Author's note: I apologise in advance to non-British readers who may not pick up on some of the colloquial language and cultural references. THK
My name is Glen McNamara, but ever since school people have called me 'Mac', which I have come to prefer. I was reasonably able at school, but no one in my family has ever been what you might call 'academic', so I never considered staying on after 16. Maybe like a lot of my male peers, as a kid I had two loves: cars and football. I played football in the school team up until I left, but I knew that I never had what it took to be anything more than an enthusiastic amateur, so apart from the occasional visit to see the Arsenal play, I gradually distanced myself from the game.
Cars, on the other hand, remained an interest and now provide me with paid employment. I was lucky enough to get an apprenticeship as a mechanic when I left school, and now, at 29, I am earning a good living at it. When I was 25, I decided that I needed a change of scenery, so I applied for and took a job in Western Australia. It's a great place for a young single guy, but for some reason I decided that it wasn't for me, so I've come back to my North London roots.
I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time when I got back to the UK, and I got a job with the same car dealership that I had before going 'down under'. I should say at this point that one of my reasons for emigrating was the break-up of a relationship. I had known Jenny, on and off, for several years before we got into a serious relationship, and we had even talked about taking the next step; but maybe that was a step too far, and we decided that maybe we weren't the soul-mates that we once thought we were. There was no fighting or tears: we just smiled and walked away with some nice memories! We even still exchange Christmas cards, and if it wasn't for the 9,000 miles distance, I probably would have gone to her wedding...
Anyway, as I said, I was now back home and after considering my options, I was living in a rented house, with a six-month lease, on one of those new estates that have sprung up everywhere. The house actually belongs to an old mate of mine who has one of those jobs that take him out of the country for long periods and the house is just his stop-over place to stay when he's between contracts. He has even suggested that, if I settled, he would consider selling it to me. Although it is nominally a three bedroom house, it, and others on the estate, are intended as starter homes for young couples, and they build them small to cram as many as they can onto a site. However, it is more than enough for me and it also has the added advantage of having an attached garage; which my previous flat didn't have, and I was renting a lock-up some way from it.
It's now been a couple of weeks since I moved into the house and I was outside working on my pride and joy on Sunday, when I became aware that I wasn't alone. Looking up from what I was doing, I saw a young lad in an Arsenal replica shirt watching me. My sister has a boy of eight who looks about the same size, so I was guessing that this lad was that age also. When I looked his way he smiled, so I smiled back.
" ... What sort of car's that?"
"It's a Ford Capri ... they stopped making them in 1986: that must be a long time before you were born. They used to be quite common at one time; but you rarely see them anymore. This is one from that year. D'you like cars, then?" He nodded.
" ... Mmm ... but I don't know much about them. Mum's got a Polo."
" ... What about your dad?"
" ... He doesn't live with us any more..." I tried to read his facial expression, but he didn't seem to have any strong emotions on the subject.
" ... Let me get something for you to stand on, then you can see what I'm doing. Do you have a name ... I'm Mac..." I walked into the garage where I found what I had in mind.
" ... Richard; but Mum calls me 'Ricky'!"
My Capri is the 2.8i model, with the V6 engine ... if they made them today they would probably be more economical to run, but like the house, it suited me. Raised a couple of feet off the ground, Ricky was able to see into the engine compartment: it was a bit crowded in there, but I explained what everything was and what I was trying to do; and while he may not have understood, he seemed genuinely interested.
" ... I hope you're not making a nuisance of yourself, Love!" the woman's voice said. Ricky and I both looked up. I assumed the speaker was young Ricky's mother. We looked at each other and smiled.
" ... He's no bother!" I replied, "My name's Mac, by the way ... excuse me not shaking hands..."
" ... Lorraine ... Gilmore. Nice to meet you, Mac ... we're neighbours. I didn't know the house had been sold: we hardly ever saw the other gentleman who lived here."
"Nice to meet you, too, Lorraine! Well, technically, it's still George's house ... I'm just renting it while he's away ... but with an option to buy..."
" ... It's a Ford Capri, Mum... 1986!"
"Yes, I thought it was. Your grandad had one of these, but an earlier one; but that was before I was even born. He used to have pictures of all his cars: I think they were all Ford's."
