“I’m sitting alone and I’m thinking
back. I’m thinking of him, like he’s sat across from me, looking straight
through me, as if he’s looking into something that doesn’t exist. But it’s me
who’s looking. He often comes into my mind when I have a quiet moment, lulls
during the day; he catches me when I’m daydreaming, before I fall asleep, in
the middle of the night, seizes my imagination for a while, my memories. In a
black and white format he appears, then fades as quickly, as unpredictably -
let him be known, and he always comes back.
“There’s no doubt, and I wouldn’t
deny it, though I’m loath to admit just how much, but Degger has had a profound
effect on me, the way I see myself, the world. He changed it all. It’s a scary place.
I scare myself. We were friends a long time. I never really liked him, but I
wanted to be just like Degger - fearless and respected, feared, so I stuck with
him. Weird, eh? When the day ended, when he turned to leave, I’d shout after
him: ‘Degger, what should I do now? Degger!’ And he went, the rest of us looking
at each other, clueless.
“I would see him the next day, or
the day after that. We would be hanging out - Briggs, Holdsworth, Tom Bagnut,
even Andy Compton back then, and he would appear. You’d hear the whistling
first, and then Degger - the smirk, licking his lips, he’d turn and walk. You’d
half want to run the other way and half not. We’d all look at each other and
follow - Briggs, Holdsworth, Bagnut, Compton, and me. He didn’t say much. He’d
whistle a little, lick his lips. Later on he’d do this thing where he kicked
the heel of his boot off the other boot. Sometimes he’d flick his lighter on
and off, take a sip from the flask. We muttered and murmured behind him. He
made the way - a ten, eleven year old kid, took us on his adventure. I’m going
right back to the start.
“See we got mixed up in some s**t
back then; always got up to no good with Degger. It was fun but not fun, if
that makes sense. He led the way. This was when we were young and didn’t know
any better. Well, we kind of knew, but we were looking for a hero, an
anti-hero, someone different, special, dangerous maybe, an adventurer: Degger. No
one’s parents were happy. They’d heard rumours about how Tim Fletcher’s bull
dog was found in two pieces and how Degger was stood leaning on the old red wall
across from Tim’s house when Tim came to find it. Tim was the local butcher -
‘Tim’s Cuts’ on Granville Street. He’d called Degger a ‘freak’ about a week
previous. I was there. Degger licked his lips, walked. We followed. I didn’t
tell mum, dad, but they knew. Word got around. They didn’t say much, looked
anxious. Word died with that dog. Fletcher’s still going; keeps himself to
himself these days.
“Like I say some strange stuff went
on, looking back. Loads of different things that shouldn’t have happened did,
like when Degger showed us how to pull a frog apart. They lived down by Dodger’s
Pond in the meadow. As far as anyone was concerned we were just wandering kids.
He’d get us to sharpen sticks with a knife he carried and then chase down frogs.
We sometimes played for hours. None of us could catch them. We were just
stabbing the ground behind and all around like amateurs. Bagnut was the worst -
useless. I never saw Degger miss. If he did he kept it quiet. Degger was always
quiet, but those frogs squealed like little pigs when he got them. He just
walked up and stabbed them in the hip before they could jump - quick as a flash.
We were amazed. It scared us a bit, made me feel sick, wriggling on the stick
like that, the weird froggy noise, but we were impressed no less, and
practiced. He’d upend the stick and the little thing’s legs would be going like
f**k, because that was the thing about Degger, he never killed a frog outright,
he caught it in the hip, left it pedaling on the end of the stick, upended it
for everyone to see. We’d all gather round and wish we could catch frogs, but
knew we never really would, and our hearts would be going. Well, mine was, and
if Briggs’s fidgeting was anything to go by, his was frantic too. Tommy Bagnut
wouldn’t stay still and kept on bending his knees. We’d gather round and tell
Degger how ace his frog spearing skills were. He’d say nothing, just pull a flask
from of his shirt pocket and douse the frog. I remember a lad called Oggy, Oggy
Mills, saying: ‘What you doing, Degger, you nut?’ and Degger looking at Oggy through
the lighter flame as he set the frog on fire. Oggy went stiff and never came
back. Sometimes he’d cut the arms and legs off and throw them away, or scoop
out the eyes and flick them. One game was ‘Who can kick the frog the furthest?’,
where you cut the arms and legs off, throw them down and see who can
drop kick the body best. I hated that game.
“But of course it wasn’t always
frogs, there were other things. Degger inhabited a world of possibilities. He
had a relationship with fire, with his lighter, like they were his Genie and
lamp. The frog memories just stand out. We were young.”