Depending on when you asked, his family had either died in a cult suicide or had been poisoned by exposure to radioactive material. On another occasion, they had been murdered by an angry milkman.
Whatever happened to Bladders’ family, he now lived with his uncle in a damp-smelling semi-detached house. They lived in squalor. I once saw a pint glass filled with Branton Pickle on the side of the bathtub. When I asked him about it he denied that it was Branston Pickle. Apparently it was sweetcorn niblets and Marmite.
On another occasion, I was confronted by a perfectly intact turd the size of a swamp adder in the toilet bowl. As the toilet didn’t seem to be working and I had to pee pretty bad, I was forced to hold my breath and close my eyes and tell myself that I wasn’t urinating onto some dark god from H. P. Lovecraft.
I once noticed that a panel was missing from the window by the front door and that there was dried blood on the sill. Bladders explained that a passing carnival freak had broken the window in the night, but it was plain even to my eleven-year-old self that his uncle had come home drunk, without a key and had punched a hole in the glass to open the door from the inside.
By most social conventions, I shouldn’t really have spent so much time with Bladders. He was unkempt, was probably abused by his alcoholic uncle, was two years older than me, smelled like something from Jeffrey Dahmer’s kitchenette and would concoct increasingly bizarre legends about his possibly-dead/possibly-living-in-Wolverhampton family. One Sunday morning, I found him drinking fortified wine from an egg cup. Laughing.
Given all this, why were we friends? I think our initial bond had happened when he asked me in the school playground if I liked football. I’d never been asked before: at the Dudley School for Young Cannonfodder, it was taken for granted that all boys liked football and that they would support either the Wolverhampton Wonderers or West Bromwich Albion. I told Bladders that I did not like football. “Good,” he said conspiratorially, “Me neither”.
We also shared superficial but locally unusual tastes. And so our relationship mostly revolved around quoting Monty Python (“Run Away! Run Away!”), The Fast Show (“A little bit whoooa, a little bit weeee!”) and Winding up Nathan (“You call that an Omelet?”).
He was a huge Star Trek fan and his bedroom was a shrine to his favourite television show. He didn’t have any money so he didn’t have much in the way of the videos or toys (though I do remember a cool transporter unit, in which you could place a character’s action figure and “beam him up” using a light-and-mirrors mechanism) so instead, he had covered the walls and ceiling of his room with Star Trek-related cuttings from the Radio Times.
I realise now that such behaviour is borderline psychotic. It is even akin to the behaviour of Eugene Tooms on The X Files, who would make nests out of newspaper and bile: a practice I believe is still popular with members of the Conservative Party.
At the time, however, I found such creativity the very height of it all and it wasn’t long until I’d made my own bedroom nest of TV-related cuttings and junk. In fact, I’m still finding bits of stuff around my parents’ house, almost fifteen years later.
I’m writing about Bladders because today, I found a photograph of me and Bladders, arms around each other and grinning like loons. We were wearing his homemade Starfleet uniforms (red ones, for Engineering and Security guys) and on the reverse of the photo, my handwriting says, “Best of Friends! 1995”.
We truly were the best of friends! I scanned my memory for suggestions of why we ever fell out. There was the time Bladders got carried away in a tickling match and I’d fallen halfway down the stairs. But that wasn’t it. There was also a time when he said he “kept me around” because I was “funny looking”, which I remember being hurt by but had not mulched our friendship.
About two years after the “Best of friends! 1995” photograph was taken, Bladders made a move on one of my girlfriends. In return, I gave him a fat lip and we never spoke again. Dick.