To Pippy: My Best ̶P̶r̶i̶c̶k̶ Friend
24 April 1984
3 weeks after Marvin Gaye is killed — shot in the head by his own father — you are born. However, you bring your own form of friendly fire with you. As you arrive into the world, a time of Thatcher and Reagan; Lionel Ritchie and the AIDS crisis, your first act is to urinate violently onto a hapless midwife, doubtless cackling as you do so. 11 days later, your best mate, l’il old Stuey Mc, is born. And so it begins: Your obsession with beating me at every conceivable thing there is to do.
WhatsApp message #46,075
Pressure has been lifted now. I feel ok going to bed. Not the usual disappointment and rage.
That’s a shame mate
The roads are quiet and it is a still night. Amber street lights accompany me on the short drive to Pippy’s. The coveted Richard Richard trophy sits to my left, along with my darts, neatly nestled in their pouch, McDarts engraved into the barrel, scarcely visible. But I know it’s there. For I am McDarts. And my opponent knows it’s there, too. I know he knows because he has the same darts and he knows that I know Dartyn Murphy is engraved into his own version. We both know. It is important that we know.
I slow down and stop the car outside his house. 10:15pm. It is surely too late for the adrenaline-fueled antics of night darts? And yet, here we are. I gently drop my keys into the open Van shoe I slip out of, and enter the living room.
There he is. Sitting at the breakfast bar, hunched over, deep in concentration. His pen scribe is neater than mine, always has been. A kind of bubbled, cartoon-y biro scrawl looks back at me from the page of A4 paper. It says Stu / Pippy — 301.
“Big game”, I say, clasping my hands together.
“Huge”, he responds, looking right past me, stomping with intent towards the Oche.
There is an excitable banging on metal. It alerts my ears, diverting my attention from applying the tattered flights to my darts.
“What are you saying, Ronnie?”, and I see the gentle slobber of a tiny pink tongue peaking out from the dog cage.
“You’re not getting out. Do you remember why, Ronald?”, Pippy asks his puppy this rhetorical question, following up once he collects his practice darts from the board. “Because you bit me didn’t you? You’re a prick”.
He shows me the wound. A rouge bruise on the belly, shining fierce against his pale complexion.
“Nearest the bull?”, Pippy asks.
“Nearest the bull”, I respond.
And we’re off.
WhatsApp message #8,012
Idiots say football isn’t important
Headers, Volleys & Bloody Noses
The summer of 1995
Three of us…it was always the three of us. Sometimes, there would be more. There were comers, goers and cryers. Some, they couldn’t take losing. Others, they grew bored or found other hobbies to whittle away their time. But for us three, this was all there was. All there needed to ever be.
Summers back then stretched on and on, an endless dream-like 6 weeks. School was a distant memory, and the anxiety over returning to it, well, we parked that deep within ourselves, like some unwanted toy in an overstuffed box. As the days bled into another, and weeks ran away like crisp bags in the wind, we were running away from reality. Even then, with only a decade’s worth of living under us, we knew that escape was the only thing to keep us going. Secondary school was on the horizon, the innocence seeping out of us. That summer we did our best to bottle up what was left.
The games rarely changed. There was Wembley, 60’s and Headers and Volleys. We all had our own skill sets and weaknesses, and after a couple of years and countless hours kicking a Mitre Cosmic 5 to each other, we knew them better than we knew ourselves.
Dawson was the keeper. He had a tendency to cry quite a lot and was always kitted out in the best Man United clobber. Even then, it was clear he would be a top goalkeeper. The goals felt tiny when you were one on one with him. In fairness, they absolutely were tiny. I can still see the rust on the frame of the rectangular goalpost; I can feel the brittle white paint as I peel it absent-mindedly when frustrated it was my turn to go in nets. Daws had an infectious laugh and his parents only lived round the corner from the Youthie Pitch. I recall taking brief breaks at his house for orange squash, watching his Dad smoking his cigars or catching glimpses of his Mum pottering around the house. I have a vague recollection of his Dad teaching us how to torch ants with a magnifying glass but perhaps it is a false memory. After a scuffle with one of the other boys turned sour — he stamped on my chest and called me a Scottish prick — his Mum cleaned the wound on my belly. When she asked me to lift up my top, I recoiled out of embarrassment. She said to me “Don’t worry Stuey, it’s just puppy fat” and the words were said with such a warm lilt that I felt safe.
