When I was sixteen, I was part of a gang. Some were friends from school, others we had met in town or thereabouts – the way kids do. We hung around; some of us dressed up and called ourselves punk or adopted some other tribal tag. There were coffee shops we were thrown out of; my father hated boys hanging around the house who drank all his coffee and sat late at night at the kitchen table eating cereal. A boy nicknamed Wacko used to eat dog food from the tin.
One of the gang, who everyone trusted and confided in, was a big built boy called Caz, or Simon Carroll. He always wore a long tweed coat and with his strong Herefordian accent, would put both his thumbs up and say: ‘Right Ju?’ Always with a big smile. The biggest. He was into rollups and cider, dancing and drawing. Particularly good at the latter, he once showed me a picture of skulls he had drawn for an art lesson. The light and shading, the infinite delicacy of everything he had drawn and shaded on the page, was remarkable. It was no surprise when he went to Art College and I would still see him around when I was at the nearby Sixth Form. He’d be in a pair of Doc Martens, looking a bit like a dangerous skinhead. Except he wasn’t. There was a gentleness to him, this boy who took six sugars in his tea and lumbered around when the rest of us were all flitting around as exhibitionists, obsessed with our hair or our bondage trousers. He played in a band and a friend sent me a clipping a couple of years later, profiling his band as the worst in Hereford. That was Caz – everything for a lark. But he also fell in love a lot, often unrequited. We all went for the haircuts, the attitude – when right under our noses there was a sensitive, loving boy who had sixteen already looked like a man. I think he fell in love with me once and of course, I was blind too.
Caz lost one of his lovely brothers to cancer. I left Hereford, where we had grown up and had wild, teenage times. Then I found that humble boy had become a potter of note. Very avant-garde, profiled in magazines and exhibited in the Tate, St Ives. I looked him up, admired his very individualistic work and even saw a film of him beach painting with Rolf Harris. He was the true essence of a free spirit – where so many people try to be he was effortlessly so. I know that he struggled with an addiction to alcohol, the roots had been there in our adolescence. But everyone smokes and drinks, takes the risks that define a hormonal teenager. We were reaching that time in our lives where some of were reconnecting, enjoying a shared past.
Some time ago I sent him an email. He replied through a mate’s Friends Reunited account. It was a cheery note and I could hear his voice so clearly in it. I replied and told him how proud and pleased I was with his success. If anyone should have had recognition in life, it was Caz. People always smiled with recognition when you mentioned his name. A little bit mad. An enormous heart.
But I didn’t get another response and I put it down to eccentricity, his creativity…better to let him work. I thought about going to Cornwall to visit and another idea, a Hereford reunion of the old gang, was discussed by a friend. We could walk down by the river and shout our names under the bridge with the echo, or see how long one cup of tea could last. Of course we would be older, some of us with families – but you always carry a part of that time with you.
You should seize the day. Tonight I was called by a friend to tell me that he had only just heard that Cazzy had died.
But I refuse to be maudlin, or look back with any regret. I will remember those tweedy hugs, wrapped in fag smoke by strong arms. Him walking down the stairs in my house with that huge daft grin.
Simon Carroll, the talented potter. Caz. An artist but more importantly, someone I will always think of with such fondness.
All right Ju?
I’m all right, mate.
- Julia Bohanna
- Shortlisted Bath Short Story Award 2013 Runner-up Cinnamon Press Competition 2013 WNNER: Don Louth Writer of the Year (run by Reading Writers) WINNER: Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition 2012. SHORTLISTED: Scott Prize (Salt Publishing) 2012 for a short story collection. Writer/ Journalist - assistant editor and writer for the art and books pages of Wolfprint. Most recently published in Independent on Sunday and short story anthologies: Sentinel Champions No 9, 100 Stories for Queensland, 50 Stories for Pakistan, 100 Stories for Haiti and From Hell to Eternity. In a recent writing competition, Joanne Harris described my writing as '...compelling (but quite creepy)'
- ▼ 2009 (13)
Prizes and Writing Awards
- Winner Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition 2012
- Shortlisted for Salt Publishing's Scott Prize for short story collections 2012
- Finalist in Brit Writers' Award 2011
- 2nd in Sentinel Literary Competition 2011
- Whitechapel Society Anthology to be published 2010
- Shortlisted for the Mslexia Short Story Competition 2009
- Shortlisted for The Asham Award 2009
- Joint winner of the Penguin/Decibel Prize 2008 - Asian Invisible. Published as The Map of Me
- Highly Commended in The National Galleries of Scotland Short Story Competition 2008
- Runner-up in Segora Short Story Prize 2008
- Joint Winner of The Lancet Short Story Competition 2007: The Resurrection Girl.
- Runner-up in Virgin Trains/The Guardian Short Story Competition 2007: A Small Revolution
- Winner of the Woman and Home Short Story Competition 2006: Ghosts of Jamaica.
- Shortlisted for The Asham Award 2005
- Runner-up in the Good Housekeeping Short Story Competition 2003
- Winner of The Sunday Telegraph Tourism for Tomorrow Travel Writing Competition 2002: Wolves of Rumania. Winner
- Winner and also Winner of Most Original Short Story in the Competition in Trowell and District Writers' Competition 2006