The Rest Just Follows
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First of September 1974. Craig Robinson is starting secondary school. Instinct tells him he needs to keep his head down. The last thing he needs, therefore, is someone carrying the name St John Nimmo to be sent to sit beside him, but that is what he gets. Across town Maxine Neill is starting her own new school, convinced that she shouldn't be there at all. She should be where Craig and St John are. Not that she has met either of them yet. Though meet them she will, and more. Their lives and hers - and the lives of the entire Nimmo family - become entwined as pre-teens turn to teens, turn to twenties and thirties, turn inevitably to the eff decades and they go about the business of filling the spaces vacated by the generations that went before. It's called growing up, never mind that most of the time it feels like making it up as they go along, and sometimes like fucking up completely. Around them meanwhile the world happens: to be specific Belfast happens, for good or occasionally very ill indeed. These are the circumstances life has contrived for them. What are they to do but deal with it?
the never-used fondue set. Every so often in passing, in the years ahead, St John would flip the arm up into its fascist salute then watch it sink slowly back to its side. He got the five GCEs he needed to be accepted back in to do A levels, Maths and any four others. (French, Biology, Art and – a miracle almost worthy of study in the subject itself – Divinity.) He stood in the covered walkway beside the office where the envelopes were being given out, checking and rechecking the long strip of
against . . . ‘What did you say your name was?’ she asked. ‘I didn’t. It’s Max.’ ‘No!’ ‘I know.’ He grimaced. ‘My parents had delusions of grandeur.’ ‘No, no, it’s just’ – she put a hand to her chest – ‘I’m Maxine.’ ‘Well, there you go, it was obviously meant to be,’ he said and took her by the arm and led her across Corn Market to the door that led to Berlin. It was amazing. Stepping through that door really was like stepping into another city, not Berlin – not yet – but a version of
try to talk, take your mind off them. ‘I think,’ Maxine said, ‘the form with parties is you wait until the person having it asks you.’ ‘Max-ine.’ Max threw himself back, as extravagantly as the narrow bed allowed, on to the pillow. ‘It’s not fucking Anne of Green Gables. She told Pete and Pete told Dermot and Dermot told Andy, which he wouldn’t have if Pete hadn’t said it was all right to, and then Andy told the rest of us.’ He rolled over to face the wall taking her share of the bedclothes
before Ireland produced another side capable of a tilt at the Triple Crown . . . No matter how much money the broadcasters were prepared to throw at it the game would never go professional, and so on. Already, though, by the time the soup plates were being cleared, Barry had begun to take a back seat. Craig, who had been scouring the table for water with which to counteract the effects of the gin, missed the precise moment when the conversation segued into politics, though it was possibly around
by headaches and bouts of vomiting. Her GP, Dr Park – Sarah: daughter of, and inheritor of the practice from, the late and not unanimously lamented Dr Lennox – referred her to the hospital where a scan revealed a tumour nestling in her brain, ‘looking quite at home’, as Bea reported it. The whole thing developed with incredible speed. Within five weeks of her going to the doctor – while St John was still trying to manage the fallout from Craig’s sabotage – she was having her first course of