Pippy took winning very seriously. And even more important than winning was making sure I at the very least did not win. I never considered myself a particularly competitive person. I was more of a placid daydreamer type, floating away on a cloud to happy places. It was why football was so incongruous to my personality, why many of my friends still don’t quite put me and football together. Football eventually became the vessel with which I poured out my own ugly characters traits: Impatience, petulance, murderous rage, frosty language and, eventually, fire and brimstone competitiveness. But for Pippy, all that was already there. He simply had to win. And he kept his emotions in check far better than I. I always remember feeling frustrated at my hotheadedness compared to him. Too emotional, revealing too much. Heart on sleeve.
If I could just keep my emotions in check. I need that elite sporting mentality if I’m going to get anywhere in this kickabout with my mates in Ramsey, Isle of Man — thinks ten year old me, rather astutely.
Pippy’s emotions were hidden well but it was the explosions I loved. When I scored past him or when he missed a gilt-edged chance; there would be this animal-like yelp, this roaring shriek of fury, an ancient, previously untapped howl from the forefathers. Like a dog in a desert, discovering the river to be a mirage. Today, he still growls and grunts like an unevolved man when things aren’t going to plan. Usually in darts. And it is when these noises start, that I realise he is on the brink. Hook it to my veins.
Back then, on that summer’s day, I was still working him out. We had only known one another for a couple of years after I came back from Scotland. The first thing I remember is laughter. The nonsense, the already older than our time cynicism that united us. There was always so much laughter. There still is. Giddy, breathless, silent laughter. The kind that makes you cry and makes you wonder how you can ever return to normality. Whether it was watching Bottom for the 400th time, quoting Rik Mayall verbatim or having a kickabout on our local footy pitch…there was always laughter.
Dawson is having a rare match out. He has gangly Dhalsim from Street Fighter Two Turbo legs and his athleticism is far superior to my own. But I am tenacious. My asthma is suggesting that I should head home soon and my ginger albino skin is starting to burn in the searing heat. But I continue. The next goal is the winner…
Pippy is in between the sticks and whilst he would suggest his professionalism never be questioned, there is fundamentally no doubt he tries extra hard to prevent me scoring. There is something ingrained into his psyche to raise the levels against me. He is hardwired to find depths only true sporting greats can summon, seemingly at will. This remains the same to this very day. He accesses some deranged Michael Jordan mind fuckery. Simply to prevent me succeeding.
Pippy kicks the ball high up into the air. I am squinting as the sun blinds my vision but the ball bounces kindly and I flick it up with my right foot. It sits up perfectly for the volley and I connect with my instep. It is flush. It is flying into the goal. Visions of Van Basten flood into my infantile mind. A wonder goal to win the game…one to dream about as I drifted off to sleep later…
Time seems to stand still. Dawson and I watch on, helplessly, the dry grass beneath our feet yellow and dry and dying. The ball does not spin, it charges forth as though fired out of a cannon and is heading towards the net. Pippy, his spider senses tingling, shifts his stance ever so slightly but cannot coordinate his hands quickly enough to stop the shot. I am half-celebrating already, preparing my finest Gazza celebration.
Pippy makes the call. Something happens in that split second; he decides to sacrifice himself. For the greater good. And that’s why, seconds later, we all collapsed in a heap. We are laughing and cackling like hyenas as the blood flows from his nose, dripping forcefully onto Dawson’s brand new Peter Schmeichel goalkeeper top.
WhatsApp message #3312
My cousin’s new dog Minto ate a fucking shuttlecock yesterday
OH YOU PRICK
Dance Monkey, Dance
End of term, 2002
“It’s hotter than I thought it would be, for some reason”, I mumble. I taste cheap rubber and hair and feel beads of sweat race down me.
