m/s finished. As well as Ollie and Dylan there is a third hero in the book, Philip, Norwich’s biggest tough. Philip has a dog called Diddley, a Dalmatian, a fourth hero in the book.
This is a bit where Philip and Diddley are introduced:
‘D’you mind if I come along with you,’ Philip said. ‘I could do with tiring him out.’
‘No problem,’ I said. In a gesture of dog-owner-to-dog-owner kinship Philip offered me a cigarette, a roll up out of a tin. I put my hand up in friendly, no thanks. ‘Not before the first drink,’ I said.
Philip looked at me curiously. Tobacco and alcohol fumes were billowing off him. It’s one of my favorite combination smells, one that takes me straight back to my early life, to my uncles, from when I was a kid. My father’s brothers (there were four) used to tumble into my grandmother’s kitchen after the Sunday lunchtime session. ‘It’s burnt offerings,’ grandmother would say, as she pulled their meals from the oven. They were not burnt offerings actually, she went out of her way to keep the beef moist by turning one plate over to cover another and flooding it with gravy. The scent of booze and fags is not only more recognizable and more heady in the afternoon than it is later on, it’s actually different in the light of day than it is after nightfall. I noted a convincing horizontal scar under Philip’s right eye. I noted his slightly louche, rolling gait. I could translate his curious look in one way: it’s never too early for the first drink, boy, ergo how can it ever be too early for the first cigarette? And this would be the correct translation. Some months later I drove Philip down to Cheltenham, to the horse racing. We set off early, just after seven am. Philip told me that he’d already had a couple of tins before I picked him up.
‘Really?’ I said.
‘Best time of day for it, boy,’ he replied, ‘When the blackbirds are singing.’