I was born quite some years ago in the back of beyond, a place that you won’t have heard of so didn’t even ask. My arrival into this world occurred at home, it was a Saturday afternoon and the wrestling was on the telly. Given that I weighed 10 pounds 12 ounces it was probably quite apt that Kent Walton was commentating from Doncaster Town Hall at the exact moment of my birth.
I did the all usual things a young boy does; killing insects, shooting mates with plastic guns, playing with matches, smashing up toy cars. All the normal stuff and despite repeated warnings from concerned adults I never lost an eye. I wanted to join the army when I grew up but my Dad who’d served for a number of years talked me out of it, “You don’t like being told what to do and they tell you what to do. All the time”.
Life was pretty uneventful and idyllic until I was ten years old. It was then, quite out of the blue, that we moved. Not just down the road or round the corner but hundreds of miles away where people spoke with a different accent and played different games in the playground. It was all a bit of a shock; being taken away from your mates, having to start a new school, live in a new house. It was a nice place though, a small village in the south not too far from London. Once I got over the trauma of not being able to shoot my old friends with a plastic gun I found some new friends I could shout “Rat-a-tat-a-tat!” at and they too would clutch their chest and fall over. I experienced about six months of my classmates asking me what was wrong just so they could hear me reply “nowt” for their own amusement which served to remind me I was different from them.
It took about a year for me to settle in and just as I was feeling part of the gang and I started using the word ‘nothing’ without having to think about it, it was time for more upheaval. This time it was serious and I wasn’t looking forward to this one at all. I knew it was going to be a matter of life or death, a struggle to survive in a world where young people like me were easy pickings for the evil predators who ruled the hell that I was going to be thrown in to. I was going to Big School and I’d seen Grange Hill.
I knew it was true to life because my big sister told me so. Gripper Stebson was in his prime on BBC 1 and I just knew he went to my school. Mr Baxter, the PE teacher, struck fear into our hearts and I knew he’d be taking me for rugby. The only faint glimmer of hope lay with Miss Lexington, or Sexy Lexy, the Aphrodite of a Computer Studies teacher. I really hoped shed be there for me; to guide me, to save me. We had such a promising future together; she was blonde and gorgeous and I had a Vic 20, the cutting edge of home computing if you disregard the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64.
But in my heart I knew she wouldn’t be there. She was just too bloody good to be true.
Having somehow passed the 12 Plus off I went to the Grammar School for Boys. I remember the first day well, a beautiful September day, very sunny but not too warm with a clear blue sky. I’d managed to catch the coach without any challenges and sat at the front with the only other two boys from junior school who passed the 12 Plus. We were turfed off the seat directly behind the driver by a fifth year girl who flirted with Ian, the bus driver, and talked about her experience of being in the audience on Top of The Pops. She was so grown up to us.
I was dressed in my new uniform and carrying a huge Adidas sports bag containing my PE kit just in case they made us do PE on the first day. My uniform was immaculate; the blazer with the school badge on the breast pocket, white shirt with school tie knotted precisely in a Windsor knot (by Dad that morning) and the shiniest of shiny black shoes. As I’d left the house that morning I was my parent’s pride and joy, as I walked through the school gates I transformed into something else; an easy target.
It was tradional to give the new boys hell and not wishing to upset tradition we took it. I got off quite easily, just a few sneers of “new boy!” and the odd push and shove. Others weren’t so lucky and still bare the mental scars of being caught alone in the toilets by a marauding group of fourth years. I remember seeing one child walk through the gates wearing the school cap that my mother had spotted in the uniform shop over the summer but I’d had a paddy and told her that if she bought it I’d run away from home. Obviously this boy was actually quite proud of his cap as he entered the large expanse of playground that first morning but this feeling soon turned to blind terror as the entire school stopped and turned to look at him. What happened to him we shall never know as I never saw him again after the baying crowd descended on him.
I learnt quickly and realised I had to blend in. On my second day I adopted the ‘been here years but you’ve never noticed me’ look. Shirt no tucked into trousers, shoes scuffed beyond the help of Kiwi polish, blazer collar turned up and the crowning glory; school tie knotted with the thin end at the front. I was chuffed, my mum was distraught. In a matter of twenty four hours mummy’s little soldier had become Satan’s urban terrorist.
