Most of my stories seem to take place in summer. Maybe my memory is set to BST. Maybe I just haven’t gotten around to my winter set of stories yet.
Regardless, this story is set in the summertime and is about the times that your parents decide to set you free.
I was about 9 years old and I’d been playing ‘war’ with two of my cousins, Lee and John, who were both a few years older than me. This was a game that consisted of hiding in the long grass (that the council hadn’t gotten around to cutting yet) and pelting mud and stones at the Renehans.
The Renehans were an odd family but nothing too out of the ordinary for a council estate. They all had wonky home-cut-hair and shared a strange gait – which, it’d be fair to say, meant they bounced more than walked.
For these reasons alone, my cousins had marked them as the enemy in our little game – as the Germans.
Still in hiding, we slithered on our bellies like snakes through the dirt, avoiding ants-nests, dog shit and funny little discarded balloons with hard rubber rings. We were now only separated from the Germans by a small single-lane road. They wouldn’t know what had hit them.
We stood up from our cover, dirt grenades at the ready. With a cry of “WAR!!!!” we pelted them. They couldn’t do anything but turn and bounce away.
I say “we pelted them” but in actual fact my cousins’ aim was much better than mine. A point stressed by Lee, the younger of my two cousins.
This was the start of it…or was it? Maybe I’d been aware of it for sometime but on this day it really hit home: I was being teased, bullied and tormented by Lee.
The day carried on and so did the bullying. The trouble with childhood’s endless summer is the effect it has on your patience. Something snapped inside of me and I went for Lee.
John scampered off into his house to fetch his parents and mine. By the time they got back out of the house one of those human circles had developed around us, complete with cries of “fight, fight, fight”.
***For the benefit of people who have only known me as the good-looking, hunky, muscle-bound man who I am today, I should probably take some time to paint a picture of me at 9-years old: I liked staring at the sky, practicing my times-tables and going down the park in search of frogspawn and tadpoles.***
Needless to say, a fight with my cousin was a stupid move on my behalf. I looked to the crowd and spotted the faces of my Mom and Dad. Instant relief swept across me, a welcome breeze in the summer’s mad heat, and my furrowed fighters brow lessened.
I was saved.
No, I wasn’t. They had quickly grasped the situation, probably more aware of the bullying than I had been, and concluded that I was doing the right thing.
They were setting me free, cutting the apron strings, watching me grow, or any other number of poetic words that covered the fact that they were actually sending me to my death.
With no alternative (other than doing a Renehan and bouncing out of there) I re-furrowed my brow and got to work. I was only 9 but I’d seen my fair share of fights, kung-fu movies and domestic violence to draw from.
I threw a few punches and even managed a headlock before Lee decided he’d had enough and threw a punch that connected with my eye socket with such force that it knocked me on my arse. Fight over.
He looked at me on the floor, he looked around the crowd, he looked at my parents – gauging whether they were going to give him a good-hiding of their own or not – and then he reached out for my hand and helped me to my feet.
From then on the boundaries were set. He may have been the tougher out of the two of us but there was never another case of bullying.
Years later, when I started big-school, I remember him knocking on my door, walking with me through the park that wound from our neighbourhood to the school gates, in to the playground of my new school.
He’d made a name for himself here – as had his four older, tougher, brothers. No-one messed with me…
But those stories are for a colder time.