James's entry in the School Leavers Yearbook. He had a cut on his head at the time, and added it to his picture.

James’s entry in the School Leavers Yearbook. He had a cut on his head at the time, and added it to his picture.

Writing my post about Cricket for the ‘C’ post reminded me of another reason why I may have a mental block against the sport. His name was James, a mate of mine at school. He looked like a young Prince Charles, even down to the sticky out ears. He was very English, fantastic at sport, tall, funny and a lovely friend.

He used to entertain us with his impersonations, which was fashionable humour back then. His great passion in life was cricket (and football, and rugby), so his best impersonations were Richie Benaud, Brian Johnstone and other commentators, as well as the rest of the full repertoire of Rory Bremner who was the big impressionist of the eighties and nineties.

I remember a big group of us had gone to a club in Leamington one night, around the time we were leaving school for good, and I stood by the bar chatting to James. As I ordered a round of drinks, Cinzano and Lemonade (it was 1991 and we were a bit posh), I saw one of our friends nudging James and overheard him saying: now, now, kiss her, kiss her! All of sudden, James grabbed me and snogged my head off. I got over the shock to register lots of saliva and a grip that was slightly too hard on my arms.

It led to a few more snogs on subsequent occasions. My dad, who I lived with in those teenage years, went away on a golfing holiday, so I held my first dinner party as I had the house to myself. James was there with a bunch of our mates and we danced together to an eclectic mix of ‘Whole of the Moon’ (was that the Waterboys?), ‘Size of a Cow’ by Wonder Stuff, and ‘I Wanna Sex you Up’ by Colour Me Bad (What can I say? We were young and our taste in music was terrible. Again, ’91.)

Two days after my dinner party, Freddie Mercury died. Two days after that, James had a big argument with his dad and stormed out of their house. At the end of their gravel driveway, he locked eyes with a driver of a car who didn’t slow down. James slipped on the gravel as he tried to stop for the car and slid under the wheels. If memory serves correctly, James didn’t die straightaway. The story goes that his father got to him and held him, and then he died. The rest of the planet wouldn’t shut up about Freddy Mercury, while I hated everything around me because James wouldn’t see it or experience it ever again: the sun, the moon, music, laughter.

He was only eighteen.

At James’s funeral, crowds of people stood outside the packed church, unable to get in. I went to the funeral with Urszula, another girl he’d dated at school before me. I wasn’t quite a girlfriend, but no longer just a friend either. I had a seat in the church, but we didn’t go to the wake. Urszula and I had a drink in a pub on our own and drank to the tall, sexy guy who looked like Prince Charles and made us all laugh with the voices of cricket.

One of the most surreal moments of my life, and I will base a fiction on it one day, was being asked by my dad to go and pick up a Chinese takeaway only a few hours after I’d learned that James had been killed. I remember sitting on the hard window bench waiting for Sweet and Sour Pork and Chicken Chow Mein, looking at the other customers and thinking: don’t these people know what we’ve lost? How can they not know what we’ve lost?


PS. I read the sad news of Richie Benaud’s passing this morning. I wrote this post a few days ago, and it feels like an eery coincidence that I am publishing it today. Rest in Peace, Mr. Benaud. And you, James.

PPS. I honestly can’t remember if Freddie Mercury died first, or James, but there was definitely only a few days in it. Trying to remember those details from so long ago is almost impossible I’m finding.

10 thoughts on “James

  1. Oh my god, what a sad, sad story! That’s terrible, and terrible for his father that their last exchange was an argument.

    (I have to add that I love impressions, fashionable or not. 🙂 )

    • It was horribly sad 😦 That was my first experience of grief, as it was for many of us at that time. It’s been good to remember these events from my past and write about them. Are you finding that with your stories for this challenge?

      • Absolutely – I’m finding it quite indulgent to go back to my childhood memories, it’s a lot of fun. Luckily for me they’re on the whole positive and I’m focusing on the nicer memories I have. It must be a fair bit harder to revisit something as tragic, but there’s something quite carthatic in writing about a difficult time I think – are you finding that?

      • Yes! Very cathartic. I am going to write a post on this, but for me getting in touch with my past through this challenge is really reconnecting me with who I am and what has shaped me. Something I don’t think about usually. Terrific experience even though there’s bad memories as well as good. 🙂

  2. As orgoh. Mine was Alan Moray, a friend. 12 years old. Playing tag at school. Jumped over patter tennis rope as tagged. Hit head on asphalt. To doctor. OK. Home. Back to doctor later. To hospital. Coma. Died. My first funeral. First Scouts honour guard. Still with me today more than 30 years later. But the girl who tagged him I remember most. I remember her name too. No need to say. She was called names by other kids for the rest of the year. No need for detail. You know. Unkind, awful, maybe they were just being kids. Probably didn’t mean anything to them. But years later I heard she had a really, really tough time of it. Maybe she never got over it. If ever I see her, I would tell her it wasn’t her fault. I hope she knows. I hope someone told her years ago. I regret not being big enough then to know that there was more than my own grief and shock losing a mate.

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