Slagborough by name slags by nature. That was the saying from the 1960s, people still used it. It wasn’t really fair. Slagborough was named Slugtburgh originally, probably after a Saxon. After the iron industry arrived, outsiders called it Slagborough, and the locals gave up the fight and accepted the name in 1834. It was a prosperous town for over a hundred years.
In 1789 it was a small market town indistinguishable from every other small market town. It had nineteen pubs, a livestock market, a large church courtesy of the DeLidl family, and two schools for the boys of the area – one catholic and one protestant. Slagborough was in one of the recusant counties – places where many people held on to the old faith. Even in 1800 people still referred to ‘Good Queen Mary’ rather than Bloody Mary; and there wasn’t, and still isn’t, a Guy Fawkes night celebration in the town. Ten years later, the livestock market had gone, the church had a new side bit courtesy of the DeLidl Ironmasters, and there were twenty five pubs. Ten years later again and the place was booming with five forges. Krankle Hill had been found to be sitting on a seam of very good quality iron ore. Fifteen miles away, the coal mines had high quality coal, an early canal joined the two and Slagborough had it made.
They were always a little different to other northern industrial towns. The five families who ran the five foundries agreed not to directly compete amongst themselves, but they also agreed to pay slightly more that other places for their labour. In consequence, they got a stable, fairly contented, workforce; they didn’t lose money on strikes; they still made a fortune, and the lower classes got some spending money – we’ll come back to that.
Even after nationalisation, the Slagborough workers thought themselves better than others. There was little religious strife. When a radical preacher condemned the catholics, he was run out of town. When a priest forbade association with the protestants, he found the collection dropped by fifty per cent.
In 1952, the local burgesses decided it was no longer reasonable that girls had to travel out of town for secondary education, and the Slagborough State Grammar was born. Girls who didn’t pass the eleven plus still had to catch the bus.
Five years ago in the face of falling rolls in all three schools, it was agreed that the Cardinal Heenan Independent Catholic School (Slagborough insane asylum as it was known), the Bishop Boothby Church School For Boys (Slagborough Brothel as it was known) and the Slagborough State Grammar (Slagborough Slags) would be merged, after some heated debate, into the Slagborough Comprehensive. At last boys and girls who failed the eleven plus could go to a local school. In fairness, the standard of local education was high, only about 20% had had to travel out by the end.
The local priest at the time was equivocal about the merger, the Bishop of Snudland (not sure what you call him – an under bishop?) railed against the merger. A week before all the parents voted, the bishop was found to have covered up the paedophilic tendencies of two priests in another parish; all three schools voted for the merger.
There was to be a bold, bright, better school on a new site. The three schools would be sold and the money put towards brilliant new facilities. Of course the new build costed more than planned, the school budget was slashed and all the promises evaporated like dew in summer. At the end of the last term at our old school, the debating society at Slagborough Brothel (even we called it that), held a debate that ‘this house believes all politicians are liars’, it made the headlines in the Today program on Radio Four because the vote was 96% in favour.
That was when I was in fourth year – fifteen. Now I’m head boy, and it is still them, and them, and us. “Ah, Thomas” said Mr Murgatroyd, the school head teacher (joint); “Mrs Anglis and I were wondering if you had few minutes?” Very polite way of saying “Come to the office now!” Mrs Anglis was the other joint head teacher. As luck would have it, she was both female (just) and a catholic. She had a very pronounced moustache, a deep voice, and some people suggested she was a man in drag. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t true, but she may well have been a butch lesbian. She seemed to prefer young female teachers for company. She smoked cheroots, she drank whisky, and she looked like she could have gone a round or two with Tyson Fury. Mr Murgatroyd was six foot five, looked like a Victorian headmaster (he always wore a gown), had a photo in his room of himself rowing for his college and was rumoured to have advised the government on education policy. He wasn’t being friendly when he called me Thomas.
My name is Thomas Thomas. I have two incredibly unimaginative Welsh parents. Actually I’m Thomas T Thomas. I tell people the T is for Thomas “named after my Father and my Grandfather, see.” Which is true, but Grandfather was Timothy, thank goodness. So the teachers called me by my surname ‘Thomas’, and my friends called me by my first name ‘Tom’. I followed Mr Murgatroyd to his office where the she-male Mrs Anglis was drinking coffee. They didn’t offer their head boy a coffee.
Samantha Brown arrived – she was the head girl. Sexy, attractive, sporty and intelligent ... and so is she (ha ha). We looked at each other and wondered what was coming.
“Okay, look. I’ll come to the point. Put our cards on the table. I like to be clear and the fact is, we need to have a chat about how the school is doing...” he wittered on until Mrs Anglis butted in.
