The first time I ever tasted and enjoyed alcohol was when I was thirteen. It was the coming up to the first summer since Long John had packed his bags for Ipswich and a sort of mate of mine at the time, Terry Avis, nicked a couple of bottles of Barking Frog from Thresher’s. Barking Frog was a tequila and citrus fruit drink that came in a purple bottle with a happy green frog on the front. The drink was an instant hit as I became transformed from a shy idiot into a laughing idiot; it seriously was a drink that made me laugh uncontrollably, a fit of giggles, once the magic of the drink was in me. It was no wonder that I fell instantly in love with Barking Frog. Terry Avis clearly didn’t seem to get the same sensation of light-headedness that I enjoyed after drinking that first crisp cold bottle. When I fell apart in a happy fit he said my laughter was that of a girl. Well if I was a girl, then what was Terry? That question soon got an answer.CCTV in the shop had clearly identified Terry – I was outside by the front door, keeping watch – and it transpired that someone within the local nick knew who he was. Which was of no surprise really as his family were well known as a gang of petty villains. But Terry Avis certainly did not operate within any gentleman code of villainy. Once his collar had been felt, he folded. He collapsed instantly and grassed; an act that signposted the immediate end of our short friendship. He said I had put him up to it. That I was the brains behind the job, he was merely a victim being bullied into crime. The evening of the day of our crime, I had a visit from the police; or the Dickheads of Dock Green as Long John used to always call them – such dumb words for such a coward. No one but him and his dinosaur associates would know who Dixon of Dock Green was anyway; incidentally I have recently seen the film The Blue Lamp on TV so I do actually know all about the origins of the original
‘Evening all,’ I said.
No reply. I then showed them the bottom lip. Me making out that I was out of my depth, humble. What I did know was the facts. I was young looking for even for my age – most mums in our road said I still looked about ten which I quite rightly took offence to; I had a chip on my shoulder back then, that I looked so young. Which all equates to madness. And in all the madness of being dragged down the station these coppers at least treated me like an adult. I mean, they performed throughout on a level playing field. Much in the same way Long John preferred to behave when dealing with me as an individual. Because of my experience with Long John, they had made me feel right at home, what with their approach to conducting adult conversation with a younger soul. I was sworn at, told I had it all coming on top unless I co-operated and how I should be aware that a night in the cells came with no breakfast only bruises. Bring it on, I thought. Because I thoroughly enjoyed being spoken to like I was an adult. I really did.
‘Haven’t you got anything to say?’ some old ginger cat said to me, leaning on the table, stooping down, his stinking fag-ash breath inches away from my face, him trying to be all intimating.
He had already threatened me with how both my parents were on their way down – a complete lie as Long John was at that point in time a permanent dirty old devil in
‘Listen mate, you wouldn’t happen to have some Barking Frog in your canteen fridge?’
He had no idea what Barking Frog was, only that I was in for thieving alco-pops, but he sure looked like he wanted to swing a fist at me. Proper clump me one. But I was ready. This idiot weren’t Long John. I had taken my fair share of beatings. This creep didn’t scare me. To be perfectly honest, he looked upset, ready to burst into tears as I sat there smiling, unflinching. Not such a hard man are you? I thought to myself. I’ve never been afraid of the police from that moment on. Bunch of bully losers. However, I was still clever enough to worm my way out of trouble. My genuine sob story – beefed-up to complement the moment – of how I was trying to come to terms with my parent’s separation surprisingly seemed, considering their lie earlier, to work in my favour. I got a verbal clip around the ear and was told that this was a first and final warning.
Mum arrived on the scene looking all lost for words. They went through the boring facts and how I was a lucky boy to only be getting a verbal warning. Outside though, mum was outraged. She didn’t hit me, she never hit me, but she sure as hell called me a name or two. Over-the-top I thought at the time. I mean, I really just couldn’t give a damn about getting into trouble. It’s not like I physically hurt anyone. Looking back now, I do regret that I didn’t take her feelings into consideration by my actions. Mum was still dealing badly with Long John walking out. But back then I was only a young teenage boy. I really didn’t give two fucks. It’s a shame I never maintained that tough mentality into my older years. I sometimes wonder what has happened to Terry Avis these days. Who cares about that stinking grass? Yes, that’s right. Not me.
A so called gentle and caring society was well pleased with the outcome – the warning appeared to do the job on me. I never drank another bottle of stolen Barking Frog again. But I was hooked and I sought alternative measures to get hold of another bottle of magical potion that was the Barking Frog.
I skilfully removed nearly a fiver in assorted coins from the giant clay pig that sat by the fireplace. That sacred pig that had only one narrow slot of entry and exit had been sat fat and lazy with coins as long as I remember. No one stole from the pig. A belly full of copper and silver and maybe the odd gold nugget saved by Mum and Long John for a rainy day. Well Long John was history and Mum was at work and I was bored having been the only one as usual to have the bottle to bunk off school. I wouldn’t normally risk it, bunking off and going back home, but as it was pissing down on that particular day, I spent over an hour prizing out various coins from an upturned pig so I had all the justification I needed.
Fortune also favoured me while I tiptoed nervously bang opposite Londis. No one was about except the exact sort of bloke who I knew would help me out. Stan the Dirty Old Man almost trod on my toes as he startled me. I gave him all of my change and told him to get me as many Barking Frogs as would allow. He smiled, poured the coins in to his Flasher’s Mac pocket and then returned moments later with just two bottles. I knew he had ripped me off but such is life. I downed two Barking Frog’s in the dry warm comfort of my bedroom while listening to a birthday CD, In It For The Money by Supergrass; my album track favourites to this day are: ‘Richard III’, ‘Late In The Day’, ‘It’s Not Me’, and ‘You Can See Me’. I don’t think I have ever been so happy as listening to that album by Supergrass that afternoon, a band that were hitting their peak, and me on my bed, grinning from ear to ear, purple Barking Frog in hand. 1997 was definitely a very good year. Certainly better than the year before and all the carnage caused when Long John finally ditched Mum for good.
When Mum came back from work she went mental about me drinking; I had brushed my teeth six times back-to-back and resolutely denied all, but she had seen the empties. But even with all that scene and drama, it couldn’t take the shine off of what had been a blissful afternoon’s drinking. If anything was an outrage it was how Barking Frog got discontinued for good just before the year 1997 was counted out. That’s right, whoever manufactured such a wonderful drink had decided no more bottles of smiles. It was crazy. But that’s exactly what happened. It was gone. Dead. Finito. No more Frog. But I’d soon learn that booze is all just booze. It all got you there one way or another. I wouldn’t go thirsty for long.