A short story…

An 1834 woodcut of Black Death victims being buried in London


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Billy Wright, six-year-old hero of the novel WHAT I DID, blogs here:


Do you have a secret?

I do.

So you probably want me to tell it to you.

And I’d quite like to tell it to you.

Because that’s what having a secret is like.

Tell me, the secret says.  Tell me to everyone!  I’m a secret.  Let me out!

And I really want to!

But I can’t.

Because the whole point about having a secret is that you have to keep it to yourself.  Yes, even though you desperately want to tell everybody, you shouldn’t, you mustn’t, you can’t.

Because it’s secret.

Still, don’t worry.  I’ve drawn a honey bear.  It found the honey anyway because it person veered, and you will probably find out about my secret in the end too.  Honey bears have excellently long sharp claws.   My secret is about a fence.

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Six Gun

Billy Wright, six-year-old hero of the novel WHAT I DID, blogs here.

I like questions and Dad likes that I like them.  -Sign of an inquisitive mind, Son. Fire away.

So normally I do: I fire away with my Why gun until I totally destroy the target.

Cowboys had six guns not because they had six guns but because their guns carried six bullets in a twisting thing called a magazine.  Not that kind.  With a very difficult Indian  to kill they often had to reload with brilliant ammo which they wore in belts round their chests if they were Mexican cowboys, but got from nowhere or perhaps their pockets if they were just normal cowboys from places like Texas and Cornwall.  It’s in the west.

Sometimes I imagine my Why gun has six bullets, too, and that I’m not a Mexican.  Shall I tell you some more about that? Okay I will.  The reason is this: I hardly ever have to reload my six gun because six Whys is more than enough.

For example, if I walk into the kitchen and ask what’s for supper Dad might say fish, if it’s fish, and the rest of the shootout would go like this.

-Why are we having fish?

-Because fish is good for you.


-It’s a great source of protein and omega oils.


-Because that’s what’s in it, to keep you healthy.


-Because it just does.


-Wash your hands and lay the table.

I only used four real Why bullets in that conversation. The fifth one was unnecessary which means pointless because I used up a Why on a question I already knew the answer to.  It was fine to do that when I was three or four and an idiot, but now that I’m six Dad says it’s not.

You wouldn’t shoot a dead Indian, would you?

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Billy Wright, six-year-old hero of the novel WHAT I DID, blogs here.

Today I stole some matches.

Dad left them on the table in the kitchen and I knew I wasn’t supposed to touch them but I was desperate and it felt excellent when I first held the box in my hand but now when I think about it my stomach shrivels up.  An enemy will do the same thing if you poke it with the end of your fishing net at the seaside.  Barnacles don’t care.

I took the matches out into the shed.  Then I took a cereal box out of the cycling and some old newspapers too.  I put it all in a pile on the shed floor, and the matches were pretty rattly, so I shook them out onto the pile too until the matchbox was empty.

Then I lit one.

Dad had already showed me how to do it away from myself, and he’d also told me something about holding the match upwards or pointing it down.  I couldn’t remember which and did it wrong and the flame burned my fingers so I dropped the match onto the pile of other ones.

It lay there burning for a bit.  Then it went whoosh, and suddenly all of the matches were flames and so was the newspaper and some some of the box too.  It was excellent.

But the next thing Dad was there and I was wet because he’d thrown water over everything.  And then I was crying because of the shouting.  I should have left the door shut.  He pulled me out onto the grass hard.

-Jesus Christ, Billy!  What were you thinking? Get upstairs.  WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Much later though he came to my room and sat down on the bed with a two beer shrug.  You’re an idiot, he said.  But I am too.  I shouldn’t have left them out.  And nobody was hurt.  That lawnmower runs on petrol.

I didn’t like him calling us both idiots, and I don’t care about the lawnmower anyway because it’s noisy, but I didn’t say anything because he offered to tell me a story about a bird called a phoenix which is so hot it can actually live in a fire.  I’ve drawn one.

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Billy Wright, six-year-old hero of the novel WHAT I DID, blogs here:

I woke up in the night because of the noise which was noisy, going doof, doof, doof.  It made me sit up in bed.

Doof, doof, doof.

I went into Mum and Dad’s room and that made Dad sit up in bed, too.

Doof, doof, doof.

–What’s that noise? I asked

–Fuck this, said Dad.  –I’m going round again.

–For God’s sake, Jim, said Mum into her pillow.

Doof, doof, doof.

–You didn’t hear that, Son.  But you’re spot on about the noise.  It has to stop.  Dad pulled his jeans on, yanked his belt shut, then put his jumper on crossly, too, like he was punching holes in the sleeves.  For a moment he stood there in the not-much-light with his hands going open and shut.  Then he picked me up.  –Come on, he said.

I thought that meant come on back to bed but he took me straight down stairs which was more interesting.  Mum called after us. I didn’t hear what she said, though, because Dad was rattling us through the front door into the black and cold.


