Every Saturday morning, Ted would stretch, fart and yawn.

And stare at the ceiling.

And stare.

Until, at an undefined, unmeasurable moment, he would count to three. And roll twice. The second revolution would find him positioned at the edge of the bed, and with practised ease, he would bring his knees to his chest and, now on his back, spin through ninety degrees. This left him just a short forward motion—rocking downwards with a slight dip of the head—away from his slippers, waiting for him on the bedroom floor.

Another count, once more to three, primed him to place his hands on his knees and, in one smooth movement, to straighten all four limbs at once. This brought him to his feet. He would then stretch, yawn, and blink.

It was a short stroll to the bathroom. Toothbrush, minty toothpaste—scrub. A mouthful of water—gargle and…spit.

A damp flannel would freshen the underarms and face; a quick burst of deodorant under each arm and a stroll back to the bedroom, where pyjamas would be replaced by fresh underwear, socks, and the clothes hanging over the back of the chair.


Old Sid took an old knife and cut the thick plastic film that held the slab of milkshakes together. Opening the fridge door, he picked one up and placed it at the back of the empty shelf. Chocolate.  Another one went in, and another, until the pack was empty. He realised that he was out of strawberry milkshakes.

A mild sense of urgency took hold of Sid; he took a quick look around the storeroom out the back. No strawberry shakes in there, either.

There was only one thing for it. Breaking his golden rule, Old Sid left his shop unattended for one minute and 48 seconds as he climbed the stairs with a little more haste than normal, striding into his kitchen and pulling open his own fridge door.

There, next to a carton of otherwise unadulterated UHT whole milk, stood the last two strawberry milkshakes in the building.

He won’t take the last one, mused Sid to himself. Oh well, needs must…

Taking both of them, he stumbled back down the stairs.

Standing the two bottles of bright pink liquid at the front of the glass-fronted cabinet, Sid stepped back and closed the door, which had a slight bloom of condensation from being left open for one minute and 52 seconds.

He glanced at his watch and chuckled quietly to himself. Any moment now, he thought. Better get behind the counter.

He hobbled over to the old Formica counter, on which a mesmerising array of confectionery was neatly displayed in carefully arranged compartments, and waited.

But not for long.


There was a loud, metallic clang.  And another.

What a huge—measurable in square metres and hundreds of pounds—steel panel was doing left propped up against the old red brick wall near the corner of Hunter Street was anybody’s guess.

What actually happened was five o’clock. Fat Sam was fucked if he was going to take this fuckin’ panel back to the yard. Wayne? Fuck that, it wasn’t his job, and he worked his arse off all day doing every other fucker’s shit. And as for Dave, well…what about those other two cunts who never lift a pissin’ finger to help? Let them do something for a change.

Anyway, reasoned Sam, Wayne, and Dave to themselves, independently and internally, what fucker’s going to take a steel panel this size over the weekend?


And that’s how poor old Dora West, perched on the edge of her sofa that Saturday morning, hands shaking with frayed nerves as she slowly lifted the day’s first cup of tea to her lips, waiting for the bloody banging to start, that bloody banging when that little fat sod started to kick the ball against her fence, got a break for once.

Marley. Nine years old, foul-mouthed, never smacked.  Krispy Kreme and Happy Meals padded out his already substantial frame.

The educational psychologist had diagnosed him with Educational Disdain Disorder, or something like that. Whatever it was, his mother was fucked if she was going to let his constant bawling, screaming and jumping up and down on the stairs interfere with her body’s natural toxi- clearing processes.

Which is why, when his daily tartrazine-and-sugar-fuelled frenzy began an hour earlier, she gave him ten pounds and told him to piss off—anywhere, she didn’t give a toss—before going back to bed, pulling the pillow over her head in a futile effort to stave off the worst hangover ever.


The gate shut with a metallic clack and a faint wooden shudder. Ted stepped away from the tidy front garden—path flanked by neat, well-maintained borders, manicured lawn, one hanging basket with fuchsias each side of the front door—onto the pavement, patchy tarmac liberally dotted with white blobs of chewing gum, like the hide of a Dalmatian on a film negative.

Everybody was inured to the sight of urban filth on the streets; not so a well-kept garden, though.  Which is why the latter attracts the local vermin of the two-legged kind, and why the best crime prevention measure for the Town’s householders—though Neighbourhood Watch would never admit it—would be a washing machine on the front lawn, or a car precariously balanced on bricks on the drive.

And why Ted’s hanging baskets were bolted on.


As he strolled towards the shop, he became aware of a clanging sound; dull, loud, and metallic.

