Rule One

The man who killed my father is called Nigel John Hughes.

We’ll come back to that one.

So it’s father’s day again. I know this because I’ve spent the last week or so being told that I should take advantage of this day to ply my father with a large supply of whisky. It’d be a nice gesture, I suppose, but also an absolutely unforgivable waste of good spirits, so I’m liable to go with the fifth-best option, and guzzle the stuff myself.

I feel moderately cheated there; I’m pretty sure the best my father managed as a father’s day gift will have been presents in the wonkily-handmade-card-and-liquorice-allsorts line, which in retrospect looks a little shoddy even before accounting for my habit of stealing the coconut wheels and little blue speckly things. So I think it’s reasonable to consider his shuffling off the mortal whatsit before I got to a point where I needed excuses to hit up the Whisky Shop on Turl Street to be thoroughly unfair on everyone.

Still, we make the best of what we’ve got, I guess, and trust that nobody notices the bits where we just papered over the doors, Sleeping Murder style.

That said, it feels only fair I should mention the point where we threw a rug over the massive hole in the floor, just in case some moron takes it into their head to jump on it. Honestly, I don’t feel like this is a necessary warning. Certainly I don’t feel that it should be necessary, but I offer it up in the spirit of May Contain Nuts, ie so nobody can complain later, simply because my experience suggests that people will complain later if they can, even if they end up doing so from a crumpled heap at the bottom of the cellar steps.

The hole under the rug, then, is a fine example of emotional baggage, and as long as you play by Rule One, you’ll be happily free from the sussuration of accelerating tapestries. Simple enough, aye? I’ve said it before, but once again on the Laser Display Board: Rule One: Do Not Fuck With People I Like.

The key there is the definition of “fuck with,” and I carefully worked in an expletive so as to convey the right level of taboo-breaking intent. I have, of course, previously expounded on this, in one form or another (ranging from the tangental, to the incoherent, to the genuinely well-expressed as well it might be after sixteen revisions). Even so, just rarely – which I swear is far more often than I’d like – people screw this one up.

By way of eliminating confusion, therefore: if you deliberately attack a person I care about, then you and I have a very serious and potentially insoluble problem. Odds are high that we’ll never get on again, and even if we talk I fear it’ll take too much effort on my part to make for easy companionship.

So. The man who killed my father was called Nigel John Hughes.

In 1997 he lived in Waters Upton, just north of the main Telford conurbation, although the last I saw he was living at 21 Monet Close, Shawbirch, Telford. I know that because I spent quite a long time idly speculating about how one killed someone and didn’t get caught (not with any view to actually attempting anything, you understand, but in that way one wills a nettle sting to stop hurting by thinking very hard about finding a dock leaf). After a while, I stopped even doing that, because I’ve pretty much forgiven the murdering little fuckstick – although, as I may have revealed there,  I still don’t like him very much.

I don’t hate him enough to want him dead, but I hate him enough that if I met him in a pub, and knew who he was, I’d publicly buy him a drink and make a big fuss about how forgiving I was being, just to peel back his end of the scar tissue and see how things had been healing up,and maybe add in a spot of grit, or something.

Thing is, it ain’t actually worth bearing a grudge against Nigel. Sure, he killed a man, and a man I was bloody fond of, but he wasn’t trying to kill anyone. He was a shit lorry driver, and he fucked up, and he got caught. But he didn’t do it out of malice, just stupidity. It’s pretty easy to fuck up one way or another, and when that happens the best you can hope for is that you don’t cause much damage.

Nigel screwed up in pretty well the worst way he could – once he’d shoved his fat arse of a truck over the road, there was no way anything was going to avoid him, they reckon – but it was an accident. A horrible, world-shattering cunt of an accident, yes, but an accident nevertheless. He didn’t intend to cause anything like the hurt he did, and so he didn’t break Rule One. (Although he did manage to create the damn thing, because I’m pretty sure it’s that one colossal failure to protect people from getting hurt that triggered all the subsequent stubbornness).

