Monday, 22 August 2016

CHILDHOOD CAPERS - CHAPTER ONE...


Image copyright DC COMICS

It was around 1970/'71, and myself and two pals were leaning
on a railing outside a row of apartments above the neighbourhood
shops.  Passing below were three thuggish, slightly older females who
hung around with the local neds.   They glared up at us.  "Whit ur you
f*ckin' lookin' at?"  they trilled in their delicate, girlish way (sarcasm).
"Dunno - the label's fallen off!" I yelled back.  The gauntlet had been
thrown, and the nedettes responded by mounting the stairs, their
Doc Martins pounding the steps in pursuit of ourselves.

I say 'pursuit' because the moment I opened my gob, the other
two legged it and I followed.  These girls were bigger and older than
us, and as hard as nails.  Having been brought up never to hit a 'girl',
we'd have been at a distinct disadvantage trying to defend ourselves
against the furious assault that was surely forthcoming.  We fled
past the front of the apartments towards the door to the in-
terior stairway which led down to the shops below.

We reached the bottom door with a sigh of relief.  Once we
were through that exit, our safety was secure and an inglorious
fate would be avoided.  Alas, 'twas not to be - the door was locked,
being early evening, and that avenue to freedom was denied us.  We
considered going back up the stairs to the first floor offices above the
shops and below the apartments, and using the corridor leading to
the library to escape.  Too late!  We heard the 'girls' on the steps
and realized discovery was imminent.  What to do?

Then I had a brainwave!  The bottom flight of stairs wasn't
closed off, allowing us to seek shelter under them, so I beckoned
my comrades to conceal themselves as I did likewise.  We bunched
together tightly, as the merest glance under the stairway would've re-
vealed our presence, and tried hard not to make a noise.  The nedettes
pushed and pulled at the locked door, then grunted in frustrated rage.
"They must've got out on the first floor!" one snorted.  We expected
them to return to the upper levels again, but they plonked them-
selves down on the steps above us and each lit up a cigarette.

We moved not a muscle and feared even to breathe, lest we
betray ourselves.  After a seeming eternity (but was actually only
a couple of minutes or so), they ascended the stairs and made their
exit, amidst much muttering and detailed descriptions of what damage
they'd inflict if they saw us.  We stayed rigid for a few moments longer,
but once their voices were no longer audible, we exhaled a collective
sigh of relief.  What a narrow escape and we knew it.  I can't recall
any other moment in my life when I felt more alive, every sense
attuned to my surroundings, and I'm sure my two friends felt
the same.  (I wonder if they even remember it now?)

Even today, I think back to that moment and recall how
I felt at the time;  the excitement, the exhilaration, the fear,
and, of course, the sheer relief and gratitude at having survived
a precarious predicament unscathed.  It was like something from
Investigators or a Mission Impossible tale - a truly thrilling
moment that lives on forever in my mind, and reminds me that, once,
my life was more than the uneventful series of events that it is now.  I
felt like James Bond, even 'though, at that time, I'd not yet seen a
Bond film.  However, I knew that anyone who had a real car like
my Corgi Toys Aston Martin must be a cool guy in the face
of danger - much like myself, in fact (he said, modestly), as
the tale I've just related surely testifies.

Okay, so, technically, we ran away from three girls - but
that's only because we didn't want to hurt them.  (Well, that's
my story and I'm darn well sticking to it.  Wanna argue?)


Ever been in a similar situation?  Then let's hear all about it
in the comments section, o fellow mellows.  Spill the beans!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

PART TEN OF SCHOOLTIME SCANDALS - THE LABRADOR 'SAUSAGE' DOG...



Mr. CURRY was the janitor of the second primary
school I attended.  He lived in the end house of the fourth row
down from mine, straight across from the school, and his house
came with the job.  Imagine my surprise when, a year or two after
we'd flitted to a new house and neighbourhood, I noticed that Mr.
Curry had become janitor of the primary school just around the
corner from us.  His house (that again came with the job)
stood in splendid isolation in the school grounds.

Before flitting, I'd been a secondary school pupil for
nearly two years, but Mr. Curry was still a regular sight on
account of him passing my house to or from the pub on the far
side of the shops across the street.  It was therefore a tad strange
when, after we'd flitted, he again became a regular sight to me in
my perambulations around my new neighbourhood, either when
I passed the school on my way to the town centre, or saw him
walking home from his local public house.  He liked a drink,
did Mr. Curry.  Died quite a few years ago now.

Let's now jump back to when I was yet living in my
former neighbourhood and was still a primary school pupil,
sometime around 1968, give or take a year either way.  While
gazing out of the window of the annexe huts across from the main
building one afternoon, I saw Mr. Curry taking a kick at a golden lab-
rador which appeared to be seeking shelter in the doorway.  His
kick may have connected, but I couldn't say with certainty after
all this time.  I was shocked to see an adult behave in such a
heartless manner towards one of man's best friends, and
felt sorry for the poor animal.

