So I stop by the fly-tip, swing my bag off my back, sliding a big bottle of Woodpecker out. The white sun glints through the trees, making me squint as I tip the bottle, the bubbles popping on my tongue. The birds sing as I drink. Somewhere a tractor buzzes. The midges hang in twitching clouds low to the lane. I tip again. I don’t stop until half the bottle is gone. Then I tip again. I keep tipping till I’ve done the whole bottle then I chuck it down the bank, satisfied by the smash it makes somewhere down below. The stink of wild garlic makes me feel pukey. I shoulder my schoolbag and head on through the yellow morning, feeling my insides rise and rise, flickering like a midge cloud. My watch blinks a red 7:23. I punch the dry heat. Last day at school. EVER. Let’s fuckin have it.

The lads are already waiting at the rec as I turn onto the field. 8:09. I launch an empty Woodpecker towards the goalposts as I walk. A cheer goes up as it lands in the six-yard box, popping like a little bomb of brown shards. Big grins all round. Skinner’s on Carling. Jag’s on Heineken. Kingy’s on Harvey’s Bristol Cream, the twat. I open my third bottle of Woodpecker with a pishhh. A cheer goes up as I start necking it, cider running down my chin onto my blazer. We smoke Bensons, then make a little fire out of our school ties. Through the wobble of heat the school shimmers across the rec. Skinner pulls a marker pen out of his blazer pocket and we take turns writing on the back of each other’s blazers. Kingy’s says PUSSY FUCKER. Skinner’s says TITTY SUCKER. Jag’s says SPUNK CHUCKER. They won’t tell me what mine says. Everything supped, we go cause fuckery by the school gates. Skinner bangs Andy Baxter in the face, because. I make myself useful by grabbing lasses’ arses as they walk past. Some like it and laugh. Some don’t. Lindsay Nolan says she’s going to tell her brother Mickey. I say to her, Tell the cunt, I’m ready. Mickey is a big fucker but I don’t care. Let him fuckin try it. Kingy takes a piss on the school sign and shouts FUCK MOORFIELD as Miss Bacon’s car goes by. She sees him and he sees her, so he turns around still pissing. She speeds up. We seem to be attracting a lot of attention. We’re the lads, and we sing it, arms locked around each other... Outside Mr Graves’s office window, we stop to have a fag. He looks up from his desk but doesn’t come out to us. Jag grabs Sharon Tolly’s bag as she walks by and he starts rifling through it. She starts crying when he lobs her Tampax at her one by one, singing We’re jammin, we’re jammin, we’re jammin from a fanny hole. I feel a bit sorry for her. I think it’s cos she’s fit. The bell goes and we decide to forget registration and go lie down at the back of the hall. Some teachers go by and look at us but no one says anything. The first-years start coming in for assembly so we all drop moonies. Everyone’s looking at us. We’re the lads... The hymn is Glad That I Live Am I, but we just fuck about, singing as loud and as out of tune as we can. Jag starts singing like a spack, tapping spacky Freddy Lester on the back of his head. Spacky Freddy turns around and tells Jag to Fuck off. Freddy has spit on his chin so Jag starts drooling spit out of his then wipes it off with a pretend spacky hand. Miss Cartwright comes stomping down the line and drags Jag out by the arm. Jag laughs and cops a feel of her arse as she pulls him to the side of the hall. From where I’m standing he looks really pissed. I watch as she says something red-faced into his ear. On the stage Mr Graves is saying something to Mr Brown. Mr Brown is a proper hard bastard. Before the hymn is done he disappears off the stage and appears like a gnarled genie by Skinner. He drags Skinner out by the ear. The hymn finishes and the sound of the main doors slamming dull-thumps into the hall. Mr Brown then drags Jag out the same way. Mr Graves is talking on the stage about how proud he is of the school’s achievements this year. Kingy is grinning at me but I start to feel flat. Kingy’s grin disappears as Mr Brown bustles his way down the line and drags him out like the others. I feel shit now. Everyone is turning around and looking at me. I nod as Mr Brown beckons me with a curling finger from the end of the line. I walk slow towards him. My lion has left me.

From Mr Graves’s office I can see the lads messing about by the gates. Skinner and Kingy are trying to pull the arms off Jag’s blazer. The office door opens and Mr Graves comes in, looking stern and angry. He tells me to SIT! then walks a line from his filing cabinets to his desk and back again. I’m very disappointed in you Billy, he says. He points at the window to where the lads are now doing a Space Invaders dance across the school entrance. I stop a grin. Mr Graves clears his throat. That lot, he says, I expect it from. They’re a lost bloody cause. But you... He pauses, stops walking to and fro and sits down opposite me. You have two choices Billy, he says, and it’s as simple as this. You let that lot go and you stay on for the sixth form, or, you just piss your life away. He looks straight into my eyes for a moment then smiles. Listen, he says, putting his hand on my shoulder, You have every chance of doing something with your life. Stay on. Surprise yourself. Surprise others. Miss Cant’s always saying how much she likes the things you’ve written in her class, and I know she’s told you the same, but Billy, it’s always the same old story with you isn’t it? Miss Cant’s one of half a dozen teachers who’ve told me the same thing over and over again about you. If you stopped pissing about and got stuck in you could actually do something for yourself. He smiles again and takes his hand off my shoulder. Thank fuck. I look out the window to where the lads are whistling and mooning. I look at Mr Graves. Sorry, Mr Graves. I can’t stop on. I have a job to go to. I’m on a YOP Scheme at a dry-cleaners in town. Twenty-six quid a week. Mr Graves shakes his head. He looks disappointed. I feel a little sick. My head dull-thumps. And where will that take you exactly? he says, tilting his head. I shrug. He sighs and writes something on a scrap of paper. He hands it to me. This is my number, he says. Ring me if you change your mind. You have two months to decide. Now please go straight home, Billy, you stink like a pissing brewery. It’s funny hearing a teacher swear.

When I get home, Mum and Dad are out. I get all my school books and start a fire in the old dustbin Dad uses to burn garden rubbish. Then I go into their bedroom and get the stuff Mum keeps in a box under her bed. There’s things in there from way back. Some of it even has my old last name on it. Pictures, stories, school reports, and even a photograph from my old junior school in Chesterfield. In this photo I’ve got no front teeth and a feather cut. My shirt collar is nearly as wide as my shoulders. Funny. I throw most of these things into the fire, but I decide to put some things back. Some crayon drawings and a card that says Happy Birthday Mummy. I think Mum would be mad if I burnt everything. The last thing I burn is my school blazer. It says CHICKEN PLUCKER on the back. I don’t even know what they mean by that.