“You’ll be fine, mate. Now, remember. Stay very still”, says Pippy.
I offer a thumbs up and hear the glass door come to. Assuming the position, I am still. A mannequin dummy kind of tranquil envelops me and all senses are dulled. If I close my eyes now I can faintly hear the sounds of secondary school life. A constant echoing sea of voices fighting with one another, mischievous giggles, raised inflections suggesting tension or hostility or giddiness. The occasional voice of an adult, usually informing someone not to do something or to stop doing what they were doing.
“Ok”, says Pippy. I can tell he is excited.
Jesus, it’s so hot.
“Step right up, step right up!”, he says, with ringmaster delivery. “For a mere £1 you can make the monkey dance!”.
I cannot see very much out of the sweat-ridden, slightly misshapen monkey mask. But through the slither of an eyehole, I can make out our Head of Sixth Form, Mrs Starkey. There are a handful of laughing students. If I squint and adjust my mask ever so slightly, I can see a loose green and black striped tie and an untucked white shirt.
“What’s going on here then, Martyn?”, asks Mrs Starkey. She knows of her mischief loving idiocy. “And I suppose that’s Mr McFaull in the monkey costume, yes?”
“I couldn’t possibly comment, miss. Would you like to see the monkey dance?”, asks Pippy.
“Well…”, she stumbles, before a thought reaches her, “How did you get inside the science cabinet?”.
Seeking to deflect from the crime, Pippy simply barks “DANCE MONKEY DANCE!”.
And the monkey dances…and the monkey continues to sweat. Cross country is later that afternoon and we decide it would be best for all concerned if the monkey enters the race.
WhatsApp message #1
She be right
Nah, prob not mate
Tartan Gowned Misery
Late February, 2016
The haze shows no sign of clearing up. A numbness only drowned out by the banshee wail of a week long hangover. I lie on the sofa, in my blue tartan dressing gown, with football on the telly. I am not watching it but it is a background distraction; the desperate need to take my inner eye somewhere else. There is whiskey before me but the stomach pain suggests it probably isn’t a good idea. The visions are torturous and shocking. Jolts of lightning that have kept me awake for the best part of three days. A bloated face, mechanical tubes — so many tubes. The wheezing hiss… that returns on a maddening loop. It sounds like a sputtering train but was simply Mother running out of fuel, and with no intention of making it to the next stop.
Unannounced, he arrives. I know him well enough to know he is struggling. The pain of grief is so all-consuming that you forget how helpless your friends must feel on your behalf. What to say? Knowing that nothing can make it better.
He is jolly and chatty as I mumble in stilted silence, feeling like an anchor is weighing down my very sense of self. He offers me a chocolate and makes jokes about the unerring shitness of the players on the telly. We do not discuss her. When he leaves, I cry and am thankful to be loved.
WhatsApp message #50,778
Had a dream last night that I saved Roy Keane’s dog
Dogknapp / Drowning
Lovely jumper, Bryan
14 August 2021
“The pies”, I say, speaking with a mouthful of pastry, “are absolutely god tier!”
“We demand pies!”, shouts Pippy to nobody in particular.
Apparently, there are a lot of famous people here. Pippy, due to nefarious and never fully explained reasons, has acquired some hospitality tickets for Man United versus Leeds. Man United are his team. I’m here to live it up! I’m even wearing a blazer — like a high flying businessman. We are lording it up and taking full advantage of the freebies. Like the classy lads we are, it’s been mostly pints of Madri and pies of steak.
“A pint every 20 minutes, I reckon”, suggests Pippy. There are three of us here today, but Oatesey has disappeared to go and talk to Olympic Gold medallist Greg Rutherford. An actor from Coronation Street brushes past a YouTuber we are unaware of as Pip and I discuss the plan of attack.
“We’ve got to get our money’s worth. It’s a fine point you make, Martyn”, I slur. I am self-aware enough to feel sobriety evading me, and powerless to stop this drift.
