Extract from ‘The Stump’

III

He’d been climbing for as long as he could remember.  As kids, he and Mickey and Johno had scaled every tall object that presented itself.  They’d started out with trees and garden fences.  There’d been a lot of nicking at first, but the climb soon became the object in itself.  They’d graduated onto streetlamps and telegraph poles.  Gradually, they’d turned their attention to more dangerous ventures – assaulting the roofs of factories and shops, scrambling up electricity pylons and water towers, the chimney of the old brewery, the towers of the gasworks…  There was only one high-rise on the estate.  With the aid of a couple of old ropes, they’d even scaled the outer wall of that.  They were off school most days and out every night.  Climbing had helped kill the time in between hanging around and smoking.  Sure, they’d done other stuff, fighting and riding motorbikes and all those things, but climbing was the real buzz.  As a teenager, he’d often undertaken solo climbs, just to impress girls.  They’d begged him not to, implored him to come down, but he knew that secretly they’d been thrilled.  Static cranes, civic statues… he’d conquered them all.  You heard about guys who’d broken their necks while carrying out similar stunts, but they were always tanked-up or off their faces on some drug or other.  Simeon had neither drunk nor taken drugs.  The buzz of the climb had been enough.

They’d also loved smashing things up.  Once they’d climbed those old buildings they’d proceed to trash them – the old cinema, the department store, the brush factory…  They’d become possessed by a kind of mania, smashing out the windows, throwing the tiles off the roof, pulling down the guttering, setting fire to the debris.  It was during one such frenzy of destruction that they’d burnt down the old warehouse and Mickey had got trapped inside.  Too bad.  Accidents happen…

Now Simeon had the perfect job.  He got to climb tall buildings and to knock them down.  He got paid for it too.

He’d hated school.  The teachers were only interested in the clever boys.  If you were bad at reading and writing they’d just tried to show you up.  And he’d known that the clever boys were sneering at him too, though few of them had made the mistake of doing so to his face.  So he and Mickey and Johno had skipped most days.  They’d come back in the evenings though.  The main block was three storeys high and had been good to climb.  The boiler-house had possessed a fairly tall chimney.  And there’d been no end of windows to smash.  That used to bring out the caretaker and his dog, and then they’d have to scale the fence pretty smartly.  They’d even set fire to the classroom of a teacher whom they’d particularly despised.

* * *

Climbing had helped kill the time

Text © PSR 2002/image © PSR 2010

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