BEN AND I HAD BEEN FRIENDS for as long as I could remember.
‘They’re like twins, them two,’ my mother would say to her friends in the Co-op.
‘Siamese twins more like,’ Mrs Haydock from the top end would say.
‘Joined at the hip,’ Mum would say. ‘Inseparable like. Mind you, they’re allus up to mischief.’
‘But they’re not bad kids, though, are they?’ Mrs Kenyon would chime in. ‘See them together and you really would think they were twin brothers.’
‘Like two peas in a pod,’ Mrs Haydock would say.
How can the fortunes of two boys, whose start in life is near identical, diverge so dramatically? Will their bond survive?
Thomson explores their complex relationship with deft plotting and nimble prose. Even at the darkest moments, there is a rich comic vein.
Northern Flames is a companion volume to The Northern Elements, winner of a Chill with a Book Premier Award, 2019.
Cover Illustration with permission from The Lancashire Telegraph.
An extract from Northern Flames
I can’t remember if there was a fight. I doubt it. We bantered and bickered all the time and there had been clumsy wrestling play fights when we were younger but I don’t remember a proper scrap – not one where blows were landed. He was still my best mate and no doubt we took the rap together.
But the drifting apart continued and Ben was going cheerfully off the rails. This was not something I remember thinking about consciously. Just as our childhood intimacy was an unreflective thing so our estrangement was imperceptible until it was complete.
‘Like two peas in a pod,’ Mrs Haydock had said in the Co-op.
That was hardly true any more. Ben wore his bright blond hair in a Beatles’ mop, while mine had darkened several shades and I wore it rather shorter in conformity with school rules. I was taller than him by now, by an inch or so, I reckon.
His voice broke before mine and he decided to leave the choir at St John’s. Mr Butterfield had wanted him to join the men in due course but Ben said it was no good: one minute he would be talking in a bass voice and then there would be a squeak or a croak. Ben said he’d forgotten how to sing and Mr B said his voice would soon settle. Ben shook his head glumly and said it was no good. In private he told me that he’d enjoyed being out of the ordinary as a treble but saw no future in being a mediocre bass.
He left the scouts soon after that.
‘Why?’ I asked him.
‘It’s for kids,’ he said.
‘You don’t believe that,’ I said.
‘Yeah I do,’ he said, ‘all that tying knots and saluting flags and playing at soldiers. And all that ‘lads together’ crap. It’s unnatural.’
‘Don’t give me that. You love it,’ I said. ‘You like the competition. You thrive on it. You crave it.’
‘Not with you around, I don’t.’
‘Oh, for God’s sake, you’re not talking about the chicken shed business, are you?’
‘If the woggle fits,’ he said.