Billy elliot, p.1
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       Billy Elliot, p.1
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           Melvin Burgess
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Billy Elliot


  Billy 1

  Jackie Elliot 1

  Billy 2

  Jackie Elliot 2

  Billy 3

  Michael 1

  Billy 4

  Tony 1

  Jackie Elliot 3

  Billy 5

  Michael 2

  Jackie Elliot 4

  The Pawnbroker 1

  Jackie 1

  Tony 2

  George 1

  Billy 6

  Jackie Elliot 5

  Billy 7

  Jackie Elliot 6

  He’s an idiot, my brother, I hate him. He’s got good taste in music, though. He always listens to it on his headphones when I’m around so’s I can’t hear it. Like he owns the air or something. He’d wrap the music up and stick it up his arse if he could.

  I don’t get much time on my own lately except first thing in the morning before school when me dad and Tony are out on the picket line. It was better when they were working. I could get back from school and I’d have hours to listen to anything I wanted. Nan likes the music too. Dad thinks it’s modern rubbish, but she’s too old to care about that sort of thing. She never tells on me. She probably can’t remember long enough to know what we were doing, anyhow. As soon as Dad and Tony are out the house, I put the music on while I do breakfast. She can’t keep her feet still. I can hear her singing along while she’s still in bed. Sometimes she gets up and we jiggle around the room together. She does these poses with her arms in the air, trying to balance on one leg and spin round like a ballet dancer – except she’s getting on for eighty and can’t walk all that well these days, let alone dance.

  ‘Go for it, Nan! Boogie-woogie!’

  Me dad and Tony try to stop her because they think she’s making a fool of herself. Well, but who’s to see her? It’s just us, we’re her family. If she can’t make a fool of herself in front of her family, where can she? She should be allowed to dance and listen to music all day long if she wants too, but my brother’s too mean to let anyone hear anything except the sound of his voice.

  ‘I danced myself right out the womb,

  I danced myself right out the womb.

  Is it strange to dance so soon?

  I danced myself right out of the womb.’

  You know? It fills up the whole house. And, oh, man, it was just ... lovely.

  I began to dance round the table while I put the eggs in, pretending to play the guitar. That music just makes you move. Me and my best friend Michael, we used to pretend to be rock stars when we were younger. Michael used to dress up in his sister’s satin pyjamas – you know, glam rock – and put on make-up and stuff so he looked like Bowie or Marc Bolan. I didn’t care about looking like anyone; I just liked the music. It was great. I used to call him a gay lord and he’d jump on me and try to give me a battering.

  ‘Cosmic Boogie’ lasts just long enough to do the eggs soft – the way my nan likes ’em. I took them out, put them in the eggcups, set out the tray all nice and all. Then I picked the lot up, slid the door to her room to one side with me foot, and I went boogieing into her room.

  ‘Whey-hey, Nan, it’s the dancing waiter!’ I jiggled in there, doing my best to keep the eggs on their feet ... and the bloody old thing wasn’t there.

  Shite! I banged down the tray and ran out the door. Me dad’ll kill me if I lose me nan. She disappeared for a whole morning once. The police picked her up in the end wandering around the railway station in Jesmond. How the hell she got there god only knows. Dad thinks she was probably trying to visit someone who’d been dead about fifty years.

  I pelted out the back gate and up the road yelling ‘Nan! Nan!’ at the top of my voice. She frightens the life out of me, Nan. She can’t look after herself. You turn your back for a minute and poof! – she’s not there. It isn’t that she moves all that fast, you wonder how she gets so far. Once she gets going, she just never stops.

  I could bloody kill her! I had to get to school. But, well. It’s not her fault she’s old, is it?

  Which way, which bloody way? She might have gone down to the sea. You can see the sea from where we are. Sometimes she goes down and watches the waves. I stood there looking first one way, then the other. Where? But there was little Alison from a few doors down sucking a rusk or something, and she pointed her finger uphill.

  I went haring off. If Nan had gone that way, I had a good idea where she was.

