Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Aimless (3)

We found our dream house. A three bedroom semi. Large garden for me to run around in. 1966, a year of affordable housing for an ordinary single-income working family.

I started school again. Even though it was a small school I was uncomfortable being with all those children. But the teachers were nice.

The alphabet was drilled into us. The times table was, too. We started to read about those lovely children, Peter and Jane. Peter and Jane loved each other like only brothers and sisters can. I wonder where they are now? Do they still keep in touch?

The Peter and Jane books were published by Ladybird. A different Ladybird made children's clothes. That really fucked my mind, man.

I was co-erced into playing with the girl next door as my mum and hers watched on.

Eventually I made some real friends. Or, rather, they made friends with me. The twins were nine months younger than me and in the class below. They were cousins of my second cousins so I guess that's how we ended up together. I was a spoilt only-child and had modern toys which they liked to play with, boisterously.

I was already a West Ham fan as West Ham had won the World Cup for England. Bobby Moore was my favourite player as he was blond, handsome and he was the world's best player. My choice of football team wasn't based on geography or tradition. My dad had been a Charlton supporter, the nearest club to Bexley. I was a glory hunter, just like those Surrey Reds. All I could see in front of my eyes was a future of trophies and winning heroes, crying with joy. A lifetime of success.

In my second year of school, my mum fell pregnant. School had already obliterated our previous suffocatingly comfortable relationship and here was someone else to make us that little bit more independent of each other. My sister arrived in November 1968 and from reports of the time you'd think I was absolutely besotted with the girl. Of course I loved her straight away but I didn't have then nor have I since had a paternal bone in my body. She was my sister, not my daughter, right? It didn't mean I would love other babies or ache for Tiny Tears dolls to bounce on my knee. It just wasn't in me. Yes, I might have looked like a natural father at six years old but that was just me being a natural older brother.

Though I had the twins outside of school, breaking my toys, in school I made friends one at a time, just as my dad had. There was a boy with the surname King. My dad said I should never trust anyone with the surname King. Were these my dad's republican tendencies coming to the fore? He was right, though, the King boy was not to be trusted. But not because he was called King, Dad.

Thankfully I was never bullied by any of the boys. No, not me. I was bullied by one of the girls! She gave me a Chinese burn! I told my mum, showed her my wrist and one afternoon by the school gates my mum got hold of her and shook the living daylights out of her. She wouldn't touch me again.

Apart from that incident I didn't have any dealings with the girls. I didn't play kiss chase like some of those young studs.

In the year of the clackers we crowded into the shelter out of the rain at playtime and made a cacophonous noise. Knuckles were hurt and eyes were dislodged. I was very nervous of clackers as anybody in their right mind would be. But I didn't want to show it. I closed my eyes and clacked for England. Then England banned clackers and parents and kids like me breathed a sigh of relief.

More hand pain came with the conker season. Clackers were out but conkers remained as part of the playtime curriculum. I went to the park with the twins and we'd throw branches up at the massive horse chestnut trees, bringing down conkers in their thousands. Conkers were either put in the freezer section of the fridge along with the ice pops or pickled in large jars alongside the onions. You had to prepare your conker for battle or you'd be at a disadvantage.

My literary life was gathering pace, too. I soon grew out of Peter and Jane and moved onto comics. None of those namby pamby children's books for me. I read Whizzer & Chips from cover to cover but never considered myself a Whizz-kid or a Chip-ite. I was my own man.

I read other comics, too. But never the super-hero type or that prat Roy of the Rovers. Mine were more down-to-earth, prototype Viz comics. My favourite character was a boy who played football in his unwashed bare feet. You'd see the skinny white urchin in the bath, his feet on the rim, nice and dirty.

We listened to Peter and the Wolf at school which was meant to scare us and Sparky's Magic Piano which actually did. We went on visits to the Commonwealth Institute to see how the rest of our monarch's people lived and we went to the swimming baths once a week. I was scared of the water but luckily I had verrucas which kept me out of it. I watched from the gallery. On every coach trip we took I seem to remember eating my mum's cheese and piccalilli sandwiches. The sickliness of coach travel and piccalilli complemented each other perfectly.

We rehearsed for the school concert. The word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was painted onto sheets of paper and hung up round the school hall. I didn't want to play the recorder. I fancied the Indian bells which I was given to tinkle every now and then. Why on earth would I not want to play the recorder? The recorder kick-started many a musical career. Satchmo himself started with this fine instrument before moving onto the trumpet.

In my last year of primary school I was given the responsibility of captaining the school football team, presumably to make me a bit more assertive, a leader of men. I never really enjoyed playing in organised matches the way I did in kickabouts. Kickabouts were more random, you got more involved, exciting things happened like running girls being felled by wayward shots. Silly girls shouldn't have been running, should have kept to their skipping.

In one match the cleverest boy in the school ran after a ball and ran straight into the air-raid shelter's iron bar. God knows why the air-raid shelter was still there, somthing to do with the cold war, maybe. So the boy's head was split open and there was blood everywhere. It didn't seem to do him any harm though, quite the opposite as he seemed to become super-intelligent after this incident.

I had no interest in playing games other than football. What's The Time, Mr Wolf? was fucking stupid. Kiss Chase was for the girls.

I remember just one fight from my primary school. And the fight was over music. Kid A thought Gary Glitter was the greatest artist who ever existed. Kid B thought that that accolade went to Marc Bolan. I was not fussed at the time and I'm not fussed now. There's room for all tastes in music listeners' worlds.

The build-up was more exciting than the fight itself. The argument and the anticipation had been ongoing for some time, at least a week, and a time and a place were agreed. The time: dinner time. The place: the playground. Children crowded around the two protagonists and a high-pitched chant chilled the air.

"Bundle! Bundle!"

The fighters went for each other.

Of course it was over in seconds as a playground attendant or "dinner lady" as we used to call any woman other than the teachers broke it up with little fuss. There was no blood, no black eyes. It was not conclusive who was the greater artist. Bolan went to his grave not knowing.


  1. Bolan I reckon.

  2. I suppose I was on the Bolan kid's side as his family ran a pub.

    Glitter had a few good songs but Bolan was a legend.

  3. Girls felled by balls. Brings it all back.

  4. Tough of the Track was my equivalent of your barefoot footballer.

  5. "The Peter and Jane books were published by Ladybird. A different Ladybird made children's clothes. That really fucked my mind, man."

    please stop appropriating my childhood traumas, Geoff. It'd unnerving.

  6. 'I told my mum, showed her my wrist and one afternoon by the school gates my mum got hold of her and shook the living daylights out of her. She wouldn't touch me again.'

    Love this more than I can say. I wish our parents would show such initiative.

    Swimming. Aargh. You just reminded me I have to start taking them swimming next year, on a coach.

  7. Arabella - Red marks.

    Rog - Didn't Sebastian Coe model himself on him?

    Tim - They should have amalgamated.

    Annie - My mum wouldn't stand for any nonsense. I'm sure the coaches are nicer than they were then.

  8. 'The sickliness of coach travel and piccalilli complemented each other perfectly.'

    Brilliant line!

    Always supposing you can trust the judgement of a blogmate called 'King' that is...

    I loved Peter and Jane too and always swore I'd get me a cool red staircarpet like theirs when I was a grown up. Sadly I still live in a property minus stairs!

  9. My dad's 'King' thing was preposterous!