Here’s my story for my writing group this week; the topic was ‘Panic’, and I admit I struggled with it, but this is what I came up with:
Don’t Panic, Jonesie!
I’d had the jokes all my life – well I guess I didn’t when I was a baby, but I did almost as soon as I went to school. It wasn’t helped by one of the most popular TV programmes at the time was ‘Dad’s Army’, and all the hilarious catchphrases were banded about in the playground – one kid even said ‘Don’t tell him, Pike!’ when a teacher was asking another lad something.
There was no point in getting wound up about it, but inside I was boiling. I developed a stutter for a while and I think that was a school thing when one teacher insisted we chanted our names so he could mark us in on the register. He was a hopeless teacher anyway, and everyone played him up,, so there was always chaos. We happened to have two kids in our class, Lisa Sidebottom and James Longbottom, and whenever they had to answer their name everybody would yell it SideBOTTOM, LongBOTTOM! So I wasn’t the only one who suffered, but none of the teachers would make fun of Lisa or James, whereas it was somehow ok to make fun of me. These days it wouldn’t be acceptable, it would probably be racist or something. So as well as the whole class at register, it was also the teachers who’d think it fine and hilarious to say in a loud voice ‘Don’t Panic, Jonesie!’ even though it was that idiot Corporal Jones who rushed around saying don’t panic.
Teachers were always saying to kids to grow up or act their age, but teachers are the biggest kids and are constantly trying not to act their age. I went to do my degree at a Polytechnic, and hoped to have escaped it there,, and most of the other students never mentioned anything about it – not until in history, when I very politely told the lecturer how to pronounce my name and he said ‘Ah, pannage, the right to let your swine roam the forest floor eating acorns, chestnuts and such – dates back to the Conqueror’s time!’ Idiot! Luckily he was an absolute plank and no-one liked him so no-one laughed until someone at the back called out ‘Remember it well, do you Bob?’ because that was another thing, he was one those who the first time we met said ‘Call me Bob,’ so of course no-one did.
My grandad came over during the war, just managing to escape before the Nazis stormed in. I guess he had to put up with it from the time he arrived, I can just imagine, ‘What’s your name?’, ‘Vladko Panić, pronounced Panich or thereabouts.’ My dad was born in Bristol, and I was born in Portishead, and so was my sister. I asked her once – we didn’t talk to each other that much, I asked her if she had problems with her name. ‘What? Valerie?’ she answered. ‘No you donut’ I relied, ‘I mean the whole ‘don’t panic Jonesie’, ‘panic stations’, ‘panic button’ etc.’. She looked at me blankly and said she had no idea what I was talking about as usual.
I’d had the usual number of not very serious girlfriends that most people had, and a couple that seemed to be going somewhere but for various reasons didn’t, and friends suggested one of those lonely hearts clubs. I wasn’t that desperate, but to be honest I was getting that way. Then this lad I didn’t know very well but was in our pub footie team, struck up a rather awkward conversation with me in the club house of the team we’d just drawn with in our Saturday Afternoon League. He was a bit of a nervous sort but seemed a sound guy, always tried his best though he wasn’t that good.
“Um, I was just wondering, Mark,” he said awkwardly as we stood at the bar. Oh God, don’t say he wanted to borrow money! But no. “I sort of kind of um heard you say, well, mention, well I’d heard, or someone said…”
I told him to spit it out, get to the point, but fortunately didn’t say I wouldn’t lend him anything.
“You see, my sister, Angela, well, Angie, well she’s just come back from a year in Turkey, and I wondered, I mean she’s not going out with anyone and I just wondered…”
He was embarrassed, and to tell the truth I was too, but I didn’t let him see that, and somehow, I don’t know how, I let him give me her phone number. He thanked me sincerely and bought me a beer, and then I felt obliged to buy him one to show I was cool about his sister’s telephone number when really I was furious and embarrassed that someone I barely knew was trying to help me out of my girlfriend-free situation.
The upshot of it all was that I admit I did get rather more plastered than I intended, and the following morning was left with the dilemma of whether I had drunkenly rung the sister or just dreamt I had. It was all so much of a blur.
As I was staring gloomily at the phone over a cup of coffee, thinking a lot of dismal thoughts, I nearly jumped out of my hungover skin when it rang.
I answered and a woman spoke.
“Hi, is that Mark Panić?” she asked hesitantly. I was astonished. Who called me that? Who didn’t call me Panic, Pannage, or anything other than Panić?
“Yes, yes, hello, yes this is Mark,” I stuttered.
“Oh, hi, you may not remember but you rang me last night. You were very drunk…”
Oh dear, how embarrassing.
“But you asked me if I would like to go out for a cream tea this afternoon. You told me Simon had given me your number…”
Who’s Simon? I wondered.
“I rang him and he said you play football together and gave you my number.”
This is really, embarrassing.
“He said you’re a nice guy, and to be honest, you were very funny last night, getting me to say your name properly and making me promise never to say ‘Don’t panic, Jonesie,’ so I did think that maybe, as I have not much else to do maybe a cream tea would be rather nice.”
Somehow I gathered my astounded thoughts and arranged to pick her up that afternoon and I would take her to the Lion Rock Tea Room in Cheddar.
“Thank you Mark Panić, I look forward to meeting you” she said and she rang off.
That was the moment my luck changed, and my life.
My featured image is a rather old picture of the Lion Rock Tea Room in Cheddar when it was called Derrick’s Tea Rooms.