It was New Years Eve in Willow House. It hadn’t been a happy Christmas, not like the ones Rudy had always known. Not now his dad wasn’t at home with him.
This one had been loud but in the wrong way, without dancing and nice food and music. Rudy had cried a lot. He didn’t want to but he couldn’t stop himself. This was the second Christmas Rudy had not liked and the second Christmas he had missed everything he and his dad used to do. It was never going be the same.
He hated that he didn’t do the things they had done together anymore. Christmas and New Years brought the best memories but now the worst times, with each year the memories making him sadder, nothing would ever feel the way it did.
Rudy sat hunched with anticipation at the make shift desk in the dining room staring at a computer his care home had set up recently. He had never been allowed to use a computer before, he’d asked for one many times but been told he wouldn’t know how to use it even if he had one. He then suggested he could have a tablet like the ones in the adverts but all the manager, Vanessa, ever said was “I thought you’d be fed up of tablets with all the ones we give you” whilst laughing and strutting off. But now there was one here, a real computer, and one that Rudy could use. The problem was that it didn’t seem to work.
Rudy did know that on computers you could find music, because he had seen it on the telly. But there wasn’t one at home with Dad so he wasn’t quite sure what to do. His Dad had told him that the only true way to listen to music was on Vinyl and mostly that’s what they did with music, put records on and dance.
Music was what Rudy wanted now from this computer. He’d sat there for at least an hour pressing the buttons getting warning sounds and not much else, no music appeared even less the music he wanted. Despite requesting help and the fact that he had been ‘extra good’ all day, as he saw it, the staff said they were too busy to help.
“I only want one choon,” he pleaded but no help came.
“You’ll like it, better than shit your playing”. Rudy motioned to the radio sat on top of the TV, which also happened to be on but had the volume down, blaring what his Dad would have also called ‘shit’.
“Rudy! That is unacceptable, if you swear again you will not be allowed on the computer” said Vanessa sternly
He kept trying, asking, waiting… Like always, but no one was there to help. “I’m getting a bit sick of your behaviour” Rudy knew his good behaviour book would now mean nothing – a line to say he hadn’t been would be scratched into it and the thought of this made him cry again.
“Rudy, that’s it. Times up, other people want to use the computer anyway” Vanessa leaned in and switched the monitor off, before giving him a stone cold look. Like an owl he stared with wide tearful eyes while she waited for a response.
“I…” he begun but struggled for words, he was sad, angry and lonely but surrounded by people he didn’t want to be near. That’s why he needed his song.
“You can go back to your room if you need some space.” She began to force him out of the seat before he was ready, after part dragging and part guiding him up, she gestured him away.
“It’s time to do your room chores,” Vanessa said impatiently. “Katie will help you” and she gestured to a girl, shorter than Vanessa, standing in the doorway. Katie had long hair to the front and sides with the rest shaved short, she was just like the girls Rudy used to see at the new years eve party, and like those girls, Katie always wore a Fred Perry polo – just like the ones Rudy used to get from his dad.
Every Christmas a new Fred Perry, Rudy always opened that first, he had every colour he wanted. Now he only had one, all the others had either been shrunk or mixed up with the other ‘residents clothes’ and his last one was heading the same way. Once he had tried to get one of his polo’s back from Kevin, but Kevin did’t give it back. He didn’t tell Rudy why, he just didn’t give it back and eventually this led to Rudy hitting Kevin, and then a meeting where he got told off… He never got his polo back.
He had ask the staff to buy him new ones with the money he had, but they always said ‘it wasn’t in his best interests to spend that much on one T-shirt” Instead he would go shopping to Asda where they would buy him Polo shirts. These ones didn’t have the leaves on the front that Rudy wanted; the leaves that he knew made them Fred Perry’s.
Katie hadn’t been at Willow House long but she was different to the staff and Rudy liked her. He knew she was like him and his Dad.
“Ruuuuuude Gellllllllllllll” Rudy shouted as he pointed at Katie
Vanessa had had enough, “Rudy! How many times do I have to tell you? We don’t shout and that is inappropriate”.
