamed.
The man took his free arm and wrapped it around her neck, with his hand covering her mouth. “Shut up bitch,” he whispered in her ear, dragging her backwards down the small alley around the rear of the gallery.
Burger King in Leicester Square was full of late-night revellers, all with a case of the munchies. Despite having refused a replacement burger, from the young lady he had accidentally bumped into earlier, Nick emerged clutching a freshly made cheeseburger. He hurriedly began to unwrap it and started to devour the burger; savouring each bite as he walked to the southern exit of the square, until finally reaching the side street leading to Charing Cross Road. Hearing a loud scream, he dropped the remains of his second burger and ran in the direction of where the noise had come from.
As he ran out on to the main road he looked around, but the street seemed quiet and empty. He thought he saw something, or maybe someone, out the corner of his eye and instinctively ran in that direction. He wasn’t thinking about his own safety, his only thought was that someone might be in trouble. Before disappearing into the alley, he stopped as something on the ground caught his eye. He knelt down picking up the broken phone. Suddenly he heard a second muffled scream. Nick quickly turned the corner, clutching the smashed phone.
“Get lost,” the man said to Nick upon seeing him.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said firmly.
“Don’t try and be a hero,” came the reply. “Just get lost.”
Nick didn’t respond, but instead took a few steps closer.
“Don’t come any closer,” he threatened, also taking a step backwards. But now he was bathed in the light from the only working streetlamp and Nick could see both of their faces clearly, and immediately recognised Lucie from their earlier encounter. The man’s face appeared haggard and unshaven. But Nick ignored him completely, and instead locked his gaze directly with Lucie.
“Do you remember me?” he asked her, again taking another step closer.
Lucie did her best to nod in agreement still being help tightly in the man’s grip.
“What the fuck are you doing?” the man directed at Nick. But Nick continued to ignore him and kept his gaze firmly with Lucie. “I’m talking to you prick,” he shouted.
Nick took a slow long blink turning his attention to the man. “Shut up. I’m busy.” He then took another blink and returned back to Lucie. “Don’t worry,” he said as he slowly took down his hood. “Everything is going to be fine. I promise you.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep”, said the man laughing. “This is your last warning. Now get lost.”
Nick ignored the man’s remarks as if he wasn’t even there. “Just focus on me, just me. Nothing else. Understand?”
Lucie did a long slow blink. When her eyes re-opened all she could see ahead of her was Nick. She gazed into his beautiful brown eyes, looked at his perfectly rounded face, black floppy hair and his bright smile.
Nick now turned his attention to her attacker. Looking him square in the eye he said through gritted teeth, “Don’t move a muscle.”
The man didn’t respond, but for no apparent reason did as he was told.
Nick ran his hands through his hair and returned to focus on Lucie. Giving her a reassuring smile he took several more steps towards them. He was now only less than three feet away.
Lucie and her attacker seemed to relax slightly. She broke her concentration from Nick and tried to get free. Upon realising this Nick advanced forward and took her hand in his. Once again, she became motionless and returned her gaze back to Nick. With his free hand he took hold of the attacker’s hand covering her mouth, his grip now firmly holding the hands of both Lucie and her attacker. Nick looked her assailant squarely in the eye. Both men remained motionless and not a word was uttered between them. A few minutes passed before Nick eventually released his hold over the man. Then for seemingly no reason at all, this man, whoever he was, released his hold of Lucie and simply walked off into the night.
Still holding Lucie’s hand Nick led her back to the safety of the main road, with neither of them speaking a word as they walked. He flagged down a passing taxi and bundled a blank looking Lucie in the back, placing her smashed phone in her bag.
“She okay?” asked the driver.
“Yeah, she’s fine,” Nick replied. “Just a little shaken. She tripped up over here,” he added pointing randomly behind him.
“Where to love?” he asked her.
“Belsize Park mate,” Nick answered. “This should cover it,” he said passing the driver two twenty-pound notes from his own wallet.”
“That’s more than enough.”
“Great. Safe journey home Lucie,” Nick said returning his attention back to her.
As soon as he said her name she seemed to snap out of the trance, but still seemed a bit disorientated. The taxi then pulled off taking Lucie home to finally see her boyfriend and leaving Nick alone in an empty street along with a now empty wallet.