We walked up our path and back down next door’s path.  It would have been quicker to jump over the wall.


Dad smacked the door.  Then he rang the bell.  Then he did it all again and the noise went slightly quieter: DOOF, DOof, doof.

Dad hit the door again.

It opened and a boy-man’s face peeped through the crack.  When I grow up I want proper bristles.  The boy-man’s eyes looked one way then the other but not at us and Dad took a big breath which made me flinch which is when you only move an inch.

Before Dad said anything though the boy-man turned around and shouted –OLIVIA YOUR CAB IS HERE.

The breath let itself out of Dad in a laugh that wasn’t funny.

–I AM NOT A CAB DRIVER, he shouted.  –I’M YOUR NEIGHBOUR.  SO IS HE, he lifted me up in a whoosh.  –IT’S TWO IN THE MORNING.  WE CAN’T SLEEP.  TURN THE MUSIC OFF!

The boy-man in the house squinted at us.  Even though Dad was holding me tightly I could feel him shivering. The boy-man had a funny two headed lizard on his t-shirt.  I’ve drawn it.

Doof, doof, doof.

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Billy Wright, six-year-old hero of the novel WHAT I DID, blogs here:

Leaves fall off and rot into the mud but don’t worry new ones come back again next year out of buds.  It’s called the cycle of life and we’re all part of it.

–Cue sappy Elton John tune, Son.

Dad was talking about The Lion King when he said that. I got it.  He says that film and most of the other ones Walt Disney makes are a load of sentimental rubbish, but often when I watch one he sits next to me with a cup of tea just for a bit … and ends up staying until the end.

Walt: wilt. It’s what the leaves do.

At school we planted worms in the compost heap behind Mr Sparks’ classroom to help keep the cycle of life turning.  –They litter really turn the earth, Mr Sparks told us, and I got that, too: he meant they chew up the mud, not make the world spin on its axes.

Mr Sparks wears coloured laces in his shoes and rides a bike with fantastic suspension, but sadly he’s a bit bald because of his jeans.

We’ve all got jeans.  They’re tiny, but bigger than moluscules, I think.  Anyway, they carry the information which tells us to be handsome or ugly or good at maths.

I’m best at literacy, which means reading and writing, and I’m good at judo, too.  It’s not about aggression but respect.

The first way of showing respect is by bowing when you start, and another way is by kneeling down and not sitting with crossed legs, which is funny because at school it’s exactly the other way around.

–Different horses, different courses, Dad said, when I told him about that.

I didn’t know what he meant, but I do know that some leaves turn red before they fall off, and others go yellow. It’s probably to do with jeans, if trees have them, and it doesn’t matter anyway because the point is the leaves fall off.

They have to, to keep everything going, and in that way leaves are like pedals.  Pedals on the cycle of life.

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Billy Wright, six-year-old hero of the novel WHAT I DID, blogs here:

I woke up early because Dad had put the clocks back and I needed a wee anyway, so I got up and hit my head on the big banister because I wasn’t looking where I was going.  It’s called a newel post.

–Ouch, I said.

Nobody replied because they were all asleep so I said it again, louder.  –Ouch.  And a third time, in nearly a yell:  –OUCH!

Mum came out.  –What’s the matter? she said.  Her eyes were little slits, like button holes.

–I hit my head.

–How on earth?

–I just did!  Don’t you care?

–Of course.  She rubbed it.  –Now go back to bed; it’s not morning.

I stamped and yelled –No! because she wasn’t being nice enough, and anyway I needed a wee.

–Please, said Mum.

So I stamped again, and suddenly Dad was there, too hissing, –Get back to bloody bed!

–Leave it, said Mum

–YOU leave it, said Dad.  –He gets us up in the middle of the night, then starts waking the neighbours, and you’re negotiating?

Mum stormed off and Dad grabbed my shoulder and dragged me nastily back to bed.  He smelled of oranges left in the bowl too long and his hair was all stuck up in blades.

–But it is morning, I said.

–It’s five thirty.

–But I need a wee!  I shouted.  –And I hit my head!

–THEN GO TO THE TOILET QUIETLY he yelled, which made Mum call out –Jim! and that made Dad shove me back out onto the landing so hard I fell over.

I started to cry.

Mum was there again.  –What did you do to him? she hissed.

–He tripped over.  It was a mistake.  I’m sorry.  IT’S NIGHT TIME! he yelled.

I was sobbing.  –Only because … you put … the clocks … back … it won’t … be night … if you just put … them back again.

Everyone makes mistakes.  Here is a squid.

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Billy Wright, six-year-old hero of the novel WHAT I DID, blogs here

Have you ever bitten anybody?

I have, but not for ages, not since I was a tiny idiot.

Back then I wasn’t good at much.  For example I couldn’t do interesting talking, or walking far, or eating spinach.  Now I can do all three of those things.  Not at the same time, though: you’re not supposed to talk with your mouth full.  But back then I couldn’t even do one of those things properly and it was very annoying which is sometimes called frustrating.

If you frustrate a leopard by treading on its territory it may attack you using one of two antics: it may whack you with its claws or chew on you with its very sharp bite.  I did biting.  It’s allowed in the animal kingdom but not in preschool.  If you do it there they call your Dad and he has to come and take you home and shout –WHY OH WHY CAN’T YOU JUST GET IT INTO YOUR TINY MIND: BITING IS BAD, NOT ALLOWED, WRONG!

So I stopped it.

But shall I tell you something interesting?  Okay, it’s this: although I stopped biting people I still quite often wanted to bite people because the biting feeling itself didn’t go away.  It still hasn’t.  When Simon came to my house and tensionally undid my Lego stealth bomber I was extremely frustrating and could easily have bitten him.

I didn’t, though, because I’m six.

One of the other things I’m good at now that I’m six is looking at a person and saying what kind of animal they would be.  Mum is prairie dog because she is tireless and they can lope across the African plain for days.  Dad is more like a leopard.  He has a lot of different growls, can sleep up a tree if he has to, and although he’s never bitten me he does have sharp claws.

Stand back!  Be careful!  Don’t do frustrating him!

I’ve drawn a leopard.  They cannot change their spots.

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Billy Wright, six-year-old hero of the novel WHAT I DID, blogs here.

What are your talents?

Don’t worry if that question is incredibly annoying.  I couldn’t answer it either when Mr Sparks asked us in assembly.  He was wearing his waistcoat covered with small fish.  –Everybody has a talent, he said.  –And I want you all to practise yours for the competition.

I was worried.  If I couldn’t even think of my talent how could I practise it?  Dhiren said he could hop and whistle at the same time, and for a bit I thought about doing that too, but when I had a go at bathtime I only managed eight hops before Dad said, –Jesus, Son, the boiler holds a better tune than that, so I gave up.

–Why are you whistling anyway?

–For the talent competition.

–What’s all that about? he asked Mum.

–They’ve got a mini X-factor thing at school, she said.

Dad put his head in his hands and muttered.  –Christ on a punt.

–Don’t be such a old misery, Mum told him.

–Isn’t it enough that instant fame with a dash of humiliation is the benchmark out of school, he said.

–I’ve not noticed you switching over when it’s on.

–That’s not the point.

–No, the point is Billy having fun, Mum said.  –He has to think of something fun to share with the class.

–What’s everyone else doing? Dad asked.

–Katie is moonwalking.  Red Steve wants to climb the ropes in the gym, but they won’t let him.  Lots of people are singing their favourite songs.  And Dhiren is hopping and whistling at the same time, so I was…

–Well you better do something different.  What about telling some jokes?

When Dad said this I felt two things at the same time: excited, because it was an excellent idea, and nearly miserable, because if nobody laughs when you tell a joke it makes you feel actually miserable.

I needn’t have worried about that.  Mr Sparks laughed incredibly loudly for quite a long time when I told my What Do You Call A Blind Deer joke, and although most of the kids just looked at each other some of them did laugh too, so it didn’t really matter that they voted Dhiren and Katie through to the next round.

Here is a no eyed deer.

It’s a deer with no eyes, because it’s blind.

Do you get it?

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Billy Wright, six-year-old hero of the novel WHAT I DID, blogs here.

Have you ever been so angry you turned into an idiot?

I have, and so has Dad, and even Mum has once or twice, because in fact it’s normal.

–Be wary of the man who never raises his voice, Son.  He probably drowns kittens in his spare time.

Dad didn’t actually mean that quiet people kill pets.  I know because he told me afterwards he was just speaking met-meta-metaf … I can’t remember, but I do remember that no kittens actually drowned.

So yesterday, when I wasn’t allowed the whole Toblerone, but had to share some with my cousin Lizzie instead, and when I got a bit cross because of that and sort of did a nasty stare at Mum, which made her take the whole of the rest of the Toblerone away and say I was being ungrateful, I could feel it rising up, and up, and up, and …  and she was right … and I sort of knew it … and hated it, and … it … just … came … out … as:


–No you don’t.


–No you’re not.  You’re going to go to your room.


And I did go, using my hardest stamping on the stairs.  But when I reached the top landing Dad was already standing there just looking at me without saying anything, and suddenly I felt like a balloon that had let go of itself and screeched round the front room before landing in a very saggy way on somebody’s foot.

–I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, I said.

–About what?

–About what I said to Mum.  I didn’t mean it.

Dad did a long pause.  Then his eyes got good creases beside them.  –Oh, that, he said.  Don’t worry; she knows it was just an empty threat.

–A what?

–Angry nonsense.  Only an idiot would take what you said seriously.


–Yes.  And remember this the next time somebody says something stupid to you: people say things they don’t really mean the whole time, he said.

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