“Oh Vanessa, I’ll sort it out” Katie said as she guided Rudy from the dining room and down the corridor towards his bedroom.
All Rudy really wanted was his Dad; he wanted him to sing and dance like he used to when he was sad. He wanted the music on the computer to make him feel happy again, he wanted to tell his dad what was wrong. He wanted that song his dad used to play to him when he knew Rudy was sad. He couldn’t understand why this doesn’t happen.
When he first moved to Willow house he used to sing his song loudly along with other tracks but would often get told to keep it down by the staff. Especially Sue when she wanted to watch Eastenders.
Now he couldn’t remember the words and he wondered if he would ever hear the song again. He felt like he had lost it, lost a part of him and his Dad. Two Christmases is a long time to never do the things you were used to. It’s a long time to not be able to hug anyone at all.
“Rudy don’t cry” said Katie softly as they walked to his bedroom. “What were you looking for on the computer anyway?”
“Dads make Rudy happy song” he said as best he could.
“Oh” said Katie, “Well you wont find anything on there its not connected to the Wi-Fi” she said. “What song is it anyway I may have it”
A sudden smile crept over Rudy’s face, mischievous and perhaps almost knowing. He inhaled deeply before giving every word he spoke every inch of voice he had.
“Ruuuuuuude Geeeeelllllllllll!” Whilst pointing to Katie and laughing.
“Rudy stop you’ll get into trouble again” but she began to laugh delicately, attempting to conceal her amusement by covering her mouth with her hand. She knew what Rudy meant and he knew what he meant but none of the other staff had a clue.
Katie had tried to explain to them that he wasn’t being inappropriate but they would have none of it, telling her that if she wanted to become a social worker she would have to learn how to enforce boundaries.
Vanessa shouted from the dining room door “room now!”
Katie ushered Rudy down the bedroom corridor as fast as possible and entered his room. The door screeched a little as she opened it, and she gestured for him to go in first. He did as he was told suddenly worried that Katie was going to tell him off like Vanessa. There wasn’t much point in objecting as if he did not do what staff want it would be written in the be good behaviour book. He sat down onto his bed and looked blankly at the carpet.
“Are you okay Rudy? You look… I don’t know” she questioned
The carpet was a dull brown from years of it being walked over, and no real care being given to it. It was hovered, but never washed or scrubbed clean. Rudy sat for a moment, trying to think of what to say.
He thought, and thought harder until he was ready and tried to muster the words into existence with everything he could manage.
“You… you’re the same” he sulked, and turned away looking at the poster on his wall – the black and white chequers strongly contrasting the beige paint.
“No. No, that’s not true. I just, I have to follow the rules, you know?”
Katie picked up the pile of washed T-shirts on the end of Rudy’s bed and started to fold them.
“We can look for music on here if you want” taking her phone out of her pocket
He didn’t really hear what she said, he wasn’t listening. His attention was focused on his poster, the only poster he had from his old room, a poster that then made him think of his dad again and then that feeling in his tummy, the one that got worst at times.
“Rudy? What are you looking at” she walked over, whilst still folding an Asda polo shirt, she placed it onto his desk and knelt down next to him.
“Tell me what’s wrong” she said softly to Rudy
In that one sentence she took him back. His dad, that was what his dad would say when he was sad or angry.
“Make Rudy happy song” he said to Katie with a smile and started to try to sing. “what wrong, what wrong, tell me what wrong Rudy”
Katie was struggling to understand what Rudy was saying but realised she had said something familiar to him. “Is that your Dads song Rudy?”.
Rudy just kept repeating part singing part saying “what wrong, what wrong tell me” as he started to bounce seated on his bed. It suddenly dawned on Katie what Rudy was saying and more importantly what song he was after.
Katie walked over to Rudy’s shelf and looked through a selection of CDs trying to find what she knew he wanted. The CDs weren’t his music taste though, last Christmas the staff had given presents out and he’d got a one direction CD. He’d tried to dance to it but had decided as his dad would say, “it’s shit”. A statement that got him in to trouble with the staff and labelled him as ungrateful.
