Eldest was awkward. More awkward than his usual teenage self. Fidgeting in the car seat, extra levels of sniffing and scratching. The dad glanced at his huge hands and wondered again how he had grown so big.
‘So,’ the dad began, ‘what are you looking forward to most?’
Can anyone shrug like a teenage boy? An action designed to make him look not bothered, casual, cool, and yet the result is a display of intense discomfort as if his body might actually break and split in two if he were to talk to his dad like a human being.
‘Come on,’ the dad persists, ‘what do you think will be the best thing?’
Ah ha, thought the dad, it’s alive!
‘There must be something,’ the dad coaxed.
‘Just that? Nothing more?’
‘There must be something else?’
‘We’re going bowling.’
‘You can do that in Cleethorpes.’
‘There’s pizza as well.’
‘Well, the battlefields will be amazing. Are you going to the…’ the dad paused. He was going to say the mezzanine gate, but he knew that wasn’t its name.
Eldest looked at him. ‘What?’
‘The gate with all the names of the dead soldiers?’
They drove in silence for a few moments, the dad swinging the car around the roundabout at the bottom of the busy road that, years ago now, he had so often walked this taciturn child to school. On the radio, a celebration of the fifty-year anniversary of Abbey Road.
‘Will there be shops?’ eldest asks.
‘Where?’ Here comes the sun, thought the dad.
‘On the ferry.’
‘Probably. I’m not sure though; I’ve never been on a ferry.’
‘Yes you have.’ Eldest was surely remembering camping trips to Scotland and the very different types of ferry that had taken them over to the Isle of Skye, one a massive, multi-vehicle thing that had been like they’d all imagined a ferry to be: expensive. The other a three-car flat-decked boat; only eldest and the dad had dared to get out of the car and walk to the edge and watch the water just a few inches below. The mum had said eldest had to hold the dad’s hand but they’d been rebels together.
‘Not a cross-channel ferry,’ said the dad.
Smug shrug. Eldest would be doing something his dad never had. He nodded at the radio. ‘Why didn’t he have any shoes?’
‘Who?’ the dad asked. Eldest nodded again at the radio. The voices were discussing the Abbey Road cover.
‘Oh, McCartney? I don’t know. Listen and they might tell you.’
Eldest turns away from the dad, the usual disappointment that the dad doesn’t know everything causing his face to droop.
When does it happen, the dad wondered, that a boy realises his dad is not just fallible, but actually ordinary? Just that: ordinary.
‘McCartney was hot,’ a man on the radio was saying, ‘so he took off his shoes. No other reason.’
‘Most things are just ordinary,’ the dad said.
Eldest said, ‘Stone Roses could’ve been bigger.’
The dad shrugs. ‘The Beatles were big.’
Stone Roses would’ve been bigger if it hadn’t been for the second album.’
‘Some people liked it,’ the dad pointed out, trying to do a Shaun of the Dead impression. He knew that eldest had seen it. Eldest rewarded him with a flicker of a smile at the corner of his mouth.
‘But it stopped them getting bigger. They should’ve been huge.’ Eldest said earnestly. Discovering music has given him a voice, an opinion, a place in the world. It was something that was his to explore and understand on his own. No parents or teachers to show him how. Now here he was, off on his first trip abroad without parents or teachers (just officers in charge of the air cadets), and taking a phone-full of his own music for the journey.
‘Probably,’ the dad agreed, ‘but there’s big and then there’s Beatles big.’
‘Didn’t they attack their manager with paint?’ eldest asked.
'Who, the Beatles?’
‘No, the Stone Roses?’
‘I don’t know.’
The dad pulled the car to a halt. Eldest climbed out, opened the back door, grabbed his suitcase, re-shouldered his ruck-sack as it slipped. In control.
‘Are you sure you don’t need me to come in with you?’ the dad called from the car.
‘No,’ eldest said, a little too forcefully. He tried to smile for the dad and then walked away.