Man, these pies are good.
“Even if you did acquire this entirely free of charge. How do you do it?”, I ask, genuinely stunned.
Pippy places his finger to his lips. He makes the same gesture towards the Leeds fans shortly after kick off.
“Ooooh!”, I suddenly say with flamboyant excitement. “It’s Bryan Robson and Gary Pallister, though!”
“Yeah, they’re good lads”. Pippy sounds unenthused. This is not his first brush with Man United legends.
Later on, I will pluck up the courage to speak to one of England’s finest ever footballers, Robbo himself. And I will discuss his choice of jumper as he heads into town.
“It’s a lovely jumper, Brian”, I will say and Robbo will walk away, smiling and confused.
When the match itself kicks off, it is lunchtime and we are all fairly smashed. The demons that football unlocks announce themselves for Pippy — a former Man United fan of the year, no less — as he celebrates a goal for his side. I say celebrate, it is more a primal scream. He thunders with uproarious wrath and yanks my hair with venom.
“BRUNO! BRUNO! BRUNO!”, he shouts as I giggle like a schoolgirl before realising he may well have removed chunks of my hair from my scalp.
Somehow, I leave Old Trafford with a bag of pies. We continued the merriment before missing the boat home, on account of being so drunk we could no longer tell the time.
“I got a bag of pies”, I plead, on the phone to my unimpressed wife, scrambling to see if there are any hotels available at short notice.
WhatsApp message #132
I don’t pretend to be some clever cunt
Summer of 2000, GCSE’s
The sun is beaming. It is a scorcher! A perfect day to spend enjoying the wonders of the great outdoors. Which is a shame because we were fully invested in our joint Championship Manager campaign. We have decided to amp up the competitiveness by choosing opposing Milan teams. Pip is AC, I’m Inter. It is Pippy’s turn. I wait patiently, thinking about my next move in the transfer market. There is very little between the sides and the San Siro derby is only a few days away.
We are in Pippy’s parents house, tucked away in his conservatory backing on to the living room. Pippy clicks on buttons, a series of statistics appear on the screen and he makes a ‘hmmm’ sound to himself.
“It’s time to gamble, Stuart!”, he announces with relish. I watch him click the ‘submit offer’ button.
“£36 million? That’s a lot!”, I say, a little taken aback.
“It’s my entire budget, Stuart!”. There is a mania in his voice…the same heady high of impulsivity I hear in him when he informs me about him closing / re-opening / closing again his SkyBet account. “I need to stop betting on Chinese division 2 matches at 2am…”
And just like that, Parma cave. They couldn’t turn down that kind of money. Amoroso, the world-class Brazilian striker was on his way to Milan.
A few days in gametime passes — some arbitrary clicks and perusal of spreadsheets, basically — before Amoroso makes his debut. The tension is colossal, the fans are expectant. The San Siro erupts.
The red flashing text at the bottom of the screen says ‘And Amoroso has come off injured on his debut! Devastating for the Brazilian. Let’s hope it’s not too serious!”
In the post-match mortem, the medical team assesses the damage to Pippy’s transfer gamble. The immortal words, deadpan tiny text but brutally devastating all the same.
Your medical team has assessed Amoroso’s injury and can confirm he has ruptured his Anterior Cruciate Ligament. He is expected to miss 12–18 months.
“Oh, good!”, Pip shouts before clicking ‘next’.
The chief of the AC Milan supporters club has announced the fans are extremely dissatisfied with Martyn Murphy’s decision to spend all their transfer budget on one player.
“Wonderful!”, Pip says, the sarcasm laced with bile. Next…
The board are unhappy with your decision to sign Amoroso for £36 million and recent performances in the league.
After fan protests gathered at the San Siro this morning, AC Milan club President Sylvain Burlusconi has confirmed Martyn Murphy has been sacked from his position at AC Milan with immediate effect.
“Oh come the fuck on!”
