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Growing up in the sixties Part Three. Its gone all stiff.. My rabbit, that is.

What did you think I was going to say? We had various pets in my childhood. I couldnt possibly remember all of them. Some stick in the mind, though. When I was very small, we had a dog called Nellie. I barely remember that dog, but I do have a clear picture of my Dad standing on the front doorstep whistling for it when it had done a disappearing act. The sound of that whistle I cant replicate here, but it is another one of my Dads idiosyncracies which I was to copy. To this day, when summoning a dog, I whistle that same strange warble I heard my Dad use to bring Nellie in. And again, its another example of how sound seems to stick more clearly in my memory than sights do. At some tender age I had a couple of rabbits. They were kept in a hutch in the back garden. Im guessing that the hutch construction may have been another sideline of good old Uncle Bobby from across the road. Anyway, I remember one morning coming out to feed the rabbits and one of them was lying in the hutch stiff as a board. It was my first glimpse of death and it was profoundly disturbing. My Dad told me that this stiffness happened to all animals when they died, including humans, and that unsavoury fact gave me nightmares for a week or so. I dont know what killed the rabbit, but its surviving mate was to succumb to the same fate shortly afterwards. I couldnt understand, Id been feeding them with Pedigree Chum, and it wasnt cheap, that stuff. A year or so down the line, my youngest sister Rachel became the proud possessor of a hamster. Ive always found them strange little fuckers, hamsters. Im not sure why people find them cute, they can have your hand off with them teeth if the mood takes them. The only use I can see for them is sticking a pencil up their arse then doing the washing-up. One morning Rachel reported to Dad that something was wrong with the hamster. He investigated and found it distinctly sluggish and semi-conscious. Obviously in the pangs of a slow and possibly agonising death. Concerned that it was suffering, Dad kindly took it into the backyard and drowned it in a bucket of water. Shortly afterwards he was to relate these strange soporiphic symptoms to a friend or colleague who was evidently more of a rodent expert than dear Dad. He was told not to worry about this strange hamster inertia, as they were creatures who hibernated in the wild, and at this time of year they would often succumb to a strange drowsiness which would wear off in a couple of days. Whoops. A bit late for old Hammie, who had already followed numerous goldfish down the great white portal to Heaven, wrapped in a bit of Andrex. The longest-serving childhood pet was Toots, who we adopted after the death of my maternal grandmother. She was a strangely ugly, black mongrel, but very sweetnatured, who was to outlive my reaching adulthood and leaving home. I wept when I heard shed gone. Whatever happened to wotsername? Some names of kids I remember from Junior School. People who didnt figure greatly in my life after that, didnt become part of the select few with whom I was to continue a relationship well into adult life.

Shirley Brown, she lived on Searby Road, round the corner from our house. The only reason I remember her at all is because of her sister Vicky, a year older than us. Vicky was an epileptic who once or twice provided us with some fine gladiatorial playground entertainment by having a full-blown fit for all to enjoy. Wed just crowd round watching her spasm and drool, while Carol Beacock, always the bossy one, would try to shoo us away and take charge. Feck knows what she was going to do, she was only the same age as us. Some tough kids would crack jokes about putting Vicky in the bath and throwing your washing in, until a teacher would arrive and wed all be chased off. All sounds rather callous now, I know, but hey, we were kids. Ricky Birrell, later known as Biz, who lived a few doors up from Shirley. His back garden bordered onto the back garden of the Stritchs, who I mentioned earlier. We used to look through the Stritchs fence in envy, Ricky was an only child and used to have all the latest and best toys that our parents couldnt afford. I have some cracking tales about him in our teenage years, when I eventally get there. In the late 80s though, the family was visited by tragedy but its not the time for that now. A strange gangly boy named Knocker. He arrived from down south somewhere and had a funny accent. He used to get picked on quite a lot. Its tempting to think its because he was an outsider but I do have a strong memory of him being a total arsehole who was always starting fights so he probably brought a lot of it on himself. Franky Hill, (see the picture of the Keans birthday party), quite a hard, rough lad with ginger hair. I remember him because he was jumping over a wall, hit his knee and, so we were told, knocked his kneecap halfway down his shin. He was off school for ages. John OConnell, he went to the same infants as me, though we hung around in different circles. Again, I only remember him because some daft twat threw a dart into his eyeball and he nearly lost an eye. Mark Holiday. He lived up on Kirkby Road just up from my Auntie Lyn. He was a latecomer to Scunthorpe, he came when we were at Juniors. The family were from somewhere in Yorkshire, all thees and thaas, and were, by our standards, rough as hell. He was always in bother at school, did things we wouldnt have dreamt of. I remember one lesson with this student teacher. Thinking back to it now, as a teacher, and as a teacher who only went into the game at 40 years old when I was tough and savvy, this poor young trainee was absolute shite when it came to controlling kids. And we, being kids, ruthlessly exploited that weakness. She had an inspector in, assessing her. We were all rowdy, but Mark Holiday behaved like a complete twat. We were 8 or 9. At the end of the lesson, this inspector bawled us all out, furious he was. Then he roared, And wheres this Mark? I shit a brick, but plucked up the courage to whimper, Which one, sir, theres two of us. Luckily he spotted the real culprit. He proceeded to deliver a blistering rant which would have had me leaking from at least three orifices but which merely produced a sneer of derision from Mark Holiday. I dont know how anyone can sneer that long, I mean this guy raged for about ten minutes. Mucho respect Mark, wherever you are, if youre still alive. Another time, Mark was playing with me and my sisters in our back yard, which was a large but bleakly concreted expanse fenced on three sides, giving way to the back door of the house, the back gate leading to the side garden, and the small brick building

containing my dads tool shed and an outside bog, which we never used, because it stank. I got sent up the garage for my dads baccy so was gone for about fifteen minutes. I got back home, went into the back yard to find it completely empty. Huh? Back in the kitchen, my mam was up to her elbows in washing-up water and if Id been older and wiser Id have recognised the expression on her face and her body language. Where is everyone? I asked innocently. My mam blew. Your mates bin sent ome, and your sisters are in bed! Why? I caught em in the outside toilet, showin bums and that! Showing bums and that! It still cracks me up after all these years! Mam had some wonderful ways of communicating things she was uncomfortable with. I remember once she was talking about some unknown female on the estate who, these days, would be referred to as a slapper. My mum said, She goes on the boats. And she pronounced boats in an old-fashioned Lincolnshire accent, buw-ats, another way she would often hide her discomfort. I remember not understanding what she was talking about, but sensing it wouldnt be a good idea to ask for more info, as with my curiosity about the purpose of the white cigar-shaped objects in the airing cupboard. It was years before I learnt she meant the woman in question would give her favours to the foreign sailors that were regularly docking at Gunness Wharf on the Trent, just a few miles out of town, by visiting them on their buw-ats. Going back to Mark Holiday and my sisters playing the old You show me yours, Ill show you mine game. Do you know, like I said, we all sometimes repress certain memories, but Im pretty sure that I never did that. No way anyone was ever gonna see my knob. Course, during games and P.E. at school, you sometimes had no choice. At secondary school, in particular, the teachers were absolutely adamant that everyone had a shower after games and, by God, did they enforce it. And these were big, open communal showers, not individual booths. There was absolutely no choice. Forgotten your towel? No worries, heres one! Get in there! And often, if youd shilly-shallied around hoping not to get caught, the hot water had gone off and you had to go into a freezing cold shower, much to the hilarity of your mates. This is another story that kids of today just refuse to believe. To them, the whole scenario smacks of child abuse. Good job I didnt tell them about Mr Anderson, whos catchphrase was You dont wash it like that, give it here! Sorry, lies slipping in again, another Gervais gag I couldnt resist. The aforementioned scenario was captured brilliantly in the film Kes, which is often shown to modern schoolkids. They have a dicky-fit of indignation and rage at the teachers treatment of the pupils, and refuse to believe that it really could be like that for our generation of schoolkids. They say things like If a teacher did that to me, Id go home, get a knife and stab the bastard! They mean it, anall. Paolo Gatti, Neil Donaldson, the Kean twins, Mark Dawson, Darryl Eddy, Stuart Graham, Ann Holland, Pamela Stead, Colin Clark, Mick and Col Stritch, Tony Campbell and many others. Too many to mention. All were to be around for many years to come.

