I stop and stare at the younger, my heart goes to ’em.

A weekend in London babysitting my little brothers and an extended bank holiday have filled the past few days of my life. My parents had gone to a wedding in Yorkshire and were keen for me to keep an eye on ‘the younger’. I had thought that they wanted me to make sure they didn’t do the classic teen-movie thing of inviting all their friends round for a huge party and get the house trashed, but it was more of an opportunity for some sibling-bonding. We had a lot of fun playing videogames, going to the park and I enjoyed watching some good fistfights; I also benefitted from seeking to share the gospel with the little ones who have not yet professed faith, I’m thankful that God uses our feeble words and answers prayer.

It’s surprising how true the abovementioned school-time situation is. I imagine most attendees to a Western educational establishement could tell you a story about someone’s habitat being ransacked by an entire school-load of children. It were like that when I was in school, as soon as one person said that they were thinking about having a house-party, the news would spread around the grounds like (queue Southern States drawl) wildfire.

The culprit in our year suffered all the more due to the fact that he wanted to party at his own party. You can picture the situation, hundreds of teenagers in a suburban semi, putting calculators in the microwave (this happened); puking in expensive ceramic containers (this also happened); and throwing bicycles over the neighbour’s fence (yes it did really happen). The ‘host’ was passed-out on the floor. Prior to this he too had had the urge to empty his stomach. Whilst rolling around on the parlour floor, he did not want to ruin the carpet, so when the heaving begun he clawed his way past the Persian rug, and stretched his neck like an athlete on the finishing line, so that his mouth reached the threshold of the next room where the laminate flooring began and then it was safe to vomit… and then fall asleep in it. From that point of the evening on, the poor boy was unable to manage his parents’ household and their possessions (wine cellar etc.), until they returned home and everyone either left or suddenly became very polite.

“I didn’t ask for your life story.” #10 – Very faint memories of a holiday in Derbyshire.

Like most people, I do not remember very much from early childhood. I’m not one of those idiots who claims that they can remember being born. I’m also not one of those people who says they can remember things, even though they’ve just seen those occasions in a photograph and they have made them up in their mind (most of the time anyway).

The earliest holiday I remember was to a place called Derbyshire. I seem to recall firstly that I was an only child at the time, and that we drove there in an old blue Austin (I’m sure parents will correct me on this). There was an older lady who welcomed us to the cottage, and seemed very kind.

I am able to recollect that early one morning, I badgered my Dad to come down stairs with me, as I hated being on my own. Then Dad said that I was a big boy and that I could watch TV on my own, and let them sleep for a while. Then Mam pointed out that it might have been because I had heard about the recent child murders that had taken place, I hadn’t, but this made me even more scared.

Dad got up with me, took me out, and introduced me to an old farmer who must’ve been the owner of the land. The farmer took my hand and said that we were going to see the chickens. We walked up to a large hut type thing which he unlocked and opened the door of. Out came about twenty flapping chickens, and they all gathered around my knees. I wasn’t scared by this at all, just in awe. Then he took me into their hut where we managed to find six eggs, which the chickens had apparently laid that very night! I boasted to my parents about it when I got back, they were very impressed.

I believe that one day we went to a place called Gulliver’s World, a theme park of sorts. I remember a gigantic statue of a man (I assume he was Gulliver) and Dad telling me that in the story he wasn’t actually the big one, the people were small. My parents took me to what I identified as a river, there was a dark brown wooden boat which we sat in and the seats were soaking wet. “Why are we sitting in a wet boat? Why is it moving?”

To which my Mam replied “We’re going to sort of go down a waterfall!”

“What? Hello? Huh? What!?”

“It’s like a slide with lots of water on it! It’s fun!”

“Will I get wet?”

“A little bit.”

I hugged up to Mam tightly, fearing my inevitable death.

Sadly, the actual plunge does not exist on my mental records, perhaps it was so traumatic that my brain deleted it for fear of nightmares. But parents, take note, do not take your kids to strange theme parks and tell them that they will then fall down a waterfall, they have watched to many cartoons and know that it is always a crisis if you’re heading towards the end of the river, you never do it by choice.

I also went with Dad on a Helter Skelter. I retain the thought of trying to say Helter Skelter and what a magical name for a twirly wirly slide it was. I also loved the fact that we had to sit on door mats. Amazing.

The last memory of that holiday is of me sitting in the car, in the front seat, with Mam in the back. We stopped to get some petrol and Mam asked if I wanted a swap. “What’s a swap?”

“You’ll see when you get out of the car!” she giggled.

