It was August about five years ago and more or less 7pm. I was waiting at my house for Bad Feri. He was the landlord of my then local bar and he had taken the night off.
"So you've never been to a casino?" he said, somewhat incredulously.
"No. Never." I still couldn't see what he thought was so odd about it. After all, I wasn't really brought up in the ways of town life - I was more accustomed to sitting at home, playing video games and suchlike.
That was two weeks ago. Now I stood in my house, best shirt on, real trousers, polished shoes...what an effort. Bad Feri's wife was dropping him off at mine, we were going to walk into Stoke town centre, have a couple of pints and then get a taxi to the city for a night of gambling then drinking and 'womanising' - remember, Feri was married. Bad Feri. I was looking forward to it so much; I'd been out of work for months and was sick of being skint. I'd done a couple of days helping out Feri in his bar during a refit and had a few quid on me for the effort. It was the first time in ages I had money in my pocket. To be able to go out and do something different and fun felt like a holiday abroad.
The phone rang. Here we go, half an hour late because his dog's escaped.
"It's me. Get your shoes on. I'll be there in five minutes." It was my dad.
"It's your Uncle Dave. He's got a bad back. I've got to go down there to get him into hospital..."
"I can't, I'm..."
"...and YOU'RE driving. We've got to go. They won't admit him. He's in so much pain he might kill himself..."
"SHOW SOME FUCKING RESPECT! Listen, we've got to go down. It's up to ME to sort this fucking mess out again" shouting now. There was a knock at the door.
"I've got to go, there's someone at the door"
"FIVE MINUTES. Make sure you're ready" my dad finished, hanging up.
Feri stood there grinning as I looked down from my front doorstep at him.
"I'm sorry mate it's off. My uncle's ill and I've got to help my dad in London with him", it all came out too fast, like a child unconvincingly lying, "and I can't say no you know what he's like". What an idiot.
"Oh. Alright mate," Feri said, trying unsuccessfully to hide his disappointment. I felt a sort of pity for him at that moment; I'd never seen him looking so...smart. "We'll have to sort it out for another time." I continued apologising for a while afterwards before I shut the door. I knew I sounded like I wasn't being honest.
Now to work out what was going on. Uncle? Bad back? London? Why does my dad need to go down there? Suicide? He never calls my Uncle Dave 'uncle'? Why am I involved? ...silly, silly thoughts: I know why I was needed.
"You're driving" he said. I already guessed that before he had arrived, let alone watch him make for the passenger door. I got into his Discovery, £45000 of unneeded extravagance, the air ice-cold. I bet the bastard had had the air conditioning running for an hour on his drive before he left, just to make it 'right' for him.
"You know how to adjust the seat don't ya'?" he said, messing around with the multitude of buttons on my seat, tilting me backwards and forwards, up and down. Of course I knew - it was the same routine every time I had to drive. Oh, here we go - push the seat forward so my legs get crushed. Hilarious. The thing that I never mentioned was that, apart from my father's considerable extra weight we were more or less the same frame wise and I never needed to adjust the chair. This was just another one of those 'things' that he did...one of those 'things' that made your life just a little less pleasant.
"Quick slug?" he gestured towards me with his open Lucozade bottle.
"Nah, I'm alright thanks". I shook my head, trying to look like I was about to enter into concentration mode and doing my best not to show just how angry I was to have another day of my life ruined by him.
"Just as well, seeing as you're driving" he said, just before he winced in a fashion that would have been comical if I wasn't quite so very pissed off. "Fucking hell!" he cried, "bit too much voddy in that cunt!" he snorted as he watered down the already open bottle of Lucozade with added Smirnoff with a fresh bottle of the amber fizz, taking another quick swig to test that it was to his liking. I was glad it had brought tears to his eyes.
"Russ filled it up this morning," he nodded towards my side of the dashboard "so we won't have to stop. You know the way, don't you?"
"I don't even know what's going on" - I think he could sense my irritability.
"Oi. Pack it in." He had that stern, serious look and tone - the only sort you can learn and pull off successfully from having spent considerable time in the forces. "It's our Dave. Our Margaret's been on, he's in a bad way. He's had this bad back for months now, done it at work from lifting that boom. They won't admit him an 'e's on about killin' himself the pain's so bad." David worked for the BBC as a sound technician, "That's why I'VE got to go down there and sort this fucking mess OUT."
He didn't have to do anything. I could never understand that, but then maybe I could; he was already drunk when he rang me - this was just another one of his 'weird jollys', the sort that only happened when he was drunk and could only be justified by making some sort of crisis out of it.
It was now 7.15pm. This was going to be a tough evening.