Crazy Diamond - the story begins...
By Jude O'Flynn
My name is Nick Moore, which is also an instruction to steal things. Somehow, I’ve been accepted into Cambridge University. I’m single and the college I’m at has a 9:1 female-male ratio.
I almost missed this chance to escape Basingstoke. My History A-level exams didn’t quite go as planned. I didn’t attend one of them and I may as well have not turned up to the other. The exam board made my E a D because of ‘mitigating circumstances’, which can be described as follows: I was living with Mum in a flat in the roughest part of town; the block of flats was set on fire on our first day; concentrating on revision is difficult when you can hear screaming by the chip shop. But I got an A in English Literature, and a combination of unusually low grade requirements and natural charisma secured me a ticket to paradise.
Mum and Dad split up around the time I started at sixth form and he’s allegedly now on an island where puffins outnumber people. While I was relieved to be away from the constant tension of an unhappy marriage, it was on balance slightly preferable to living in an area where it’s considered unusual not to have a criminal record. Talking of which, the less said about Thor’s violent past the better, as it only elevates his usual angry state to furniture-breaking rage. Thor – aka Pete – is a mad Scottish-Norwegian mechanic who Mum contacted on a whim, having not spoken to him since they were at school together. Just after my exams, the three of us moved to a house in a cul-de-sac, which means I’m obliged to refer to Thor as my stepdad. He’s deeply resentful at having obligations too, such as driving me to Cambridge. I’m grateful that he’s only mentioned ‘getting a proper job’ 89 times on the way.
A couple of hours after dumping my belongings in my new room, my Mum’s tears still drying on my shoulder, I end up speaking with George (male, sadly). He’s hanging around the pigeonholes, looking as if he’s expecting a letter despite us both having just arrived.
‘The new Radiohead album’s out today,’ he says, finally appearing to accept that the postman won’t be arriving soon.
‘I’ve been looking forward to buying it for ages. Which way is town?’
George gestures with a nod and begins to lead the way. I suppose I’ll have to survey the landscape later, and I don’t mean the Botanic Garden. On the way to town, we talk about A-level grades and our entrance interviews. He doesn’t believe that I got in by simply repeating the words ‘socio-economic factors’. It certainly wasn’t my appearance. Barnardo’s charity shops aren’t known for selling on quality clothes but given that I was basically a feral child at the time, it seemed an appropriate place to buy my suit. I can only compare the material to cardboard, which inconveniently restricted the movement of my limbs. The chap who originally wore it at his wedding must have had tremendous trouble doing Saturday Night Fever, though his robot dance has no doubt gone into folklore.
‘They’ve got another one coming out in a few months, haven’t they? I ask George.
‘I can’t remember what it’s called…’
I smile at him. He stares at the traffic lights, affronted that they’re still red, and I laugh at his lack of laughter and the way he says ‘amnesiac’. I’ve never met a Yorkshireman before. All I know about Yorkshire is the pudding, Emmerdale, and Alan Bennett. If he asks me, I’ll say I’m from Hampshire. Telling someone you’re from Basingstoke results in ‘roundabouts’, ‘I’ve driven past it,’ or silence. And although I don’t fancy George and therefore wouldn’t be utterly dejected at an abrupt silence on this occasion, I resist the temptation to talk about geography. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about home. We’re in the centre of Cambridge and for the first time that I can remember I admire buildings and do little touristy gasps, cricking my neck to look up and simultaneously bumping into the locals and other students doing the same as me. Minus all the restaurants and cafes, it’s a massive posh set for a film about princes and princesses. We’re walking up Sidney Street and I’m just about to sneak into Sidney Sussex College when George proclaims, ‘It’s there.’ He does another nod and it takes me a couple of seconds to see Fopp. Even the record shops have quaint names.
On the way back, it’s heads down this time, focussing on the thin box of treasure in my hands.
‘Sounds like quite a happy album!’ I squeal. ‘Everything in Its Right Place, Optimistic…’
‘How to Disappear Completely, In Limbo…’ George replies instantly. He’s not looking at his copy of the album. He just knows.
‘Apparently it’s influenced by Aphex Twin. Have you heard of them?’
‘Him. Not ‘them’. Him,’ and he closes his eyes in fury at my lack of music knowledge.
‘Sorry.’ Better change the subject by talking about subjects.
‘What course are you on?’
He turns to look at me.
‘Great. We’ll probably be in the same class.’
No acknowledgement. We cross the road.
‘Got any plans for Freshers’ Week?’
George whips out his copy of ‘Kid A’ and holds it to my face, almost clotheslining an elderly woman and forcing her to limbo under his arm. I look round to see if she’s OK and she gives me the finger despite me being entirely blameless. This is my first interaction with a female in Cambridge and I wonder if it’s a bad omen.
‘Do you want to check out the student bar later?’ I call out to George.
‘No, I’m going to listen to this album and enjoy the oxygen in my room. For God’s sake, use the shower that you’re paying through the nose for!’