“If I may? The fact is the schools have merged but not melded. We need an event or two to bring everyone together.” It was true. The hockey team was the girls’ perview, the catholic boys all played football, and the Brothel Creepers was the nickname for the rugby team. We’d had one catholic in the rugby team in the last four years. “Can we leave this in your hands?”
“You want us to organise something to bring the school together?” Sam asked. “How? Any ideas?”
“Well,” said Mr Murgatroyd “We rather thought that was up to you. How about a summer event for the whole school?”
And so the summer fete was born. We planned it for the last weekend of term. We went round to each class telling them that each class was expected to run a stall for a charity. Some of the teachers looked daggers at us, knowing that they were expected to get involved; another Saturday ruined. We also said that we expected the administrative staff would be running the tea tent. Mrs Anglis was furious when she heard this. She had hoped to get off Scot Free from doing anything. We smiled and pointed out she had said ‘the whole school’ and we thought she meant everybody. We got away from her as far as possible. I heard later that four boys had been given detention for ‘dawdling’, she was out for revenge.
“Really, we should be thinking of something for the older pupils too, for us. Other schools have a leaving do, a dance or something.” Sam said. This had been banned at our school four years ago after the drugs bust. “But the school wouldn’t agree, I’m sure.”
“No, School wouldn’t agree.” I said.
She looked daggers at me “I just said that! Literally just said that. Man-splaining?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to; but I suppose we could arrange something ourselves?”
History of cinema, part of general studies. Basically it involves spending an afternoon every two weeks watching a film with a brief introduction. “This week we are going to see an easily forgettable British film, ‘Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush’. It is interesting because this kind of film was so archetypically British that it had virtually no foreign market potential. It had to make any profit in the UK, and therefore was made more as an early TV film. It fits into the UK cinema verite domain. See what you think.” said Mr Rogers. He loved film with a passion. He loved silent film, British Film, French Film (‘wow! Nudity at school, brilliant’), Iranian underground, and he even had a good word to say for Hollywood pap pumped out to anaesthetise the masses “This film harks back through the 1950s Westerns to the ancient sagas of Greece”.
We watched the film, and then the party came on. I looked across the room at Samantha and she was looking at me. Samantha was part of the Bedles family.
Let me tell you about Slagborough now. There are four things to know about Slagborough.
One: it is surrounded by slag heaps. After Krankle Hill was heavily worked out, it became clear the seam of iron ore ran under the town and erupted at the hill. Mines were established on the other side, and processing works were established around the town, and mine rubbish was dumped, and slag was dumped and some wag in 1920 suggested the town should be renamed Rome for the seven hills of rubbish that surrounded it.
Two: The war memorial to the Slagborough Pals. The Accrington Pals are famous, of course, but the Slagborough Pals have the more impressive memorial. In 1915, Kitchener encouraged people to join up together so they could serve together. It seemed to make sense; all the friends knew each other and would look out for each other. Trouble was, they also died together. 40 men volunteered on the same day and formed the core of the Slagborough Pals Battalion. They trained together, the shipped out together, they complained about the mud together, they went over the top together, and they were mown down by machine guns together. Slagborough lost 35 able bodied men, gained 20 cripples, and never had the bodies to mourn 10 more; their bodies were blown to bits or slid into mud that swallowed them whole. The memorial was created by public subscription and Miss Eleanor Fitzmaurice, she created a memorial of such artistic skill that it showed the courage and strength of the soldiers and the futility and sorrow of the war. It is possibly the only war memorial to feature a family mourning. It is certainly the only one to show a hand protruding from the mud. Local bigwigs were appalled, but public pressure insisted that this was what they wanted to reflect the cruel sacrifice demanded of the townsfolk.
Three: The half-finished shopping centre. In 1974, with Slagborough heading downhill fast, the local burgesses decided that Slagborough needed ‘one of them fancy indoor shopping places’. Half the main street was compulsory purchased and bulldozed. The ground was flattened, half the footings were dug, concrete was poured, and then the construction company contracted to build the shopping centre went into administration. There then followed seven years of court cases as the administrators sought to sue for payment for the work done, and the council sought redress for the failure to deliver a shopping centre.