But I havent quite finished with the junior school yet. Me and Stuart Graham had a strange affinity. He was a diabetic, which was quite serious in those days, and he had to have these daily injections. I remember his mum used to arrive at the school fence every playtime and give him some Fruit Gums to keep his sugar levels up. He always had a crowd of scrounging kids round him at this point, including me. Dont know why, I didnt even like the bloody things, they used to get stuck to the roof of my mouth. That reminds me of that old comedy routine about the babyish kid at school whose mum used to come and breast-feed him through the school railings. He wondered for years why he had these two vertical red lines down his forehead. We learned a bit of French, even in junior school, and me and Stuart used to swap amiable insults, calling each other things like morceau de merde (piece of shit). I cant for the life of me remember where we discovered the French for shit, cant have been in the school dictionary. Probably in Riddings Public Library, a haunt of ours from an early age. I certainly remember us using the big Oxford dictionary in there to look up words like fuck, bastard and vagina. Other illicit pleasures in the library were getting a glimpse at publications such as Private Eye, where there would often be racy cartoons. I remember me and Stuart howling over a cartoon of the Oxford Womens Boat Crew training on the river, with the caption In, out, in out, thats my life story! Oh, we understood that alright, it was a couple of years after my brutal sex lesson in the playground. Another even racier library sin was the Amateur Photographer where, every now and then, you would get a look at a pair of tits. Even better than the bra pages in the Grattans catalogue! And thats saying something. On the odd occasion youd get to glimpse a shadowy nipple in the Grattans lingerie section youd be thrown into a selffiddling frenzy for a fortnight. After the Airfix catalogue, the bra pages in our Mams mail-order catalogues were my and Neil Donaldsons favourite light reading. If anyone at the time had thought to balance them by the spine on the palm of their hand, they would have fallen open every time at the bra pages. Not the last two or three pages of this section, however. They were reserved for the older women, and showed formidable girdles that youd have needed a blowtorch to get into. Not that we young lads wanted to, we would occasionally glimpse at those last couple of pages, but it was with a shudder. Back in the library, mind, you learned never to hunker down with Amateur Photographer too near to closing time! Once youd limped towards that door watched by a glaring female librarian, trying vainly to hide the stiffy in your shorts, you never did it again. It wasnt all porn in the library, though. My love of fiction was nurtured there too. God, what a stupid statement. Like saying, my love of horses was nurtured at the stables. My love of mass-murder was nurtured at Auschwitz.. I discovered (in Riddings library) the books of E.W. Hildick, who wrote Louies Lot, about a tough old milkman and the kids who worked for him, and a whole set of books about Jim Starling and the Last Apple Gang, with members such as Nip Challons, who had asthma,

Goggles Grimshaw, a ginger kid whose specs were stuck together with stickingplaster, and Terry Todd, who didnt have a Mam and always wore an old leather flyinghelmet. They were a bit like the Famous Five but they were working-class kids, like me. I adored those books and, to my knowledge, none of my peers ever bothered with them. I also devoured every one of Hugh Loftings Dr Doolittle books. I adored the character of Polynesia the talking parrot. I remember being disappointed when my Dad took me to the pictures to see Rex Harrison in Dr. Dolittle. It was nothing like Id imagined in the books, but it never is. And then, in the movie, they kept breaking into song! Oh, for fucks sake! Ive always hated musicals. Its just an unworkable mixture for me. I watch a film to immerse myself in a story, to suspend my disbelief and escape to another world for an hour or so. How can I do that if they start bastard singing?! Yeah, cos, like, that often happens in the real world, dunnit? Musics for listening to, films are for watching, dont fuck about with them like that! Don Corleone (singing): I made him an o-ffer he caaant re-fuuuse! Movie mogul: Yeeees! He put a horses heaaaad, in my beeeed, and I fuuu-cking shit myseeeelf! Just doesnt work, does it? Theres only one musical ever pressed my buttons. Well, seeing as youre asking, The Blues Brothers. Havent seen it? Get it on DVD, now, its absolutely brilliant. We were smart for our age, me and Stuart Graham. Every year through juniors, your annual report would give a sort of league table, with your position in your class and your position in your year. Me and Stuart were in the same class, and every year for four years it was the same. Stuart came top of the class and top of the year. I was right behind him in 2nd place. Our parents must have been buzzing. Our mutual academic high-flying was to persist through secondary school. Life, though, has taught me it takes more than being smart to get on in life. Persistence, determination, ambition, stoicism, a plodding acceptance of the status quo. Just giving a shit, which I never have. And I lost contact with Stuart almost from when we left school, but Ive picked up enough snippets about his life to suspect that he may have found life the same, that he has had his difficulties. Its weird really. One of my as-yet unrealised targets is to catch up with Stuart one of these years, and swap life experiences. I suspect theyre spookily similar. More about Stuart later on, as we were to enjoy a particular, though not mutually exclusive, relationship, right through our secondary years. The school hall at Riddings Juniors. Now that sparks a few memories. Assemblies and hymn singing, which I surreptitiously enjoyed. One of my favourites was Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching As to War, for obvious reasons. It was a particularly laddish hymn, one you could belt out and imagine yourself going off to fight. Ironically enough, a dozen years later, I did just that. Well, sailed off. Wasnt as much fun as

singing about it though. I loved the Christmas Carol singing as well. All the old favourites. It wasnt anything particularly religious, it was just that we were still young enough for Christmas to be the most exciting part of the year, and the preparations and celebrations at school were a run-up to the big event. Again, that brings me back to T.V. Ive told my kids many times about what a huge thing it was to get the Christmas T.V. and Radio Times, the telly guide for the two weeks over Christmas and New Year. Youd see movies and comedy shows that werent on at any other time of the year. With the advances in technology, that thrill has been completely lost. No matter what type of programme youre into, you know that not sitting in front of the telly on the night doesnt mean youve missed it. You can record it on SkyPlus, watch it later on E4+1 or BBC3, catch it on the internet or just buy it on DVD. And thats great, I suppose, but its also kind of sad that theres a particular aspect of lifes little enjoyments that has gone forever. My two favourite Christmas movies at that time, indeed still huge favourites, were The Great Escape and Zulu. Both those films absolutely enthralled me as a boy. My favourite bit in the Great Escape is when Richard Attenborough and Gordon Jackson are getting on a tram, dressed as French civilians, and this Gestapo guy checks their papers. Theyve got away with it, theyre getting on the tram, when the German says, in English, And good luck.. Gordon, daft Scotch git, replies Och, thank you very much.. and thats that, theyre fucked. If Id been Dicky Attenborough, Id have kicked Gordons ginger balls up into his throat before the Krauts shot me. Every time I watch that scene, I want Gordon to spot the trap and not fall for it, but he does every time, dozy Frisp.

