The Boy who missed Next Year



The new book by Martin O'Neill

goldfish, shubunkin, skull, goldfish bowl

New Year’s Eve

He felt woozy, and could hardly keep his eyes open. So this is what it’s like to feel drunk, he thought to himself, eyeing the dregs of his barley wine with regret. What on earth do adults see in this stuff?..

He was sorry he’d tried it now, sorry he’d squeezed through all those giddy grown-ups to pinch a glass of the murky-looking liquid from the bottle by the microwave and sorry he’d slid into the gap between the wall and the back of the sofa to taste it. His granny had made the horrible stuff from a kit last September, but had rushed it and completely forgotten to add any yeast. The ‘wine’ had an alcohol content of exactly 0% and wouldn’t get him drunk in a kersmillion years ..

He looked out from his hidey-hole behind the settee, the perfect place to watch all the adult-bonkersness that goes with a New Year’s Eve party. He burped loudly, rolled his eyes at them all and sighed when he spotted his cousin Dwayne, holding forth at the buffet table ..

“Now here’s a good one for youse ..” he was saying, trying to sound all Mancunian and spitting cheese crumbs over the trifle. “Man walks down the street, right, he’s eating a slice of ham, two bits of lettuce and a pickled onion right? His food’s falling all over the floor, innit? Hey mate, I shouted, you can get a Bap for that ..”

Everyone groaned and went back to choosing finger food from the tasty-looking titbits, studiously avoiding the trifle like the plague. Right?..

He shook his head. Truth was, he was only woozy because he was tired. It was quarter to midnight and the first time his Mum had let him stay up late to see in the New Year. He’d been really excited about the party but, well, now that it was in full swing he didn’t know what all the fuss was about. It was just all noise and snogs and daftness ..

There was laughter, clinking glasses and One Direction (Ugh, the ODs), and there were daft hats, chicken wings and Rick Astley (Yuck, Rick Ghastly). The music was booming and the front room was one big sweaty mosh of happy, hoppy party people, all celebrating the end of yet another year. The ‘dance floor’ was a hectic mash-up of 70’s Disco v Girl-Power v Madchester - with Bill from next-door doing John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever moves (Definitely some kind of Fever); Aunt Eileen Flash-dancing (Flashing far too much) and cousin Dwayne trying to be Liam Gallagher, having given up on his comedy career and now strutting his Champagne Supernova by (and spilling his flat, warm Pepsi over) the sadly threadbare Christmas tree. Right?..

Bum-tish, bum-tish, dum-dum-dum-dum ..”Sheeee’s electric ..”
(What a racket ..)

The clock clicked closer to midnight. The telly was off ‘cos Lottie was wailing on the Karaoke machine (Just when did she think she’d become Katy Perry?) but Mum had got a new watch for Christmas and was making sure no-one missed the magic moment as the brand New Year approached.
She was mad on timing ..

“Ten minutes everybody ..” she shrilled “ .. nearly time ..” and then “Ooh, eight minutes, tick tock ..” she tittered, and everyone squealed excitedly as her time checks neared twelve. The New Year was zooming towards them and the party was going really well. Totally noisy and happy, just as it should be, of course. Bill’s disco shapes were mingling into Eileen’s ‘What a feeling’ sways, Dwayne had morphed into Bono Crosby, bizarrely crooning U2’s New Year’s Day in the style of White Christmas, and young Barry was feeling ..

Eh? Barry? Young Barry?..

Ah, my apologies, I haven’t introduced you properly, have I? Well dear reader, meet Barry Cotter, the lead character in our Dramatis personæ. He is The Protagonist. (Don’t worry, I had to look all that up, too) and it’s his words that are in (the brackets and italics). Well, you didn’t think that was me did you? No, not at all. I wouldn’t say things like that. I’m just the writer. I like Rick Ghastly - er, Astley - and I’ve got a OneD DVD .. er, somewhere. No, Barry is who this book is all about, so you’ll get to know him quite well and if you don’t then you are not paying attention. He’s 11, with freckles, sticky up hair and attitude. He’s short, he’s quite stocky and, as we now know, he thinks he’s drunk ..

He drained the last of his wine-free wine and squished his face in disgust. The foul taste reminded him of that time his mate Spots McCardle had dropped frogspawn into his coke. Toad in the Cola, Spots had called it. Tee hee ..

