As a young man, as with all young men, I harboured great expectations that, one day, I'd be revealed as the hero of my own story. The adventures of my grandfathers (men unfortunate enough to have been born into an age when it was possible for an ordinary man to live or die as a hero and fortunate enough to fall into the former category) were still relatively recent history. I saw photos, read letters and enjoyed tales of derring-do while balanced upon the bouncing knees of my still-living ancestors, looking forward to the day when I'd have stories of my own to tell.
I'd been born on the cusp of two decades, one of flower and one of dour, and so my teenage years played out before a back-drop of black ash furniture and Grolsch stoppered shoes.
The eighties were shit.
Chances for heroics in Thatcher's Britain being as thin on the ground as gruel in an orphans bowl, I eventually settled into my role as a bit part in a series of books written for others by authors I'd never have chosen to read.
When finally I stumbled upon it during a period of abject poverty, the genre that suited me best turned out to be not action/adventure or eroticism (my preferred choices) but Dickensian. My role was neither that of romantic lead nor overcomer of perilous tribulations. I wasn't a love interest and I wasn't a baddie. I was just the chap leaving the pub who stumbled into the hero of the tale causing him to drop and lose some important plot device in the snow, thereby necessitating an intriguing series of events. I was the Maltese Falcon to someone else's Bogart and the suitcase stuffed with money in the trunk of a monochrome car, pushed into a lake by a motel owner with an Oedipus complex. I had to be in the tales, but only so the tales could be told. I wasn't important to, or even mentioned in, any climactic final chapters.
As I grew into the role I'd been given I began to develop my character (I felt he should be a pipe-smoking wearer of increasingly bizarre millinery, as is befitting of a Victorian money lender or ruddy faced drunkard with a cough) and I began to enjoy it.
Many people have said that I put the "Dick" in "Dickensian".
I began to feel at home just sitting on the sidelines and watching the delicately interwoven stories of others being written around me.
Recently, as is if my life needed to be any more Dickensian, a street urchin joined my little band of minor characters. A waif, not quite stray, who has gatecrashed my life at the point where I'd come to think I could just shut the door and cease to give a shit.
Disappointingly, he's not an orphan with a surprising heritage. He's not even able to pick a pocket or two.
But he's learning fast.
The urchin is, in fact, the spawn of Dickfingers and, until recently, he'd lived what I'd previously believed to be a lovely life a couple of hundred miles away with his father. I'd only spent a few weeks of the few years I've been putting up with his mother's shit in his company, at Christmas and such like, so my view of his happiness was skewed by the fact that he was generally in possession of a new bicycle or mobile phone. It's easy for a child to be happy when he's getting gifts in a house many miles from any problems.
For one reason or another, though, he wasn't quite as happy as an eleven year old should be when he went home.
One dark and stormy night things came to a head. His father, along with the obligatory wicked step-mother, were what could only be described as at the very tip of their tethers and, abracadabra, a snotty child with a suitcase and an appetite that has devastated my fridge turned up on the doorstep. Fittingly, it began to snow shortly after he'd plonked himself under a pile of dogs and commandeered the remote control.
All we now need is for him to befriend an escaped criminal, that'll pop a blob of icing on our Dickensian cake.
Initially for a weekend, then a week, then another weekend and, as is the current state of play, until some future time yet to be decided upon, my life changed from one of wandering around with my dogs and smoking the occasional pipe in front of the fire to one of wandering around with my dogs and a child and smoking the occasional pipe in my back yard. No great shakes, really. There's not a great deal of work being done, my being in the fortunate position of having to answer to no one means I'm playing the role of responsible adult for much of the time instead. I'm also eating a lot of sweets, to heroically save the little bugger's teeth and to starve the legion of tapeworms (that are plainly helping him to dispose of all my bacon) into submission.
It's fucking brilliant.
Still only a bit part, and one that will eventually end when the action moves to another location, but maybe I'll get my name in the credits.
It turns out that although all kids want to grow to be heroes of one kind or another, most of them don't achieve it. To realise one's insignificance in the whole grand scheme of things takes some of the weight off our shoulders. We shouldn't fight our way to the top of the credits, the most that will achieve is cement our place as villain of the piece.
Had I been able to write my life myself, my version would've been cram-packed with cowboys, dinosaurs, bionic limbs and a golden castle. I would travel everywhere by hovercraft and my best friend would be a threadbare Teddy bear by the name of "Mangy". I would never have been to school, I'd be employed as an astronaut and, right, now I'd be sat on my father's knee watching Bodie and Doyle kick arse as my mother makes choc ice and chips for tea.
All well and good, but who'd have helped the urchin?