Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Memoirs of a Misspent Childhood

Part 3: Over the Hills and Far Away

'C'mon lads I'm sick of hanging round here all day let's go off up the fields or something'! And so another adventure in the lives of your average group of pre pubescent boys circa 1990 begins. Before sex offenders lurked around every corner and daily traffic amounted to a handful of cars children roamed the country with abandon. After school you were expected home for your dinner but once you'd grimaced your way through the bacon and cabbage the evening was yours. But this was nothing compared to the joy of school holidays and in particular summer holidays. Eight weeks of the type of exploration and adventuring that the likes of Bear Grylls could only dream of, and even though you never strayed far enough to cause alarm at times it felt like the world was your oyster and in a way it kinda was.

Upon awaking to a beautifully sunny morning you bolted down your Rice Krispies, whilst reading the back of the cereal box for the millionth time, and headed out onto the estate to see who was around. The fact that it was only nine thirty in the morning mattered not as already a small smattering of children had begun to gather in various pockets of this most hostile environ. Like the plains of the Serengeti differing species steer well clear of each other for fear of conflict with young toddlers eyeing the slightly older kids with all the mistrust of a prey that feared imminent attack from a hunter. But negotiating this wildlife scene was second nature to a world weary eleven year old and having done so you took station amongst your brethren to discuss what the day would bring.

The usual suggestions of a game of football, some random vandalisation or goading the local pet life into fighting each other are brushed aside wearily as the need for something new and exciting is required to enliven this promising Summer's morning. It's then that someone pipes up with the suggestion of an excursion of sorts, a sortie into foreign lands perhaps? Some immediately attempt to shout down this idea knowing full well that leaving the confines of the estate is not something readily agreed upon by their parental units. However all of those with an alcoholic father and a mother too depressed to care about the well being of her children commit themselves to the jaunt with abandon. Others nervously scurry inside to plead permission to go on this covert mission in the hope that their beloved will buy the story about 'just going over the road to play football and I'll be back in an hour, promise!!'. Once the weaklings have been weeded out and those that have chosen to oppose the wishes of those in command have joined the fray it's time for the journey to begin, already the excitement is palpable.

As this merry tribe of miscreants set off into the mid morning sun the possibilities are endless. The horizon consists of nothing but greenery and those of an ambitious dent ponder what it would be like to gallop through that faraway field which on this day seems only a stroll away. But the first priority must be to escape the prying eyes of those likely to act as informant should any of the days activities be the kind that are likely to frowned upon. So having stocked up on a suitable amount of Mr. Freezes and leaving humanity as we know it behind the tomfoolery can commence. In this heightened state of liberation anything and everything are fair game and it's not long before derelict houses are being giddily trashed, rusty bicycles are being lobbed into rivers and those unfortunate enough to be driving on this road on this day are met with the sight of half a dozen pale derrieres. A dog has also attached himself to the group of intrepid travellers and having being christened 'Pajo' he is now as much a part of the team as another.

The frivolity of reigning terror on these deserted terrains is quickly realised however and it's not long before greater challenges are sought out. Thankfully something interesting is always only just around the corner and like River Phoenix and his companions the mother lode for this group comes in the form of a carcass. Although the object in question turns out to be only a cat, or perhaps a fox it's kind of hard to tell, it's no less dramatic a find. They gather round with a mixture of fascination and disgust as the bravest amongst them pokes the deceased with a stick revealing gaping sores and puss ridden wounds sending the hitherto brave warriors scattering like a group of terrified hyenas. Once composure has been regained those who fled quickest mollify themselves with claims that 'they only ran because you ran' or 'I thought it was still alive', but they know the truth and more importantly the others know the truth aswell, they bottled it and in the process failed the first test of the day. Redemption is soon at hand however as what at first just appeared to be an innocuous barn reveals itself to be housing golden barrels of joy. A cursory check to ensure there isn't an irate farmer skulking on the premises is undergone before bodies are flailing through the air with glee and abandon as this all too rare treat is savoured to the fullest. The once neatly assembled hay bales now resemble the remnants of a two year old's lego

