There are times when the adult looks back down upon the child they used to be and wants to give their head a shake! Given the nature of the child I used to be, its a wonder I didn’t feel like Noddy!
(Noddy was a character written by Enid Blyton, who used to allow people to shake his head to make the bell on his hat ring)
When I was thirteen and still a relatively regular attendee of school, I was selected to go on an Adventure Course, I don’t know how I was selected, these things were always a surprise which I just went with…
I mean, I was picked to play football (Soccer)for my City, Lichfield, at the age of eleven, and to this day I have no idea how I was selected… It was a short-lived association with representative football, for the game did not go well. We lost 16-0 against Walsall, eight of their goals scored by a young Wayne Clark, who went on to play for Everton.
The only thing about the game I can recall of my contributions, was that I missed our only chance to score. I was one on one with their bored goalkeeper, and deftly rounded with a shimmy, and then with the goal gaping I fell over the ball and knocked it wide of the post.
I was also picked to play for Lichfield at rugby, in a nine a side competition… which went a little better, I remember thrashing Burton by nine tries to nil, but I don’t remember if I scored… So probably not. Similarly, I have no idea how I got selected for this competition, at that age I fear I must have been pretty vague, for I didn’t really know how anything happened.
Anyway, digression over, back to the Adventure course…
About fifteen of our year were selected to go away to mix with two other groups from two other schools in Staffordshire… I think it was a mixed sex group, so there were about eight boys and eight girls from my school selected to go. The two other schools were both single sex Grammar Schools, presumably from more well to do areas of the county, as the schools in Lichfield had been turned into comprehensive mixed sex schools the year I matriculated to senior school. Luckily, I had been selected to go to the Friary, which up until my year was a Girl’s Grammar School, so far from being bullied by older boys for being small, which I would have been at a Boys Grammar, I was cherished as cute by the older girls… I hated being cute!
We were relatively well behaved on the coach as we rounded up the girls from one school and then finally the boys from a school in a place called Rocester. They all marched on to the coach with a military two-step, and reminded me of the Choirboys from the book, Lord Of The Flies, by William Golding, which we had started studying in English that year.
One wag, which may or may not have been me, nicknamed them The Hitler Youth. I wonder if the future did truly belong to them? One will never know, it certainly did not belong to me… That much I do know!
We arrived shortly after this at a place called Hales Hall, the staging post for our future adventures. We were shown into the impressive Baronial Hall by a Youth Leader, who struck me as very Scout Masterish… Read into that what you will. We were shown upstairs into our single sex dormitories and told to change out of our uniforms into our mufti wear. Ordinary clothes to normal folk. We were then led down to the refectory where we were given drinks and told to eat our pre-packed lunches which had brought with us. One problem, I had eaten mine as soon as I had got on to the coach. So I sat with my glass of water, the drinks provided for us, and watched forty odd others eat their lunch.
One of the women youth leaders caught my look of discontent, and christened me Grumpy. Which then stuck. Everyone laughed. Except me.
After lunch was consumed by all, except me, we were taken out into the courtyard. We were split into small tribes, four boys, four girls in each. We were told to go out into the grounds and make our tribe a den, which we were to defend from the other tribes… I think it was supposed to be a sophisticated version of Acky 123, or hide and seek if you prefer…
(Acky 123 / Ackee 123 (not sure of the spelling) is a game similar to hide and seek, in that one person is ‘on’ and the rest of the players go and hide. The main difference is there is an Acky / Ackee post where the person who is ‘on’ counts from and where the rest of the players have to get themselves back to. The skill of the game was to choose the right moment when you thought the person who was on was close enough to you so you could get past them and be the first to the Acky / Ackee post. If you made it there first, you had ‘saved yourself’, as the first to be beaten to the Acky / Ackee post by the person who was ‘on’ would be ‘on’ next. )
It was a team building exercise, I believe now, redolent these days with images of David Brent out of the Office, but back then, I don’t think I was really into the concept of team building. I picked an apple tree to be the basis of our den, and then climbed it. The others hunted and gathered materials to create the den whilst I stood watch, the defender of our yet to be built den. From this high vantage point I was able to see any sneaking enemies approaching through the woods. The rest of my tribe collected branches and weaved a passable barricade around the tree.
