Colin McAuley

The Chocolate Trip

Colin McAuley

Philly Clayworth knocked at our house the other day.  He’s my best mate, and it was only half past eight in the morning. He had a big cheesy grin on his face, and had his paper bag over his shoulder, packed with Sunday papers sticking out of the top. He obviously hadn’t finished his round.  In his other hand was a box of Mars Bars. A full box, forty eight in all! It looked like he’d just bought them, which was a strange thing to do at this time of a day, but he hadn’t, and he was standing there with the biggest grin on his face and telling me to, “come on and hurry up.”

He’d always had a paper round had Philly. He lived around the corner from me and my family, and it wasn’t like him to knock on our door at this time and ask me to, “come on,” or to, “hurry up.” I couldn’t do a paper round because I was only eleven. He was fourteen, although only two school years year’s ahead of me.

Philly told me he’d been walking down Penkett Road, the road where posh old people left their milk money in bottles and, earlier that morning, he had spotted a cardboard box in the tennis courts half full of chocolate and pastels. He had walked past them, double-taked, and now he was just standing there with a massive grin telling me to, “come on before they go.” I must have been his best mate-I mean who else would you trust with a secret like that. I made him wait on the front step while I went inside to get something more appropriate on than pyjamas.

At this time in our family home there were four of us. Me, Susan, Linda and me mum. So whilst everyone else was in bed I rooted downstairs for the last but most important thing I needed for this mission-me shoes. Why is it that at certain times in your life, the most necessary things important to you are some of the simplest, yet hardest to find? But like I said, I had two sisters who I lived with-I had three sisters really but the other one was at a University somewhere called Bradford-the place where the Yorkshire Ripper lived-and so I got to wear one of theirs. I didn’t even care, cos if Philly was kidding, he’d have told me by now.

Anyway, with one of my sister’s shoes on and one of my old pumps we ran off through the entry, which led us to the school, and past the witches house.

We called it the witches house mainly because of the two elderly ladies who lived there who we would see collecting wood and stones off the waste ground. They weren’t really witches, but old spinsters who were lonely and kind.

When we got to Penkett Road, we turned onto the tennis courts where the box had been dumped. We talked about this while we ran and decided that the sweets must have been robbed the night before.

The box must have been three foot high; I knew cos I was only four feet tall. This made me happy cos it meant the box of goodies was almost the same height as myself. Inside it where loads of chocolate; Mars Bars and Milky Ways’ mostly, and Pastels, which I hated and threw up in the air. I’d brought some plastic bags, and we put them all in. We didn’t leave any sweets, just an empty box.

When we got to the square, we showed all our friends what we had in our bags. We had the one thing that all kids wanted. Free chocolate! In adult terms, it must have been worth ten gallons of beer or a King’s ransom of drugs, for all the attention and superficial credence we received. I’m glad we got the pastels and I made some of the posh kids, who were in some ways also our mates, grovel on the floor for them after we’d teased them by throwing them in the air. This made us laugh.

Then, with my family still asleep we counted them in my bedroom. Ninety six Mars bars, forty five Milky Ways, and thirty four packets of Pastels. That was apart from about twenty odd bars of assorted chocolate. We had to take them to Willie ‘fire bugs’ after this. My family was about to wake up, and Willie’s was the safest place we knew. Before we went we hid one bag under my bed.

Willie lived next door to Philly and that was only over the back yard wall to mine. He lived with his mum and sister and his Dad. Sometimes I would wait for him in his front room on the way to school and his mum would have black under her left eye.

We counted the goods again, but there were less cos we couldn’t stop eating them. Philly wanted to take some and went. As soon as he went Willie’s mum came through his back door and took the sweets to the Police station. She didn’t do this straight away. First she shouted at Willie without thinking that we would have to run to school because after the time it took for him to be shouted at, we would be late. Then I got talked at, which made Willie turn his mouth up at both sides.

She wouldn’t let us keep any, which meant our trip was over and we had to start the day as normal. Well, we got a receipt and the police all got fed. I had mine in my room and was faced with my first decision concerning friendship; deceit. Being eleven, I kept the chocolate and put them in the freezer. This meant telling ‘white lies’ to my parents, and keeping my fingers crossed that they wouldn’t find them.

We ‘ran’ to school. I don’t think Willie liked where he lived, or with his dad drinking. Sometimes I would call for him at his Nan’s, who had a one hundred-year-old painted egg in an old glass cabinet. Willie swore that if you took it out the case it would just break. I didn’t believe him but didn’t feel I should prove him wrong.

Philly lived with his sister, mum and step-dad Joe. Joe worked at the fair in New Brighton. He stood at the back end of the ‘stock’ cars and stopped people sneaking onto them. He let us in though.

I went to the same school as my three sisters had gone to. We lived next to some waste ground where a house used to be. People used to throw old bikes on it and I could climb over the back of our house to get to it.

My mum worked in a nightclub near to where the stock cars were. She used to be married. I got free dinners at school, and at lunchtime had to queue up in a different line from the kids who lived by the square. The people I queued up with went after my friends in the other queue. We called them the posh kids. They were really not much ‘posher’, but their parents thought they are. To prove this they had bought their houses, which for some reason meant that our ‘friends’ got to eat their dinners before we did at school.

But for that pleasure they were not allowed to do as many things as Willie and I. At night when Philly and me rode our bikes around ‘the square’ they had to go in early. We stayed out later, although I wasn’t allowed to do as many things as Willie did. Saying that neither was Philly. He went in after me, and Willie stayed out. I called for him in the morning, and we ran to school together.

I got up one morning and my sister and mum were talking loudly in the kitchen. This was pretty normal for our house and it was the middle sister who was arguing back to my mum, who was by this time bringing me into the conversation. This made me feel part of whatever it was about the freezer. I knew from the moment I’d been included that something was wrong.

Apparently, all the chocolate was gone. Over the past couple of weeks, unbeknown to the rest of the family she had been sneaking down and eating the chocolate bar by bar. My sister had eaten all the chocolate that I had stored in the freezer. Like a prisoner tunnelling out of prison she went back time after time until all that was left had been digested. No one had noticed, I mean how would you when she had covered her tracks so well. They call it stock rotation now, bringing the chocolate to the front of the freezer shelves, so there was no change to the naked eye.

Later on we were to discover the truth. When no one could notice ‘our Susan’ had been sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night and eating the frozen chocolate in the dark. The chocolate trip had come to an end.

In place of the chocolate that she had really taken from myself, Susan had brought bottles of alcoholic drink, for her and friends and family to drink. I could never work out what kind of punishment that was. Being only eleven, I didn’t drink, but had always thought adults enjoyed doing drinking. Maybe the idea was for her to become ‘hung over’ and for me to learn that things don’t always work out how you had planned. Anyway, the party held its own surprises, but that’s another story.

Williamson Art Gallery & Museum