And I laugh until there is no water left in my body. We spent much of that summer playing this curious game. Often in contemplative silence, with little need to talk at all, the sun shining and our revision books gathering dust.
WhatsApp message #39,001
You will face a wounded animal tonight
(Pippy proceeds to lose the darts in straight sets before I respond later that night with one simple word)
It’s a stupid game
24 May 2022
“Where are you now?”
The line is crackly. Signal is drifting in and out, which is frustrating but normal. It also adds to the drama of the game, as the pair of us seek to identify the location of the other.
“I’m just approaching the Creg”, he lies. I know he’s lying. “Where are you?”, he asks.
“Yeah, just left Rammo now, mate”, I lie. He doesn’t know I’m lying…
This is Pippy’s game…a game I was unaware was even a game for the first three occasions we ‘played’ it. When he returns from Douglas school drop-off to Rammo, I am heading to Douglas for work. The rules are really quite simple. Mainly as it’s a stupid fucking game. Whomever sees the other’s car and waves first is the victor. It’s a stupid game. Pointless, really. And I am absolutely determined to finally beat the prick.
We spent some time discussing last night’s darts match. The tactics, the decision making and crucially, how the pendulum is swinging after my 7 runs of victory have been punctured. I am bemoaning losing twice on the bounce.
“It was your starting scores”, I say. “You were hitting treble 20’s for fun. I was playing catch up from the off. Bloody annoying”
“Psychologically, I had time to think after my 7 defeats”, he says, contemplatively. “I realise shouting or getting excited is not the way to go here. Silence. That’s the one that drives the other one mental”
“Yes, you’re right there”, I say, hooked on the words from this wily sage. The crackling from the bluetooth car speaker shocks me. Pip appears to be getting incensed.
“Go on then, you prick! I’m letting someone go here. What’s the point? Dopey bastard”, he rages.
Letting someone out? Wait a second, I thought he was at the Creg…is this an unwitting reveal? I head towards Signpost Corner and just as I pass Johnny Watterson’s…like a vision he dances as the radio plays! Oh behold!
I see him edging out on his way to the Mountain Road and wave frantically. The game was up and finally I had won!
“Yasssssss!”, I scream, hoping to deafen him. Haha! Creg my arse!”
“What? Wait, where are you? I thought you had not long left Ramsey?”
“You thought wrong my friend!”, I beam.
“Mind games”, he rues. “This is my game. Ah for fuck sake…this has ruined my day, this”
The bluetooth connection scrambles and beeps. I can hear him sighing to himself, genuinely angered at my victory.
“I’m glad it cut out. I hate to hear you happy”, he mutters, before a long sigh leaves him. “Have a wonderful day, Stuart”
Today is a good day.
WhatsApp message #27
God, we are such a pair of pricks
Our First Falling Out
24 March 1995
(Context: Eric Cantona was Pippy’s footballing hero who faced assault charges for kung-fu fly-kicking the shit out of a fan. Davie Cooper was my Dad’s hero and by default mine…he tragically died the previous day from a brain haemorrhage at the age of 39. Yeah, this is a right laugh this one…)
It is a bright spring morning with a slight chill in the air. I scoop up my remaining piece of toast, drape my backpack over one shoulder and leave the family house. Walking along the tram tracks and feeling like the only boy alive. I enjoy this walk. It is quiet and I like the feeling of kicking dust in the air, watching the tips of my black school shoes change to gravel-grey.
I hear the chaos of the school playground far before I see it, and an unidentified feeling hits me. It is a churning in the gut, a mixer on the fastest setting. The walk through the chaos is the worst part. Some joker will inevitably be forcing their whole weight against the rusty gates thus preventing entry, or a smart mouth will volley abuse I choose to ignore. Head down, focused. There is a small pathway leading from one side of the school to the other — it is momentary peace and a quiet separation from the gaggle of miscreants who greet you from the back side, and the hopscotchers, skippers and footballers I was about to walk straight into.
