Back In The Day: Part One
The news broadcaster said it was August 8th, when I came downstairs at my grandparent’s house for breakfast. The year was 1988. I often stayed with them at weekends, and sometimes during weekdays when we were at school. I lived just around the corner with my divorced mum and two elder sisters. To be honest I couldn’t bear living with three women. I much preferred the company of my grandparents over theirs.
My Nan was stood at the cooker, knocking up one of her famous heart attack breakfasts. There she was with rollers in her hair, a fag dangling from one corner of her mouth, wearing a floral pinny; jigging about, and trying to sing-along to ‘The Only Way is Up’ by Yazz and the Plastic Population. I’ll never forget it, or her.
I was thirteen. A mushroom of brown hair adorned my head. I was as lean as a racing snake, and fit as a fiddle with it. I spent all my free time playing football, running, or cycling.
On the occasions when we were stuck inside because of the typical British weather, I would spend my time playing board games, chess and draughts mostly, or cards. More often than not though I’d be reading. By the time I was ten, I had probably read a lot of books that most kids my age wouldn’t attempt to read. But I loved it. I loved becoming so engrossed in a book that you lost yourself as well losing track of time. I could quite easily and often did, sit there all day and read a whole book. Tolkien and Stephen King were amongst my favourites.
We had a pot of tea, and then I popped to Shaws, the local shop, for the morning papers. It was actually called Lo-Cost now, and had been for five years, but everyone still knew it as, and always would, call it Shaws. As usual I got to keep the change and spent it on a mixture of mojos, black jacks, and fruit salads. My granddad and I read the papers, and then we sat watching the kids Saturday morning TV. Sometimes I’d help my Nan with the weekly shop, knowing full well I could cram as many goodies in the trolley as I liked, and she wouldn’t bat an eyelid! But not today. I had other plans.
My grandparents had a lovely dog called Elsa, an Alsatian crossed with a Labrador. She was very friendly towards everyone, and everyone loved her back.
She was sat with me on the settee when she shot up, raking her claws across my thigh, leaving me in agony. Someone was coming. Moments later, I could see the silhouette of my best mate Smithy, through the small kitchen window that faced the drive at the side of the house that led towards the back garden.
He stayed there, fiddling and cursing, trying to prop his Grifter up against the wall. Elsa was barking excitedly, she knew who it was. Smithy disappeared, and as we heard the latch on the back gate open, we also heard the crash of his bike as it slid of the wall, followed by more curses.
The door opened and in walked a grinning Smithy, dressed exactly the same as me, shorts, t-shirt and trainers. Although it was only just after eight o’clock, the temperature was already nearing the take off your t-shirt stage.
“Morning all,” he smiled.
“Morning Smithy,” we chorused.
“You ready?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Wow! New trainers?”
“Yeah, got them yesterday,” he said turning his feet to the side so I could get a proper look.
“You had any breakfast yet? There’s some sausages left over if you want a butty?” said my Nan.
Smithy’s eyes lit up. “Well, I could squeeze them in. I am a growing lad after all!”
“Yeah outwards,” I joked.
Quick as a flash, Smithy, pulled his t-shirt off, and whipped me across my bare leg. It sent me into fits of hopping and howling around the kitchen, and Elsa, into a playful fit of barking and growling while jumping up at us both. I sat back down cursing, and watched the reddening welt from Smithy’s strike rise up. Smithy wolfed down the butty in record time, while Elsa sat watching him dribbling all over his new sneakers.
“Jesus, you dirty bugger,” laughed Smithy.
“Good girl,” I said, patting Elsa on the head. “Here, have a sausage.”
We went out into the back garden and Smithy threw darts at the board on the door of the outside toilet. I meanwhile, battled my way through the cobwebs that had appeared at the shed’s entrance overnight to get to my bike. It had somehow got right to the back of the shed with a lawn mower, a paraffin heater, a huge roll of polythene, and other miscellaneous items stacked on top and around it. I managed to clear the way, but on pulling it out slightly, I discovered a thirty foot garden hose unravelled and intertwined around the frame and through the spokes. After a five minute tug of war, and much cursing and bashing and scraping of the shins and knees, I set free the black Chopper.
We donned our gloves, (mine were actually a cheap pair of goalkeepers gloves) and set off on a pre planned attempt at ambushing two of my cousins, Dave, a greasy haired, wannabe rocker, and his buck-toothed sister, Cora. Who everyone knew as rabbit. They had been night fishing at a local pool, it was only just outside the town, and we knew the perfect spot to execute our plan. It had been my cousin Dave’s birthday the previous week, and he’d gone to the pool on his brand new bike to try out all his new fishing gear that he had.
