Chicken McNuggets, Dinosaur Play Dough and Matthew Le Tissier

Posted: 29/10/2010 in The Calculator
Tags: , , , , , , ,

On the 14th May 1994 I stepped off of the school bus outside the Pig and Whistle pub expecting to receive the usual greeting from Mum. For some reason or other Mum wasn’t waiting there on this day. Instead waiting for me was my Uncle Steve. How odd. I don’t remember much about Steve before that day but there he was, greeting me with a goofy smile and massive ears. Where’s Mum?

Steve said we could go to McDonalds. For a 6 year-old boy this is incredibly exciting. We walked up to the counter in the fast-food restaurant and proceeded to order. Now before that day I’d only ever had a hamburger and fries (happy meal, naturally) but for some reason today was different and I fancied a change. I opted for the Chicken McNuggets (happy meal, of course). The friendly man behind the counter asked if I’d like any sauces. Tomato ketchup would have been the obvious choice, but today was different. “Mustard!” I said enthusiastically, revelling in the kind attention I was receiving from the nice man and Steve. They both reacted disapprovingly in a faux sort of a way. This made me laugh.

We picked up our food and went to go and sit down. I didn’t make it very far before the coke that accompanied my meal fell from the tray I was carrying and exploded on the floor. I felt stupid and on the verge of tears. Luckily the nice man didn’t hesitate for a second and made me another drink, larger than the one I had inadvertently destroyed. This cheered me up no end. We finished our food and went back to Steve’s house.

The happy meal toy this week was dinosaur play dough.

I don’t remember what I was thinking whilst sitting down, kicking my heels round Steve’s house but I was very bored and I knew I was waiting for Gramps and Aunty Nicola to come and pick me up to take me home.

Gramps and Nicola finally arrived to collect me. I sat in the back seat on the drivers side. To my left was my cousin, Max, followed by my sister, Emma. They were playful, I was quiet. Gramps was driving and Nicola occupied the passenger seat.

We were stuck in traffic on Broadway outside, what was at the time, Safeway. I rested my forehead on the window which shook due to the car’s vibration. Nicola chose that moment to tell me some bad news…
“Simon, I’ve got some bad news,” (told you) “your Dad died today”.
“Yeah right!” was my instant reply.
“We wouldn’t lie about something like that!” added Gramps. I noticed a hint of frustration in his voice.
“Oh right, okay”. I didn’t want to argue because I thought that might ruin it. Ruin my surprise party.

The car started moving again. Max and Emma still acting playful, Gramps and Nicola remaining quiet. I returned my forehead to the window looking sad. I thought it was best to look sad so they’d all think that I had no idea about the surprise party.

I started to imagine how they were going to pull it off. I envisaged the dining room table being moved into the living room and blanketed with food. I imagined that I’d walk in and everyone would be there wearing party hats and pulling poppers. Maybe even a banner! They’d all shout “surprise!” and then my Dad would emerge from the kitchen with a cake. I started to feel excited. And what’s more, I had dinosaur play dough to show everyone!

As we pulled into the road on which our house was situated I noticed a load of cars parked in the vicinity of my home. I knew it. Surprise party. I’ve got to continue to look sad so people don’t realise that I’ve sussed their plan.

We walked up to the house, opened the front door and I braced myself for fun times. I stepped inside and peered round the living room door. I was right, everybody was in there. No table though. No food either. Not even the slightest hint of a party hat. Instead, the first thing I saw was my Mum in her dressing-gown lying in my Grandma’s arms with tears streaming down her face. I never realised Mum’s cried. I inspected the rest of the room only to see more sad expressions on the faces of other family members. What a disappointment. And why was everyone so sad? Not to worry though, I knew how to cheer everyone up. I had dinosaur play dough!

A week or so later my little sister and I were sent round my Nan’s house while everybody else attended a party that we weren’t invited to. I think it was a funeral.

After a day of interminable boredom, Emma and I were taken home. When we arrived there it was once again filled with people. A lot more people than last time. They all wore black and they all smiled at me with a mixture of sympathy and enthusiasm. They proceeded to overwhelm me with hopeless clichés…
“You’re the man of the house now!”, “Daddy’s in a better place”, “Your Dad’s with God in Heaven”, “He’ll always be watching down on you”.
Did they honestly believe my Dad had died? I knew he hadn’t. And even if he were to have died he wouldn’t now be with “God in Heaven”! I may have only been 6 years-old but I was already an atheist (before I even knew what atheism was and before I’d even heard of Darwin’s theory of evolution. I went to a Roman Catholic school and they prefer not to educate you properly with science and logic but instead opt for the “God made us, loves us and watches over us all the time“ spiel.)

My theory on Dads sudden disappearance was that he was in Spain visiting his family. Him Mum (my Nan) is Spanish you see. I significantly remember making a phone call to the airport in Spain and having them confirm that he was there. My Mum was crying and trying to make me realise what had happened but I was stubborn, Dad was in Spain. I vividly remember the person I spoke to at the Spanish airport on the phone sounded incredibly similar to a dialling tone…

It was some years later that realisation set in.

Dad would say that when I was a bit older we’d collect the football stickers together. He shared stories of the albums he had filled when he was a boy and I looked forward to sharing this ‘father/son” bond thing with the stickers.
In school the Merlin football stickers were huge. All of the boys had them. Hundreds and hundreds of swaps. At least two normal stickers for a “shiny” and if you had the number ‘1’ sticker as a swap then you could practically get whatever you want! Also, no matter how many stickers were in the album, you always knew which ones you had and which ones you didn’t. “Got, got, got, got, need, got, got, got, need, need, got….”. You get the picture. But there was one football sticker that proved significant and I’m not even sure why…

Matthew Le Tissier. Southampton midfielder.

I was asleep, the football sticker of Le Tissier appeared in my dream and I woke up crying. I didn’t know why I was crying. I never cried. But now I was sobbing. I went downstairs, tears still soaking my cheeks, and went to my Mum who was lying on the sofa watching TV.
“What’s the matter hun?” she asked.
Now I have no idea why I responded with the following two words…

“Dad’s dead”.

… but that’s when I realised.

  1. Lulu says:

    I have tears!!

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