After that was settled, the site stayed fallow for two more years. During this time it became a popular free carpark; ironically, this encouraged people to park in Slagborough for the shopping because it was easy, the remaining shops saw a small boom. Then the council sold off the site to International Developments and Argton (a merger of two developers that reaped massive rewards for the owners). They redesigned the shopping centre as two tiers of shops, an underground car park, and four floors of offices above. It would have dwarfed and towered over Slagborough. ‘SOS’ (Save Our Slagborough) was born and more years were lost in planning submissions, opposition, hearings and re-submissions. IDA won, of course, the council and SOS both ran out of money for appeal and hearing after hearing. Then the recession happened before even a small start had been made. The development was deemed uneconomic and shelved. Years more followed until IDA sold to BCP (or was it BPC?) and they started work on a smaller, development. They built half of the ground floor of a group of shops that would have included Debenhams. Debenhams pulled out, the building process was put on hold, five of the shops at the west end were temporarily occupied – and have remained so for ten years now. The basement footings flooded, and has become a protected urban nature reserve after crested newts colonised it. So the main street now features some old shops, a massive and ugly concrete pond, a newly tarmaced carpark, and five modern shops. The slowest shopping mall development in the UK is a dubious claim to fame.
Four: Bedles. In 1845, Slagborough had a burgeoning working class. This upper, aspiring, working class, had some money to spend; combine that with the lower middle class who did not want to spend at Manchester prices, and there was an opportunity for Alderman Bedles to buy a site at the edge of town and erect the first (and only) department store in Slagborough. It has seen good and bad times, but it continues. The Bedles family still owns it, and breathed a sigh of relief when Debenhams decided not to come. They sell everything; though the supermarket is a shadow of what it was now Tesco have opened ten miles away. They sell home furnishings, beds, bathroom fittings, ladies’ and gents’ leisure and formal wear (rumour has it they still have flares in the back store, dating from the 1970s), gardening tools and toys, along with lots of other things, useful and useless.
Bedles is as popular as ever. Though the much of the rest of the old shopping centre has been destroyed, the lack of competition has benefited Bedles, and people travel in from miles away due to the ease of parking.
Slagborough now has nine pubs, five of which have been tarted up and no longer encourage spitting on the sawdust floor.
“What do you think?” Samantha asked afterwards. “Could we organise it? Just for our year?”
“Could we get in?”
“Oh, I can get the keys, no problem. We shut at 5 on a Saturday. With the window displays and the door blinds, no-one would see us in there.”
“Would you get into trouble?”
She smiled her best, most winsome smile. Slim, blonde, wide blue eyes, she could wind old Grandpa Bedles round her finger. So, a party in the store? What we needed was a plan, an organising committee, the rugby team on board as bouncers.
We did our research, I organised the outside stuff – the drink, the food, the security, the invites. She organised the entrance, she worked out how to get keys, turn off the alarm, hide everything from the outside. “It’s easy, we can use the window displays to hide us inside, the front doors have shutters, we all come in round the back, through the delivery doors. You need to put times on the invites, so there isn’t a queue of half-cut teenagers outside. They arrive in small groups, down the alley, into the back lane, or up the back passage – stop smirking, this is serious! This will be the best party, ever, in Slagborough. It will be talked about for years to come.”
“What will you say? They’ll know you organised it.”
“I’ll tell the truth, Mrs Anglis and Mr Murgatroyd told us to organise something to get the school together.”
“Ha! They’ll kill you.”
“We’ll see. Just stay on my side and trust me when World War Three erupts.”
She had calculated that the lights could be kept low and would be invisible from outside. No-one would want all the lights on, anyway. We had everything in place. That Saturday I was on tenterhooks. It would only take one loose tongue and the whole thing would be a disaster. But a group of teenagers on a promise of an orgy, a drinking session of humungous proportions, or just a fun time in a shop after dark, were able to keep quiet. I knew four girls who had promised their boyfriends they might go all the way for the first time. Unfortunately my girlfriend wasn’t one of them.
At 5:30pm, the shop was shut, and by 6pm the last employee had left the building. Sam’s Uncle Tony – Anthony Bedles – was General Manager, but he never worked Saturdays, he left Missy – his wife who was a grade A bitch of the highest order to the Saturday girls – to run the shop on Saturday and he played golf all day. Missy delegated Mrs Smith (who had worked for Bedles for forty three years) to lock up. She, in turn, had an arrangement to be collected by her man friend (George), at four o’clock to go away for the cleanest of dirty weekends. George was a Civil War re-enactor, and they went around the county staying in his caravan. So she asked Madeline to lock up, and she was about as reliable as a brown paper bag in a monsoon. So there would be plenty of possibilities for someone else to be blamed. At 6:30pm we opened the staff entrance at the front, slipped in, Samantha switched off the alarm. There was no CCTV. We opened the back doors, and the rugby first fifteen arrived, each with a girl. None of these girls had any cherries left in their baskets. You didn’t date the rugby players to stay chaste. The deal was they would take security, and didn’t have to bring booze. Everybody else had to have an entrance ticket and enough booze for the night to get in. Samantha and I had sorted the food between us. Catering classes at school had been hijacked, Mrs Mang in the canteen had been sweet-talked. Sam had got a load of out of date party food from the supermarket and I had stumped up £30 – let’s not ask where the money came from.