Anyway, he’d finally drunk it and now he was being as anti-social as he could possibly be .. (Graaah .. this family’s nuts. Ooorgh .. people having fun ..)

I (did it like that again) just so you’d remember that wasn’t me saying that, it was Barry. He just wasn’t into all that love and happiness and adulty-daftyness, you see. He was eleven and above all that. So there ..

“Ooh, three minutes, everybody ..” shrieked Mum.
“Too much of anything can make you sick .. ” wailed Lottie.
“Text me, Eileen ..” slurred Bill.
Barry burped again and nodded smugly. He decided he liked his snuggly den behind the sofa. It made him feel invisible. He could feel the squishy bums of the people on the cushions above him as they plomped along to the beat of the music, their combined weight sliding the whole settee backwards bit by bit to coddle him into his nest. He scrunched up his knees, peeped out and watched this bunch of bananas go er .. well, you know .. bananas. Lottie Cotter .. yes, his sister .. yanked a brand new calendar from under an untidy stack of charity bags, TV listings and curry menus in the magazine rack and opened it up to look at its front page for the first time. Stately Homes of England, it was called. It was colourful and bright and filled with 12 gorgeous, glossy photographs and 365 empty, expectant white spaces for the exciting New Year ahead. She pulled the old calendar off the wall and threw it down, pinning up the new one in its place. She knocked a few fading Christmas cards down as she did so. The festive season was over and so was last year. On the old calendar 365 used-up, filled-in days from last year lay finished in the bin ..
“Soon be time ..” she giggled.

Steam Trains of England. That was the theme of the old calendar, now forlornly binned and already covered in bits of crisps and a licked out Jammy Dodger. Barry glanced at the crumpled pages and felt a little sad. A whole year, tossed away just like that. The calendar had landed face upwards and December’s picture of ‘The Mallard’ - a beautifully sleek blue locomotive - was just visible beneath the party litter. The train suddenly whistled and a little puff of steam rose from its funnel. Barry rubbed his eyes hard, did a cinematic shake of his head, and turned to look intently at his wine glass ..

It was classic Stan Laurel ..
He was getting hot. Phew, warm. It reminded him of the time he’d locked his classmate Clapton Pond in the steamy boiler room at school. What a laugh that was. Clapton couldn’t get out and ended up missing his exam, didn’t he? Ha, ace. Yeah, ace ..

Barry yawned and rubbed his eyes again.

“Two minutes ..”

He ruffled his hair and tried to focus on the party. From the old calendar, the train in October’s photograph - a 'Jubilee' class 4-6-0, No. 5690, ‘Leander' from The Great Central Railway - tooted and hooted and trundled straight off the picture and into the kitchen. Huh?..

A flick-flick of water splashed across Barry’s face. His arm jerked up to wipe it off and he dropped his glass to the floor. With a bleary head he craned his neck to look in the direction of the splash, but it was just the goldfish, whizzing round its bowl on the sideboard in the hall ..

“One minute, everyone ..” Mum cried. It sounded like she was on Mars. You know when films slow someone’s voice down to make them sound really low? It sounded just like that ..

Wow, it was going to be New Year in one minute and, suddenly, Barry realised he couldn’t get out to greet it. He was stuck behind the sofa ..

“Thirty seconds ..” shouted Mum and she switched on the telly for Big Ben’s chimes and the midnight fireworks. Everyone at the party piled into the centre of the room, arms linked, bodies close, grins a go-go in a big long line of beamy happiness. They were singing and laughing and Barry was .. still stuck.

Big Ben bonged, its brassy boom bringing in the New Year. Barry grunted and tried to free himself by pushing his feet hard against the back of the sofa, but the bouncing bums had done their jobs well and he was jammed in tight and going nowhere, fast ..

“Ten, nine ..”

  He pressed his back against the wall and strained, then sighed, then sagged ..

   “Eight, seven, six ..”
       The veins on his brow bulged as he tried to force his way to freedom ..

              “Five, four ..”

                          He couldn’t get out ..

                                   “Three, two ..”

                                             Yawn ..

                                                        “One ..”

                                                                    Barry was asleep ..

                                    BOING !!!! ..

Big Ben struck midnight. It was Next Year. Happy New Year, everybody ..

All the partygoers linked arms and began to sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ together, snaking a wobbly conga around the front room ..