  I was bloody knackered by the time I got there, but there she was, all right, in the field under the viaduct. I knew it. She always goes there, it’s bloody awful: there’s a pond, she could fall in and drown. No one knows why she goes there – no one knows why she does anything, really. If you ask her, she just looks at you. I reckon she used to play there as a kid. She’s lived here all her life. Eighty years. Eighty years! Christ!

  ‘Nan!’ I yelled. She turned and stared at me. I pushed up through the long grass. It was soaking. Poor old thing, she was wet through. She looked terrified. That’s the trouble, see, it’s not just us that don’t know what she’s doing half the time – it’s her as well. She frightens herself worse than anyone.

  ‘What about your eggs?’ I said.

  ‘You’re new,’ she said.

  ‘Nan, it’s Billy. Billy.’

  She nodded and smiled vaguely.

  I remember that morning, this is why: on the bridge that cuts across the end of the field three black vans pulled up and the police started to climb out. It was like something out of Dr Who – the vans just kept pouring policemen out of the back of them, like beetles coming out of a crack in the ground. They had these big plastic shields and batons. They looked like something out of the movies.

  Nan saw me looking up and looked up too. ‘What are they?’ she said.

  ‘Police, Nan. It’s the police.’

  ‘Bastards!’ She shook her fist at them. ‘Bastards!’ she screamed. Some of them looked down, but we were too far off for them to bother with.

  ‘Have they come for us, Billy?’ she whispered. She may be a silly old woman, but she’s seen all sorts, my nan. She was alive in the thirties and during the war. She’s seen everything. She knows all about the police. She knows whose side they’re on.

  ‘Not us, Nan, they’re not interested in us.’

  ‘Is it Jackie? Is it Tony?’ she asked. I didn’t answer. Some-times my nan scares me more when she knows what’s going on. I took her by the arm and led her back home.

  * * *

  I was picking out the tune of ‘Cosmic Boogie’ on the piano and thinking about Mam. Tony was running about the kitchen slapping slices of bread and marge down his throat and fondling his placards. ‘No surrender!’ ‘Thatcher out!’ ‘SCAB! SCAB! SCAB!’ Dad was fussing – doing the dishes, trying to wipe the floor, putting the cups back in the cup-board. Susan from down the road – Susan Spanners we call her, because of her face – she comes in and does a bit of housework from time to time. Nan was sitting on her bed in her room next door, singing along. Singing something, anyhow, but I don’t think it was what I was playing.

  Mam’s been dead two years now. I don’t think anyone remembers my mam except for me any more. I miss her, I miss her every day. People don’t see how I miss her, but I do. I miss her when I’m looking in the mirror and when I’m walking through the doors from room to room, or when I’m mucking about on the piano. I think to myself, Well, her fingers would have held that doorknob when she opened it. I remember her in all sorts of ways like that. How she used to do her make-up in the mirror in the hall on her way out when she was in a hurry. There’s a little box under the mirror where she used to keep her stuff. There’s some lipstick things still in there, actually. It smells just a little how my mam used to smell, but it’s stale now. When I look in that mirror, I some-t
imes wonder, if I stare long enough, will I see her face? I’ve stared for ages before now, trying to see her face inside mine. If you stare long enough, your face seems to change and it scares me half to death. Remembering and missing aren’t exactly the same thing, but they’re pretty close, and you can’t do one without the other.

  I’ve a letter from my mam that she wrote ages ago. Listen.

  ‘Dear Billy.’

  Can you hear? Can you hear me mam’s voice?


  ‘Dear Billy, I know I must seem like a distant memory to you. Which is probably a good thing. It will have been a long time. And I will have missed seeing you grow, missed you crying and laughing and shouting and I will have missed telling you off. But please know that I was always there with you all through everything. And I always will be. And I am proud to have known you. And I am proud that you were mine. Always be yourself. I love you for ever.’

  That’s my mam. For ever, she says. Only there’s no for ever, is there? Not for her, anyhow. I was supposed to keep that letter for when I was eighteen but I opened it anyway. I keep it in a box under me bed and I take it out to read from time to time – not too often, because the paper will wear out one day. It’ll be like, that’ll be her gone, then. I made a copy, just to remember exactly what she said, for when it gets too creased and falling to bits. I only ever read it on my own. I did it once when Tony was in the room. We share the same bed-room. I read it while he was there because I wanted him to remember my mam with me, me and him together. But he didn’t want to.