A sense of curiosity washed over him briefly, though it didn’t linger; industrial sounds were nothing new in these parts.

Turning the corner, however, he couldn’t help but notice a huge—measurable in square metres and hundreds of pounds—steel panel, propped up against the wall.

A football thudded against the panel. Ted followed the ball’s path back across the street, bouncing twice, to a chunky little lad.

Boys will be boys, Ted mused. The thought made him chuckle to himself.

It was the eye contact—blink-of-an-eye stuff, nothing to read into—that did it. Ted looked away, but too late.

“What you staring at, old cunt? Fuckin’ nonce!”

The verbal volley was followed by a thundering toe-poke, smacking the ball against the kerb uncomfortably close to Ted. He flinched slightly. Enough to be noticed.

“Scared, are you? Fuckin’ old cunt!”

The ball ricocheted sharply back across the road towards Marley, bouncing up off the kerb before he caught it.

“Fuckin’ pervert!” The nine-year-old snarled at Ted, who kept on bloody walking.


“Morning, Ted!”

The door didn’t move. Sid chortled to himself. I’m losing my edge, he thought. Count to ten.

He counted to ten.

“Morning, Ted!”

Nothing. This was most unlike Ted, he thought. If he doesn’t get here soon, I’m calling the emergency services.


The door swung gently open. Bells rang.

“Morning, Ted! Strawberry ones fresh in.”


“Same time tomorrow, Ted?”

No answer. Ted shuffled, head down, to the door.

That’s most unlike him, Old Sid thought to himself.


“Fuckin’ nonce,” Marley yelled. Ted felt his face burning. He used to get a thick ear for being a cheeky bugger. Marley had never been smacked in his life.

“Pervy cunt!” Ted glanced back over his shoulder. No, he thought, don’t bite. His head snapped back, away from the child, as if he’d just inadvertently glanced at a lady’s knickers.

Too late. The biter bit.

“Want some, you old cunt? Come on!” Marley booted the ball into the panel.

Ted felt a surge of fear cut through him as he ran, desperately, across the road. Marley felt a surge of fear as he stood there, a rabbit in headlights, rooted to the spot.

“You can’t touch me, you—”

Ted’s knees buckled and there was a blinding flash. His legs shook. A terrible pain exploded behind his eyes and bounced through his skull.

Blood dripped from his temple, running down his cheek and staining his jacket. Dripping off his chin and onto his shoes, onto the pavement.

“Get away!”

Marley, shaking and snivelling, snot and tears, didn’t move.

“I’ve broke me ankle, you fuckin’ old twat.”


Three young men—going who knows where—stopped.

“Lads, can you help—”

“Urrr! Look at this old cunt!”

“Fuck me, he’s holding it up by himself!”

“Are you on steroids or what?”

“I’m putting this fucker on Facebook.” Click, flash.


Ted was starting to feel a little nauseous. Whether it was the bump on the head, the stress of the morning’s events, or the fact that he hadn’t drunk his milkshake yet—at half past bloody nine—was anybody’s guess. And his mind was starting to wander.

He was back at Stoneford Barracks, the place where he learned to shave properly. And did it first thing every morning, despite being in possession of the smoothest chops around. Not even a hint of peach fuzz and YOU HORRIBLE LITTLE SHIT! PUT YOUR BLOODY BACK IN IT!

The Sergeant didn’t mince his words. He was terrifying even before he opened his mouth. Ted was the last of the lads to take the log lift, and he was stuck fast.

His eyes snapped open. The sensation of his knees shaking under the weight of enough steel to crush a child jolted him into the present.

“I bet he shits himself.”


Old Sid stuck his head out the door to see what all the commotion was about. However, from two streets away, all he could make out was shouting and general noise.

“Ted lives over that way,” he thought out loud to himself, “I’ll ask him about it tomorrow, when he comes in for his Sunday papers.”


More faces. More stares.

Nobody said anything. Ted’s legs were shaking; sweat poured down his back. I only put this shirt on yesterday, he thought.

He lifted his throbbing head slowly to be greeted by a sea of gormless grins and pointing fingers.  More sweat stung his eyes. He blinked, his face slightly contorted with the pain.

“Urrrr! Look, he’s fuckin’ crying!” More laughter. Ted started to get angry. What was up with these people?


Then the sea parted. Without warning.

Hungover, red-faced, and wide-eyed with anger, she waddled, pushed, and elbowed through the gawping masses. Blowing a plume of smoke into the air, she screamed, “Where’s my fuckin’ kid?”