I carry a somewhat greater confidence than before. The Glaswegian accent has gone after months of self-teaching; practising endlessly in my room how to remove the snarl and spit of the accent I secretly loved. And I’m starting to become fairly decent at playing football. It is around this time that public speaking, drama and chess all become popular lunchtime activities. Yes, the confidence is growing but rest assured, that virginity isn’t going anywhere with these hobbies…
I look for him as I do most every morning. The lads are all there. Pip is on the fringes looking a little morose. There is chatter among the lads about the recent events. I wait my turn to chip in and can scarcely resist the potshot…
“Ha! Cantona is going to jail, Pip!”, I taunt with glee. It is a needless potshot at his footballing hero.
“Haha Davie Cooper is dead”, Pip responds, stunning me into dejected silence. From the look in his eyes, I think even he was shocked at how dark that went.
I walk off, as I often did in those days, in a head-down, angst-ridden slump. We pretended it hadn’t happened by lunchtime but were both too stubborn to apologise. In retrospect, it taught me a valuable lesson: Don’t go on the attack with Pippy; he will come back with weapons-grade destruction that’ll lacerate your soul.
WhatsApp message #39,459
Never had a massage before. Bugger me Stu….BUGGER ME
(a 1 hour phone conversation detailing the wonders of the massage follows)
There is so much more to say, a lifetime of inane ridiculousness. How about that time you insisted I smash a glass into your forehead in Nightlife? Or who can forget the evening when we ran away from the police officers shouting “Hurrah for the filth!”? And of course, there was that truly certifiable period where, having just finished school and both being utterly devoid of purpose or direction, we bought toy wizards and took a week off work filming the escapades of Eddie Wizzard and…wait, who was the other guy?
But then, our friendship is a strange telepathy where all the thoughts are already known to us. Basically, we’ve spent 30 years chatting, in the words of Edward Hitler, complete and utter bollocks. Sprinkle in a few moments of sincerity, and that’s about the size of it, matey.
I think friendship is initially about clinging to those with similar interests or temperament. The ones who get you…who make you feel like you’re in a secret club. It is about surviving in the lonely bearpit of the school environment and that’s precisely what it was for us. On the first day we properly chatted, we bonded over the coolest kid in school being called ‘Tig’ and laughed for an entire week about that being git backwards. It still holds up. We’ll never be cool and I love that.
And yet, as time goes on, friendship evolves and becomes more complex. As we change, so many of those formative, utterly intense relationships drift away, clouds in the sky creeping along without you ever noticing. If a friendship lasts from childhood into adulthood — and that’s pretty rare — I wonder if it is the differences, rather than the similarities, which come to the fore.
Pippy and I are inherently quite different people, and in many ways, we shouldn’t be friends. Music and literature mean as much to me as football. Last time I checked, Pippy’s CD collection consisted of Britney Spears and Enrique Iglesias. While he quite bluntly, and on a needlessly regular basis, informs me he has no intention of reading my novel. Ever.
“I’m sure it’s great mate. But come on? Set 5 English! There’s literally no point”.
Pippy cares much less about what people think about him. I wish I was less of a people pleaser and told people openly I hate them and wished them dead, for example. He’s good at that. His level headed temperament mellows my own hyper fluctuating, overly sensitive one; my bouts of hyperactive mania or self-destruction are at odds with his forever straight line emoji head. He’s not one for hedonism. I am an extreme person and in many ways, Pippy and my other actual wife (my second love) keep this trainwreck just about on the tracks…
He is also a deeply strange and curious being. He enjoys the thrill of eating cereal in the bath, for instance.
He remembers birthdays of everybody whereas I scarcely remember my own. He is generous and kind while still being a thoroughly miserable bastard. He downs pints of milk with a mad glint in his eye that has unsettled me since we were kids.
Anyway, I know you absolutely love attention, Pip, so enjoy this blaring out on social media like the big gay love letter it truly is…
Don’t worry, there are a few pictures in here too as I know you can’t really read.
I can honestly say, I could never grow bored with you. I live to annoy you. Let’s hope we make it to retirement and we can hit Vegas and insist Elvis marry us.
Here’s to the next darts match.