Back then, Joe Berry was banned from just about every major football stadium up and down the country.
A hard man who neither gave, nor expected quarter and whose battle scarred reputation, earned on the Scoreboard terraces at Old Trafford, demanded respect from lesser men.
The stretches he served in prison had only served to make him more rebellious and an even greater threat to society. Joe`s parents had all but given up on their only son, who it seemed was hell bent on a life of crime.
Long gone is the trendy Stone Island casual clobber and the “Fuck Off” attitude - that was the swashbuckling Joe Berry of old. All that remains is the ACAB (All Coppers Are Bastards) tatoo on the knuckles of his right hand, the ink like the past faded with time.
Let me now introduce you to the present day Joe Berry.
Gone the six pack and the once intimidating physique of a streetfighter. You see before you an overweight family man, with a receding hairline that has stopped halfway up his back. A seemingly average 33 year old home owner, living in an average leafy suburb of Cheshire in North West England. A once illustrious past has given way these days to mortgage rate worries, bringing up two young boys and raising them in the designer clothing bubble all budding Man Utd hooligans should be accustomed to. High blood pressure and cholesterol levels one could drown in, were it possible to wade in his bloodstream were the only thing fearsome about him nowadays.
Joe had married and settled down with his childhood sweetheart Mona, and they went on to become the proud parents of two young boys now aged six and seven.
It was no easy task, yet he had turned his back on the past and had become a respectable member of the community. Still, despite the aura of repectability, he always slept with a baseball bat under the mattress.
Joe`s parents were understandably relieved, and as proud as can be of their reformed son. No longer was he the family renegade once dubbed by his father as “The Blackberry of the family”.
Yet Joe found the stresses of family life, surburbia and encroaching middle-age far harder to digest than his inglorious past – he missed the old days.
Little did he know his middle-age crisis would get a helping hand in the shape of Bingo, the family black and tan Belgian Hovawart.
It was the 3rd July 2013 and Joe Berry had decided it was time to remove that troublesome wasp’s nest, from under the guttering above the boys` bedroom window.
Mona had implored him to employ Anticimex to do the task, but to no avail.
Joe Berry was a stubborn chap, and even more so should it involve money. Mona would wryly call him Stingey Berry, noting it was a wonder he could part with wind let alone money.
‘I`ll be done in a jiffy and it won`t cost us a penny’ he said as he nipped off to fetch a pair of step ladders from the garden shed.
Perspiring heavily and out of breath, he returned with the ladders, placing them just under the boys` bedroom window. Wearing a motorcycle helmet and a pair of Mona`s flowery kitchen gloves as protection, Joe`s cumbersome frame slowly made its way up the ladder.
Once at the top, he opened up the black bin liner he was clutching in one hand, carefully placing it beneath the wasp´s nest until the nest was within in its confines.
It was just at that moment a magpie landed on the bottom rung of the ladder.
All of a sudden Bingo the dog caught sight of the magpie, an ill omen if ever there was one.
Bingo you see was a fervent Sunderland supporter who hated the “Magpies”.
With one fateful lunge the dog removed the ladder from the equation, and Newton`s Law did the rest.
Bingo - a fait accompli.
It was like waking up from a dream: there was an ambulance in the driveway and two paramedics crouching over a figure while swotting irate wasps that were orbiting whoever it was that lay there. The figure was lying prostrate on the crazy paving Joe had laid the previous year, but had never got round to finishing the pointing.
Mona and the boys stood ashen faced, looking on from a short distance. Mona embraced the boys, each clinging onto one of her legs, hiding behind her back whenever an angry wasp made a beeline for them.
Perched on top of the Meyer lemon tree, that Joe and Mona had been given as a wedding present, sat the magpie, peering down at the proceedings below.
At the base of the tree, staring up at the magpie sat Bingo, oblivious to the commotion going on around him.
A small band of neighbours had now gathered across the street. A bit like when Pavlov`s dog reacted to the sound of a buzzer, only their salivary glands were activated by the sound of ambulance sirens – gossip being their reward.
While all this was taking place, there you were Joe. The onlooker.
It was as if you were still on top of those ladders, looking down at everyone, when all of a sudden your bird`s eye view was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder.
‘Excuse me,’ came a croaky voice from behind him.
Joe turned his head slightly and caught sight of the magpie sitting on a branch in front of him.
‘I´m afraid this tree is taken man,’ said the magpie.
‘I´m sorry mate, I didn`t mean to rattle your cage,’ whispered Joe under his breath as he half heartedly apologised, in disbelief and taking in the strange sight before his eyes.
The magpie was wearing a pair of turtleshell Raybans and smoking a spliff in a long black shiny cigarrette holder so as not to get nicotine stains on his wings.
Hearing Joe`s barely audible comment, the magpie let fly with an irritated “Squaaaakkkk”. His Raybans slid down his beak and peering over the top of them he said.
‘Take a pill and chill dude, that cage jive not called for man. I´m a free bird baby - you ain`t a cop are you?’
‘Me?’ replied Joe, feeling his hooligan cred had been dealt a low punch.
‘No, I´m not a cop,’ said Joe.
‘I´m just a dude stuck up a tree talking to a magpie smoking a spliff.’
While Joe was strongly reiterating his non affiliation with the forces of law and order, he observed as the magpie inhaled deeply from the spliff hanging precariously from his beak.
Disappearing behind a thick cloud of Lebanese Black, the magpie coughed and wheezed as he attempted to catch his breath.
Wafting away the smoke with his wings, he finally got his bird shit together and said ‘Man you`re one chillin suspended in the air cool dude.’
‘Cmon over to my place and perch your ass beside me brother,’ said the magpie, inviting Joe to share his branch and a spliff with him.
Just then the sound of a moblie phone and a Jimi Hendrix Hey Joe ringtone blaring from his feathered hipster pocket had the magpie clamouring to answer his Iphone.
“Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand, hey Joe where you going with that gun in youuuurr hand.”
I need you to do me a cosmic favour, it is my old lady being uncool and cramping my style. Will you take this call for me? Just say I´m helping out a friend moving to a new nest. Tell her I`ll be back for tea……oh and send my love to the chicks.’
‘Ok,’ said Joe, feeling sorry for the magpie.
‘I´ll answer the phone for you. Hey, did I tell you I´ve got two chicks of my own?’
Joe: (what am I saying….chicks???)
The magpie stretched out his Iphone to Joe.
Joe: ‘Yes ……is that you Mona???’
Iphone: ‘Joe, wake up ……you’re late for work!’
‘Oh Mona it`s you!’ exclaimed Joe.
‘You wouldn`t believe the dream I have just had.’
About the author
R.B.N Bookmark was born in Manchester, England during the late 1950s.
Having been surrounded by extraordinary real life characters all of his life, it comes through in his writing. When times are hard the one thing that’s plentiful is humour…..and its free!
Nowadays he lives and works in Scandinavia.