" ... He sounds like a man after my own heart!" I added, "Well, I think I'm just about done here, Young Man ... but if you see me out here again, come and say hello. I'm a Gunners fan, too."
" ... Er ... I don't know if your wife's expecting you, Mac, but I was just going to make Ricky some lunch ... perhaps you and she would like to pop in for a cuppa."
"I'd like that, Lorraine ... and there's only me, I'm afraid! Give me a little while to clean up, then I'll be in. Number 42, did you say?"
" ... Yes ... whenever your ready."
It took me a few minutes to put everything away, then I cleaned the worst of the gunge off my hands with cleaner. I always wear latex cloves at work, now; but I knew that this wasn't going to be a really messy job, so I didn't bother. Then, after finishing washing with soap and water, I made my way next door.
At this time let me say that, although people have told me that I'm quite good looking, I'm not one of those guys that always has to have female company: I like women and they seem to like me, but I've never been one to chase after them. Like I said, Jenny was my last, serious girlfriend, but our relationship started out as friendship and then gradually became something more. However, when I first saw Ricky's mother, I did think she was a very attractive woman, and I suppose like other men, my mind started to wonder about her. And I confess that I've never been very good at 'reading' women, but I thought I saw something in the look she gave me ... but I could be wrong! Young Ricky opened the front door:
"Mum said, would you like to wait in the sitting room, Mac?"
The way that they always seem to design and build rows of semi-detached houses, next door's living room was of course the mirror-image of mine: the obvious difference being that it looked much cosier than mine ... and more like a home. I sat on the sofa and Ricky sat next to me. After a few minutes, Lorraine came in carrying a tray, which she put down on the low table.
"I put milk in it, but help yourself to sugar, Mac. I also took the liberty of making you a sandwich ... ham and tomato..."
" ... Thank you ... that's very nice of you, Lorraine!"
Ricky and I both sat munching on our sandwiches, while Lorraine just sipped her tea. It's always a little bit awkward being with people you don't know very well, when you're eating ... especially knowing where to look. Lorraine was sitting in an armchair opposite me, and I was conscious of not checking her out with my eyes; so we just sat there, kind of looking at each other's faces ... and a very nice face it was, too! Goodness knows what Ricky was thinking! And then when I'd finished eating, I wondered what we could talk about. If Ricky wasn't there, I might have asked Lorraine about her husband; but that didn't seem quite right somehow, so...
" ... Have you and Ricky lived here long, Lorraine?"
"It's been about six years, now: Ricky was just a toddler. Stuart ... that's Ricky's dad ... got a job here, so we moved from Camberwell. Well, apart from leaving my Mum, it was a good move for us ... or so I thought at the time! However, I'm not putting Stuart down, but I think we got married too young, and although he tried, I don't think he ever really embraced the lifestyle. If you'd have been here then you would have no doubt heard some of our arguments. Anyway, we decided to part. Ricky still gets birthday cards from his dad, who's gone back South, across the river, and he still pays me child support. I have to work and money's a bit tight, but I like it here and Ricky likes his school, so we're making the best of it."
"If you don't mind me saying so, Lorraine, you're an attractive woman: have you thought about getting married again?" She looked kind of coy, and I'm sure I detected a blush.
"To be honest, Mac, I've thought about it, obviously, but I'm wary ... both for me and Ricky. Not having family close by, I have to work around his school hours and we mostly stay home at weekends and evenings. School holidays are the hardest, but there are a few people I've got friendly with, who he goes to while I'm at work, and I take all my holidays in a block during the summer. He's a good lad and he never complains..."
"So how old are you now, Ricky ... about 8?"
" ... Mmm ... nearly ... in three weeks time."
"So how come you're an Arsenal fan ... I am, but I was born not far from here and most of my mates were, and some of my family."
" ... Hmm ... not sure really! At school some people are Arsenal supporters and some support Tottenham, and a few other teams. I was just more interested in Arsenal."
"And have you got a favourite player?"
" ... Well, maybe Jack Wilshere..."
"Yeah, he's one of my favourites, too!" Ricky beamed at me. "So have you ever been to the Emirates, Rick?" He shook his head. I looked at Lorraine and she seemed to know what I was going to say next, and she nodded, slightly. " ... So ... as long as your Mum says it's okay ... would you like to come to a game with me; as a birthday treat?" His eyes immediately turned to his mother, although he didn't say anything ... but his look asked the question.
