My bedroom door opens and light floods in from the hallway. I pull my pillow over my head but it’s not enough to drown out Dad singing Karma Chameleon. Or trying to. I fear I may cringe myself to death.
I’m already regretting this. I was, after all, only trying to prove a point; attempting to show the world that I’d made a serious choice and that nothing was going to make me look at another piece of meat again as long as I lived. Not even a snog with Nik Kershaw.
Surely it’s still the middle of the night? It’s dark, my duvet is warm and my eyelids are sealed shut but I can smell toast and there’s some awful music coming from the bathroom. Dad puts a plate on my bedside table and pulls back the curtains to look out into the street. The van will be here soon to take me to Govan. The way I’m feeling, it might as well be Australia. I’ve never been further than the school bus route and I once got homesick at Brownie camp, which was held in the field behind my house. Slowly, I sit up and put on my best pained expression. I consider playing the illness card but I know all I’ll get is a boring lecture about choices and commitments and how Dad spent his childhood down pits or up chimneys or something. I reach for the toast.
Today is July 13th 1985 and I’m going to be working a nine hour shift on a butcher van in stifling heat. Meat is Murder says Morrissey on the cover of this week’s Smash Hits. I try to ignore the thought that I would gladly scoff a sausage roll for another half hour in bed.
“This is child cruelty,” I mutter, biting through a thick layer of Marmalade.
“When I was your age I had already left school and was working down the pits!”
Here we go.
“Twelve hour shifts in pitch blackness. Kids your age lost limbs down there. This is character building. Think of the tenner you’ll have in your pocket at the end of the day. It would’ve taken me two weeks of hard graft to earn that.”
How could an ancient old fogey possibly understand the importance of today? Dad tries to be cool by asking my friends if they like Ultra-box or Atom Ant and he doesn’t even know who George Michael is despite me having a gazillion posters of him all over my walls. I glance at the one next to my head, the dog-eared centrefold that’s covered with lip-gloss prints of my lips.
Oh, George. One day you will be mine.
“You’re the one who wants to be a vegetarian, Hazel,” says Dad in his told-you-so voice, “and we told you, if you want to eat differently from the rest of the family, you’ll have to buy your own food. So you’d better get up and start earning. You can watch the concert tonight.”
My stomach clenches. Life is so unfair.
“If I miss George Michael I’ll kill myself. Then you’ll be sorry.”
“Is that the weirdo who looks like a girl?”
Give me strength!
“That’s Boy George, Dad.”
“They all look the same to me. Men with make-up and dresses! What next?”
He leaves me alone and I nibble on my toast, half asleep and drowning in misery.
They’re billing Live Aid as The Biggest Show on Earth, The Global Jukebox. Everyone will be talking about it tomorrow but I’ll have to say I missed it because I was catching lamb chops at the bottom of a blood-stained chute. My sister, who works on the van every Saturday, has filled me in on all the gory details. The guys will make rude jokes all the way to Glasgow, jokes I won’t understand but will laugh along with anyway. They’ll offer me cigarettes and make fun of my brace. Then I’ll spend the day wrapping chunks of dead animal in polythene before handing them out to a greedy, rowdy crowd who speak a different language to me. My sister once caught a whole pig’s head. It came flying down the chute towards her with its mouth gaping open and beady eyes staring up at her. And my parents wonder why I’ve turned vegetarian!
I hear them out on the landing talking about Spandex Ballet.
Please make them stop!
“I’ve laid out your thermals,” chirps Mum, as she comes in my room, arms filled with clean washing.
“It’s July, Mum! It’s supposed to be the hottest day of the year.”
I’m convinced if we were taking a family trip to Venus, Mum would pack the hot water bottles and the 15 tog duvets.
“You’re going through to Glasgow at six in the morning,” she continues, undeterred, “it’ll be freezing. You’ll be grateful for those Long Johns, trust me. You might want to hurry up with that toast.”
Tears prick my eyes and I blink them away.
“I wish I’d never said I’d do this stupid job!”
She sits on the bed, tilts her head and sighs.
“Why can’t I have a normal daughter?" she asks softly. "Most teenagers have a paper round or do a spot of babysitting for extra money. Not you. You work on a dodgy butcher van with a load of foul-mouthed louts. And you’re supposed to be a vegetarian! Why do you always have to do things differently? What about that nice Sharon McDuff?”
I knew Sharon bloody McDuff would pop up at some point. You wouldn’t catch Sharon wearing Long Johns or coming home on a Saturday night with giblets in her raven hair.
“I heard she’s modelling jeans down at the outdoor market,” continues Mum, wistfully. “I bet she eats her mince and tatties without giving her Mum a hard time.”
I swallow a mouthful of toast. This isn’t fair! I’m trying my best here, trying, in some small way, to change the world. Why can nobody understand that?
“Mum, did you know that eighty percent of the starving population live in countries which export food for farmed animals. Ethiopia grows and exports crops for European livestock. Crops their people should be eating. If we all turned vegetarian there would be no need for Live Aid.”
She pats my leg and gives me that look; the look that says ‘how could I have given birth to such a freak?’
“Let’s not think about all that depressing stuff. That nice George Michael isn’t on stage till 8 o’clock tonight. I checked in the souvenir paper your Dad bought. He is a dish, isn’t he? George Michael, not your Dad!”
Under the duvet, my toes curl so much I feel the beginnings of cramp.
It’s going to be a long day....
|The Global Jukebox|