Zulu, mind, has too many favourite bits to mention, or this would turn into a film

review. It is one of the greatest British movies of all time, in my opinion. Ridley Scott pays tribute to it in the opening scenes of Gladiator, made 35 years later. Its A.D. 79, Germania, the Romans are about to fight this marauding horde of Kraut barbarians. The hairy enemy come out of the forest and start taunting the Romans. Ummf-wazi, ee-OH! Ummf-wazi, ee-OH! Thats exactly the same chant the Zulus use to taunt the Brits in Zulu! No shit, check it out yourself. Where would 1st century Germans get Zulu words from?! I cant believe thats a mistake. Its got to be Ridley Scotts tribute to Zulu. I hope so or hell be fuming when someone tells him. Back to the plot. Back to the hall at Riddings Junior School. There was a portrait of the queen on the wall, facing the windows. Once, I made up this brilliant fantasy about it and actually managed to convince other kids, scaring the shit out of some of them. I told them that I was sent into the hall to fetch something, and I happened to look up at this picture. Suddenly, I claimed, the queens eyes swivelled round and looked right at me! I remember one playtime I actually had a small crowd of kids at the windows, looking into the hall at this portrait, waiting for her eyes to swivel and look at us. I waited until their attention span was almost exhausted and then staged this dramatic faint onto the tarmac. God, what a drama queen I must have been. When Id pretended to let them revive me, I explained breathlessly that shed done it again, didnt any of them see her? By now Id managed to induce such juvenile hysteria in one or two that they swore blind that theyd seen her as well! For days me and er maj were the hot topic in the cloakrooms. I must have been a junior adherent to the old Oscar Wilde thing there is one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about Extras anyone? At dinnertimes I was a dinner monitor. There were eight of us around each table, and me and Angela Cox were the dinner monitors of our table. They would serve the food in large containers and it was the monitors job to divide it into eight portions and distribute it onto the plates. As you can imagine, the scope for power games and egomania was huge. After the distribution of the main portion, whatever was left had to be distributed in an equitable fashion. Normally, this involved asking who would like extras today. There was to be no clamouring, we were all quite disciplined, you just had to raise a finger to let the monitor know you would like extras. And normally we would take turns at being the one who got the extra roastie or slice of beef or turd of liver. There was this one girl, though, a little thing called Susan, younger than us, who raised her finger for extras with undignified speed and desperation every single day. She seemed to have no concept of taking turns. Angela and I would often lose patience with the greedy little madam and get quite cross with her. One day she actually had tears in her eyes because the extras went to someone else. But we, only being kids ourselves, had no sympathy, full of righteous indignation. I have no memory of this girl Susan after that. I cant recall her ever arriving at our

secondary school, she must have moved out of the catchment area or something. The memories of what I have just recounted resurfaced in my mind when I was about fifteen. I dont know what sparked them, but they came back. Being older and having more empathy by then, I convinced myself that poor little Susan must have been absolutely starving, probably didnt get fed properly at home. The cavalier way Angela and I used to treat her weighed heavily on my conscience, I felt terrible. And that guilt stayed with me for years, on the few occasions it popped back into my consciousness. By the mid 80s, by now an adult, Id convinced myself that it was one of those things, those regrets, that I would have to live with and take to my grave. But then, bugger me, around 1985 or 1986, I was in Tierneys shop in Ashby and I spotted this woman. Her face was familiar. I stared surreptitiously for a few moments, then it came to me. Could this be..? Scuse me, love. Did you used to go to Riddings Junior School? Yeh, why? Is your name Susan? Yeh, fancy you remembering that! Do I know you? Er, you probably dont remember me, but I used to go there as well, I was a couple of years ahead of you. And the conversation ended there. But I left the shop with years of guilt suddenly wiped clean. Because little old Susan was obviously no stranger to the chippy. She was a salad-dodger. That little finger that used to fly up with such alacrity at the mention of a bonus spud was fuckin wider than it was long. So you see, Angela and I werent being cruel all those years before. We were saving PorkChop from herself Its popular to say things like Urrggh, school dinners! but I loved them. Of course, we all had stuff we didnt like, or wouldnt even try. Going back to Infants for a moment, the dinner ladies there were unpitying harpies, they would actually stand over you and force you to clean your plate. Every now and then, for dessert, would be something called bilberry flan. Small, purple berries inside this slimy purple jelly, on a thin pastry crust. It genuinely didnt agree with me. The very smell made me nauseous. On more than one occasion I would be reduced to tears by a dinner lady that firmly announced I wasnt leaving the table until I ate my flan. But its half seven, Miss, Coronation Streets on. Only when I made a genuine effort to eat a little and theyd recoiled in horror from the unfakeable retching that this produced would I be let off. They probably thought Id spray myself with vomit necessitating another emergency change from the clothes ragbag, and Id never brought them girls knickers back The Kean twins would eat anything. I remember at Juniors occasionally getting stewing steak with fried onions. Onions was one of many foodstuffs I wouldnt touch as a kid. Dont ask me why, as an adult, I find fried onions orgasmic. Ill ave em! Chris Kean would announce, making off with a tottering forkful from my plate before hed even finished the sentence. Dirty bastard, I would mutter as he stuffed these caramelised strands of onion into his cakehole.

The Keans originally came from South Yorkshire, a place called Mexborough, their dad Joe used to be a miner. Evidently, mining communities were well-accustomed to frugality, to stretching out the food supply. For instance, right into our teens, I would sit for Sunday dinner at the Kean household and the traditional roast dinner would be accompanied with copious amounts of bread and butter, which theyd grab lustily and dip into their gravy. I would decline politely and watch with thinly-disguised horror. Bread and butter with Sunday dinner?! God, it was so common. Pies of various descriptions were always on the school dinner menu. And I loved all of them, mince in particular. Desserts I wasnt so keen on. To this day, I never bother with a sweet. Id rather fill up on savoury stuff than have a sweet. Many thousands of former kids will remember sago, or frog-spawn, which was like wallpaper paste. And semolina. I used to quite like that, actually, especially with a dollop of jam in the middle. But now and then the worst horror of all Liver. You know, those days when you were on Last Sitting in the dining-hall, so you could forget chips or anything decent, you had to make the best of what was left. But liver.Id just look at it and think, Fuck. OFF. Youre taking the piss, you cannot seriously believe anyone would consider eating that. There is not enough gold on the planet to tempt me to even think about - oh, forget it, the Keany twins have scoffed the lot I have an exotic palate, though I didnt have as a kid, but even today you would not get me to eat offal. Dont care what the top chefs say, what my Mam says, what any bastard says. Hello!!!?? Its an animals innards!! My mam had some disgusting eating habits when I was a kid, obvious throwbacks to her own generation. Shed get a whole cauliflower, boil it then smother it with cheese sauce, and eat it on its own. Just watching her made me want to barf. And, heuurrggh, dripping. Thats, like, pure saturated animal fat, it looked like, no, it was, the stuff youre supposed to clean out of the drip tray of your grill. It was pure creamy lard on the top and gritty brown bits at the bottom. My Mam would spread it on toast! But that wasnt the worst. Now and then, she would sit down with relish and polish off a wobbling mound of tripe!! Cows stomach lining, I think it is. It looked absolutely foul. Shed smother it in vinegar and scoff the lot. Surely thats child abuse, making a young boy witness that? Is it too late to sue, do you think? Cough. Probably the worst memory of the school hall at Riddings Juniors is the School Medical. We all knew it was coming, letters had gone out to parents, it was an established part of the yearly timetable. But rumours had surfaced, usually from smug older kids. It was rather like Schindlers List, the poor Jews talking in the barrack-room - They take you to this place, shave off all your hair, then tell you youre going to have a shower. Only for us lads, the rumours concerned your tail. Of course, they were only rumours, they just couldnt be true. But they were.

