Black Nick was called Black Nick because he was black. His dad was
from Zambia and his mother from Mexborough and hed grown up as the only
black kid in Maltby. Hed brought his best friend Ferenc into the Lescar
once. Ferenc was also from Maltby, but his dad was a Hungarian refugee
whod come to Yorkshire in the 50s and worked as a miner. Ferenc was
named after Ferenc Puskas, and his dad had taught him to hate the Russians
because of 1956 and the Germans because of Berne 1954. I only met him once. He
was very quiet.
Nick could never fit in with the other black lads who drank in the Lescar. They
were first and second generation Jamaicans, all patois and hard, studied cool.
They seemed to make him feel white.
He was a gentle, kind soul. Helped me get hold of weed in dry times because of
his Rotherham contacts. Turned me on to some sounds I wouldnt normally
have checked out too. He was a big Michael Franti fan.
You always sensed he was fragile, breakable. Most of us were, but our endless
hangovers had also taught us a certain kind of rubbery resilience. Someone like
Gordon Collingwood would always get up again, he was just too bitter not to.
Nick was different. His wide brown eyes looked perpetually moist, like an
oversensitive girls, and his broad Maltby accent often quavered with
emotion. I dont think drinking wife beater helped. Ive
seen that stuff do odd things to people, worse than snakebite. Ive always
found it to have a nasty aftertaste too.
The first indication we got that Nick was breaking was when Black John gave him
a slap. Black John was called Black John not only because he too was black, but
also to distinguish him from Scouse John, who was also, confusingly,
mixed-race, and Cockney John, a West Ham fan from somewhere in Essex.
Black John was one of the Jamaicans. A big one-eyed man who was often loud and
drunk and lecherous. He drank in the Tap Room, where that kind of behaviour was
expected and encouraged. In his more sober moments he brought his two teenaged
daughters in for their tea, and then stood and played on the bandit and drank
Stella whilst they ate. Id occasionally helped with questions on the quiz
machine, so he used to nod to me with relative friendliness.
One afternoon, John had come bursting through the door between the Tap Room and
the Lounge and stormed over to where Nick was sitting with a pleasant couple
from Millhouses whom he knew. He hadnt realised John was there until a
meaty palm had connected with the back of his head and knocked him from his
stool. Hed recovered himself onto his hands and knees and shook his head.
John had pointed down at him and declaimed, Dont you ever talk to
my fucking daughters again! and then turned and battered his way back
into the Tap Room.
Nick had stood and run out the pub to his home just down Sharrowvale Road with
the gait of a crying child escaping from a playground mishap.
It had gone all quiet and awkward in the Lounge. Sylvia, the landlady, had
explained to me that the previous day Nick had come in and walked over to where
Johns daughters were sitting waiting for their father to return from the
toilet and asked them why they were wearing his trousers. Hed asked them
three times, and when theyd shaken their heads and laughed perplexedly,
hed told Sylvia that he couldnt find his new trousers and left
slowly and sadly.
The last time wed seen him hed come in with a plastic carrier bag
of stuff hed bought in some hippy shop. Id bought him a Stella and
hed carefully placed three items from his bag on the bar: a small, wax
Buddha candle, a purple and blue Paisley pattern scarf and a bag of various
coloured crystals. Gordon and I looked at each other and frowned and
I did ask if he was still living in his house down the road. He said that he
wasnt. Hed spent the last week in The Unit because hed run
through some bushes in Wincobank and sprayed paint at some skinheads. This was
because the sun had been jumping in his head again, he explained. I nodded and
smiled and hed drunk half his Stella in one. Do you think it would
alright if I lit a joss stick? hed asked. I was talking him out of
it gently when Sylvia had come over and in a mothers voice reminded him
he was barred. Gordon and I helped him put his things back in his bag and
tenderly held his arms to guide him out the side door. As hed walked away
across the car park towards Mad Caspars launderette hed turned once
and waved and then disappeared beyond the corner.
We never saw him again, and even though we said we were sad we werent. We
were just relieved.