I thought I’d share the first chapter of Jedland for your weekend reading
One – 1981
All Jed P. Horton wanted was a job. If anybody had bothered to ask him, he would have told them he’d do anything, collect rubbish, stack shelves, walk your dogs, pull your teeth out, absolutely anything, but please would somebody employ him. He was a good guy, and at eighteen, young enough to do almost anything.
Jim, his best mate, had started at The Friendly Chippy a couple months back. And already he’d landed a pay increase after winning the ‘Best Fryer in Town’ competition. Admittedly it hadn’t been too hard to achieve, considering the competition had garnered only one entry, Jim. But still Jim was earning, and Jed was not.
Jessie, his other mate, had suggested his unemployed state lay smartly at what he wore. Jed had not been pleased. As far as he was concerned, tight jeans, leather jacket, red Doc Martens and coiffed black hair were just fine. And anyway, he’d reminded her, if Jed Parsons, his rock ’n roll hero, could dress like this, then why the heck couldn’t he.
The trouble was it was 1981. And in 1981, his peers preferred shoulder pads, leg warmers, and of course the customary big hair.
It was fair to say Jed didn’t do himself any favours. But there again, it would be fair to say, he really didn’t give a toss.
Jed cocked his head as the town clock chimed the half hour. He’d been at the job centre, in the oddly named town of Leighton Buzzard, for close on thirty minutes. But as yet, he’d not mustered up courage to walk in. He stood at the window and stared at the multiple rows of job-cards before him. Occasionally he frowned and nodded, hoping his feigned interest would disguise his nerves that had sent his stomach churning and diminished his ability to read. He felt completely useless and envied the people who’d strolled in amiably and applied for jobs while he’d only managed to root himself to the ground.
He took several deep breaths and reminded himself how pathetic he was. The more he told himself this, the more his annoyance built. His jaw clamped and he ground his teeth deliberately and slowly. He wasn’t sure what would be worse, standing outside all day, or going home defeated. His mum would sigh, of course, and then he’d be even more miserable. He was living a nightmare, a twenty-four-seven nightmare at that.
A group of young lads barged past him, pushing him towards the door. Jed bristled. His chin lifted and he was ready to deliver a punch. He glared at the boy who was before him.
The boys’ eyes were wide. “Sorry, mate, sorry. You goin’ in here?” He grappled for the handle. “Here, I’ll hold the door for you. Sorry.”
Jed nodded and took a step forward. Now, there was no chance of turning back, the lads were following him in.
Once inside, the lads dispersed, leaving Jed to wonder what the hell he was supposed to do now. There were counters with queues for enquiries, and tables and chairs for applications. He couldn’t for the life of him decide the difference. He scanned the centre for a friendly face and was rewarded with none. Once again he felt his feet rooting and he cursed as he felt a build-up of sweat in his armpits and his heart began to race. He heard somebody coughing, the sort of cough used to attract attention, and turned to see if it was aimed at him.
“Can I help you?” the receptionist asked, tapping her painted fingernails on her desk. She was a young woman, probably only a couple of years older than Jed. He felt her eyes running over his body and he prayed the sweat running down his chest hadn’t soaked into his t-shirt.
“Well?” she asked, as her tapping increased. “Are you delivering something or using my office space as a way of getting out of the cold?”
Jed stared as he struggled to speak. It was maddening that he was unable to come back with a sharp response. He closed his eyes and told himself to pull himself together. All he needed do was explain what he was there for, and then she’d direct him on. He clenched his fists and opened his eyes. “No. I, err, I wanted to speak to somebody about a-” He paused and swallowed. This wasn’t going as he’d hoped, he sounded like a three-year-old afraid to ask for a drink. “A job,” he blurted.
The receptionist smirked and flicked her hair from her face. “Really? And do we have a CV?” She pulled herself up and arched her back, accentuating her breasts. “You do know what a CV is?” She didn’t wait for a reply, raising her voice to draw attention to the situation, intensifying Jed’s discomfort. “It is a curriculum vee-tie. And if you don’t know what that is, it’s a document that outlines your work and education levels.” Her forehead creased, “You have been educated, haven’t you?”
By now several other job applicants were staring at Jed. He felt his ears burning and he began to shake. “Yes. I do have one, just not on me.” He wiped droplets of sweat from his nose with his sleeve. “I thought I could-”
The receptionist held her hand up to silence him. She winked and beckoned for him to come forward. Jed edged towards the desk and leant towards her baby-pink lips. He could smell her perfume; it was floral, not something his mum would use. He felt her warm breath on his neck as she whispered into his ear.
“Sweet-pea, I didn’t see any adverts for Jed Parsons impersonators on our boards. At least that’s who I think, you think you are.” She reached for his jacket, pulling him closer until her lips brushed his cheek. “So why don’t you stop wasting my time and go find yourself a freak show position instead?”
Jed recoiled and bolted from the centre. As the door slammed behind him he tripped over a rubbish bin sending the contents scattering into the road. He tried to grab the bin but slipped and fell to the ground, landing heavily on his wrist. He pulled himself up, cradling his arm. As he did, he saw the receptionist and several of her colleagues, laughing and pointing through the window. He felt close to tears and swore at a young mother who came to his assistance. He wanted to apologies, but couldn’t. Instead he ran, until he reached his battered old mini.
Sitting in his car, Jed cradled his arm. His fingers were badly swollen and any wrist movement sent a shooting pain up his arm. He would have done anything to have his mum or Jim drive him to the emergency room. But driving home and finding either of them wasn’t an option; he needed medical attention now. He started the car, and edged his way into the traffic. The drive wouldn’t be easy but he’d driven one-handed before, admittedly when he was drunk, but he was confident he’d reach the hospital with nothing more than a damaged wrist.
The emergency room was reasonably quiet, and Jed sat near the back waiting his turn. He fiddled with his cigarette packet and put a cigarette to his lips. A passing nurse coughed and pointed at the non-smoking sign, so he sheepishly removed it and placed it back in the packet. He tried to browse through some dog-eared magazines but quickly became bored. He turned his attention to counting the tiles on the wall. When he reached four-hundred-and-eighty-five he heard his name being called and followed an orderly to a medical room. He smiled nervously at the nurse and followed her instruction to sit on the bed. She ignored his attempt at pleasantries and kept her head down as she questioned why he was there.
Jed dubbed her Sister Happiness. If ever there was contradiction, this was one: If she seemed about as happy as a man with boils on his balls, and her face was about as pleasant to look at as a dried prune with mould. At one stage he nearly kicked her in the shins when she smirked and yanked his wrist, to test its capacity for movement.
“Not broken, badly sprained,” she snapped at Jed.
Jed nodded. “Will I need plaster?”
“Hardly. A tight bandage will suffice. Don’t move, I’m going for supplies.”
Jed hoped she’d trip and crack her head open and then the pretty looking nurse at the desk would come back and bandage his wrist. But he was not in luck; Sister Happiness returned. She yanked his wrist once again and began bandaging. Before he could stop himself he screamed, “Fuck that’s sore.” Sister Happiness smiled and yanked even harder.
Jed left the emergency room, scowling. In his pocket was a pot of strong painkillers that he was told not to drink alcohol with. Fat chance, he thought, and headed for his mini.