My Friend Stephen

Scarborough Beach.JPG

The thing about Stephen was he wasn’t like anyone I’d known before, when I met him first.

Scarborough 30 years ago wasn’t the same.

I started going when I was younger,

Maybe thirteen,

So that would have been.

I’m 57 now.

The 1970s. I was 27 in 1987, so you work it out.

Went with my Mum, Dad and sister every year.

We had a caravan, packed it up and went for two weeks in August –

My Dad’s factory what he worked in shut down for the holidays

So it was the same two every year pretty much.

Anyway, so that August, 1987 when I met Stephen, I was with my pals by that point in a tent, was a big one.

Scarborough had just gone up to the league

And the new Lunapark rides had just opened, there was a mouse one, it were good.

The football’s what’s important here though.

I was on the prom with my mates – God, I can hardly remember their names nowadays.

Pete? Mark? Mike?

It was August 15th.

We were just having a beer, in and out of the arcades, late afternoon, and it kicked off.


It was like… It was like them scenes from Gladiator, you know?

It’s dead quiet then you sort of hear a rumbling then you’ve got

Ten thousand men running at you with spears and it’s all on top of you.

It weren’t exactly like that but you know what I mean.

We were just doing the penny machine then all of a sudden

We weren’t.


I saw it on the news after, it was a big thing.

My Mum went mental when she next saw me.

That day sort of started off a lot of the stuff you saw in the news about football hooligans.

I was never that into it.

I went to the home games and I played with my mates but I wasn’t into it, into it, you know.

I don’t remember much, of course. Got knocked out.

There was punching, and nasty words – fucking puffs, dirty scab – that sort of thing,

And I got punched in the face, twice, and fell over passed out.


Then I woke up. All my pals were gone, they were like that,

And I was just lying on the pavement.

And a hand reached down to pull me to my feet.

It sort of wrapped around my palm. Like that. Yeah.

Pulled me up. All my pals had gone. And he said hello.


Straight away we got on. I’d never met anyone like it before.

We walked and talked for hours, and sat on this bench looking out to sea.

It was near the pier. There’s a little board right near it now

Which talks about the tunny fishing which Scarborough used to do.

It doesn’t any more. And it’s quieter.

God, even on that first conversation I couldn’t believe the sort of things he’d say.

Talked about the guys who’d socked me and said it was all about

‘The Mindless Pack Mentality of the Something or Other’.

I can’t say I got it, but I liked it.


He liked me too. I went back to my friends in the campsite,

But for the rest of the holiday saw him every day. We had ice cream and

Sat on the bench.

It was so exciting. The most excited I’d ever been.

I’ve ever been.

It felt

Like a new world was showing itself, pulling its curtain back on me

And showing me in.


That’s how he became my friend.

Well no, that’s how we met. And then when I was ready to go home, the day before

or something, he gave me his telephone number and told me to call him and I gave

him mine back and said he better call me because I didn’t have the balls to ring first.

Then off I went, and waited.


Val said when I got back that something was different about me.

What? I said. She couldn’t put her finger on it.

Reckon she thought I couldn’t handle that I was knocked out. It wasn’t that.

It took Stephen a month to call, give or take.

I’ll be honest with you, I never thought he would. I thought that would be it.

Which would’ve been fine.

But he did call, and we talked. It was nice.

Yeah, I told Val. Well, I told her that I was talking to a friend that had helped me

In Scarborough. Which was true. So yeah, I told her.


We’d chat maybe once every couple of months, mainly him talking,

Then every August he’d be in Scarborough and I’d be in Scarborough.

I stopped taking my pals with me when I was early thirties, maybe a year or so after

our youngest, Sarah, was born. Now that I didn’t tell Val. Not sure why.

Yes, I feel guilty.

But it didn’t matter, it was worth it.


We’d sit on the bench, eating chips, eating ice cream, eating hot doughnuts,

And he’d teach me stuff.

He taught me about a poet called Tony Harrison, who I’ve got a book of – there?

Top shelf? Yep. Definitely have a read. It’s good.

He’s from Leeds and writes, Stephen said, about ‘people like you’.

Stephen liked the conflict between being lower class and trying to be a poet,

He said,

Said by being a poet Tony Harrison made himself not lower class

And he talked about it and that is what was so good about it.

I just liked the words.

Stephen wrote a bit in the front for me.

There’s this one poem where he talks about his Mum dying, and it’s just so.

God, I could cry now just talking about it. You ever get that?


Stephen took me to the theatre too after a few years, the Stephen Joseph theatre.

It had just opened.

Nothing to do with my Stephen.

I didn’t love it, but it was nice. Not as good as the poems.


Stephen got ill about ten years ago. He called me to say.

‘Nothing to worry about,’ he said.

Scarborough happened again that year,

And the year after that,

Then Stephen died.


I’m going to be honest, it hit me hard. Val must have known something was wrong

Because I wasn’t coping well. Not at all.

She asked and asked, but I couldn’t, I still haven’t.

Obviously I couldn’t go for a while. Too much.

It was hard to cope. I was sad

All the time.

It was actually Val who got me out. Said, I need to go back to Scarborough.

She knows what she’s talking about.

Four years ago I managed it for the first time. Val came with me

But she knew this wasn’t her place. I don’t think she liked it,

Seeing the memories, the feelings right up in my face,

But god bless her she did it no matter what she thought was happening.

She must have seriously thought I was mental.

She let me go on a walk on my own. I just went and sat on our bench.

And cried, and cried, and cried.


I like to go on my own now.

Not because I hate Val or nothing, nothing like that. She’s good. It’s just



I go to make my veins twitch, my heart beat

At his name now etched on the bench that used to be our seat.

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