As planned, people arrived in dribs and drabs. Whatever stories they had told didn’t matter, when this was discovered it would all be too late.
I was quite hungry, stress does that. I paced myself with the drink, I’d read enough about what alcohol did to erections; I was still hopeful, you see.
Stephanie was my on-off girl friend. Like most of the girls in the school, she hadn’t dropped her knickers for me (or, perhaps, anyone); even after I spent a fortune on her birthday present AND taken her to a nice restaurant (‘best pizza in the county – two for the price of one’). Every date ended the same way: a lot of deep French kissing, a decisive “No” when my hand went under her skirt, and a frustrated wanking session in my room. If Samantha hadn’t insisted that all the boys had to agree that ‘no meant no’ before they’d be allowed in, half the girls wouldn’t have come, including Steph. She was on her fifth glass of wine, she was staggering a little. By the end, she was staggering a lot. I poured her another and led her towards the bedroom furniture.
Passing the bathrooms, we laughed as we saw a naked boy’s buttocks rising and falling in one of the baths, we had to see ... Then I wished we hadn’t as the person underneath Jonno was his very own football captain twin brother! By the next day, Steph. had forgotten that, what with all the other stressful memories. I’m still trying to forget that singular act of perversion. I mean sibling sex, okay, it happens. Gay sex, yeah, fine. Anal sex, see below, jolly good and yes please. But gay sex, anal sex with your brother? Ahh! Now I’m thinking about it all again.
“Ooo, loooook, whass a lobely bed.” said Stephanie, I was holding her up; when I let her go, she fell onto it. I fell beside her and kissed her and hugged her. Sam had spent one weekend working out where all the lights were, the beds were close together, but decidedly in a dim twilight, lit only by a few lights near the entrance. My hand was on her chest, then it was unbuttoning the front; she said nothing. Then I was pulling down her bra and sucking her tits. She stayed silent. I looked up at her; she was completely out of it. I gave her a shake and she didn’t respond. So I pulled her skirt up, she stayed semi-comatose. Her pants were wet at the front and it wasn’t from desire. As she’d drifted off, she had relaxed and allowed her bladder to loosen itself. I stroked the wet material, then slipped my hand inside. Still she stayed entirely unaware. Beside us, Gordon Strachan and Fiona MacDonald were hammering away like rabbits. I knew it was them because they had been an item for ever, and I could hear Gordon’s commentary “Oh yeah! Baby! I’m nearly there! Squeeze it tight, let me fill your pussy with cum.” he always claimed she loved his talking whilst he fucked her. They had been having sex since they were thirteen. Only ever face to face, missionary. I wondered if either of them got bored, but it isn’t a question you can ask even a good friend is it?
I was fingering my unresponsive girlfriend, she was, as I say, entirely unresponsive. She had gentle curves, a smallish bust as befits a seventeen year old, a flat stomach and perfectly rounded bottom, and, on the occasions when we had gone swimming (when it was entirely acceptable to see her in a high legged costume that showed a delicious amount of thigh, and I was allowed to touch, unlike when it was hidden under a skirt), a small rise at the front which I always imagined was a cushion of curly hair. She had long brown hair and a tongue which happily explored my mouth, but which I would love to get to explore my dong. To get a better view, and access, I pulled her knickers down a bit. They soon came off completely. With her skirt round her waist, I could finger her with two fingers and watch her shifting in her sleep. “Time’s up.” I found myself saying, and unzipped my trousers. Thing is, the rule was that ‘no meant no’, and she wasn’t saying no, she wasn’t saying anything. I moved on top of her, keeping her twat open with my fingers she moaned something like “urrgh.” I think she found my fumbling fingers opening her up so I could get in rather uncomfortable. But she never said ‘no’.
We’d never discussed sex; I always kind of assumed that she had done it once or twice, but I don’t know for sure. I mean, all the while she was keeping my hands off her milky white, soft tits, it didn’t seem appropriate to ask if she’d even let anyone get a hand inside her pants. And since that was off the agenda, asking if she’d ever let some snotty nosed, spotty git shove his prick up inside her for that ultimate pleasure was probably a little more personal than asking how often her fingers had poked through the toilet paper when she was wiping her bum. So I assumed, but didn’t know. And I still don’t. And since she didn’t remember any of it the next day, perhaps it didn’t count for her anyway, even if it was the cherry picking episode.
I was dripping by now. So, if it was her first time, and she wasn’t on the pill, fucking her skin on skin was stupid. In my defence, I wasn’t as drunk as she was, but I was drunk, so I wasn’t thinking entirely clearly. I pushed in between her lips and she moaned again, probably from pleasure.