Thoughts of a fantastical chocolate bar called Swap came to mind, Willy Wonka style. I stepped out of the car, she lifted me up, placed me in the back seat and did up the strap. This was followed by her sitting in the front seat with me left waiting for my treat.

“Can I have my swap now?”

“You’ve had it!”

“No I haven’t!”

“Yes you have, a swap is when you change places with someone.”

Harsh. Very harsh.

“I didn’t ask for your life story.” #8 – Back Garden Trees

I grew up as one of those blessed children who had a back garden. A modest thirty or forty feet of land which holds of three trees.

Right at the back lay some sort of fir/yew tree which I have memories of standing under and feeling it’s darkness cover me. Friends would come over and claim that they could climb it, but no one ever did. I remember being told numerous times not to eat the leaves of that tree as it was poisonous, I even made an effort to wash my hands after I had touched it, just to be safe. Next to it was a small wooden swing which I could fit into until I was four or five. Neither of these things remains in the garden today. The tree was cut down when I was nine so that we could bring more sunlight into the garden and I climbed into the swing one bonfire night, trying to show off to some friends and put my foot through it.

The second was an apple tree, my parents received it as a wedding gift (1988) and it had been growing ever since then (yes it really was a tree that grew). We always wished that apples would grow on it, but they never seemed to. Someone told us that if one year was bad for fruit then the next year would be great, but they just seemed to be getting worse and worse. We’d get a couple of apples every now and then, but birds would usually peck at them anyway. I believe that by now the tree produces a good crop, and I’m sure my Mum makes a good apple pudding or two out of them.

The third tree, and the best tree is the Elderberry Tree. I’m told it’s extremely rare to have one grow in a garden like ours and this was the main tree, the headline act so to speak, the big cheese, the tree to end all trees. As I mentioned, the little swing at the back of the garden was not serving us much use, so one day seemingly out of the blue, Mum took me to Toys ‘R’ Us and just bought a tree rope swing. I loved that adults could do that, and on those wonderful occasions when I would receive something spontaneously, it was always brilliant. Once she bought me and my brother two cowboy costumes, with guns and everything, out of nowhere! Amazing! However, I don’t think I would have felt such excitement on these instances had they been regular. My Mum would always talk about this concept of ‘spoilt children’ but I really did not understand how giving a child lots of treats could somehow spoil them? Surely it would make them happier!?

The rope swing was assembled by Dad on a ladder and I was promptly instructed not to spin on it, and to share it, because that’s what it said on the instructions. That swing was probably one of the best buys my parents ever made. The accumulated hours that all of us boys must have spent on it, as well as all the friends that came round and played on it are phenomenal. The rope was bright yellow and the base was a friendly green.

I used to enjoy just swinging on it and seeing how high I could go. Then when I got bored of that, I’d get up and spin round on it (even though we weren’t meant to) and feel extremely dizzy afterwards. I also spent many hours with my (then) tiny little brother, he would position himself on my lap, and we’d both swing around for (what seemed like) hours. We invented this thing we called ‘ceremony’ which basically involved us imagining we had an audience in front of us and doing tricks in front of them. No tricks developed much further than him standing on my knees.

I’ve also pushed all four of my little brothers at different stages on the swing. My biggest swings I’d (for some really freaky reason) call “double jam, double peanut butter”. The name stuck, and that’s what my brothers enjoyed having. When my youngest brother came along, he was so tiny (and fearless) that I could swing him up to a ridiculously frightening height. He loved it, we loved watching it. He often ended up over our garden fence in terms of distance. We also did this thing called “baseball bat” when we’d grab the legs of whoever was on the swing and fling them (like a baseball bat) so they’d go spinning and probably fall off and probably cry.

We also invented a game involving a football, which I cunningly named ‘Post Ball’. The tree was called ‘the post’ and the aim was to hit the tree with the ball. I would sit on the swing and try to defend the tree, it was highly different to football. For some reason I loved the idea of this game being closely compared to football, because in football you didn’t want to hit the post, so in this game you did. This logic was somehow strangely translated into me saying “well done, you scored a goal!” when they missed and “oh dear, you hit the post” when they scored. I’m strange, I’m sure it was funny at the time.

Another huge passtime on the swing was getting the big climbing frame (which we awesomely owned, a birthday present I believe) dragging it to the tree, climbing up the ladder whilst holding the swing and jumping onto the swing from great height. Competitions were held for who could jump from the highest height, over time I became the most daring (being the oldest) and could jump from the top! As one gets older, one gets bigger and one day this was to be my (literal) downfall. I leaped onto the swing from the top of the climbing frame expectantly bracing myself for the ride to come, but what happened? The rope snapped. Yes. The rope… snapped. It is a uniquely child-esque feeling one gets when they fall on their bottom. Some sort of immense electric pain rushes right from your bum, up your back into your eyebrows. All you can do is scream and clench your buttocks. All I remember about this occasion was that it hurt too much to cry, I yelped and flailed about and laughed in a manic sort of way. To be fair, that is the equivalent of jumping from the height of about eight feet directly onto one’s backside. I’m surprised I didn’t do myself more damage.