If this was a film, the camera would follow the dance and then pan down to Barry Cotter, tucked away behind the sofa, fast asleep. That’s where we are now. In fact Barry was actually snoring. Can you believe that? Fast asleep even though everybody around him was loudly crooning “Should old acquaintance be forgot ..” and fast asleep despite the fact that his brother Larry had just screamed at the top of his voice and run off into the kitchen to avoid being snogged by Aunt Eileen ..

There was another sudden yell ..

“Barry ..”



Snoozy Baz began to squirm and stir as the wailing of urgent, faraway voices finally dripped down his lug-holes, and he suddenly sat as bolt upright as his cramped cage would allow him ..

“Yes, yes, what, what? .. ” he said unsurely, the tense voices - in his dream? -unnerving him ..

                                          “RUUUUUNNNN!!! ..”

“Huh? Hey?..” It was all he could manage in his sleepy state ..

                         “RUUUNN, BARRY .. RUUUUNNN !! ..”

He strained his neck and managed to pop his head out from his hideaway, searching for the whereabouts of the voices. Oh, my giddy ..

The front room was empty ..

He heard a loud creak and looked up. He saw a Galleon.  A Galleon, flying .. in the air .. and everyone from the party was on it. They were all singing and dancing and partying like it was, well, Next Year, but they were floating away from him at a rate of knots on a Massive Flying Galleon ..

Its huge sails crackled as a strong, swirling gale took hold and the ship picked up speed as she rose. The music on board was already being drowned out by the smack of the crispy, salty yards. Barry spotted a small group of people, frantically stretching over the sides of the ship and urgently calling him. Aunt Eileen was desperately beckoning to him as she sprawled across the tiller; Bill was dangling a rope from the stern in the vain hope Barry might climb up and Mum just squealed loudly and pointed at her new watch as she waved it around in the air.
“Time, darling ..” she was screaming ”You’re running out of time ..”

Well, there’s nothing like the sight of a flying galleon full of your family, friends and neighbours to bring you to your senses. Barry squirmed, stretched and struggled, finally plopping out from behind the sofa and falling flat on his face. His heart was pounding as he clambered out, and he stared up at the ship in disbelief as it floated further off into the dark, wintery sky. Bizarrely, he noticed a gigantic pink sticking plaster wrapped around one of the masts. How odd, he thought. And that looks just like .. is that .. The Victory? Like the plastic model kit his brother had received for Christmas? Barry was sure it looked just like that. And he’d stuck that plaster on its .. Ooh. He rubbed his eyes. This was weird ..

He jumped up onto the sofa and waved his arms crazily. “Wait ..” he wailed “Wait for me ..” and he began to bounce up and down to gain height, causing a pound coin and two liquorice allsorts to drop to the floor from between the cushions. The Galleon just kept on going, tacking this way and that on some invisible airborne heading. Two and a half thousand tons of 19th Century ship-of-the-line, floating further and higher into the sky, getting smaller and smaller by the second. Snowflakes began to flutter down and land softly on Barry’s eyelids as he peered up, making him blink against the darkness. The voices, laughter and Rick Astley faded further into the night and, through the crisp cold air, he faintly heard Lottie cry for him to chase and catch up and then Dwayne bellowed for him to RUN, right, RUN, our kid. Suddenly he heard the loud, creaky groan of the huge wooden rudder and The Victory - yes, he could see the name on the stern now - veered sharply up and to the left - Port, you landlubber  - and steered his whole wide world away ..

Away ..

Barry jumped off the sofa, crying. He ran manically up the stairs but, by the time he got to the landing window, the Galleon was even further away. He could just about see his Mum looking back, her hands clasped to her face in horror. Behind her the party was still going full swing, and the Victory was sailing away ..

Away ..

Barry wiped his tears as the creaks of the boat’s timbers faded and the laughter and song of the people on board grew fainter and fainter. The ship was now but a dot amongst the constellations and he could just barely hear the partying and squeals and (Ugh) still some bloomin’ Take That. Now everyone was singing Auld Lang Syne again. They were saying goodbye to the past and racing to the future .. and he was not with them ..

He jumped, grabbed at the air and shouted uselessly towards the boat.
“Mum! Lottie! ..”

“Barry ..” he caught on the breeze “Barrryyyyy ..”

And then it was gone. The Galleon disappeared into the night. Barry was alone in his front room. He didn’t know it yet but ..

                                            HE HAD MISSED NEXT YEAR .. !

©Martin O'Neill 2016



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