I saw Injuns sneaking through the undergrowth. Rather than give out the alarm call, I took the opportunity to pelt the advancing troops with apples.
Of course, this method of defence, took hold of the collective imagination, and pretty soon every tribe,six in total I think, took my defensive methodology in to the attack mode, and a Granny Smith massacre ensued.
Once my apple tree had been stripped of its ammunition, I beat a hasty retreat into the cow field beyond the wood. Luckily, with the Summer still holding into late September, the field was still baked hard and dry. I looked down to the ground to find more ammo as several boys advanced towards me, windfall apples in each hand, and my eyes alighted on a cowpat. The cowpats were dried out, and handily shaped like frisbees. The advancing troops looked aghast as I picked up a large pat and intimated my intentions to throw it. They stopped advancing. One boy missed the sound of retreat and kept coming forward. He raised his arm to throw his apple. And I, with a hitherto unknown skill, swept the cowpat frisbee with the speed of a UFO, straight at him. Though the top of the pat was indeed backed dry, the under carriage was still of the consistency of an unbaked fruitcake. The edge thwacked into the boy’s temple and the undercarriage deliciously dripped down on to his face.
He ran towards me, eyes raging. I picked up the rest of the pat. It seeped between my fingers…
“One step more, shitface, and you get this!”
He looked at the handful of shit and backed off,
“You’re bloody mental, your are.” Then he ran back towards his com-padres.
So now I had a dilemma… I had a handful of cowshit and nowhere to put it. Only one thing for it, stop retreating and start attacking.
I ran after the fleeing Choirboys, and catching the slowest, rubbed my hand across his face. Once again I had raised the ante. All thoughts of defending dens or attacking them went out of the window and long held private enmities where rekindled, as choirboy against choirboy, urchin against urchin, and prissy preppy against preppy ensued hand to hand, cowpat to cowpat and pretty soon a shitty riot ensued. To be fair, The Scout Leader of the adventure course took it in good part, and to his credit, joined in like cowpat wars were second nature to him, taking the opportunity to cowpat two of the Girl Guide types straight in their horse faces. Seeing that he was up for the game, I strategically arranged several of my tribe to ambush the Leader, and he was then himself patted from all directions. He had in fact fallen into a shitstorm!
What was the upshot of the melee I’d created? Nothing!
Nothing will come of nothing, speak again…
I am saying, for the first time in my life one of my little excursions into mania, had not received chastisement or censure. My nickname went from Grumpy to the mini Attila the Hun. The Head Scoutmaster had said to the gathered throng, as we once again sat grouped in the Refectory after a sustaining tea of corned beef and mashed potatoes,that this group activity was the first time they’d experienced full internecine warfare, and had found it rather exhilarating. He had picked me up from my seat and stood me on the refectory table, and bade the gathered throng clap me as their new War chief, Attila the bun.
After the washing-up was completed by the allotted delegation, we were then taken down to the barn, sat in front of a blazing fire in the chimney breast, and proceeded to give robust renditions of ging gang goolie’s and other such awful fire-side fayre. The only disconcerting part of this affair, was the fact that the Scout Master type, sat me on his knee. Given that he was wearing khaki shorts and long socks, and that my bare legs, because I too was in shorts, were touching his hairy knees, this was beyond the pale… Not for the reasons which we might find worrying as adults, but mostly because I was averse to close contact with anyone.
to be continued.
ANY COMMENTS ON THE STYLE OF WRITING WILL BE GRATEFULLY RECEIVED BECAUSE I’M AIMING TO PUT MY STORIES INTO A BOOK EVENTUALLY. I KNOW MY GRAMMAR IS SHOCKING, BUT ANY OTHER INSIGHTS WILL BE OF INTEREST TO ME.