It took me a while to realise that I didn’t have to take every textbook they’d given me to school every day so for a while my Adidas bag bulged to bursting point as I dragged it around with me. I was deeply suspicious of the lesson timetable and was sure they might have sprung a surprise history lesson on us when we weren’t expecting it and I, for one, wasn’t about to get caught out.
After a few months I was into the swing of things and I’d met new friends but by this time I knew it wouldn’t be right taking a plastic gun to school to shoot them. I’d matured. I was now into other things, grown up things. Scalextric, Smash Hits, football, girls and smoking.
It wasn’t that we smoked in the truest sense of the word. Sure we’d have a pack of ten fags each but it was more a case of spark up, big suck, keep it in your mouth for five seconds before a huge blow out. We were the epitome of cool and if a young lady might chance upon us enjoying a relaxing cigarette then how could she resist our grown up charms? Unfortunately the chances of a young lady actually seeing us were less than nil as we only smoked hidden away in the shrubbery of the local park just in case anybody who didn’t share our understanding of ‘cool’ should catch us. Namely a parent, teacher, policeman, elder sibling, traffic warden, in fact anyone who could give us a bollocking or grass us up. We looked like a bunch of hypertensive asthmatics on a day trip to the Chelsea Flower Show as our eyes watered, our faces burned purple and we hacked our lungs up in the rhododendrons. But we knew we were the hip young things and that’s all that mattered.
The strange thing about girls was that you only fancies the older ones. Girls of the same age just didn’t appeal for some reason. Not that it would have mattered anyway because the female teenager had a rule which they all adhered to without exception. ‘Thou shalt not take any interest in any male of the same age or younger’. Girls were completely unfathomable and unless you sported a bum fluff moustache and had a provisional driving license you stood absolutely no chance of a ‘finger’. The mystical ‘finger’, every young boy’s Holy Grail. We were all chasing the dream of ‘having a finger’. We all knew older boys who’d done it and they’d sit down and regale us with their conquests as we looked at them in awe. Strangely thought he details were always very sparse.
“Took Julie to the pictures. Sat in the back row. Had a finger.”
That was it. No more information. That was deemed enough. Anyway, it wasn’t the done thing to enquire about the ins and outs of the romantic interlude. You just didn’t question it. Also, nobody ever considered tracking Julie down and asking how it was for her, funny that.
As a young teenager a chap could have had sex with a group of Swedish nymphomaniacs taking them all shapes but if he didn’t report back that he’d ‘had a finger’ it would have meant absolutely nothing, a completely pointless exercise that wouldn’t have impressed us at all.
It wasn’t uncommon for boys who’d done the deed to retain the prized trophy of the ‘smelly finger’. They wouldn’t wash their hands for weeks in order to prove they’d done it. Any doubters would have the triumphant digit rammed against their nostrils as proof of a job well done.
We were growing up. Some faster than others. The prime examples of this could be found in the changing rooms after a PE lesson. It would be a lie to say that any of us wanted to be in a communal changing room after an hour of rugby. We were all shy about our bodies and nobody, no matter how dirty, wanted to get in the showers. It was only the fact that Mr Jones, the particularly brutal Welsh games teacher, herded us like sheep into the boiling jets of water that we didn’t go home caked in mud. With hindsight it can be appreciated that was only concerned with our personal hygiene but at the time it was all too easy to think that he wanted to see thirty young boys with their willies out.
PE was a minefield of potential embarrassment to a young boy. I vividly remember a classmate called Adrian, a small skinny youth, dying of shame when getting changed for a lesson. As he removed his trousers to get into his shorts a cry went up, “Adrian’s got Incredible Hulk pants on!”. The poor lad didn’t know what to do, there was nothing he could do except suffer the cruel taunts from his classmates. We all joined in to a man and a chant of “Hulk pants! Hulk pants!” rose through the air. It was only the intervention of Mr Jones that stopped the baiting. After picking on someone to explain the racket and seeing the situation for himself I’m damn sure that he wanted to start the chanting again himself. All the time Adrian stood there trying to cover up the cartoon image of the Hulk with the legend ‘Don’t make me angry’ emblazoned on the material across his under-developed primary sex organs. As for me, well I was just thankful that I’d left my Dr Who Y-fronts in my underpants drawer at home.