It had been a long week. It was only October yet the Christmas feeding frenzy had well and truly kicked in at work. Deliveries were getting bigger, ques snaking ever longer and the collective temper of our customer base was getting noticeably much shorter. So after work that particular Saturday which happened to nicely fall on a pay-day, I thought I'd treat myself to a few cold cans and a DVD for the night. The insane Japanese thriller Battle Royale was on the viewing menu on the basis of several enthusiastic recommendations by Paul Mac, Dave and Hanksy - The "World Cinema" section of Zavvi proving fertile ground for my restless mind. It didn't disappoint.
As I reached my flat door and wearily swung it open, my eyes were drawn to something on the floor. A bit of folded paper - money, even. A ten pound note. I wondered whether I had dropped it in the rush to get to work that morning...
No, I couldn't have since I didn't go the bank until I left the flat.....Then I realised as I folded it open in my hands and a tiny piece of paper fell from the middle of the note, NICE ONE ERIC LAD crudely scrawled across it in wild, sketchy handwriting.
It must have been Col - I had borrowed him a fiver the other day so he could get eggs, bread, milk, tea-bags..... then I had totally forgotten about it. He had slipped me £10 pounds back under my door in return, probably because he felt guilty at the delay in giving me it back. God bless him. I resolved to give him it ALL back. He was in more need of it than I.
That's how things were in the cubes initially. Just as Col had said when I first moved in, the other residents seemed genuinely decent lads. As time went on, and initial wariness and suspicion evaporated, people would sit in each other's flats and watch TV, listen to music, talk world affairs, generally chill out. If you were short on anything - sugar, toilet roll, tobacco, your washing machine had seized up - you only had to knock, and there would be assistance, no sweat mate.
We all really had nothing of value, but we would share it all. It was almost a form of communal living to a degree....although sometimes it felt more like a prison stretch. A few decent females to level things up certainly wouldn't have gone amiss, mind you. I was sure that the landlord was actually laughing at us as he threw each unsuspecting new male into our block. Most of the other lads who lived in there were in total agreement.
He lived down the corridor from me, at the top of the building, best pad in the block. An attic conversion, with brand new sky-light windows and fantastic views of the city. Smaller than my place but cozier and with lots more potential. I remember thinking, If I had lived there I'd have picked up a kick-ass second-hand telescope from Cash Convertors and aimed it from one of those sky-lights, take up astronomy. But Dean settled for a tattered old Athens 2007 European Cup Final flag that hung loosely from the living room window, flapping in the light winter breeze.
A tall, athletically built lad who lived for football, women and good times, probably in that order. He was maybe 23 years old, with a disarmingly friendly nature and a gravelly Norris Green accent that was liberally interspersed with local slang and swear words. I'd noticed him about the cubes soon after moving in, usually passing him on the stairs, a seemingly different female affectionately trailing him to his flat each time.
He was always cordial, and we eventually touched base properly when he saw me one morning heading to work an Everton match in my steward's get-up of official tie and baseball cap.
"Shurrup lad...yer ain't a bluenose are yer?" he smirked as he poked his head down the corridor connecting our two flats as I locked my door.
"Yeah, been stewarding past coupla seasons now....I take it you're a Kopite then, Dean?"
He bounded back into his flat momentarily, reappearing with a huge scarlet Istanbul 2005 Champions League flag draped around his broad shoulders, grinning, his ice-blue eyes shimmering strangely in the dimly lit corridor.
"All the way, lad, ya know that" he replied as he pulled the flag around himself tightly like a protective shroud.
"So who've your lot got today then?' he nodded at my tie.
"Sunderland...should be a stroll I reckon, they're awful aren't they?"
"Too right, They're shite them lad. Youse should do them easy like. Listen...Fred...It is Fred innit? If you got no plans tonight, sit off in mine and watch Match of the Day, sink a few bevvies and that....Watch the red men kick arse, lad!"
That sounded alright. I should make more of an effort to socialise with others whilst I'm stuck here, I thought. The cubes could be a lonely place to live at the weekends, when all you had was a dodgy TV aerial that seemed to take pleasure in skipping half the decent free-view channels and a million books you had read countless times, cover-to-cover.
"Yeah, sound Dean, I'll give you a knock a bit later on...gonna maybe have a coupla pints on County Road with some of the other stewards after the game, but I'll deffo call up likes..."
"Smart lad, smart. I'll be listening to the match on my radio, just gonna take a bath. Like I say, gizza knock later man"
"Right...Gotcha. I gotta get movin' anyway, they get funny if you ain't there 3 hours before kick-off for the safety briefing..... I'll catch you in a bit...."
We shook hands and he returned to his flat, absent-mindedly leaving his door slightly open, a shrieking Amy Winehouse faintly drifting from the stereo inside. I headed down the stairs and out the building, marching down briskly towards the city centre to jump on a bus from London Road. The streets had the residual scars of a messy Friday night strewn across them - pizza boxes, empty cans, used condoms, mounds of thick sick plastered all over those plastic trays you get from a curry house.
I groped around awkwardly in my back trouser pocket for my i-pod and eventually located the play button. John Digweed, Transitions, Volume 1, track 14. McEnroe by Dana Bergquist.
The hypnotic beats spurred my pace as I reached the number 10 bus which had just pulled up at the stop, a few pensioners climbing shakily on board in front of me. I paid my fare to the bored-looking middle-aged driver with the gorilla arms coated in faded tattoos, and sat near the rear of the vehicle, closing my eyes as the music took me somewhere else, that minature nightclub that magically opened up at the back of my mind's eye.
The energy of the music made the short journey towards the stadium speed past, and before I knew it I had alighted the bus on County Road, Goodison Park looming over the terraced streets....