When I was young we lived in a small quiet cul-de-sac. At the end of the road was a tiny patch of grass, it wasn't a park, there were no swings or slides, but it was about the size of a small school football pitch, which was exactly what I used it for. I mainly used to kick a ball against a wall there on my own, for hours at a time.
One day while I was playing, another boy of my age appeared who lived in the next Street. He was called Mark, and asked to join in. We played together for a few hours. At dinnertime when I had to go home we arranged to meet and play again the following week.
And then again the week after that.
And so it continued.
We usually played three and in, one person would be in goal and the other would try to score three goals, and when they did they would go in goal. We would pretend to be different footballers we'd seen on Match of the Day that week when we were trying to score, usually I'd be Glenn Hoddle, and he was Ian Rush. But one week he insisted on calling me Smirrell, and from then on that's what he called me. I had no idea where this came from, but I’d never had a nickname before, so never asked him why.
The week after he knocked on my door, and asked my mum if Smirrell could come out to play football. She looked confused after but I couldn’t explain to her why he’d called me that.
And so it went on for about 3 or 4 years, he’d knock and ask for Smirrell and we play football.
Eventually he moved away, and as I was 15 so my 'playing out’ days were over.
I was 30 when I next properly spoke to Mark again. I was in a pub with my girlfriend at the time, Claire, and there was Mark at the bar.
"Smirrell" he almost cheered, he looked pleased to see me, and shook me vigorously by the hand. It’s great to see you again mate how long has it been?"
"You two know each other then?" my girlfriend asked? "Wait -why did you call him Smirrell?"
I looked at Mark, I had no idea why that was my nickname and nodded towards Mark, I had wondered why he’d called me this for years. So I was also keen to hear this answer.
Mark looked confused, like we were ganging up on him to play some cruel joke.
"What?” he stuttered
"Why do you call him Smirrell?” Claire repeated.
"Because his name is Cyril" he looked at me, a confused look on his face.
"No it's Chris" my girlfriend said. I nodded dumbly and we shook hands, having known each other for over twenty years, but having just been properly introduced.
Mark quickly made an excuse about going to find his friends.
I kept thinking afterwards - Did I really look like a Cyril?
I saw him once after this, and we both nodded to each other, but I think the embarrassment was too much for us to actually talk again.