" ... I don't see why not ... if Mac is offering," Lorraine said. I think Ricky was in shock.
" ... Yes, please!" he said in a small voice: but I could tell that he was made up.
" ... And how about you, Lorraine ... I can always get three tickets?" I think her smile was almost as big as her son's.
" ... It's not really my thing, Mac ... but ... er ... maybe we can all do something else together, some time."
Well, I thought ... it doesn't get much clearer than that, does it!
" ... Sure ... how about today? We can all go McDonald's later, if you like, and ... you know ... all get to know one another better..." Ricky looked expectantly at his mum again and she looked at me and smiled.
" ... Sounds good to me, Mac! About 6:30?"
After I left them, I went home and jumped in the shower. Then, a change of clothes and I was ready. It was still early, so I got onto the Internet and the Arsenal website, where I ordered two tickets for the nearest home game to Ricky's birthday. I'd always got on well with my sister's kid, and Ricky seemed to be a nice, well-behaved lad, so I couldn't foresee there being any problems ... and maybe if I'd read the vibes that his mum was giving off right, this might become a regular thing in future!
Lorraine answered the door this time: she'd obviously changed as well; and while still 'casual', she had obviously made a bit of an effort ... I'd like to think for my benefit.
" ... Mac, before Ricky comes down ... I'd like to thank you for doing all this. I can tell he's thrilled to bits about the football: it's something that's just too expensive for me to manage. Maybe I can pay you back a little bit each week, over time..."
" ... You don't have to worry about it, Lorraine ... I earn a good wage and the only vice I have to spend it on is my car. Besides ... I like him, he's a great kid ... and I might even score a few brownie points off of his mum at the same time! But that's not the main reason ... I like you, too, but we can take our time getting to know each other." She looked at me and I felt the merest touch of her fingers brushing against mine.
" ... You know ... I think that's the best offer I've had in years, Mac!"
There is a McDonald's with a good-size car park just a few miles away on the edge of town, so Ricky got into the back of my Capri, while Lorraine slid into the front passenger seat: and even after pulling her short, denim skirt down once she was settled, there was still a decent amount of her long legs still in view ... maybe she knew this and had put that particular skirt on for my benefit. Anyway, the V6 did sound sweet as we pulled off of my driveway...
There isn't really much to say about what happened when we arrived there, except to say that everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Being that Ricky had school the next day, we didn't stay out late and all we did was wave as we entered our respective houses. I tend to work until 5:30 or 6:00 most weekday evenings and sometimes Saturday mornings as well, so I didn't see Lorraine or Ricky every day: although I popped in a couple of evenings for a coffee before he went to bed. Lorraine did tell me, though, that I could call her 'Lori' if I wanted to. And although we were still only at the friendship level, I did sense that we were getting closer every time that I saw her.
The three weeks until Ricky's birthday soon passed, and at about noon of the Saturday of the Arsenal game against Aston Villa, I once again found myself outside the front door of number 42. A very excited Ricky Gilmore let me in. It was a nice day; if a bit cold, and we were both wearing our Arsenal shirts. There is a car park at the Emirates Stadium, but it's best to get there on public transport: that way you also get to experience the walk through the streets from the underground to the ground, which for me has always been an essential part of the whole match day experience. And not forgetting that Ricky was still only a relatively young boy, he held onto my hand so we didn't get separated in the throng of people heading in the same direction. We took the train to Finsbury Park, instead of the busier Arsenal station, and as we had booked seats, I took Ricky to the Armoury: the big store on the site; where I bought him a scarf and few other souvenirs.
The stadium is pretty impressive from the outside, but I think Ricky was a bit awestruck by how it looked inside, and he spent most of the time before the kick-off looking around and asking me questions: I suppose that I was just the same when I was first taken to the nearby Highbury Stadium, the club's home for over ninety years; which now seems very cramped by comparison. To be honest, I thought the game itself was a bit disappointing: although we got all three points and played some good football at times, which I suppose is the main objective ... and Ricky seemed to think that it was all quite brilliant! However, what with all the excitement, he was pretty beat by the time I got him home again. Lori made us both some supper when we got back, and he showed off all the things he'd acquired and tried to describe everything that he'd seen and done.