The very doorway.  The school was demolished
nearly two years ago.  Photo taken circa 1984

Later that evening, coming back from a pal's house, I
saw that the dog was again sheltering in the school doorway.
Had it been abandoned?  Was it lost?  Or had it tracked down
its young master to the school and was now faithfully waiting for
him to emerge from the building, not realizing that he'd gone home
hours before?  I told my father about the dog, and, along with my
brother, we went down to the school and brought the dog home
with us.  It was a friendly animal, and hungrily scoffed the
cold link sausages we fed it from the fridge.

My father, who worked for the police, arranged for
them to collect the poor dog and house it in their kennels
'til collected by its lawful owners.  He later informed us that the
canine had been claimed, but even at the young age I then was, I
wondered if he was telling us what had actually happened or what
he knew we wanted to hear.  Many years later, I saw inside the
station kennels for strays, and they were the dirtiest, smelliest,
vilest quarters imaginable.  To think that, if the dog wasn't
reunited with its owners, it had spent its last days in
such conditions is awful to contemplate.

I never much liked Mr. Curry after that, 'though, truth to
tell, I hadn't much liked him before, but he fell even further in
my estimation from then on.  Strange thing is, whenever I see
a golden labrador now, I can't help but think of that poor beast
from so long ago, and still find myself hoping that it was a
happy ending all round for the dog and its owners.

Sometimes there are some things we're better
not knowing, don't you think?  Just in case.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

"WHEN GIANTS WALKED THE EARTH!" PART NINE OF SCHOOLTIME SCANDALS...


A bit of photoshop at work here, I believe

don't remember her name, but I do remember what she
looked like.  She taught English (I think) in a room of one of the
annexed huts at the back of my secondary school's main building.
I don't recall how the topic came up (talking about DAVID and
GOLIATH perhaps), but I suddenly tuned in to what she was
saying when I heard her say that giants had never existed. 

I knew that wasn't necessarily true.  Didn't my ENCYCLO-
PAEDIA BRITANNICA Anthology say otherwise?  You can
bet your last ROLO it did!  Here's part of what it said:

Remains of Giants

January 11.  1613, some masons digging near the ruins of
a castle in Dauphine, France, in a field which (by tradition) had
long been called the giant's field, at the depth of 18 feet discovered a
brick-tomb 30 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 8 feet high;  on which was a
grey stone, with the words Theutobochus cut thereon.  When the tomb
was opened, they found a human skeleton entire, 25 feet and a half long,
10 feet wide across the shoulders, and five feet deep from the breast-
bone to the back.  His teeth were about the size each of an
ox's foot, and his shin bone measured four feet.

It goes on to list other examples, but the one above will
suffice for the purpose of this post.  I couldn't remember the
exact details when I put my hand up to point out her 'error', but
I knew I had the book back home which revealed the rashness of
her claim.  I told her (in the politest of terms, naturally) that (if the
EB accounts were true) she was wrong, but she pooh-poohed my
earnest assertion with the assured, contemptuous manner of the
intellectually superior towards the gullible and superstitious,
and heaped scorn and derision on my head.

The very book I took to school in 1971 or '72

"There's no such thing as giants!  Only the most unedu-
cated of people would ever believe they once existed," she
mocked, dismissing me with a wave.  Next day, I brought in
the very book and showed it to her in front of the class.  As she
read, she paled, then blushed, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
She might be able to look down her nose at me, but the
Encyclopaedia Britannica was a different matter.

She spoke, but her voice was hoarse.  She cleared her
throat, then stuttered and stammered her reply.  "Er, there's
no such thing as giants, but there were tall men.  I never said
that there weren't tall men.  This was obviously just tall man -
a very tall man," she said lamely.  The class sniggered at her
desperate and unconvincing efforts to extricate herself from
an embarrassing situation of her own making.

"Well, 25 and a half feet seems pretty gigantic to
me - but regardless of their exact height, that's what
they called 'very tall men' back then - 'giants'," I said.  "And
what about the other examples?" I continued, triumphant in my
vindication.  "Tall men, just very tall men," she blustered, trying to
cling on to her credibility.  Too late!  It had vanished like a thief in
the night, and yet another teacher had learned the folly of under-
estimating me.  Neds they could deal with, but  I represented an
altogether different kind of challenge - one that they routinely
found themselves ill-equipped to tackle.  (Yeah, you can
feel the ego there, can't you?)

She always tried to avoid my gaze after that.  We both
knew who had come off second-best in our little encounter
and doubtless she didn't want to be reminded of it should
our eyes meet across the classroom.  Teachers, eh?

Famous 'giant' Robert Wadlow

The full extract.  Click to enlarge

******

(What she should have said, of course, was that she
was talking about fairy-tale giants who lived in castles in
the sky, or that the excerpts in the book reflected the know-
ledge and opinions of earlier times, which had since been
supplanted by subsequent discoveries and enlightenment.
However, she wasn't quick-thinking enough for that.)

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