Boys Don't Knit

Meet Ben Fletcher: accidental criminal. Liar. Master of mohair. After an unfortunate incident with a lollipop lady, Ben narrowly avoids the Young Offenders Unit. He is told to Give Something Back to the community to develop his Sense of Social Alignment, so he takes up knitting. Of course.

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3. 5th July

5th July

 

What were the circumstances surrounding the events that led to you being placed on probation?

The problem with my friends is that they don’t really think things through. Not like me. My role is always to be the one who points out how mad/dangerous/illegal their escapades are. They’re not bad people. They’re just stupid people. And needless to say, they never listen to me. Somehow though, I’m always the one who ends up paying for it.

 

So this is what happened, the whole truth.

 

It was a Thursday. We were hanging out in my garden because I had to look after my sister while Mum and Dad were both out. Molly was in the overgrown hedge at the bottom of the garden stalking young blackbirds with a fishing net.

 

My friends and I were discussing the fact that Anaya Anabussi was having an end-of term party on the Friday which none of us had been invited to, but Gex reckoned he could get us in because Anaya’s sister Seneira fancied him.

 

‘I don’t really want to go,’ I said. ‘I don’t like parties.’

 

Too much noise, too many people. I get anxious. And, since I’d just end up hanging out with Joz, Gex and Freddie anyway, why did we have to go to someone else’s house to do it?

 

‘They won’t let us in without a bottle of spirits each,’ Freddie said.

 

‘Well, that settles it,’ I said, relieved. ‘None of us has any money. Let’s just hang around here.’

 

But Gex had other thoughts. There’s a side of him that makes me uneasy. He thought we should go and shoplift some booze from Waitrose in town as they aren’t so security conscious as Lidl, where they employ Rod Hogan as the security guard and he used to be the bouncer at Wicked nightclub before he got fired for snotting the DJ.

 

‘Why is shoplifting always the answer?’ I asked.

 

‘What do you suggest, Hermione?’ Freddie asked. He lay sprawled on the creaky deckchair hidden behind retro sunglasses. He was starting to go pink. ‘Maybe we could raise money by selling fairy cakes at the Farmer’s Market?’

 

Joz laughed. I gave him a look. Why wasn’t he backing me up? I know he didn’t like breaking the law any more than I did.

 

‘I’m just trying to be, you know, moral about it,’ I said. ‘Shoplifting is stealing. There must be ways of raising money honestly.’

 

‘Yeah,’ Joz said. Finally he was speaking up. ‘Freddie, can’t you sell the dope I gave you last week?’

 

‘Nah, smoked it,’ Freddie said as I buried my face into my palms.

 

‘Oh Lordy,’ I moaned. ‘I really don’t think this is a good idea.’

 

‘Just chill, my man,’ Gex said, taking charge. ‘As you’re a wuss, you can be look-out, innit.’

 

I sighed. Gex had totally missed the point again. I’m not cut out for stealing. I like things to be done fair and square. I’m racked with guilt if I help myself to more ice cream than anyone else at dinner. I once found a wallet on the street with £25 in it and handed it in to the police station. I’m a good guy. I’m a civilian.

 

‘I especially don’t like the idea of stealing from Waitrose,’ I said, trying to make a joke out of it. ‘It doesn’t matter so much if you nick from the 99p shop on Argyll St, you’re doing them a favour helping to clear the stock, but Waitrose? It just feels wrong.’

 

‘They don’t sell alcohol in the 99p shop,’ Freddie pointed out, even further adrift from the point than Gex had been. Freddie’s not the brightest, as we discovered in French last year when he admitted he thought ‘conjugate’ was a scandal involving a stage magician.

 

‘Why do you want to go to this party anyway?’ I asked Gex, trying a different tack.

 

‘You don’t fancy Seneira; you said her new haircut makes her look like Dr Christian off Embarrassing Bodies.’

 

‘Crumpet is crumpet,’ Joz contributed unhelpfully.

 

‘You don’t look at the mantelpiece when you’re poking the fire,’ Freddie agreed.

 

‘True dat,’ said Gex. ‘And if I make myself available, it gets you guys into the party, you feel?’

 

‘Oh right,’ I said. ‘You’re doing it for us.’

 

‘Taking a hit for the crew,’ he said.

 

Anyway, so after my parents came back, we biked up the hill into town and there I was sitting on the bench behind the checkouts at Waitrose, heart pounding, pretending to text but really watching out for the guard. If he turned up I was supposed to send a warning group text to everyone’s phones, which were on vibrate. The plan was that Freddie and Joz would grab a couple of bottles each, fill up a trolley with loads of other crap, then when no one was looking they’d slip a bottle under the front wheel of the trolley and push it towards the checkout, rolling the bottle as they went. If anyone saw, they’d just act all surprised like ‘how did that get there?’ As the trolley got close to the lanes, they’d stop suddenly and the bottle would keep rolling, right through the checkout aisle and under the seat where Gex was sitting. He’d shove the bottles into a bag and walk right out. Then Freddie and Joz could just abandon the trolleys and go out the other door.

 

I still wasn’t happy about the criminal aspect, but I was starting to feel it might actually work. That is, until I heard a voice.

 

‘Hey, Ben. Don’t usually see you in here.’

 

It was Megan Hooper – or Hooters, as Joz calls her for reasons which I probably don’t need to spell out. She was sitting behind the till on aisle 9, waiting for the next customer. Megan’s all right. Probably not the most attractive girl at school. And considering how hot her mum is, probably not even the most attractive girl in her own family, but that’s a good thing because pretty girls scare me. The best thing about Megan is that she doesn’t call me Bellend.