“If I find you’ve been touching my Marley, you fuckin’—”

Lifting a tent-shaped blouse to reveal a huge, blotchy area of pink-and-purple flesh with the name Marley-Lars in dark blue Gothic script, the woman shook a flabby fist—on the end of a ham hock forearm—inches from Ted’s contorted, bleeding, sweating face.

“I nearly lost him once, you fuckin’ old perv. And you—yes, YOU—“

“Eh, leave it out, will you? He’s saved your kid!” A dissenting voice.

But still, nobody did anything to help. Clicks. Flashes. Laughter.

“Don’t tell me how to bring up my fuckin’ kids, dickhead! I’ve got standards. Come on, Marley.”

“Get off! I’ve broke me fuckin’ ankle!”

“Have you fuck, you little bastard?”

The woman grabbed him by his hand and pulled him to his feet. They stepped back in anticipation as she waddled and he hobbled away on his slightly bruised ankle. The boy looked over his shoulder and gave Ted the finger as a parting shot.


“Don’t just bloody stand there! Get help! I can’t hold this up for much longer,” Ted yelled.

A sea of blank stares.


Everything went black; then there were shafts of brilliant sunshine that looked as solid and permanent as steel girders punching through the verdant canopy above.

There was new hope; the branchless trunk wasn’t digging mercilessly into his shoulder any more.  In fact, it felt as if somebody behind him was taking the brunt of it. His knees straightened out and the other lads—hulking great brutes of 19 and 20—were clapping and cheering him for managing what they had already done without any real effort.

The sergeant walked over and clapped him on the back. “Good work, lad”.

Ted, despite being now utterly ravaged by sheer exhaustion and terror, looked up towards the lush greenery above him, with dazzling bursts of sunlight dancing between the branches, and felt not just truly alive, but utterly grateful to be just that.

A solitary tear gently rolled down his cheek.

Ted’s knees buckled.

He crashed to the floor, and, with a sickening, metallic clang, so did the panel.

A gasp went up.

“There’s bloody kids here, you know!”,somebody shouted. “Dis-gus-ting!”


The doctor shook his head. “Time of death…10:30,” he sighed. He gently pulled the sheet over Ted’s face and, taking his clipboard, got started on the paperwork. Shortly afterwards, he turned on his heels and walked out, humming as he went.

A young Filipina entered the room, her back pushing into the doors as they swung away from her, a mop in one hand and a bucket in the other. Dipping the mop and not bothering to wring it, she began to splash the floor.


The local rag was delighted; a tragic, grisly end for an aging man who lived alone. Who didn’t have a wife or girlfriend. A young lad who was on work experience that week was sent to see if he could get into the house, and specifically to look for indecent pictures of children.

There wasn’t a computer; in fact, there wasn’t even a Grattan’s catalogue. His mobile phone was at the hospital, along with his clothes, wallet and house keys, but their joy at getting hold of it was short-lived when they realised that it didn’t have a camera.

Three young men stopped to insist that he put them on the front cover. They had done everything they could to help. In fact, they were the real heroes, ’cause they were, yeah. One of them even offered him pictures that he had uploaded to his Facebook account the day before.


It was still slightly dark as Old Sid opened his doors, with a heavy heart, on Monday morning. The papers were on the pavement, tied into bundles; one of these parcels was precariously balanced on its side, against the wall, as if it had been carelessly thrown out of the back of a van. Another was steeped in the puddle that always appeared by the door after the rain.

Sid shook his head and picked up one of the bundles. Carrying the soggy papers indoors, he glanced down. The local rag. The front page had one word emblazoned across it:


The funeral was a brief, forgettable affair; Old Sid, of course, was there. The other mourner was Ted’s sister, whom Sid gave a lift back to the station afterwards; not, however, before they both stopped to look at the flowers left for poor old Dora West, whose long-suffering heart finally gave up the previous weekend after years of frayed nerves and, towards the end, that bloody banging.


The woman waddled into view, red-faced and dewy-eyed.

Blowing and panting with the effort of walking onto the stage and…glowing, with the heat of the studio lamps, she screamed something by Celine Dion, then she screamed something else altogether at the jaded judges’ panel.

Staggering off into the wings and accosted by camera, microphone and celebrity, she knew what she was going to say. Shaking a flabby fist—on the end of a ham hock forearm—inches from a famous, contorted face, she screamed, “I loved ‘im. And listen—YOU FUCKIN’ LISTEN, you prick—‘e was like a second granddad to me kids.”

A tent-shaped blouse was scooped up in the other fat fist to reveal a huge, blotchy area of pink-and-purple flesh with two words in dark blue Gothic script: