I have been in precisely one fight in my entire life. It took place on the night I got my A-Level results. With my best friend. Who was sleepwalking at the time.
What had happened was this. In the weeks and months between finishing our exams and getting the results, my friend had been suffering from some unfortunate spates of somnambulism. These incidents were mainly lavatorial in nature. Most often he would sleepily stumble his way to a wardrobe, or a potplant, or the foot of someone else’s bed and mistake it for a toilet. Unpleasant though that was, it caused us to take swift and sensible action. You don’t need to see a great deal of piss before you learn how to handle a sleepwalker.
This, from what I understand, is not an uncommon thing for people to do in their sleep. What marked his episodes out as being particularly peculiar was the fact that he had them in character. This friend, whilst staggering about in his sleep, would have a subconscious alterego that took him over. During these spells, he would refer to himself continually as Derek and would only ever respond to that name. If you tried to call him by his actual birthname, you would get a curt “Derek!” in reply.
This, too, was fine and fairly easy to manage after a short while (remembering to call him Derek was a much simpler task than getting him to control his bladder). The trouble was that – as anyone who habitually shared a room with him will testify – Derek was a dick. To anyone that got to see him as a one-off, however, Derek was the greatest human that ever lived.
The main attraction, I suppose, was that Derek was a little like Podd – the character from the BBC Micro computer game of the same name. In the game you would type a statement such as “Podd can jump” or “Podd can dance” and, before your eyes, Podd would then do just that. He would jump. He would dance.
But where Podd was limited to a few functional basics, Derek – being both real and 18 years of age – had a much more expansive repertoire. Derek could wiggle his willy about. Derek could shake his bum. Derek could take a leak your parents’ fridge-freezer.
A-Level results night was his big showcase. Many of our friends had heard of Derek but never before seen him, so they were delighted when he appeared at the house party sometime shortly after 3am. All the other sleepers were gently roused so they could watch Derek totter about trying to find the light switch on the stereo. They followed him around the room, standing a short distance behind him, gathered like a Greek chorus, offering him advice on what he should do next.
When they started trying to get Derek to feed his knob through the hole in the centre of a CD, I decided that it was time for me to retire. I took my sleeping bag, found a space on the floor and tried to doze off.
It was tricky to do with all the goading and guffawing taking place in the next room, but I had just about managed when suddenly things got quite quiet. I had presumed that everyone had got bored and were following my lead, turning in for the night. I was wrong.
Just as I thought I was about to drift off, I was jolted out of my slumber. I heard a quick flash of sound – a sound like ripping cloth – before the back of my head hit the floor. I looked up to see Derek standing over me and the gaggle of our friends behind him, laughing their heads off.
“My pillow,” Derek mumbled, tucking my pillow under his arm.
My anger, I realise, should have been directed at the people standing around laughing but, in slight shock, I stood up and shouted at Derek instead. I called him, if I remember correctly, a fucking twat and I tried to grab the pillow back.
This was my big mistake.
It’s unsurprising that he misjudged the swing – he was, after all, asleep – but his attempt to knock me back with the pillow was out by about four inches. Instead of landing a hit with the fluffy stuffing, as I imagine he intended, what actually made contact with my face and eye was the ball of his wrist. This was followed shortly by his two clenched fists smacking into my temple, before, finally, the pillow itself softly wrapped around the back of my skull.
Sensing that the fun had now gone a little far, the laughter stopped and everyone rushed in to break us apart. Having never thrown a punch in my life, I doubt I’d have been able to do much in the way of fighting back, but Derek was ushered away and I was taken to the kitchen to apply a pack of frozen peas to my eye.
When I woke the next morning, I was alarmed to find that only one of my eyes would open. My right eye was fine. It sprung open at the first hint of sunshine and I could see everything as clear as crystal. The left one though – the one that Derek had hit – had swollen shut.
There was a faint knock at the door. The same Greek chorus reappeared, sheepishly shuffling into my room to apologise. They had told Derek to steal my pillow. They had told Derek that I had stolen it off him. I grumbled, telling them that they didn’t need to apologise. They weren’t the ones who had hit me. Slowly, they then peeled back to reveal my friend standing behind them – now wide awake, free from the clutches of Derek and as white as a china doll.
You have never seen a man so mortified. The look on his face when he saw me was about as upsetting as anything as I had ever seen, or have ever seen since. Any anger I felt towards him crumbled when he almost burst into tears at the sight of my eye.
Though apologies were made and accepted, it still made for a slightly awkward journey home.
For thirty five minutes, we sat in silence.
This was playing on the radio.