We eventually replaced the now broken yellow rope with a thicker blue one and the swing was ready once again for action, it’s still used regularly, despite the tree having been cut back several times, it has never affected the infamous rope swing.

The elderberry tree was also responsible for various other childhood memories. Our great garden was often the spot for me and my friends from church to sit around thinking ambitiously about what wonderful plans and feats we could achieve. We had dreams of wires going from my house to their house (about a mile away) and making underground caverns or intricate burglar traps. We eventually formed a club which we entitled ‘T.D.S.’ we never told anyone what it stood for, instead, when people asked, we threw in countless red herrings. Did it stand for Traditional Devonshire Shortbread? Or did it stand for Terrible Dancing Soldiers? Or were we making our aims very clear by claiming that it stood for To Destroy Stefan (an older brother of our friends)!? In reality our little crew was entitled The Detective Society (we never actually did any detecting, but hey). We all had code names and were required to donate twenty pence every week for the club fund. We ended up buying a pair of walkie talkies from Argos, which was really cool!

Our most exciting achievement was the task assembling of a tree house. Initial plans in my mind were made and I imagined that we were to create a haven, high, in the clouds, with polished wood floors and at least three rooms where we could eat, watch television and play snooker. The reality was not similar, but no less cool. We started off by gathering a few breeze blocks from a forgotten section of my garden and began to saw them so they could fit into the tree, this was an ill advised task as sawing bricks is not the most child-friendly pursuit and bricks don’t really make the best tree house material. However, these bricks made a platform for us to stand on so we could make the tree house a bit higher up. My family were chucking out an old futon, so we used the planks of wood from that to make a level floor (quite) high up in the tree. Of course, the older and cleverer boys were the ring leaders in this whole task, and they were the ones who worked out the logistics and architectural dimensions. After weeks of labouring, we had a floor which was sit-on able and it was up in the tree! It was super cool! We made a rope ladder out of some rope (funny that) and an old broom handle. And there it was! Out very own tree ‘thing’. Not quite the mansion I was expecting, but something nevertheless. We used the T.D.S. monetary fund to pay for some posh varnish and we were convinced that this meant it could survive all weather. Many an afternoon was spent sitting up there, looking into other people’s gardens, feeling tall and almost falling out and breaking one’s leg. My Dad even started to use it as a quiet place where he would read.

By now, the tree house is no more, the varnish was not as good as we thought it would be, and the planks soon rotted off (with some help from my vandalish little brothers).

The elderberry tree also produced much fun and joy for us in other ways. One of our other missions (not sure if it was pre or post T.D.S.) was to make and sell elderberry wine. The tree was full of berries, so all we needed to do was pick them, press them and earn millions! We spent a long afternoon picking and picking and picking. We filled a massive black bin bag full of elderberries. Before we could do anything with them, it was home time for my friends. I kept the bag outside the house, ready for the next day when we would sort out the planned wine making session. I woke up early the next day and I have this vivid memory of sticking my head into the bag, and thousands of flies swarming around my face. Our plan had soured rather, so our stint in the wine making business was short-lived.

I must not dismay, my life is far from over! I’m sure that one day, I will find time in my adult life to be a wine making, tree house building, rope-swinging detective. And twenty pence a week can buy a lot if you think about it!

Poem: ‘The Snufferjog’

The Snufferjog

He’s runty, and his naked toes
Stumble but not to assuage;
Bewhiskered are his mouth and nose,
And moths doth he engage.
.
Beware the Snufferjog, my friend!
His Vogue stained claws they steal!
Do not his deep pockéts attend ,
They’re full of spoons unreal!
.
He’ll place your brain in his left hand,
Massage it, ’til it’s vanished —
Tall wolfish beings there he hath banned,
Warm crisp-grease too is banished.
.
Carnivorously adamant,
And Snuff’jog’s cocksure eyes,
Say “pint-sized ale cups should be scant,
In any a maiden’s thighs.”
.
“Beware! Beware! That lady there!
She may not smoke death-duty!”
His reasons aren’t in terms of care,
“But for the sake of beauty.”
.
“How didst thou slay the Snufferjog?
With one cruél strong sting!?”
I grabbed his wide-eyed, lamb-like dog,
It’s neck I then did wring.
.
The Snufferjog did die a death,
With which I daren’t agree,
His spirit shrank and turned to breath,
He’s now like you and me.
.