The first incandescent roar brings proceedings to an abrupt halt as the straw strewn scamps stare at each other in stricken fear. The sight of the red faced bellowing beast and his instructions to 'Get outta there ye little bastards' is all the encouragement they need however as adrenaline overrides the fear resulting in several land speed records being broken by all in sundry. The chase is now on but this isn't like the chases of before where the pursuer is known to them and the worst that could happen is a kick up the arse or a clip round the ear. This farmer is an unknown quantity and as far as the fleeing mob are concerned is capable of anything up to murder and beyond. The desire for freedom is gauged by the lengths taken to aid escape, some leap unabashed over ditches and gates into territories unknown whilst others plaintively cry 'Will we stop lads he won't say anything to us'. Stopping is clearly not an option as in the background their pursuer has taken the quite unfair step of manning his jeep and continuing the chase by road. Any thoughts of unity and togetherness are dismissed by this sight and inevitably it's the weak and slow who are left behind to become the sacrificial lambs.

Watching the scene unfold from behind the relative safety of the nearby foliage it at first appears that our boys are going to take a hell of a beating. But other than a good shaking and a warning that future transgressions will be met with fire and brimstone they appear to get off unscathed. As the ashen faced quarry is let free into the wild the farmer departs with one last calling shot 'And the rest of ye can just consider yeerselves lucky I didn't catch ye aswell'. Yeah right they say to themselves, we're far too cunning and clever for the likes of that fucker, he never stood a chance. Once the coast is clear the group reconvenes and the war stories commence. The escapees slap each other on the back and seek praise for their fleet footed feats whilst those who faced the full blooded wrath of Khan take solace in the fact that they faced the devil himself and lived to tell the tale. It's decreed that perhaps enough excitement has been had for one day and the road home stretches out ahead, the thought lost forever Pajo suddenly emerges from amidst a corn field to great whoops and cheers and the drama of before is at once forgotten.

Before returning to face the music a detour to the swing, their swing, is in order, what better way to wind down and relax than a hour or two spent lazily drifting through the sky. Having risked life and limb to create this swing there is a justifiable pride in it and any opportunity to sample it's delights is a cause for excitement. Offering a death defying journey over a hill top surely born for just that purpose and a view of the vicious river beneath as you did so it rivalled anything DisneyWorld had to offer and was the best swing in the country as far as they were concerned. With claims and counterclaims as to who'll go first ringing through the air they approach their swing with reckless disregard and for the second time that day are left stunned and aghast by the presence of interlopers. There on 'their' swing are a group of heathens desecrating the very thing which they toiled over for hours on end and doing so in a manner that was likely to render it beyond repair before long. A feeling of dizzy nausea descends upon the group, a feeling which would only be matched by seeing future girlfriends ride into the distance on the back of motorbikes belonging to bearded buffoons with access to alcohol. A quick headcount reveals them to be not only outnumbered but also outranked as the rival group clearly hold the upper hand given their longer years. Defeat is inevitable and all that remains is to decide the manner of it. Discretion becomes the better part of valour as the lads meekly turn on their heels and walk away with lumps in their throats and insults in their ears. The memories of creating and manning that beautiful swing quickly forgotten as it becomes tarnished for evermore in their sundered hearts.

The day is now unquestionably over and as home springs into view the first voyagers return to base. Goodbyes are summarily dished out with no arrangements for later or tomorrow required. Mothers greet them at the door with 'Where the fuck have you been?' and not surprisingly the response of 'Out' is insufficient to prevent the cursory blows which hurt about as much as the threats to withhold pocket money. What do I need pocket money for it's the Summer Holidays you silly woman. As you retire early for the night you think of your mates and how you'll always be friends, unaware that those seemingly unbreakable ties will be severed by the emergence of the shapely young harlot in number 53. Little do you know it at the time but in a way this is as good as life will get and as free and happy as you'll ever be. Not for this young mind the stresses and worries of the adult world, as he drifts into sleep his only concern is whether the boys will be up for another jaunt tomorrow.