About the halfway point was a ten foot sandstone cliff face right on the road, with trees and bushes on the top. Perfect camouflage. We stashed our bikes in a field of cows a little further up. We walked back up the field which led us to the sandstone cliff overlooking the road. Smithy had an idea. He picked up a huge crusty, steaming cowpat. I did the same. Good job we had our gloves on, although we’d throw them in the hedge afterwards. We tittered as we waited for them to come up the hill and down it towards us. We’d only been sat there for ten minutes when we could hear the unmistakable sounds of Iron Maiden. Seconds later, my cousin Dave appeared on the crest of the hill, hurtling through the summer haze on his Grifter, complete with huge cow horn handlebars. His sister Cora, sat astride them, trying to hold on to a fishing tackle box, and desperately trying to stay on the bike as they came bombing over the top of the hill and even faster down the incline. The look of sheer terror on her face is something else I’ll never forget. Strapped to the handlebars was a huge portable stereo, Cora’s legs dangling over it; which was cranked up to the max and pumped out Iron Maiden’s ‘The Number of the Beast.’
A variety of fishing rods and landing nets were slung around Dave’s neck and shoulders. Dave’s legs were pumping hard as he weaved around potholes and tried to stay in control of the over laden bike.
Smithy and I, were about to jump out on them, when one of the rods got lodged in the front wheel. The wheel locked up, and the bike did a somersault. Flipping first Cora, then Dave, high into the air. Cora let go of the box to free up her hands to break the fall. Smithy and I watched with Cheshire Cat-like grins. It must have happened in seconds, but it all seemed to be in slow motion. The box hit the tarmac and spilled its contents everywhere, followed by Cora face first. Her head smacked the road, and her front teeth (about four altogether) bounced into the gutter, blood splashing all over the place. Then came the bulking twelve stone of brother on top of her, knocking the wind out of her sails.
Smithy and I looked at each other and burst into fits of laughter, that for me quickly changed to horrified screams as my foot slipped, and I lost my balance. I was bare back having taken my t-shirt off as soon as I had left the house. Big mistake. I slid down the sandstone cliff peeling the layers of skin off ninety percent of my back on the way. I crashed onto the road knees first, and followed through head butting the rough road through the cowpat that had come down with me, splitting my head open. Smithy despite his laughter scrambled down to see if we were alright.
There I was bawling my eyes out covered in cow dung. Dave was laughing his ass off, although he was clearly in pain but hard as nails, while Cora sat there, not making a sound. She couldn’t breathe, cry or do anything, and neither could Smithy, who was now in fits of hysterics. Deep gouges from the bike’s impact were visible in the tarmac. The sun had been so hot over the last few weeks it had softened the tar. Some of the kids, bored with being off school for so long, had actually peeled patches of the road up in places, much to the local council’s annoyance.
We sat there for a while, dazed and bleeding, and managed to get Cora to calm down and get her breath back. Her face was a right mess. Her top teeth had taken a big chunk out of her top lip and she must have bit down on her tongue, as there was a nasty looking tear on it on closer inspection. Her bottom teeth had protruded through her bottom lip, resulting in a mangled mess. After about twenty minutes, we gathered what we could, retrieved our bikes from the corn field, and slowly made our way back into town, and back to my cousin’s house as that was the nearest.
His mum and dad went ballistic when they saw the state of Cora, and went to town on Dave when they saw the smashed fishing equipment and battered new bike they’d scrimped and saved for all year to buy him.
His dad had given him a right royal rollicking, and sent him up to his room for the rest of the day.
We were all in the kitchen watching my Aunty patch Cora up as best as she could before taking her to hospital. She would definitely require a few stitches. She then washed and cleaned my back and head with a watered down solution of Dettol which stung like hell and brought floods of tears again. She gently rubbed Savlon over my back, which intensified the tears even more, and secured some dressing with surgical tape on it. She got a tub of margarine out of the fridge and smeared it on the golf ball sized lump on my forehead. Apparently it would bring out the bruising. The gash on my head wasn’t too bad now that it had been cleaned up. No stitches required. Seeing that his daughter was calming down a little, my uncle turned his attention and rage to Dave. He stomped up the stairs and seconds later, we could hear the screams and sobs, as my uncle took his belt off and thrashed Dave to within an inch of his life. It certainly wasn’t the first time and definitely wouldn’t be the last.
I felt real bad for him. It was an accident, albeit a stupid one. I couldn’t look at Smithy. I knew one look from me and he’d be pissing himself laughing again. I decided it was best to get out of there before we got ourselves in trouble with my Aunt and Uncle. It didn’t take a lot to wind them up at the best of times.
“Come on Smithy. Let’s go and see who’s down the park.” I said heading for the back door. “See ya later, Aunty. Hope you feel better soon, Cora.”
We scurried off sharpish before anything else was said, and rode our bikes the short distance to the local park.