Katie flicked through increasingly dejected by the CDs she saw in front of her. Half of them were still in the cellophane and certainly not what she thought Rudy would listen to anyway. Katie gave up and turned to Rudy clutching her phone. Music she said and showed him the Spotify logo on her screen. Katie sat next to Rudy and typed Selector in the search box. She was fairly confident that she knew the song Rudy was after. One she herself had danced too many a time, she just hoped she was right.
Rudy had stopped bouncing on the bed and was now watching Katie’s phone intensely. All of a sudden music started to play. Rudy was frozen for a moment and then screamed loudly, smiling and bouncing on his bed. From his reaction Katie knew she had found it.
The musical introduction seemed to energise Rudy, Bouncing turned to leg swinging on the edge of the bed to standing and jumping to full blown skanking. Katie was shocked at what she was seeing. He was good, energetic and loving every moment.
Rudy could not contain himself; this was the song that Dad sang to make him happy. Dad knew Rudy better than any person could ever know anyone. Dad knew when Rudy was sad and he knew what to do.
Lots of things could make Rudy sad and angry. Sometimes it was his Dad, turning the TV over or rushing him to get on the bus in the morning. Sometimes Rudy didn’t know why he was sad or angry but every time his Dad knew what to do. He would sing:
Oh won’t you tell me
Oh won’t you tell me
Won’t you tell me
Tell me tell me what’s wrong – “Rudy”
If Rudy knew what was wrong he would tell his Dad as best he could whilst they sat on the sofa trying to re-gain their breath after such a dance outburst. More often than not he would just feel better and his dad would hug him.
Katie watched Rudy dance, loving every second of it, partly because she felt proud of herself for understanding what Rudy was after but also because Rudy was good. He knew his moves; he would just be another dancing rude boy at any of the gigs or club nights she went too.
As the track came to an end Katie clapped and Rudy bowed. “My music he said” pointing at the poster he was staring at earlier “Dad and Rudy”.
Katie looked up at the poster; it was an iconic image and one very familiar to her. A black and white chequer board pattern covered every edge of the poster with a large image of a man and woman dancing in the middle. The word Ska was emblazoned in one corner and a Trojan warrior helmet in the other with the word SHARP encircling it. Across the bottom a date, time and venue for a New Years Eve party. 31st Jan 1999-2000 The Broadway, A Skanking New Year!
“Party” he said, with a grin creeping across his face.
The Broadway was an old club his dad used to take him to every New Years Eve, right up to the New Year party before he died. They would dance or Skank as Rudy and his dad would say, laugh at each other and have fun. He hadn’t been since his Dad had gone; the closest he’d got was dancing alone in his room listening to ‘shit’ CDs.
Katie knew the venue; she had been there herself a few years back, however Skanking New Years weren’t an option anymore, a little more dub step than two tone.
Katie had an idea though; she grabbed her phone and showed Rudy a picture on Facebook. It had a black and white image of a group of young people dancing under a big logo announcing ‘TROJAN RECORDS’ official New Year Club Night.
Rudy didn’t know what all the words meant but he knew the people and he certainly knew the orange Trojan helmet that made up the O of Trojan records.
“You wanna go?” Katie asked, Rudy nodded. She looked at the poster for a moment, thinking to herself, “Leave it with me”.
She took the poster down and removed the blue tack from the back “Can I borrow it Rudy” she said. He nodded, “yes you can” he said assertively. She delicately folded it in half and smiled at Rudy. The smile injected a nice feeling in Rudy, a small tinge of hope. He smiled back as she left his room.
Now alone, he sat staring at his feet. Thinking about his Dad and he started to cry again.
“Absolutely not” Vanessa snatched the poster out of Katie’s hand and threw it to one side. “How irresponsible can you be?”
“But he must have gone with his Dad, that’s why he has this poster in his room, he loved the music I just played him. He clearly knew it, he kinda asked for it” Katie said slightly pleading.
“Well, why not Vanessa? I was going with my friends anyway so I’ll be there with him, he’ll be safe” she pushed. The realisation that if she didn’t make this happen then she would have let Rudy down started to weigh on her, Those 5 minutes in his room showed her how much it meant to him.
