I went to the Bishops Stortford College Short Story Award Presentation. The judge, the editor of the Bishops Stortford Observer, was very funny. He said that although his business is to do with words, he is often constrained to tackle subjects such as the latest meeting of the cemeteries committee, so he looks forward to a bit of light relief from the short stories. Unfortunately, no light relief is to be had as the adult section is full of doom, depression, destruction and a ridiculous number of bodies. He said that each year he has no sooner recovered from reading them than it is time to judge another lot. This year, the number of stories in our section had increased slightly, and the body count had gone down slightly.
It was wonderfully inspiring, with the stories of the winning Year 2s being read out, and Years 3 – 6 and Years 6-11. Great to see that creative writing is alive and well within the youf. I was not holding out much hope for my story, for obvious reasons, but I was clinging onto a tremendously thin sliver of likelihood that it could win. But no, I said to myself: it is just too rude. It was like in The Incredible Journey, when the bouncy young dog has just made it home, and the cat Sassy has come home, and they are being cuddled by their kids, and the boy is looking out over the plain and saying, ‘No, he was just too old. He could never have made it. He was just too old.’ And we know the poor dog is stuck in a pit, like a mile away, and there’s no way out. The boy looks and looks in vain, then turns away, gutted. This is when the big old dog appears in the distance, muddy, thirsty, bleeding, limping along. So I felt my story heave itself out of the pit and appear on the horizon, when the judge said, ‘The prize goes to Hester Tingey for her vision of a clone-infested Bishops Stortford!’ He joked about how the story boosted business with my mentioning of The Rivers, Baroosh and The Fountain. I got a plaque! and a certificate and a book and a twenty five quid book token!
And you know, it was all because of that line you had to fit into the short story: ‘Anyone could make that mistake once. But then he did it again,’ (a line chosen by author Morris Gleitzman on the other side of the world) that got me started on the idea of what sort of shape revenge could take and thus the whole of this Shardonnay thing! What a remarkable stimulus just one line can be.
Chapter 19. Our Heavenly Father, lol.
So the Heavenly Host were on ‘Later with Jules Holland’. Suddenly their spokesperson always seemed to be our boy. Nicholas, dressed in the choir’s lovely blue fleece with the furry white collar and cuffs, stood straight and still. ‘What is it like being so young and yet so famous?’ asked Jules.
‘Fame does not interest us,’ said Nicholas. We was on the edge of our seats. ‘I am only interested in singing. When I am singing with my group I feel free. It’s like I am out of my body.’
Jules’ jaw litrally dropped to the floor. ‘What would you say was your motivation for doing such a great world tour?’ he asked.
‘When we are raising our voices together we are as one,’ said Nicholas. ‘It matters not from where we have come. It matters not where we are going. We are in the moment. Engaged and thereby free.’
Remember this little fella is only like ten years old. Me and Matt was just like starin at one another. What the fuck had got into our kid? Moments like that, we didn’t feel like he were our kid. To be honest with ya, I wouldn’t have minded a kid who liked playin video games, sat around with his mates, wanted to go paint-ballin or go-kartin, like a normal lad. Where did he get all this poncy stuff from? Weren’t from me, that’s for sure. It blew me mind.
Jules’ last question was this. ‘Would you say that religion plays a part in your drive to succeed?’
Sebastian leant forward to the microphone. ‘We do invoke Our Heavenly Father. We try to do Our Father’s bidding. He told us not to give up. So we are doing just that.’
‘Ha!’ said Matt, with a self-satisfied air, eyes glued to the TV. ‘I told them that as well, right when they started out! Just goes to show, I know what I’m talking about. They don’t need bloody God to tell them.’ He muttered on for a bit about being the next Simon Cowell, like a massive talent-spotter. I snorted me little umbrella right out of me cocktail tryin not to laugh. He so wouldn’t believe it if I told him he litrally is this Heavenly Father what they’re on about. Oh, my god, it makes me die!
‘And your name: The Lost Boys and the Heavenly Host. Are you still lost, do you think?’ asked Jules.
‘We are all lost,’ said Sebastian. ‘And we are all seeking that which we have lost, we want to feel whole. Together we are one, and together we will find what we are looking for.’
I felt shivers go up me arms at this, and had to have another Tequila Slammer to calm me nerves. The camera panned out to show all the Heavenly Host, the twelve Lost Boys at the front holding hands, their furry hats framing their pixie faces. All except one little lad on the end of the row, looked a bit older than Nicholas. I looked closer, I were sure I’d seen him around somewhere, but then again all them kids look the same to me. This kid had his arms folded, never looked up, his hood down, and a bit of a scowl on him. They all smiled at the camera except him. He just stared down at the floor. Looked like trouble to me.
Chapter 20. Like a Massive Dettox Wipe.
By now it were so normal to see Nicholas on the telly we hardly batted an eye. He spent weeks away from home with the choir. We would sometimes fly to Paris to have lunch with him, or fly to Venice for a couple of days to see him in concert. He were constantly in demand.
We got to a rehearsal room at Barbican one time, and crept in at the back. The choir were singin. Nick were at the front facin them with a white baton, conductin away. We’d never seen him do this before. He looked way too little to be doin it somehow. Sebastian were standin to his side, curvin his own arm around Nick’s, helpin to bring in them singers what sing lower, and them ones what sing really high, at the right times. All of em was singing, and then with one twitch of the baton they bought in that girl with the really high voice to soar above it all. I thought ‘Here we go, I’m gonna have to put me fingers in me ears if that Izzy’s gonna start howlin.’ But actually, it weren’t that bad. I could sort of see why people liked it. She were really getting famous, she were all over the papers. If she dared go on a beach in a bikini, oh yeah, you knew about it. You knew all what she had in her shoppin trolley, you knew where she’d been for a night out.