All of us lined up in the corridor, outside the hall. In our pants and vest, embarrassing enough already. What is it about adults that think that if kids are very small, they can have no shame or embarrassment? Christ, when I think about it, embarrassment was a major emotion of my childhood and teenage years. Maybe that fact has made me what I am now, and have been for years, a sort of backlash. Not giving a fuck saves you from all sorts of mental grief. But that medical. Oh God. Taken into the hall, one by one, in a sort of production line. Nurses doing all sorts of tests on you, then you came to one nurse in particular. Im just going to feel your tummy, okay, wont take a second A wrinkly old-lady hand straight down the front of your undies. God, we were so polite back then. I wish Id cried out, Thats not me fuckin tummy! Apparently, they were checking to see if our balls had dropped. Why didnt they just bloody ask? I wish Id known what was coming. Id have sneaked in a couple of pages from the old Grattans lingerie section. A quick shufti while in the queue, just before you got to the nurse. Ooh, nurse, isnt he pleased to see you! Mind, you know what nurses are like, seen it all. Probably wouldnt have batted an eyelid, maybe even given it a painful flick right on the end. Oooh! Sorry, I suspect adult fantasy is slipping into juvenile memory there.. There was another medical person who visited school regularly. We didnt like her. She was the Nit Nurse. Youd have to line up and let her drag this comb through your hair while she peered at your scalp looking for lice. Doing this a hundred times a day probably made her forget what the word gentle meant. And once, while in Mrs Humphreys class, it was discovered I had the dreaded dicks, as we called them back then. It was unclear whod started the epidemic, but half the class had them. I was in for days of torture. Exacerbating the nits problem was the fact that, just like the dentists, I hated going to the barbers when I was this age. I had to be dragged sulking up Manby Road Hill to get my hair cut once I started tripping over it. I dont know why I hated it so much. I think the main reason was that you got teased off your mates after a haircut Skinnnnead! which made you feel a complete prat. The barbers at the top shops was split into two on the right was the ladies hairdressers with all the hair-dryers and that awful smell of perm solution, on the left was the Gents Stylists. This was a fug of fag fumes, where blokes sat shamelessly looking at Mayfair, Penthouse or Men Only, talking about football (of which I knew zero) or discussing their wives/girlfriends in a manner which would provide both thrill and discomfort to a small boy. When it was my turn, my Mam or Dad would mutter their instructions to the barber, making sure I couldnt hear, while the barber would put a board across the arms of the huge chair, pat it lustily and breezily invite you to hop up. Youd perch on top of it, then hed put that smelly sheet round you.

Barbers were, to me, always grossly over-familiar and inappropriate with small boys. I remember the one at the top shops opening a conversation with me one day with the words, Cold, innit? I was too shy to respond verbally but just nodded hesitantly into the mirror. Well pull your vest down over it then! he said, then guffawed and all the blokes sat waiting joined in. I nearly died of embarrassment. My Dad was sometimes like that. On a Sunday night when I was small Id come out of the bath wrapped in a towel and get into my pyjamas in front of the sitting-room fire. The towel would come off, my vest would come on, and before my pyjama bottoms went on hed ask Whats that bit of string hanging from your vest? Oh, its your tail Ha bloody ha. So when I was discovered with nits, my hair was long and thick. This made the twicedaily explorations with a comb by my Mam excruciating. Shed have a white piece of paper on which she squashed the nits as she found them. It obviously wasnt the happiest of tasks to be painstakingly killing your childrens vermin, so Mam was never in the best of moods doing this. Me squirming like a salted slug in childish exasperation didnt help, and I got a few clouts round the head and invitations to keep pissin still! Thank God I only got them once. Doesnt talking about nits make your head itch? Go on, have a quick scratch..

Gypsies in Space. The Moon landings happened in 1969. I regret to say I dont remember much about it at the time. Regret because historical reverence now tells me I should have been aware of such a momentous event. I do have shadowy memories of the theme from 2001 Space Odyssey, Strausss Thus Spake Zarathustra, being played on the short news programmes about Apollo 11s progress. But men on the moon? At the time, hey, big

deal. But I was only eight. At that age, sci-fi and reality were blurred, so having already immersed myself in comics and movies describing Man moving amongst the stars, men walking on the Moon must have seemed a little anti-climactical. Apollo 13 was a different matter. I have clearer memories of that time, purely by virtue of being a little older. We didnt know the precise nature of the problem, but school made us aware there were astronauts in dire peril, and that we should be praying for them. We even made displays and had banners up in our classroom saying Come home safe, Apollo 13. This would be around 1970. At this time we werent in the previously mentioned hut classroom, we were inside the main school. I remember one other thing about that room. Once, we had to do this English comprehension. You know, where you read a text, and then have to answer questions on it, in your best handwriting. I remember the textbooks name, still, it was called New Worlds to Conquer. Well, this particular day, there was a question phrased something like Why were people afraid of gypsies? to which, after a careful rereading of the text, I wrote People were afraid of gypsies because they were believed to indulge in witchcraft. The teacher called me out the next day and said to me, This word, indulge, its not in the text, where did you get it from? Dont know, miss. She got quite exasperated. Well, you must have got it from somewhere! Well, der. Course I bloody did! Thats how we learn words, innit? I must have picked it up from some book Id read. She seemed to imply I was somehow cheating, cos I knew a fancy word! Is it his nerves? Change of subject. I come now to a major factor throughout the years I have been describing. I dont remember exactly when it began, but through most of the years I have been talking about, I was cursed with a terrible affliction. I had a twitch, a tic. That is, my face would contort itself into all sorts of weird rictuses and grimaces, for no apparent reason. It was really strange. In these modern, touchy-feely days, it is tempting to think of a poor child suffering under the ridicule that such an affliction brought. I never really gave a damn. The twitch was strangely seductive. It was always tempting to say - in fact Im sure I used to - that I couldnt help it, but that wasnt strictly true. The whole condition was more of an irresistible urge to pull my face into those positions, it was like having chickenpox, and knowing you shouldnt scratch, but it was such bliss you couldnt stop yourself. Anyway, this went on for most of my years at Junior School. It changed periodically, there were favourite twitches that I went through. I remember one in particular where I would stretch my neck, tilting my head backwards and up. I do remember some pisstaking from kids, but I dont recall it as being particularly malicious. And when I was teased, it only hurt in a dull sort of way, I cant recall it ever really getting to me. Im not saying I was this strong individual, I just seemed to brush it off, or blank it. I suppose that really, I knew that the nature of the affliction made me ripe for having the piss taken out of me, and there wasnt much I could do about it.