 

‘Just, er. Just picking up some things for Anaya’s party tomorrow,’ I said, trying not to look guiltily at Freddie and Joz who were, in turn, trying not to look guiltily at the CCTV cameras as they ran a trolley down the cheese aisle at pre-accident-Richard-Hammond pace.

 

‘Oh, you going to that?’ she said. ‘I was invited but I wasn’t sure if I should go.’

 

‘Uh-huh . . .’ I mumbled, only half-listening as I watched the boys come to a sudden stop. All the random food they’d put in their trolley crashed forward and I winced as loads of shoppers turned to look. But it actually worked out well as everyone was too busy tutting at the hoodies to notice the bottle of Bells rolling cheerily between checkouts 7 and 8 and into Gex’s rucksack as he sat casually reading a recipe card for courgette pasta bake.

 

‘So should I go, do you think?’ Megan was asking. I turned back to her. She was smiling at me. That doesn’t usually happen. I normally get this look from girls like I’ve got a small piece of dog poo stuck on the end of my nose.

 

‘Yeah, sure, it might be fun,’ I replied.

 

‘See you there, then,’ she said.

 

‘See you there, then,’ I repeated, like an idiot.

 

Then she had a customer and I went and sat at another bench, watching her work, smiling at the customer. Soon there was another crash in the aisles and a few seconds later a second bottle rolled gently into Gex’s bag.

 

The situation wasn’t ideal, but maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad day after all, I thought to myself as the third bottle rolled cheerily between the checkouts. The Great Trolley Robbery was proceeding, and I had a sort of date with a real live girl who was in a narrow bracket, being both quite fanciable and also in my league. That is, it was going great until Freddie grabbed a bottle of gin. Nothing wrong with gin, except this particular bottle wasn’t round, it was semi-circular. I watched him in alarm, frantically texting as Freddie shoved the misshapen bottle under the wheels, got a good long run up towards the checkouts and stopped suddenly. Of course, this bottle didn’t roll, but instead slid noisily across the floor, stopping right behind a customer at the checkout, who stepped back and tripped over it. The bottle shot forwards and shattered against a stack of shopping baskets and they had to get a cleaner and the store manager came over to look after the customer and the security guard started sniffing around and a baby started crying and everyone had to have counselling and take legal advice. Freddie and Joz had disappeared and Gex only had three bottles.

 

‘You better do it, man,’ he said, nodding towards the booze section. 'We need one more bottle.'

 

‘No way,’ I said. ‘I’m no thief.’

 

‘If you don’t go in, Bellend, then you can’t come to the party, innit?’ he hissed.

 

‘Why do I have to miss out?’ I hissed back, forgetting for the moment that I didn’t even want to go to the party. ‘I didn’t panic and run at the first sign of trouble.’

 

‘They went in and got the bottles, you didn’t do nothing,’ he said.

 

I was going to just walk, but then I remembered Megan. I had sort of promised. She was only going because of me. I couldn’t let her down. And do you know something else? Just at that moment I felt something unusual. Something I never feel. I felt confident. I felt strong. I felt that everything was going my way, nothing could go wrong. Everything suddenly seemed clear, and neat, and . . . and just right. I don’t get that feeling very often.

 

So I went in. How hard could it be?

 

I steeled myself and walked right to the back of the store. I took the trolley Freddie and Joz had abandoned and casually walked past the alcohol section.

 

But just as I reached out my hand to grab a bottle, an employee walked round a corner and gave me a funny look and I think I might have panicked a bit so after he’d gone I grabbed the first bottle that came to hand and went back to the cheese aisle.

 

When no one was looking, I slipped the bottle under the front wheels and started pushing towards the checkouts. I could see Gex pretending not to watch as I worked up a good head of steam until I was nearly running. It was going to work!

 

But then disaster! A lady with a pushchair appeared from nowhere and I had to stop, but I was too far away from the checkouts and the trolley was slightly off-centre. The bottle rolled away, clipped a display unit full of pork pies and went off at the wrong angle, towards aisle 9, bumping into Megan’s foot. Megan, who had her back to me, looked down at the bottle. Then she looked up, saw me, and raised an eyebrow.

 

‘Is that bottle yours?’ she asked. I should have just denied it, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to lie to her. I nodded, eyes down. I was all-too-conscious of the store manager and security guard just a few checkouts away.

 

‘Do you like Martini Rosso then?’ she asked.

 

I shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I’ve never had it.’

 

‘Me neither,’ she said, and laughed. ‘Save some for me, will you? We can try it together,’ and she kicked the bottle over to where Gex was sitting, still staring straight ahead. Gex quickly shoved the bottle into his rucksack and walked out, hoodie up, head down.

 

‘You didn’t have to do that,’ I said. ‘But thanks.’

 

‘You owe me,’ she said, grinning. ‘See you tomorrow night.’

 

‘See you tomorrow,’ I said, grinning back. Then I scarpered.

 

I caught up with Gex again down the street.

 

‘You’re such a Bellend,’ he told me, shaking his head.

 

I’m tired, my hand aches and I haven’t even got to the lollipop lady yet. Tonight I need to finish rating all my iTunes songs. I’ve only done half of them and it’s being preying on my mind.

 

I’ll finish the rest of this tomorrow.

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