“I didn’t ask for your life story.” #7 – Grandma

It surprises me really, that after doing this blog for almost a year now; looking back I can find no reference to a lady who despite not being around since 1999, had a great effect on my life.

  • Mornings

I’d wander down the green carpeted stairs, running my fingers along the textured wallpaper. It was early, and I would assume I was the only one awake. I’d push open the living room door only to find Grandma, sat on the sofa in her bright pink dressing gown, up before everyone; reading her Bible.

I’d watch her put on her makeup, the best bit was when she’d draw her eyebrows on, Dad said they’d disappeared in an operation and never grown back.

She had curlers in her light brown hair, which was always immaculate, once the curlers were out; I loved placing my hand softly on her head and bouncing it up and down gently, as if I was touching a cloud.

Time for breakfast. The only time we ever had those mini Kelloggs variety packs was round at Grandma’s . The first few days Coco Pops, Frosties and Ricicles would be eaten, then we were left with the strange ones like Corn Pops and those Loopy Loop things.

Sometimes I’d have honey on toast, Grandma would say, “Don’t tell Granfer you’ve eaten his honey!”

“Who’s been eating my honey?” Granfer would shout from the kitchen, to which I would giggle and grin cheekily.

  • Food

Food was always great in Cwmbran, and the best of all the food was jelly.

It was kept in their special fridge, which wasn’t a normal fridge because it was camouflaged. The fridge was with covered with a wooden door to match the drawers and cupboards. I’d never seen a wooden fridge before then, and never have since.

The jelly was strawberry red and was set in small silver bowls. Often, if I found a moment when no one was around, I’d sneak into the kitchen and open the fridge to see if Grandma had made us jelly this time, I never once remember finding a fridge bereft of wibbly wobbly delight.

  • Outdoors

One sunny afternoon me and Grandma went round the garden collecting snails. Every one we found we placed on the huge rock which sat on the left side, next to Granfer’s shed. Then we raced them and watched them make silvery trails all over the place.

I also loved the garden because of all the amazing ornaments and models scattered throughout; fisherman gnomes, frogs, squirrels and rabbits.

  • Indoors

If it was rainy outside we got to watch a video, the video. A wonderful recorded selection of cartoons from a lost age. Betty Boop, Felix the Cat and Popeye the Sailor.

The house was full of novelty toys which held an endless fascination for my young mind. I loved playing with a clockwork globe which played music as it slowly rotated.

The ornaments weren’t only in the garden, there were also plenty inside. There was a glass cabinet of crystal animals, which I loved staring at, but wasn’t allowed to touch.

There was a china model of a lady in a yellow dress dancing the flamenco, and my personal favourite; a model of an old grumpy Grandad, ironing his trousers.

She was the only person I’d ever known to have a musical doorbell, which played an assortment of nursery rhyme melodies when pressed.

At Christmas time, the house was sprinkled with cards and tinsel, but no tree. “Our house is too little for a Christmas tree.” She explained.

So they had a model of Father Christmas whose head would move from side to side as his arms flowed to the tune of carols played softly, he held a candle in his right hand that lit up and lit down continually.

  • Presents

December was always my favourite time of year, as it also held my birthday.

She’d plonk the bulky Argos catalogue in my lap and tell me to choose whatever I wanted. Limitless opportunities for imagination sat in those hours, in which I’d wonder what it would be like to have all the things I saw.

One Christmas, all the grandchildren got remote control cars. I being the oldest boy got the biggest and the best one of the bunch. A monster truck with flames painted on its side. It drove faster than anything and knocked down everything that got in its way.

remote control car control

  • Time to go home

When it was time to go home I could never quite believe it, I always had to stop myself from crying at the disbelief that time had gone so fast.

Before we left, Grandma would reach into her magic pot and pull out a packet of refreshers for me and my brother. This gesture always made the journey a lot easier.

She would give my Mum some pocket money for us. 50 pence a week for every grandchild, which adds up after a while. I just hoped we had enough to buy some more jelly.

“I didn’t ask for your life story.” #6 – Light Bulb

  • It’s always difficult when you get taught two different things; one thing at home and another thing at school.

I remember being told by my teacher that if you ever want to know whether a light bulb is broken, all you need to do is shake it, if you can here stuff jumping around in there; it’s bust.