It used to drive adults mad, though. My mam, in particular, found it infuriating. Stop that bloody twitching! But I couldnt. It had too much of a grip on me back then. I remember a family wedding, on my Dads side, maybe it was when my Uncle Geoff, Dads youngest brother, got married, because my Grandma on my Dads side was there. There was some hidden history there, when I was young, my parents didnt get on with that side of the family, so this was a rare event. My Grandma came over to my Mam - right in front of me - and said, What is it with your Mark and this twitch, is it his nerves? Well, I didnt know at the time what nerves meant, but I do remember my Mam being quite vehement and declaring No, its just a bloody twitch! Strangely, I never resented my Mum for being so impatient about it. Even so young I was aware of how infuriating it must have been, and now of course Im old enough to realise there must have been a fair amount of worry in there as well. Another quaint old-fashioned phrase I remember someone applying to me back then was highlystrung. Wonderful. I cant recall my Dad ever having a go about my twitch, but my Granny on my Mams side would occasionally show her frustration. She never said anything, but if I was at her house, I would sometimes catch her watching me in the middle of a particularly furious twitch and, when our eyes met, she would twitch right back at me. There would be no expression of humour or disapproval, she would just mimic the exact same thing back at me. I would smile sheepishly and lower my eyes, because I knew exactly what she was saying. This twitch eventually disappeared in my early years at secondary school. Before it did, though, I added an even more infuriating aspect to my weird repertoire. The facial tics graduated to strange noises. It became increasingly irresistible to make noises a bit like clearing your throat. My Mam had this word for it, Ive never heard this word from anyone else in my life, did she make it up? Will you stop bloody pefflin! Peffling? Where the bloody hell did that word come from, Mam? But, God, I must have driven her mad. Ive had many years to reflect on this subject which, as I said, to many would be a painful one. But Im quite sanguine about it, and always have been. Only a few years ago, I was involved in some family therapy, regarding problems with my daughter. Part of this was exploring my own childhood. When I shared this story, the psychologist told me that back then I was actually suffering a mild form of Tourettes Syndrome. I was gutted to learn this. Not for the reasons you would imagine, but because if Id known this, I would have made the most of it. Thats that sweary disease!

Imagine having this condition that allowed you to suddenly shout out FUCKINWANKSPUNKBISCUIT in the middle of Assembly and get away with it. That would have been mental.. What dyer think of that Kayoggs, eh? You and your split her difference! Beat that bastard! You nobfaced rancid-breath faggot lump of cocksnot! Sorry, its my condition, put that rounders bat down, Ive got a medical certificate. Ive learned now that this twitch never really went away. I never made a conscious decision to combat or conquer it, but I realise that I subconsciously transferred it to less obvious activities. For example, there was a while in my teenage years when I was constantly tossing a pen up and down. Its like this constant urge for some sort of activity. To this day, I always have my toes twitching inside my shoes. God, if Id transferred this tendency to sport, Id be a feckin Olympic Gold Medallist. Even approaching middle age, though, that seductive urge is still with me. I cant touch chewing gum, for example, (not that I want to, foul muck) for all that chewing just brings back that old urge and Ill be twitching away like a good un. Even writing about it right now there are certain facial muscles that are screaming at me, and I cant help but heed one or two of them and let em have their way. Reflecting on this subject, something has just become apparent that I hadnt truly realised before. Twenty-five years ago, when I was in the Royal Navy, I learned the Morse code. I spent a short while at the CommCen, the communications centre, at Fort Southwick near Portsmouth. We used to talk to the ships with morse code. One regular bit of chat was the morse version of This is Fort Southwick, we are reading you loud and clear. I wont bore you with the morse, but in shorthand it was DE MTN MTN, ZBZ 5, ZBZ 5 KK. That sequence of dots and dashes became so embedded in me that, even now, I often find myself tapping my foot, or patting my thigh, with this morse pattern. Its sort of comforting, I dont know how else to explain it. I realise now, having talked about my twitch, that this is a version of the same compulsion. Thats what I mean when I say that it has never really left me. And whether its his nerves, I dont know. What I do know is, that its an integral part of me that has lasted right from that 7 year old boy and will probably be there, in some form or other, until the day I die. Its only two weeks since I wrote the above. How the cogs of coincidence grind. Earlier this week I went for my usual fag break with a woman I work with at the school called June. What? No, the schools not called June, the woman is, dozey ole. Anyroad, I suddenly noticed this underlying noise and realized she was peffling, making the exact same sounds in her throat as I used to! Never, ever, in my whole life have I heard any other human being do that. And me, Joe the Diplomat as they call me down the Tact For Beginners class, was so delighted I just came out with it. God, youve got a peffle! Damn, Microsoft Word just changed peffle to piffle. Peffle, you dozy bastard thing! What do you mean, theres no such word in your database? Its ere, page 87, peffle: vb, transitive, (Carol Watkins, 1974), to produce noises in the throat that gives adults

the urge to beat you to death with a Littlewoods catalogue. June looked at me in a puzzled way. I had to explain what a peffle was. She seemed a little embarrassed so I, suddenly noticing the taste of toenails, apologized and explained why I mentioned it. Ive always had it, said June, Its me nerves. Yet, like me, June does not seem a nervous person at all. Ive seen her with the kids, and she takes no shit off them at all. Its weird. Phew. That was a bit heavy really, I suppose. Anyway, onwards and upwards. Once, during our time at Riddings Juniors, me and Neil decided we were going to run away. There was no dissatisfaction or homelife trauma around, it was just an adventure that two childish boys decided upon. We packed a bag with daft stuff like crisps, pop and, I remember, this little plastic bow and arrow with plastic cowboys to shoot at. At hometime, instead of going home, we set off on our great adventure. We walked for probably just under an hour. Both of us very quickly had second thoughts. I remember wanting to suggest we call it off and go home but didnt want to appear the wuss. I suspect Neil was having a similar struggle. Anyway, as we walked down Moorwell Road, just approaching the Dolphin pub (quite a long way from home for two boys our age) we hit upon the perfect excuse to call the whole thing off. We remembered that Scooby Doo was on the telly. We both agreed that, because of this, wed run away another time. No modern kid has ever believed this, but I used to find Scooby Doo quite scary. That bit at the beginning, where that ghostly hand comes out of the wall and just misses Shaggy. Id give a little shiver and an anxious glance to the ceiling, wondering whether anyone was in the bog. I finally approached my house, probably by now a couple of hours late. My Dad was still at work, and I saw Ron Stritch standing at our gate. Where the ell ave yer been? Your Mams frantic in there! And she was. Tears, the works. Arent kids thoughtless! It had never occurred for a moment, to either of us, just what our mums reactions would be when we didnt turn up home from school! Wed already concocted a cover story, that I had lost one of my plimsolls in the changing room and wed stayed back to find it. Didnt try that particular adventure again. And I missed bastard Scooby Doo. My Mum thought she had it bad Bright lights, Big City. In my last year at the Junior school, we went on a trip to London. It was for three days. I have no memory at all of where we stayed. We went to the theatre one night, it was fantastic. We saw Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. It was brilliant! I remember how we were convinced the character of Pharaoh was Elvis Presley. It was a seventies Elvis, with the high collar and the sunglasses and the sideburns. Of course it wasnt him, Elvis had never even entered the building, let alone just left it, but we gullible ten year olds were convinced. We were buzzing at having seen The King.

Old Elvis. Hes had a lot of piss taken out of him over the years. I was never a big fan personally, but there was this school trip, a week in Northumberland, when I was 13, that cemented him in my heart forever. Tape cassette players had been out a couple of years and one kid on the coach had one. She had this double cassette, Elvis 40 Golden Greats, which was blasting out all week. Its now become the theme tune for the whole memory of that school trip. Heartbreak Hotel, My Teddy Bear, King Creole, Jailhouse Rock, Wooden Heart. Of course, Elvis died a year after our trip. Dont blame us! Just a coincidence! The only impact it really had on us teenagers was our marvelling at the fact that he was said to have died on the shithouse, while eating a hamburger. We didnt know whether to be impressed or disgusted. Must have been a bit embarrassing arriving at the Pearly Gates, holding a quarterpounder with drawers round your ankles and clinkers in your crack. I wonder if St. Pete proffered him a bit of bog roll. Thanguverymuch. I think I was also in love during that school trip, with this lass called Beverley F, so the combination of that and old Snakehips Presley is a double whammy in the memory stakes. Neil Donaldson had a bird on that trip as well, I seem to remember, a curvy blonde called Patricia. The two of us always seemed to pull in foursomes. Guess who got the tug! Of course, by then, that innocence of pre-puberty was fading fast and I remember racing Neil Donaldson to being the first one who got allowed to fondle a tit. Only on the outside of the jumper, of course! We werent animals. But our technique was shit. We seemed to think that blind stubborn-ness and persistence would pay off just get her snogging, slide hand towards tit, she grabs it and moves it away, you try again, and so on, and so forth. God, I wish I could go back to that gawky horny adolescent with my forty-six year-old silver tongue in my head. Id have got Beverley Fs knockers out in no time! Not sure what Ive have done with em then, mind. We used to have this joke about twiddling nipples, saying Calling Tokyo, Calling Tokyo. Why Tokyo, for Gods sake? But Id have been stumped if Id got that far. The dirty mag I found around then in the big bins round the back of Willoughby Road shops had had three pages stuck together with some mysterious substance, so the highly informative article Id been reading about sexual technique was half-missing. Im starting to realize, writing all this, just how much nothing has changed. Even I have joined in the conversations about how, eeh, the kids of today seem to be into sex much younger that we were. Revisiting my own memories, I realize we were just the bloody same, maybe just perhaps a little less in-your-face about it. God, I was a horny little bleeder from about eleven. But, unlike today, it was a rare lass who actually let you do anything. I certainly never found one. Teenage pregnancies were completely unheard of in 1970s Scunthorpe, to us kids anyway. During the summer holidays between leaving junior school and starting Big School, so wed be eleven, me and Neil got off with these two lasses called Angela and Kim. I wont say their surnames, it wouldnt be fair. (It was Johnson and Rooney). Kim was only our age, a skinny little pre-pubescent eleven year-old kid. But Angela was twelve, and had already sprouted satisfactorily in many of the right places. Yeah, youve guessed it, bastard Donaldson pulled the one with the tits.

Anyway, one time, in Angelas kitchen, after the best our persuasive techniques had to offer (Ill give you a Toffo), the girls agreed to give us a quick flash of the old tits. They counted to three and whoosh, up flashed the tops for about half a second and down again. Well, you dont say owt, do yer? It was one of my early tastes of ones sweaty foot in ones gob. I blame my Mam and Dad. They must have been letting me watch unsuitable T.V. because I cant think where else I picked up that phrase two fried eggs. Eeh, the way Kim blubbed, youd think Id slapped her. Luckily Neil wasnt on the ball enough to get sympathy points off the girls by joining in the ooh Mark, yer rotten bastards, he just pissed himself laughing and got in bother off the lasses as well. With a certain satisfaction I thought how he wouldnt get another glimpse at Angelas puppies for quite a while. Puppies. You remember that, surely. Eh, darlin, if youre selling them pups Ill ave the one with the pink nose Anyroad, back to the junior-school trip to London. We also went to Heathrow Airport. Wow! Id never seen a plane up close before and those jets were huge. We stood on the roof of this building and watched them landing and taking off. Again, it seems nave in these days of plentiful holidays abroad and air travel, but it was a major thing for a ten year-old to stand there watching these immense shining machines scream up and down and into the sky only yards from you. The sheer noise of those engines! This was a childish thrill that was to stay with me. Years later, when I did a stint on HMS Invincible, an aircraft carrier, I would spend many a happy off-duty hour at sea just standing on the Goofers Platform with my camera, watching the Harrier jets take off and land. The scream of those jet engines, you didnt hear it, you felt it, in your bones, it was primeval. But that first time, at Heathrow, was amazing. You never saw airliners flying over Scunthorpe in the 70s. Shit, I dont even know if you do now. The biggest hi-tech excitement we had back then was watching the Dustbinmen. I remember a certain juvenile mass excitement when the bin men came. Dont ask me why. There were these neighbours of my Auntie Lynns. They used to remind me a bit of those blokes that work the waltzers at the fair. No, I wont say the G word, but you know what I mean. One of their clan, Dennis, was a dustbinman. Like many people in my memories, I can nearly see him, but not quite. I do remember his big, bushy sideburns, 60s style. I loved to watch when he and his mates came grunting and swearing and tipping the bins into the back of the dustbin lorry, emitting this aura of cool. The way they confidently climbed up the back of the wagon and gave it two lusty thumps to signal the driver to roar away to the next drop off, while they casually hung on, sort of standing at the back. Wow. Those were men. And again, look at the changes over the years, I could Meldrew about that all bastard day. First it was bin bags instead of dustbins, then all of a sudden you could only put them out on a certain day, then it was the bloody wheelie bin, then it was different colour bags for different types of rubbish. Mad! And threats of fines if you broke the rules! All this from councils that rip more money out of you every year for less and less bastard service. Ooh, I swear down, theres a vein throbbin in me forehead..

Oh yeah. I swear down. Another wonderful Teesside term. Why you should swear down instead of up or sideways I dont know, but you swear down, usually on our Mams Life.. At work, in school, kids love to take the piss out of teachers who they suspect are trying to get down with the kids, so sometimes I deliberately get this phrase wrong, so they can rip me, declaring Ooh, I square down on our Mams knife! They laugh in delight at what a dickhead Sir is. Inside, I laugh in delight at what gullible little psychos they are Meanwhile, back at London Airport in 1971, 72. We went in the Gift Shop. Me and Neil Donaldson spent the majority of our spending money here. We both bought the huge, 1:24 scale Airfix Spitfire at the gift shop. Three quid! (Its over thirty quid now). Of course, by now, the New Decimal Currency had been introduced. We were collectively taught complicated arithmetical procedures to convert old money into new. Of course, adults found it harder to adapt than we kids. For myself, from day one, I always took the premise that a shilling was five new pence, and took the rest from there. The old coins disappeared. Bob bits a shilling Two-bob bits, a tanner sixpence thrupenny bits, all were consigned to history. There were other coins that had already passed into oblivion. I vaguely remember a farthing, a crown and a florin, though I couldnt convert the latter two to modern currency. Strangely enough, there are some curious throwbacks to the old currency. Even todays kids refer to fifty pence as ten bob. Back at London airport, the teachers were not impressed when Neil and I climbed on the bus with the huge box containing the Airfix Spitfire under our arms, but we werent bothered, we were in hogs heaven. At the time we were both fanatically into our Airfix models and soldiers. We would spend hours poring over the Airfix catalogue. I can honestly claim that back then, our WW1 and WW2 aircraft recognition skills were superb! If wed been alive during the war, me and Neil would have been brill in the Observer Corps! Ah yes, thats a Do 172 Arado Sea Plane. Are you sure? Oh, yes. Those tapered dorsal ailerons are unmistakeable. Those, and the huge bloody floats instead of wheels, sort of gives it away really. Der.. Whats it doing over Burringham Road then? Wheres it gonna land? Even Riddings Baths wont be built for another 35 bastard years! Its, er, obviously escorting that Japanese 1:144 scale Yamato Class Battleship that took a wrong turn at Keadby Bridge. Airfix geeks would, of course, spot the deliberate error in that dialogue Airfix never made a 1:144 scale Japanese battleship, it was Tamiya. Christ, what is this, a pub quiz? But the pair of us would spend hours with our Airfix models. I remember the Keany twins had this unmade Airfix model at their house for years. It was one of the expensive ones, series 5 or 6, of a First World War bomber called a Handley Page. As far as I know, that kit never did get made, and I lusted after it right into our teens. Chris and Andy werent really into Airfix, they were into toy cars. They had these two big suitcases full of Dinky and Corgi toys. Every time a new one came out, their parents would buy it. They didnt play with them much, they kept them as collectors items,

still in their boxes. Obviously they had a psychics forward-looking eye to E-Bay or Cash in the Attic. They had several different James Bond cars. The best was the Aston Martin, with the ejector seat and the little plastic baddie holding a gun on James who, when you pressed a button down near the car wheel, the poor bastard would be hurled screaming through a trapdoor in the car roof, ding off the light bulb and disappear somewhere under the setee, never to be seen again. I could never work out how 007 would be able to press this button, it being right down on the outside of the car. Hed have to wind his window down, reach right down outside, realise he was still nowhere near, climb half out of the window, while he was still driving, and sort of hang out with only his legs left in the car. That ejector-seat control was obviously never run past Health and Safety. And what would James have said to the villain holding a gun on him? Er, I notished a shmear of mud down near the wheel. I hate to see my Ashton Martin dirty. Do you mind if I jusht climb halfway out the car and wipe it off? No probleme, Mistair Bond. I will old ze steering-wheel for you Careful, you nearly fell all the way out then.. Ave you got it? C-lick.. Aaahhhhhh!! But now that Miscellaneous Villain No.1 has shot through the roof, yodelling in a Johhny-Foreigner cowardly fashion, no bastards holding the steering-wheel! Bonds left hanging upside down outside the car, with a precarious knee-grip on the leather upholstery and a nose two inches from tarmac whizzing past at ninety miles an hour. And I thought Q, who designs all his gear, was supposed to be a fucking genius! The Keanys also had the car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, where you pressed a button and the wings slid out. I loved this because it had detailed figures of Caractacus Potts, Truly Scrumptious and the kids in it. Mind, after watching the film and nearly barfing at the sickliness of it, Id have put Ms Scrumptious in the Aston Martins ejector seat. And Id have superglued her tongue to the dashboard first so when I performed the necessary gymnastics to send her flying through the roof shed have never again been able to sing about how Truly pissin Scrumptious she was.

Those were just two examples, the Keans had loads and loads of these toys. Theyre worth a fortune today! I remember asking Chris years later whatever happened to their Dinky collection and he told me that successive foster-children under his parents care had played with, broken and scattered them. He seemed so angry I lost the courage to ask whether he still had the Airfix bomber, and whether I could have it. Dentists are your friend. Even from an early age, I remember my treat for going to the dentists like a dumb lamb to the slaughter (rather than kicking, screaming and swearing my way to the nearest exit, which was always my instinct) was a box of Airfix soldiers. Oh, yeah, dentists. God, did I hate the dentist. I have always been, inflicted as I am with Ossius Lethargicus, somewhat of a sluggard on the old brush-your-teeth front anyway, and in my junior years this often resulted in tooth decay. My Dad didnt help. He was an advocate of Fire-Brigade Dentistry, which meant you only went to the dentist if you had toothache. Guess thats why he went in and had his entire top teeth removed once and was fitted with false teeth. I didnt have a filling, though, until I was an adult. When I was a kid, you got tooth decay, which for some reason I remember getting quite a lot of, they just yanked the rotten bastard out. You got this foul-smelling, hissing rubber mask over your face, told to count to ten, and out you went. When you were slapped awake minutes later, you had a big bleeding hole in your gob and your underpants were on back to front.

Once, after such an extraction, Id asked for a Vesta Curry as my dentists treat. Big mistake. Once you get a fat grain of Patna rice in the bleeding hole left by the pulled tooth, which feels more like a diamond drill-bit burrowing into your jaw, you dont do that again. Eeh, Vesta currys. They were my, and possibly my mams, first forays into exotic foreign grub. I laugh now at giving that insipid, dried, chemical glop the word exotic, but it was, back then. And it was my first step along the road to a lifelong adoration of curry. Youd get a packet of rice and a smaller sachet with the sauce powder, dried veg and dried meat. God knows what part of the chicken these reconstituted chunks of meat were from. Lips, teeth and Bishops Bell-end probably. You had to be careful with this mixture. You had to bring it to the boil slowly, stirring it as it thickened up, or you got this gungy shite stuck to the bottom of the pan. With the Vesta Chow Mein, you got these flat, rectangular noodles which you bunged in the chip pan, whereupon theyd instantly puff up into golden, crispy delight. My Mam would serve it all up with a good healthy dollop of chips. In my late teens and early twenties, Id often buy a Serves two Vesta and scoff the lot myself. Gorgeous. You can still get Vestas, Ive seen them in Morrisons. I couldnt go back there now, though, my palate has become too educated. Leave the Vesta to the proles, I say. Being a teacher, Im middle-class now, so I only eat Pot Noodle. I havent forgotten Im still talking about the junior school trip to London, but I havent finished with the dentist yet. That medieval torture we used to go through has become much more refined these days. Now, its all dental hygienists and flossing. Flossing. I cant understand how anyone would voluntarily undergo such a methodical, selfinflicted torture. I mean, if your G.P. advised you to encourage healthier bowel movements by inserting the rusty end of a wire-coat hangar into your brown starfish and scraping your colon, would yer? The dentists is the scene of one of those traumatic memories which stay with you forever. Our family dentist when I was a kid was someone called Dobbs. I think it was up on Frodingham Road in Scunthorpe. We once went there for a multi-purpose visit, my Mam and us kids were getting done all at once. Well, I was only little. Smelling that awful disinfectant stuff, eyeing the shit magazines on the coffee table, knowing that the torture chamber was just next door, waiting for you. My mam had been in and had something done, a tooth out or a filling or a hysterectomy, I dont know. Shed had the gas, but had been revived and was fine. Hah! Were sitting on these straight-backed chairs against the waiting-room wall. There was my mam in the middle, with me and my dad either side of her. Little boy Mark looks up curiously at mummy when her head suddenly lolls back, so shes staring glassy-eyed at the ceiling, and this death-rattle starts coming out of her gob! I clearly recall the absolute terror of that moment. My Dad rushed and fetched the nurse/receptionist. She took one look at my Mam, still with her head back and doing the best fucking audition for The Exorcist Ive ever seen, and ran out, shouting Mr Dobbs, Mr Dobbs! And I dont think in all that time I moved a muscle.

Turned out Mum was allergic to the gas. You must never have the gas again, pronounced Mr. Dobbs. Whoo, no shit Dobbsy! Thank God youve been to dentist school!. I would have gone and blasted her with the old gas again, JUST SO I COULD FUCKING SHIT MYSELF!!! Sorry, got a little dentist-hatred thing going on there. Its just that dentists are part of the great conspiracy. Oh, paranoia, huh? Let me tell you this: Saddam Hussein had a dentist, Adolf Hitler used to wear a brace, Margaret Thatcher had the home phone number of her orthodontist and The Yorkshire Ripper had two root canal treatments during the long hot summer of 1976! Whos paranoid now!!! Anyway, that long-lost day back at Dobbs Dentist, there was only one thing preoccupying my mind before Mam decided to try her Lets pretend to die gruesomely in front of my infant children routine (brackets, thatll be good for a laugh close brackets). And that was, which particular box of Airfix figures would I choose when I was presented with my reward for not screaming the building down. I remember on that particular occasion Id decided to hunt down the American Civil War Union Artillery set. Neil Donaldson already had these, and they were great! You got 3 or 4 actual artillery pieces, in four parts, carriage, barrel and two wheels (god this sounds geeky, who the fuck would be interested in this?) You got the crews to man these guns but, then, the piece of resistance, as the Frogs say, you got an ammo limber, with horses pulling it, guys sat atop, and you could link one of the cannon onto it. Aww, better than sex! (We were ten) Me and Neil loved these Airfix figures, right into our late teens. We both agreed that there was no greater pleasure than opening a spanking new box of Airfix figures, sliding out the sprue of plastic that held the figures and closely examining what youd got before carefully detaching them. We both loved what we called deadies. Not every set of Airfix figures had them. They were tiny poor bastards whod already cashed their chips in the miniature battles you would stage with them. Corpses, or guys in the very act of becoming corpses, like the poor sod in that famous picture of Capras from the Spanish Civil War. But there was no such sentimentality in the heads of young boys. Yes! Look at that, hes got an arrow right in the face! I remember the Airfix Romans figures, there was this ace dead legionary laid on his back, his sword outstretched above his head, his shield lying on him, with a Barbarian arrow sticking from his side. And, one more, the guy from the U.S. Cavalry set, whose horse had been shot, so you got this dead horse, on this wide stand, with the cavalryman to sit behind the horse, aiming his carbine. Brill!! I happen to know Donaldson still has many of his figures, probably stashed in his attic. The one thing I had above Neil, given that he always pulled the best bird in any given twosome, is that I was ace at painting these little Airfix soldiers and he was shit. Scant comfort in the swings and roundabouts stakes, mind.

The Airfix 1:24 scale Spitfire the one me and Neil spent most of our money on at London airport - was the hugest and most expensive model kit Id ever had. My dad helped me make this model up. Im being kind there, it was hell just to prise the tube of glue out of his fingers. He declared it was too good a kit to let me fuck up. (Although he didnt use the eff word. He never did when we were kids. I never heard him use that word until I was fifteen. It was the school holidays and Dad took me for a bit of impromptu work-experience at Jellineks, the Polish builder he used to drive a lorry for. He took me with him early one morning to the builders yard, where the lads hung about waiting to go out on jobs. I was lounging against this lorry, amongst all these guys, when my Dad sidled over and in a friendly undertone advised me to Get your fuckin hands out your pockets. Ive known for years where he was coming from, he was imparting some valuable adult knowledge, of the workplace, how you didnt lounge around in front of foremen, of how blokes talk when the women arent around, etc, but at the time it happened, I didnt get that. Because Id never heard him swear, I thought he was really furious with me. He couldnt have shocked me more if hed kicked me in the balls.) This anecdote brings another example of my Dads sometimes curious tact to mind. Ive already mentioned an old schoolmate called Ricky Birrell Biz, he became at secondary school. Around 1987, Biz very sadly took his own life by starting his car engine in the garage and gassing himself. I knew nothing of this until I got a phone call off my Dad. His first sentence was: You knew Ricky Birrell, didnt you? Knew. Past tense. I remember that so clearly because I knew immediately from his words that Biz was dead. But I digress.. Id better shut up about Airfix models or Ill never stop.

The family forest. I will flit, at this point, as it was vaguely contemporaneous (oh, look it up) back to family life. Some memories of extended family. I had several aunties and uncles, on both sides of the family. At this time, though, those on my Dads side were almost strangers. On my mums side, though, was my Auntie Lynn, my Auntie Ann and Auntie Janet. All three had children, my cousins, but I only really knew my cousins Mandy and Debbie (a year either side of me in age), little cousin Craig (all my Auntie Lynns kids) and Janets kids Julie and Jamie, much younger than me. There was also the baby of my Mams family, Uncle Andrew, who was only seven years my senior. Auntie Janet was married to my uncle John, Wilcox. He was from Lincoln. I vaguely remember him as a bit of a prat, though I suspect I picked that up from the adults. He owned this Gents clothes shop, a boutique as they called them in the 70s, called The Baron. Im not certain, but I suspect my parents thought John was a bit of a knob, and perhaps werent too discreet about it. He and my auntie Janet eventually split up, they were divorced when I was still at school. One of those silly little memories here. Janet and John must have been similar to my parents, in that they were un-self conscious when it came to your children seeing you naked. I say this because I remember giggling immensely when cousin Julie, only a toddler, was laughing about seeing her Daddys chicken. I remember it made the adults laugh as well. God, I bet shed blush if I reminded her of that now. On the subject of parental nakedness, being a lifelong windy-arse bugger, I liked to have my bedroom door ajar at night, so the landing-light shone in. Ive lost count of the times in my childhood when Ive turned over cringing as Id just seen my Mam or Dad walk bollock-naked to the bog. I guess Im a little more prudish than they were. As a parent myself, I didnt mind being naked when my kids were tiny, Id go in the bath with them, for example, but theyve not seen me in the buff since they were toddlers. Mind, even these days, being a hater of pyjamas, slippers or any such garments specifically designed for evening relaxing, I slob around at home in my raggy boxer shorts. Sprawled thus on the setee watching telly, this sometimes prompts a verbal warning from my daughter or son: Er, Dad. Scrotum! to which I hurriedly rearrange stuff.. (Yeah, actually, why do balls get danglier as you get older? If I reach eighty Ill be tucking the old knackersac in my sock.) Auntie Lynn was married to my Uncle Dave. He was from Belfast. Though he's longdead, I can still hear his voice, as well as that of his mother, who came regularly over from Belfast to visit. She liked to be known to all as Mum, and what a kind old biddy she was. I adored their accent. It was a welcome, much fruitier and friendlier melody than the only Celtic alternative we had in Scunthorpe in those days, that of the Glaswegian proletariat. (Theres Working-Class and theres Working-Class. A fact which only really sunk in when I became acquainted with Teesside some quarter of a century ago). Uncle Dave died suddenly when I was still at junior school. Me and my sisters came home from school one day to be greeted by our neighbour Pat (the one mentioned at the beginning, who helped deliver me). We were taken over to her house where we were

told our parents had had to rush off as our uncle Dave had died. He was only 32, I believe. Hed just finished a double-shift at the steelworks when he collapsed with a sudden and massive heart attack. It was one of those defects some people have which are never detected until the day they kill you. Personally, as a small child, Daves sudden death didnt impact that much on me, we werent particularly close. Children, of course, think theyll live forever, but writing about it now at age 46 (14 more years than my Uncle Dave managed), that phenomenon of suddenly cashing ones chips, out of the blue, is ultimately more sobering. About a year after Daves death, Auntie Lynn and my cousins Mandy, Debbie and Craig travelled over to Belfast for a stay with the family there. This was to lead to one of my most memorable childhood adventures. My Dad had agreed to pick them up from the Belfast ferry on their return, to drive them back to Scunthorpe. And I was allowed to go with him! We drove through the night to a place called Heysham Head, near Morecambe. I used to love being in the car at night. The black road, lit up by the cats-eyes, the way the road signs would light up in the headlamps and then disappear into blackness. And on this occasion, given there was only the pair of us, I was allowed to sit in the front seat a major delight for a small boy. It was still before dawn when we arrived and settled down to wait at these docks. The atmosphere of that wait has always stayed with me. The cold, crisp air of pre-dawn, the distant sound of traffic, a muted hum all around from various parts of machinery on the docks, the far-off hoots from ships out at sea. To someone so young, it was as if there was no-one else awake in the world except me and my Dad, the emotional impact of which was raw excitement and wonder. The main event, the actual arrival of the ferry bearing my relatives, I cant remember at all! Stay tuned for Part Four, folks.. Copyright: Mark Watkins, 2008