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.


6. 9th July

9th July


Describe the members of your immediate family. Explain what they’re like physically and also how you see their characters. How would you categorise your relationship with each person: Very Good, Good, OK, Poor, Very Poor.

Family Member 1 – Dad

Dad has no eyebrows. He is a bit taller than me, but not much taller, which makes me worry that I’m not going to grow any more. Joz told me he read that you always end up halfway between the heights of your parents, which doesn’t seem right to me. ‘Your dad is shorter than you,’ I pointed out.


‘I know,’ he said. ‘Which is why I think he’s not my real dad.’


‘I see your thinking,’ I said, ‘but it’s not a lot to go on. I wouldn’t go making any dramatic accusations in front of the whole family at Christmas on the strength of that evidence.’


Joz didn’t say anything, which makes me wonder if he is going to make a dramatic accusation. I wouldn’t put it past him, and he might even be right. It’s like Albert Square round his place, always some big drama. He’s got three older sisters and everyone’s always sleeping with each other’s boyfriend or, even worse, borrowing each other’s clothes without asking and generally having hissy fits and storming out of rooms, slamming doors.


Dad is dark-haired like me but is going grey because he’s old. We have a Good relationship mainly, except for that time he took me to a football match then abandoned me in a pub as a fight kicked off and I got a broken nose. My relationship with my dad on that day was Very Poor.


He loves football, and is a huge fan of Frank Lampard, which I don’t get at all. Seriously, what’s the big deal about Frank Lampard? I’ve never seen him score. He just boots it up into the top row of the grandstand then holds his head like he’s missed by an inch.


He’s a mechanic (Dad, I mean, not Frank Lampard), but he doesn’t work full time, which he likes, because he’s quite lazy. He does three days a week at Hutch’s Auto Repairs and does a few private jobs for friends, which means we usually have some random car in the garage or the driveway up on bricks, leaking oil all over the paving stones. What with our old caravan out the back, our house sometimes looks like a council-approved traveller’s site. And that’s ironic because Dad’s always complaining about travellers.


‘I don’t like all them mechanical gypsies on the Common,’ he said the other week.


‘Ro-manical,’ I corrected him.


‘They don’t look very romanic to me,’ he said. ‘They’ve been there a month.’


‘Our camper van hasn’t moved since July 2009,’ Mum pointed out.


‘I’m just saying,’ he grumbled.


Dad ‘just says’ things quite a lot. Mum says he’s ‘largely unreconstructed’. Like Corfe Castle.


Dad sometimes gets me to help him with his work on the weekends, which, owing to my ham-fistedness usually means me just sitting in the car turning the ignition on and off again according to his instructions. Sometimes afterwards he takes me to watch football with him. He’s mad about Chelsea, but he can’t afford Premier League prices, so we go to watch local team Hampton FC, who aren’t as bad as they sound. This season they have Joe Boyle playing for them, who used to play for Portsmouth before he got injured and is a minor celebrity around here. He also happens to be going out with my English teacher, the amazingly beautiful Miss Swallow. So double props to him.


I suppose he’s all right, my dad, except he just talks about nothing but football and Top Gear. Oh and the Second World War. He has an entire bookshelf of books and box sets about the Second World War (along with Frank Lampard’s autobiography, which I haven’t yet read).


‘There were other World Wars, you know, Dad,’ I told him.


‘There was one other World War,’ he corrected. ‘And it wasn’t as good.’


‘What was wrong with it?’ I asked. ‘Not enough people died?’


He shrugged. ‘It doesn’t really interest me. They just sat in holes most of the time then ran out into machine-gun fire.’.’


The real reason, of course, is the Nazis. When men get to a certain age they become obsessed by the Nazis and watch endless programmes on the History Channel called Hitler’s Dogs, or Brides of Belsen or Extreme Nazi Hunters. Joz says men start watching programmes about the Nazis when they get too old for video games.


I may have mentioned this before, but I don’t really like football. Or cars. Or the Second World War. If Dad found that out I think he’d be really disappointed and probably start thinking I’m gay. (I’m not.) So I pretend to know what he means about Christmas tree formations and differentials and universal joint offside traps. And I watched Band of Brothers all the way through even though I felt a bit queasy, and that mournful trumpet music made me want to slit my wrists.


Dad wants me to watch the new Top Gear season with him tonight. ‘Clarkson’s going to reveal the new Stig!’ he told me, giddy with excitement.


‘Sounds great,’ I said weakly, giving him the thumbs-up.


‘Though if you believe the tabloids, there are a few BBC interns who’ve already had a good look at Clarkson’s Stig,’ he went on.


Is the double entendre really the only form of humour he recognises?


Dad is EXTREMELY untidy.

Family Member 2 – Mum

Mum’s a bit odd. She’s a stage magician, which sounds quite cool but it’s not really, because it isn’t like David Copperfield with a huge stage and special effects. It’s just little clubs and pubs with dodgy PAs, unappreciative audiences and nowhere she can keep her white doves. She’s always off ‘on the circuit’. My relationship with my mum is OK, when she’s around. On the one hand she never cooks or cleans or does any of the stuff mums are supposed to do, on the other hand she can make Pringles come out of my ear.


Physical description? Mum is tall and thin, wears glasses and has dark curly hair. She wears jeans a lot. What else is there to say?


Oh yes, Mum is EXTREMELY untidy.


Mum and Dad get on well most of the time, except for the occasional random blazing row, after which Dad goes off for a bit. Just a night here and there. Not like when I was little and he left for a year. Frankly, I don’t understand how they ever ended up together in the first place. Mum went to university but it took Dad eight years to finish his apprenticeship because he kept failing his NVQs. He says he has dyslexia so bad he thought he was doing QVN and stayed up all night watching shopping channels. I told you he was unreconstructed.


Mum reads a lot, like me. She introduced me to The Hobbit and The Hunger Games and bought me a Kindle fire. If it had been up to Dad, he would have introduced me to a 1972 Ford Capri owner’s manual and bought me a blow torch.


Mum’s at home at the moment, after a mini-tour in Scotland. She has a small cut on her nose from where someone threw a bottle at the stage in Glasgow. Her glasses got broken so now she keeps walking into things and therefore has a genuine excuse for not tidying. Mum’s eyesight is Very Poor. Her prescription is -8, which on the blindness chart is about the same as those fish that live in totally dark caves. Mum now somehow believes that means she is allowed to park anywhere she wants at Tesco, even the disabled spaces, if she can find them.

Family Member 3 – Molly

Molly is my little sister. She’s six. She’s totally mad. She’s not unlike Lola of Charlie and Lola, except she’s not extremely funny, she’s extremely weird. For example, she painted her teeth in the colours of a rainbow once. She sat for ages with her mouth open ‘to dry them out’, then painted them in acrylics in the mirror. She was furious when she realised she’d done them back to front. She had to go to hospital with blood poisoning. Also, once she ate a toad. Well, she ate a tadpole that had started to grow back legs. She said she wanted to see how it felt as it slipped down. She’s a mentalist.


Molly thinks of herself as some kind of animal rescue service, but as I tried to point out to her the other day, you’re supposed to rescue animals that have already been orphaned, not to go around taking baby animals while their mothers are collecting food. It’s the animal equivalent of snatching a toddler from outside Tesco. Our house is always full of baby hedgehogs or stray cats (which usually eat the baby hedgehogs), and once she came back with an owl.


Molly is EXTREMELY untidy, and Mum and Dad just don’t care. I’m the one who tidies her room. Me.


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