  ‘You should have kept it for later, like she asked. Anyway, you know what’s in it, what’s the point?’ he said.

  ‘Don’t you ever miss her?’ I asked him.

  ‘Oh, f*** off,’ he said, and he turned over and went to sleep.

  See? I told you.

  Anyhow. So I was picking out the tune to ‘Cosmic Boogie’ on the piano and as I did it, I was imagining how her fingers used to touch the keys and make the music come. She used to play for us all. Nan used to waltz around the room, pretending to be a ballerina. I can’t play. I’d like piano lessons but I don’t ask, because you know what me dad’ll say?

  ‘Billy, we can’t afford enough to bloody eat, let alone ponce around on a piano, son.’

  That’s my dad. Him and Tony are just alike. It’s all how you got to stand up for yourself and take your knocks and stick together. There’s no time for remembering people, not for them. They’re too busy standing up for themselves. Fighting on the picket line, I’ve heard them. ‘Scab! Scab! Scab!’ Fighting down the mine. I can just imagine them down there, fighting away at the coalface, ripping out lumps of coal like a pair of bloody mechanical diggers. And fighting each other, and fighting me too. What’s the difference?

  They were quarrelling again that morning.

  ‘Come on, Dad! We’ll be late! Stop faffing about!’

  Tony was rushing about the place, pulling on his boots, slapping his hands together. But Dad wanted to make the place look pretty. He’s always worrying about Nan being on her own in the house.

  ‘I’ve time to do your nan’s breakfast, haven’t I?’

  ‘For f***’s sake! Billy can do it. Come on!’

  ‘Hang on.’ Dad ran out into the yard. Tony walked up and down, clucking to himself. I just sat there and picked out the tune. It’s like this all the time. Quarrelling and fighting. It’s all they ever do.

  Dad came back in with the coal scuttle. ‘There’s not much of this coal left.’

  ‘We’ll be digging it out of the ground again next month.’

  Dad stood there with his mouth pulled down. ‘Don’t kid yourself,’ he said.

  Tony looked at him like he was made of poison or something. You could feel the air freeze. Tony hates that sort of talk. ‘You’d just pack it in and stay in bed if it wasn’t for me, wouldn’t you?’ he said.

  ‘Tony,’ Dad began, but Tony was off.

  ‘Suit your bloody self, I’m not waiting for youse.’ He grabbed an armful of placards and made for the door.

  ‘Tony! Tony, wait for us!’ yelled Dad. But Tony was gone.

  Dad didn’t chase him. He just stood there. Tony reckons he’s had it. He reckons he’s given in. I dunno, maybe he’s right.

  I carried on with me tune.

  ‘Shut it up, Billy, will you!’ he yelled at me suddenly.

  I took no notice. ‘Mam would have let us,’ I told him, picking away. He came up behind me and slammed the lid down. He only just missed my fingers. Then he ran out the door after Tony. What’s he want to stop me playing for, when he’s not even here?

  ‘I’ll see you later at the Social,’ he said on the way out.

  Bugger! I thought. I hate it when he comes to watch me box.

  ‘Listen. I boxed. Me dad boxed. You box.’

  That’s me dad. What he did two hundred years ago is what his dad did two hundred years before that and it’s what I’ll be doing two hundred years from now. That’s how come my dad knows what’s what. My brother used to take the piss out of him when he was younger.

  ‘Yer can’t tell me – Ah know!’ he’d say. That was in the old days, before he turned into me dad as well. Now he’s just as bad. And that’s why every Saturday morning I put the gloves around me neck and I go down the club to punch someone’s head in for them.

  I could get into the boxing if they let me be. The thing is, I have my own ideas about it, and they don’t like that. The thing about boxing, see, it’s not what you do with your hands. It’s what you do with your feet. George the trainer and dad, they don’t understand that. They think it’s just a question of how hard you hit someone in the head, but that’s wrong. Look at Muhammad Ali. You can’t hit him, he’s not there. ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’ If George had to sing that, it’d be more like ‘Stand still as a bloody rock, punch like a bloody lorry.’ He’s always yelling at me and telling me to stop dancing about the place.