Nigel wasn’t out to kill anyone, that morning. He’d probably never left the house wanting to kill someone; that fact Nigel Hughes had previously been cited for tailgating a family down the motorway, the fact he just wasn’t a very good driver, his habitual failure to pay attention, the fact that by his own admission he couldn’t see the road, and didn’t know it was clear, but drove through the junction anyway, the fact that after he’d killed a man he crumpled up in his cab whimpering that if he lost his license he’d lose his job as a professional lorry driver… none of that affects the fact that he probably didn’t want anyone to die.

If he’d had the choice, I expect he’d have picked that day as the day he paid more attention to the road, but it doesn’t really matter. Drive like Nigel Hughes, and sooner or later, someone is going to get killed. That’s just playing the odds. But to drive without skill or awareness isn’t to drive with malice, and without malice you can’t get had up for breaking Rule One. Nor for murder, which is somewhere between justice and a pity, but never mind…

But to hone and craft a letter until it’s as hard and cruel as you can manage, to send a rival out to die, pursue them round a building, to try and pull a personality apart, to withdraw your re-enforcements out when you swore to send them in… To question someone for hours and try to betray them as soon as you get outside… that fucking breaks Rule One.

And to break Rule One is an unforgivable thing to do, because to actually break Rule One as far as I can apply it you need to know someone I care about, and to know me, and I’m pretty damn sure anyone who knows me better than yesterday’s bus driver knows Rule One, and so they know we’ll be done the second they dip their toes in the Rubicon. And when they dive in anyway, well, that always hurts.

I don’t make a secret of this. I’ve never made a secret of this, because apart from anything else I can’t afford to. I wish I could have all the authority of a Godfather, and have people too scared of the consequences to ever try anything, but I haven’t. All I’ve got is the capacity to warn people in advance, and trust that they know I’m not bluffing, and that they like me enough that they don’t want to sacrifice our friendship. And if they don’t think our friendship is worth showing some consideration even on my account, well… shit.

Honestly, on a couple of occasions, I couldn’t tell you whether I was more upset by someone smashing through Rule One or by their carefree willingness to ride over all our history to do so. But I’m too proud, and too protective, and at the root of it all, too bloody damaged to sell myself out for a painless transition, and so things crumble away, and often I’m sad to see them go. But I’ve weathered worse in my time, because pretty well the only upside of a year like the one I went through is that after it’s happened once, it’s genuinely impossible for it to happen again, and it gives you one Hell of a perspective on what counts as sorrow.

On balance, I’d probably do something to stop acting like this if I knew how. I don’t like dropping people, and the closer people get, the worse it is, and even when I try to cobble something together out of the scraps, it’s always more brittle than before. And I hate that, but I’m genuinely not in a position to do anything about it. I spent a bloody long time making sure that people I cared about were going to be OK, and I pretty well hammered out Rule One on the anvils they were raining down on us. And then we won, so I ain’t letting anyone argue with that.

So on the one hand, I stick with Rule One because I don’t know how to drop it even when it burns, but on the other there’s nothing quite like a burn to remind you why you’re shielding everyone else from the flames.

And this is pretty well where we came in, and here I am again, hoping that the lot of us can just work our way around the rug without anyone dropping through the hole. Because I like having friends in the living room, but I can’t plug the hole without restructuring my entire foundation. And no matter how you might smash the rules, that would count for a bigger betrayal than any of youse lot could manage.

No malice, therefore. And I can’t compel it, and I’ve got no more authority to ask for it than any of you should exercise in return, and all I can promise you is this: if you stick by me, I’ll stick by you, and like for like, I promise I’ll do whatever I can do to pull you from the soup should you need it. But hurt people a-purpose, out of deliberation and malice, counting our friendship for nothing and dismissing Rule One as the request of someone whose wishes are worth nothing to you… well then the best I can promise you is that it when I respond by breaking our friendship apart, it won’t be done with your malice, but with my regret. And the best I can hope is that it’d prove a rough deal on the both of us.

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