That one grumpy lad weren’t singin though. He were glarin at Nick and Sebastian. I thought to meself, oh my god, he’s probably jealous cos Nick gets on so well with Sebastian. Maybe he don’t get to have a go at conducting. Maybe that’s why he looks so pissed off.
Sebastian stopped the singers. He took the baton from Nick. ‘Look, Nicholas,’ he said. ‘Feel the strands, invisible strands connecting the end of this baton to everyone in the choir. Your every tiny movement is magnified along the strands and tweaks the sound, controls it, affects the blend of sound, do you see?’
The choir were completely silent, staring at him, transfixed by his lovely liquid voice. That Izzy, you could see she were all gooey over him. I think they was probably all in love with him. Not hard to see why. Couldn’t keep me eyes off of him, meself! Lush is the only word for him.
‘If I weren’t here to help you,’ Sebastian continued, ‘you would have to have confidence. Learn to take up this baton and wield it…’ Nick, listening carefully, twitched the baton experimentally, ‘…with care, though, with authority, with power. It’s like you have to picture sizzling lightning coming out of the end. Lightning which can wake people up! Zap them out of their stupor.’ He smiled at Nicholas. Ah, that smile. You’d have to see it to believe it. ‘Feel the power, little lad! Wake up the people!’ He laughed a low laugh.
I clocked that little jealous chap turning his head angrily away with a grimace. I’d been right then! Good judge of what’s goin on, me!
Sebastian spotted the lad turn away. ‘Hey, Finn!’ he called out. The little guy turned towards us with a scowl. ‘Would you like to have a go now?’
There were a pause. Everyone in the choir turned to look at Finn. ‘Nah,’ said Finn. ‘Why would I? You’ve already found someone to do it.’ He closed down his face and turned away again.
It were a couple of weeks after that that the first like miracle happened. The Heavenly Host did a concert in Vienna and there were a whole bunch of kids from the local hospital at the front of the theatre. Sebastian and little Nicholas came to the front and held out their hands. Screaming fans reached out to them, grasping their fingers, desperately tryinga touch any part of them.
The next week it were all over the Vienna news that nine of the sick children was litrally miraculously better. Don’t know if it were just the press makin it up for the sake of a good story, it probably were, you know what they’re like, but all nine apparently claimed to have touched the boys.
By now, Matt were seriously hasslin me for more kids. Ha bloody ha, as if! No way were I going to go through another pregnancy. Did me head in the first time. I wanted to just point to them kids on the stage, and say to him: ‘Look, all them fuckin children is yours mate! Just gimme a break. You got enough!!’ But I din’t of course.
Everywhere Sebastian and Nicholas went they was followed by cameras, film-crews and screamin fans. Somebody brought up the rights to the film of their life. They started to write the script and score and everythin. As we spent more time visitin Nicholas so we got to know the other kids better every time. OMG there was so many of them by then. Two hundred in the Heavenly Host. Still twelve boys in the Lost Boys though, a core of em.
Watchin one of the concerts at the O2 on the telly, Jeez, it were massive, I noticed they had a new girl singin the really high bits. ‘That’s not right,’ said Matt, puzzled. ‘That new girl isn’t as good as Izzy. People won’t like it.’
‘She’s probably buggered off, can’t be bothered with it no more,’ I said. We asked Nicholas. He were sad about it, I could tell. He just said she left out of the blue. ‘Unfortunately, Mother, drugs were becoming a problem for her,’ he said. I know! He always calls me ‘Mother,’ like he’s in a dusty old book or somethin. ‘The poor girl couldn’t cope with the fame. You can see what it’s like with the press stalking you all the time: horrendous! Some people just can’t take it.’
Finn, that little jealous one, bothered me. He just never looked happy. Nicholas told me his mother had died and his father had chucked him out when he were thirteen. He’d been the youngest of the Lost Boys till Nick turned up. Yeah, Nick joinin really put his nose outta joint. Finn’s dad had always been in a constant rage that his kid din’t look nothing like him. OMG, talking to Nicholas about him, I suddenly remembered that horrible scary man with the orange skip truck what came to me door like years before when that kid were only a tot. That were where I’d seen him before. I’d clocked he’d been litrally smacked about by his ‘dad’, yeah, you could tell, no wonder he looked so messed up.
Anyway, apart from that poor Finn lad, The Heavenly Host moved over the world like a great army, a pure human mass of cleansin power. Kinda like a massive Dettox wipe, if you think about it, cleanin up people’s shit. The songs made you feel clean, that’s what. You’d hear one on the radio and it’s like you got yerself brainwashed. You’d think, OK, let’s not worry about what I done yesterday, I’m gonna think about today! I’m gonna try hard today, I’m gonna do me best, I’m gonna help people. And I did go out and help Shelley choose some new shoes to go with her new clubbin outfit cos we was going to the ball at the Country Club in Epping.
I just let meself go along with the whole thing. It were fun, it were glam, people treated us like royalty. I were just lovin life. Thing is, I never knew what were going to happen, did I? There were no way I coulda known. My mum always says, ‘yeah, but you couldn’t of known, Shardie? How could you of known?’ And she’s right. There were like litrally no way I coulda known.