  He hates it. ‘Hit him! Hit him! Stand still and fight!’ he yells at me. Stand still and get hit, he means. He thinks I only do it to annoy him. Once he actually climbed in the ring and held me still so the other bloke could hit me properly.

  If they let me alone until I wore out the other blokes and got ’em tired in the legs, then I’d start belting ’em. But they can’t wait that long. They don’t think. It’s tactics, see. They don’t bloody think.

  Well, I worry for the boy. There’s no one to look out for him since his mam died. I do what I can for him, but a boy needs a mother. Especially a boy like that.

  Look at this fight we’re in now. It’s a fight for our future, for our community. It’s a fight for my job and for Tony’s job – but is it a fight for Billy? See our Billy a quarter of a mile underground hacking the coal out, the sweat running black, in your eyes, down your back. That’s not our Billy. All I could ever do for him was pay his way and I can’t even do that now.

  And I’m not sure I ever will again.

  Tony thinks I’m going soft. We’re owed. That’s how Tony sees it. Aye, well, he’s right but so what? Being owed never won owt. I remember my dad on strike in the thirties. They weren’t owed then – they had power. The coal they dug ran the factories, lit the streets and the houses, drove the ships across the water. Without coal the whole bloody country dragged to a halt. Look at it now – natural gas, oil, nuclear energy. You don’t have to go and dig oil and gas out of the ground with your bare hands, you just tap down into it and it shoots up like a bloody fountain. Nice and easy. And cheap.

  And then, of course, there’s the luxurious lifestyles folk like us insist on. Gold bath taps. Caviar with every meal. That’s why it’s cheaper to float coal over from Argentina than it is to pay us to dig it up out of the ground.

  I don’t think.

  Well, I’ll tell you what. If Thatcher came here today and said to me, Look, we’re going to close down the mines and we’re going to open up a whole bloody great town full of shiny new factories ... I don’t kn
ow rightly if I’d say yea or nay, but at least it’d be some sort of hope. Not like this. Not like, you lot aren’t cost-effective, so sod off. That’s Thatcher. She must have a fist where her heart is. The whole bloody community is going to be left to rot. She just doesn’t care. She doesn’t care about us – that goes without saying – but she doesn’t care about anything else either. She doesn’t care if the whole bloody country gets closed down, so long as she runs it her way. She’s already shut down half of it. The mills all gone, half our industry closed down or sold off abroad. Now it’s our turn. At first I thought we could do it. I thought we could teach her a lesson the other workers couldn’t. Now I’m not so sure.

  Well. Maybe Tony’s right. Maybe I’m just going soft. I’ve seen it before – old blokes like me with too much to lose who’ve lost too much already. And me, I’ve already lost just about everything. My lovely Sarah gone, gone from me for ever. Every day I wake up and I think, Can she really be dead? How could that happen? It’s unbelievable to me. And yet somehow, you know, here I am out of work and time on my hands, but I never seem to have a chance to even think about her. I’ve got my boys to bring up on my own. I’ve got the strike. You understand me. It’s hard, it’s very, very hard. I keep at it for Tony’s sake because ... well, what is there for Tony if we lose this? After all, if the world stopped tomorrow, I’d have been in love and I’d’ve worked and lived and had my kids. But Tony? What’s he got? He was brought up to be a miner, and what’s a miner without a mine?

  So here I am. Fighting for Tony, even though I don’t know if we can win. Fighting for Billy, even though I’ve got nothing for him even if we do win. I’ve got nowt else for them. No job. No mother. No future. Just me, here and now. It’s all I’ve got left.

  I go down every Saturday I can to watch Billy box. I miss the beginning because of the picket, but it puts you in the right frame for boxing. It gets bloody rough out there. The police, don’t tell me they don’t have orders, they don’t need to be gentle but they don’t have to be that rough. Mind, I’ll tell you this, if we ever get our hands on the men in those coaches going through that line, we’ll tear the bastards limb from bloody limb. Some of the young lads like Tony, they want blood. They chant it sometimes. ‘BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD!’ Imagine sitting in that coach listening to that. And then knowing you’re going to meet us at the shops or on the street or wherever the next day ...

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