I gleefully arrived home to tell my parents about this new found information by going into the cupboard, grabbing the nearest light bulb I could see, and shaking it violently; to my surprise, I was told, “light bulbs should never be shaken, rather they should be held very delicately.” Utter confusion to my poor developing brain.

  • One of my very earliest childhood memories is of a searing burning sensation in my right hand.

 

Being rushed to the cold water tap, after touching a turned on light bulb. Lessons like that are literal occasions when we: learn the hard way.

I never ever never touched one again.

  • In my early teens we went to a popular Swedish home product retailer.

Amongst other things, we bought the… Coolest. Light bulbs. Ever. For a start, mine was red. (My brother got a green one.) Which meant that when I read at night, the whole room would be illuminated like a secret blood filled cave – or something scary/creepy to that effect.

But the light bulbs got even better! They had these spikes all over them which made them look a bit like a mace! I know what you’re thinking, doesn’t that make the installing process much harder, surely you can’t hold the thing due to it’s immense spikes? The spikes were all flexible and a bit gooey (but not sticky).

Coolest. Light bulbs. Ever.

  • I loved the concept of glow in the dark stuff.

I had glow in the dark stars and planets, stuck all across the ceiling of my bedroom.

I was also in possession of some glow in the dark crayons.

 

I also had those vampire teeth which you bit in your mouth, they were glow in the dark too!

The thing I loved about these things the most (beyond the fact that they glowed in the dark) was that they never ran out! If they started to lose they’re luminosity, you could just hold it next to a light bulb for a few seconds and it would be bright again.

I used to think that the longer you held the thing there, the brighter it would be. At one point, I distinctly remember the wax crayon melting in my hand, emitting a foul stench and creating a bit of a mess and my Aunty telling me off.

  • Then there was my torch.

Again with the different colours thing, which I loved; the torch had a button which turned the light red, and then green. I thought it was really cool to press both at the same time, which just made it kind of dark.

I used to turn all the lights off and create lightning bolts on the wall by jiggling the torch repeatedly. Much of the joy of this particular pastime was brought on by my little brother crying at the sight of scary lights on the wall, and my yelps of doom.

In the end my torch broke, it had been badly affected by all that moving about; which just goes to show, I should have followed my Father’s advice “light bulbs should never be shaken, rather they should be held very delicately.”

As has been the habit:


“I didn’t ask for your life story.” #4 – Foil

(BTW I know I haven’t blogged for at least a week which is never a good thing. I have been keeping myself busy with an interview or two, an 80th birthday party, a concert and other things.)

_____________

Today I’m going to write shortly about foil. Why? Because I can.

  • Often, but not always, school packed lunch sandwiches were wrapped in foil. I always had ham and ketchup in my sarnies, if you’re interested. I liked it when they were wrapped in that beautiful thin sheet of aluminium, because that meant after eating I could fashion a sword/dagger out of it. I would pretend I was Robin Hood or Peter Pan or just a cool guy with a shiny knife.

  • Foil is also good when you’re bored, especially if you’ve got a Kit Kat handy. Firstly take off the bright red paper cover, then you are left with a foil covered block of chocolate. I would press down the foil on the top so you can see the imprint of where it says “Have a break / Have a Kit Kat”. Sometimes I would press my fingernail into the middle groove and rip the foil down the middle and snap at this point, but that wasn’t really my scene. I usually tried not to rip the foil as I slowly undressed my chocolate, then laid the foil out flat. Now obviously the joy of a Kit Kat is in the eating:
  1. Snap it in half.
  2. Bite the chocolate off each end.
  3. Now the hard & messy bit. Nibble off the chocolate from the sides and the top, until you are left with two bits of wafer.
  4. Go round everyone in your class shouting “Look! Look what I done!”

  • Running your fingernail across the foil, until it becomes all flat and creaseless, is also very satisfying.
  • I remember the 1998 Blue Peter ‘New Future Appeal’ for Schools in Mozambique. One had to collect all sorts of aluminium, cans and foil and stuff; that was cool.

Talking of Blue Peter appeals, I remember back in 1996 when they did the ‘LEPRA Leprosy: Brazil & India Appeal’, I had a Bring & Buy Sale in my garden. I felt really important.

Check out that totaliser!

I really liked Stuart Miles, he was cool.

  • Has anyone had that thing when you put some foil in your mouth (for some stupid reason) and if you have fillings (for some stupid reason) you get the strangest tingling sensation in your jaw. Very strange.
  • Foil was introduced to Chocolate Advent Calenders about halfway through my childhood, it used to be a thing only the expensive ones had, like an extra gimmick which meant you had to pay an extra quid for it. They all have it now.

That’s about all I got. This is quite interesting: