Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Memoirs of a Misspent Childhood

Part 4: What are you afraid of? 

The fictional characters who terrorised me as a child.

Do you remember how ridiculous adults seemed to you as a child? “Look at them there all huddled up together laughing and joking, they haven’t a clue have they”? For the most part they were just various forms of revenue which you could utilise in the pursuit of money when the opportunity arose. Yes they held a degree of authority over you but only because of a silent agreement on your part not to kick up a fuss until your teenage years when you would make their life a living hell. On and on they nattered about such and such a wan who had gone into hospital, how the country “had gone to the dogs” and “what an awful oul bollix the local priest was”. Yes we were listening, we were always listening, we had fuck all else to do during those interminable waits on the side of the road as Mammy chewed the fat with Mrs. O’Riordan, who she described as “a nosy fuckin bitch, stuck in everythin” when away from prying ears. Oh we were listening alright.

But every now and then no matter how hard we listened there were certain things we didn’t understand. Grown up stuff. The room would become hushed and all the adults present took on an air of solemnity not seen since the Pope’s visit in ’79. What’s up with ye at all we’d think as they smoked fags with shaky hands and littered the air with pleas for God to swoop down and rescue us all from this terrible predicament. How could they have anything to worry about? No parents telling em what to do, no short tempered teacher expecting homework which was never gonna be done. They could stay up as late as they wanted, watch telly all night, head off to the pub and stand around shouting, and sometimes fighting, until the sun came up. Sure they had it fuckin easy. Not like us poor souls who struggled to get through our days in one piece.

Oh the innocence of childhood. The reality is that life as an adult is one filled with infinite, intangible fears. Fears that accompany you everywhere you go. Half the time you can’t even grasp what they are but they’re there and you can feel them, breathing down your neck. There’s no point trying to escape them because they’ll always be there, it’s just part of our make-up. Show me a man without fear and I’ll show you someone who has nothing worth living for. But we weren’t to know that. For us, as children, it seemed that the world was designed to strike the fear of God into us. Everywhere you looked there was something out to get you. Were it not for those parents and their grown up ways we would have been done for.

But little did we know that it was those blasted adults that were largely responsible for our terror. Yes they wanted to mind us and make sure we crossed the road okay, thanks a million, but once we were all safely tucked up in bed they got together and dreamt up ways to scare the fuckin shit out of us. Oh how laughed as they envisaged our horrified faces slowly creasing up until tears flowed and flowed and flowed. They imagined us waking up in the middle of the night, screaming the house down begging for mercy and they laughed some more. The bastards. You don’t believe me? Well take a look at my list of childhood enemies and tell me I’m lying.


Okay I know I shouldn’t have been watching Nightmare on Elm Street when I was eight years old but that’s not the point. What child could resist a film which bore that red circle with the number 18 contained within, it signified danger and we loved danger. The thing was we really didn’t. Someone would announce that they’d got Nightmare on Elm Street in their house and the first thing that shot to our minds was to run, as fast as we could, into the loving bosoms of our Mother’s. But we were damned if we were gonna be the one to say it. So off we trooped, like men on death row, to the living room of the house where no adults were present and on came Freddie.

Looking at him now he’s a fuckin joke. He looks like one of those particularly weather beaten drunks that you see cavorting round the park of a balmy summer’s eve. All that’s missing is a flagon of Devil’s Bit and the ensemble is complete. Yes he had a glove with claws on but so did Edward Scissorhands and no one was scared of him. What Wes Craven managed to create was a character that could get at you no matter who you were. One, two Freddie’s coming for you. Three, four you better lock your door. Five, six grab your crucifix. Seven, eight you better stay up late. Nine, ten you’ll never sleep again........I don’t care what anyone says that’s some scary shit right there. Krueger got into the psyche of my eight year old self and for at least two years he wreaked havoc. Eventually I got over my Freddie fears and slept again, but I never did forget that song.


That’s right laugh it up, go on. Laugh at that simple child who loved everything about Fraggle Rock, from the Doozers to Uncle Travelling Matt and especially Sprocket. That same child who was brave enough to watch the Gorgs try and capture his beloved Fraggles but never once looked away. He knew trouble was brewing when the Fraggles ventured into the Gorg’s garden but even then he held firm, I won’t let ‘her’ stop me, not this time. But resistance was futile. Once that big ole trash heap appeared on screen with nothing but an endless array of rotting leaves protecting her dignity it was all over. I turned the sound down, retreated to the confines of behind the sofa and waited for it to be over.

Eventually ‘Marjorie’, as I believe she was called, would impart some words of wisdom to the rapt Fraggle’s and they’d be on their way again. At which point I could exit my bunker and resume my television delights, vowing to watch it without interruption the following week.


We’re on to the big guns now, the crème da la crème of evil baddies. Standing seven foot tall and weighing in at an unspecified weight we have the Daddy of them all (well only of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia as it goes but you understand the sentiment), Darth Vader! Although now parodied and lampooned to the point of breaking there was a time when Darth Vader was the single most terrifying thing in the world. I knew not why he was so wheezy, probably more of them fags given to him by some of them fuckin adults no doubt, nor why he had to wear a helmet in the shape of a bell (oo’er!), all I knew was that anytime he was on screen I nearly shat my little y-fronts.

But I loved Star Wars, and therein laid the conundrum. How could I ever hope to progress to the rank of Jedi if I couldn’t even make it through to the end of the first film? Maybe he was my Father too and that’s why I couldn’t bear to watch him on screen? I knew I was strong in the force, I just knew it, but try as I may I couldn’t face my destiny and by the time I braved the closing scenes of A New Hope it was too late. I was far too old to be trained as a Jedi no matter how strong in the Force. Such a wasted opportunity.


Save your jokes about Jacko and kids for another day, this was between me and him. And although he never invited me to Never Never Land or asked me to join him for cuddles he still managed to leave this particular fan with some childhood scars which took some healing. When children today go potty over the sight of Jedward or Justin Bieber I can’t help but smile. You see we had a proper superstar to idolise, not a pair of simpering oafs from Dublin. We had the real deal, a moonwalking, curly haired kid from Indiana who had us in the palm of his hand (careful) anytime we saw him.

The Thriller video was in itself revolutionary. Never before had an artist taken such care and time over a music video and the result was a mini movie which not only perfectly accompanied the song, but added to it. However I had one slight issue with it. While Jacko and his girl stuck together everything was okay,  that’s what I convinced myself as they sauntered through what looked like an entire neighbourhood of crack dens. As the undead rose from their graves and circled on MJ and his now stricken companion I feared not, Jacko will sort em out he’s one of the good guys. Then it fuckin happens. He’s only gone and become a zombie. And that was it for me, out the door, up the stairs and screaming out the window for anyone, anyone to come and save me from the darkness which lurked within.


Similar to the Trash Heap Grotbags doesn’t appear all that menacing when viewed through the eyes of a relatively sane adult. But when viewed through the eyes of a child for whom life was just one big headfuck Grotbags was the ultimate fucker of heads. Part of an increasingly sinister crew of eighties children’s TV characters she was essentially a big, fat, green witch who bullied and harangued anyone who dared cross her. My memories of Grotbags are hazier than that of all my other childhood foes but a quick look at some of her videos on Youtube confirmed my worst beliefs. She still creates a morbid fear in my heart and a chill in my soul. I couldn’t move quick enough to stop the video and get out of there.


Just who was this fucker? At one point I was convinced he was a myth created by my Mother to get me to behave. But upon consulting my friends it turned out that they’d heard of him too. The bogeyman. Who was he? At different stages throughout my childhood I was convinced he was, among others, the coalman, an old man with one eye who lived in a tent, my next door neighbour, a strange tree dwelling hunchback who talked with a lisp, Ian Rush, a half monkey half bull creature who could climb up walls, my Uncle Fred (I don’t even have an uncle Fred!) and at one point I even wondered if I was in fact the bogeyman.

Whoever he was he was capable of quite extraordinary feats. He could exist in the wardrobes of at least a dozen children at any one time and no matter how hard you tried you could never see or hear him due to his ability to become invisible at any given time. His reputation preceded him and although I oft speculated about his true identity in a way I was glad I never found out who he was. Because of that I can continue the myth and subject my own, as yet unborn, children to a life of bogeyman related stories and tales.


I’ve saved the worst till last. Out of all my childhood foes he was the worst. I say ‘was’ as if I’m no longer scared of him but nothing could be further from the truth. I can’t even bring myself to look at a picture of him let alone watch a video so any research will be limited to exploring the hitherto locked parts of my brain in an attempt to dredge up some repressed childhood traumas. Where do you start with Gummidge? He was a scarecrow that came to life. Is that not scary enough? I’m not even a crow and already I’m petrified. The worst thing about him is that I can’t even fully be sure what it is that freaks me out about him. In the intervening years I’ve watched all manner of fucked up films containing images which by all rights should have left me back behind the couch like all those years ago. But no, I’ve serenely sat through them with barely a flicker of emotion from my increasingly desensitised mind. But even show me a picture of Gummidge and I come out in a cold sweat.

I think a lot of it is the voice. He sounds like a camp yokel on the wrong end of a spectacularly bad drug experience. Incessant blabbering on, all the time lisping like Chrith Eubankth in his pomp. Then there was the heads. I can’t recall how many heads he had or what they were even called but each one was worse than the last and offered little or no respite for this by now traumatised child.  He somehow managed to procure himself a girlfriend, Aunt Sally I think she was called, and she was just as freaky as he was. How the two children that accompanied them during their days didn’t end up in the mental home I’ll never know. Gummidge and this Sally character were probably eventually run from the town and forced to live out their days in some remote part of Yorkshire, where they spawned equally freaky children who could change heads, voices, and arses at will and intermittently visited the nearest village to frighten the life out of the local children. Bastards indeed.

So that’s them all accounted for I think. I’m not sure if this experience has proved therapeutic or not, I suppose the only way to find out is to spend the night re-engaging with my childhood tormentors and loosening their stranglehold over me. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem but if you think I’m even going near a Worzel Gummidge clip you can fuck right off.