“This is ridiculous? He won’t be safe, he’ll be a vulnerable adult in a vulnerable situation and what if he hits someone?” she picked up the poster and began to rashly fold it into even smaller pieces until all that was left was a messy square.
“It wont be like that” Katie pleaded “anyway me and my friends will be there”.
“For someone training to be a social worker you have a funny idea of professional boundaries and safeguarding. Risk assessments not mean anything to you, what do you do at university? Anyway he is on a DoLS!”
Katie was getting angry herself now, what the hell did ‘he was on a DolS’ have to do with it but Vanessa carried on.
“You have a duty of care. Anyway we only have night staff on at that time and he needs to be here for his medication”
“How big are the fucking tablets that they can’t fit in my bag?” Katie snapped
Vanessa looked shocked and took a moment before spluttering an angry red faced reply.
“Leave now, I don’t want to hear any more about it, and I don’t want him getting any ideas” She tossed the poster on the desk and ushered Katie out of the office.
The door closed in Katie’s face, and she exhaled her disappointment and her breath, inches from the door bounced back against her pale face. She was conscious that she was now going to be in trouble with the university and had possibly lost her placement. She could have kicked herself for getting angry.
“Yes?” She heard Rudy’s empty voice behind her, the voice with continual dissapointment that knew the disappointment was not going to stop.
She took a deep breath before turning to face him, his eyes glaring in hope whilst waiting for an answer he now knew he probably didn’t want to hear.
She couldn’t do it to him.
“Yes. Yes we are going to go tonight. I will come back at 9 pm for you” she grabbed a piece of paper form a nearby table and drew a clock face with 9pm showing on it. “We will need to be quick though, so…. So go and get ready now and make sure your good to go when I appear. Wear your favourite polo shirt eh, I’ll get your meds… and… and I’ll sort us a lift with my friend Marcy, but we need to be quick when I arrive okay?”
Katie pawed at her phone, messaging her friend and co-clubber for the night Marcy, ‘we have an extra dancer to pick up tonight here is the address’ read the short message.
Rudy stood, stunned, paralysed with shock and excitement.
He snapped out of it, and ran to his room, practically leaping the whole way in two steps to get ready for best New Years in years.
It felt like forever for Rudy who waited in his room until it was the correct time, he then walked to the front window and saw a car pull up outside, Katie stepped out.
Quietly opening the front door she saw Rudy and rushed him out, careful not to make any noise, before pulling the door shut slowly and delicately.
She turned and surveyed the area trying to find Rudy, who had already jumped into Marcy’s car. He then to her dismay shouted “Ruuuuuuuuude Gelllllllllll” from the back seat. Her face dropped, and a light appeared form the office window as a curtain was drawn back.
She ran to the car, slamming the door shut behind her “Okay- Okay we need to go! ” she said, looking back over her shoulder to see Vanessa’s face, full of fury looking out of the window.
But it was done, and her face faded as the car began to drive toward a new, old adventure for Rudy – toward the memory Rudy has been trying to relive for 2 years.
Katie felt exhilarated and petrified at the same time. She thought about the ramifications of her actions and the list of crimes Vanessa would read out at her midway, that’s if she even made it that far;
aiding someone to abscond,
placing a vulnerable person at risk,
safeguarding and breaching a DoLS
but the ‘Train to Skaville’ cries interspersed by Ruuuuude Geeeeellllll and Ruuuuuude Boooooooooyyyy” coming from behind her seemed to help.
The Uni and social services bang on about strength based work and using community assets. What was more strength based than Rudy’s excellent skanking? Better than most of the blokes she knew and after all this was her community a Ska Community the best community asset she knew about. Better than a One direction CD in your bedroom anyway.
As they drove down Ealing Broadway the cries of “Ruuuuuuuude Boooooooyyyyy” and a heavy beat turned every head in the street. It was going to be a Skanking New Year after all.
Tyler & Mark Harvey
Cheers to Paul Richards who has inspired this Skanking story and who we have shamelessly nicked a great gag from.
Have a great new year all.