If you don’t like the effect… do not produce the cause.

If you don’t like the effect, do not produce the cause.

Once upon a time, I was a quiet child who excelled in sports and could string together good sentences every now and again. I received a certificate at the end of the first year in a boys’ secondary school in East Hertfordshire, by my departing English teacher and Head of Year. It was certified that I was ‘Most Daydreaming Pupil.’  I was a child who mainly lived in his imagination, thought deeply about things. I had a fair number of friends, most of them being at least two years older than me.

We would break into old bomb shelters, explore hard, found a small wood that contained concrete bunkers, and convinced ourselves we had discovered a secret, disused American air base. I would go on long bike rides alone, often finding great secluded bodies of water that contained hard to catch fish. I played for a local bottom of the league football team, on often flooded fields that used to be paddocks.

I had never been Christened. My father was seemingly an atheist, or at least an individual who had a dislike of religion.  And my Irish left-handed mother was happy to play along; she had lots of non-nostalgic memories of right-handed nuns during her school days, with their interesting theories about the hand of good versus the hand of evil. I inherited the left-handed gene but was well drilled in understanding the difference between right and wrong. I could easily paint a picture of what a wonderful angelic child I was, but such a picture painted would be a big fat oily fib. I regret to write that I was an occasional petty thief, a pretty sneaky one.  A few pennies and silvers from my mother’s purse, from my father’s bell jar of loose change. Sweets, cakes, stickers, matchbox cars, pieces of Lego. You name it, I stole it. From a friend, a foe or family member at some point in the early years of my existence. Biscuit and cookie thievery were my speciality. I could say that I was being led astray and got in with the wrong crowd, but things are never that simple:

One damp morning in the summer holidays, my ten-year-old self was riding my bike around the fields and the alleyways and through the spinneys of New Thorley, waiting to bump into Henry, my friend. He didn’t like it when I knocked on his front door, to see if he was ready for our next adventure in the old country. I had only ever heard his Dad’s voice, it was very loud and intimidating.  Henry was obsessed with food, on many occasions he insisted we go to my granddad’s house for a hot beverage. The milky cups of tea were always accompanied by biscuits of some sort, and Henry would gulp the biscuits down, seemingly without chewing – there was always crusts and crumbs in his pockets, of that I’m certain. My Granddad was not at home that morning. I assumed we would just ride to the nearby playgrounds, trying to find fellow adventurers who might be interested in exploring the secret woodland among the flat farm fields situated a mile or two behind the village church in Old Thorley. Instead, we were headed to an old people’s home, where Henry’s Granddad resided. I had gone with him once, but his granddad scared me. I was not very keen to go there again, but Henry was adamant. So we walked into the home and were confronted by a long corridor, he started crawling on all fours and I followed his lead. We were on a mission to find biscuits or cookies, preferably custard creams. We avoided detection and eventually found ourselves in a large kitchen. Henry pointed to the cupboard where the biscuits were kept and while he played lookout, I quietly found an unopened double packet of custard creams and stole them. We made our escape without being noticed and rode towards the New Thorley playground behind the ugly red bricked Sainsbury’s precinct. There were no boy adventurers we knew in the playground, and no one I was acquainted with at all except for two girls on the swings, from class in school. I went to the climbing bar area opposite them and started monkeying around in the hope of impressing; the girls on the swings were rope-skipping friends with a female poet that I secretly loved. Suddenly, my grip got lost on the rain-droplet covered monkey bars, and I fell awkwardly, winding myself, and landed on my thieving left wrist. I remember people laughing, that evil laugh that you only hear, usually on a sports field, when a winded boy is struggling for his breath after a slapstick fall on his back. My lungs eventually remembered how to function properly, but I was left with a pain in the wrist so intense that I could not help but scream and cry like a teething baby. Henry peddled off on my bike at speed to find me help, and it wasn’t very long until my mummy and my granddad were tending to my pathetic early afternoon cries of pain. The next thing I remember was waiting for three or four hours in the local hospital with mummy. It didn’t look like any bones were broken, but the x-ray confirmed my left wrist was fractured.

I ended up at home with my mother just before suppertime and my father’s return from work. I was still in pain as my arm was only covered by temporary bandaging and half plaster. The over the elbow plaster was due to be put on the next day. My father arrived home and I couldn’t help but cry and apologise for breaking my arm. I do not know why, but I was scared he would be mad at me. Of course, he wasn’t. In fact, he was trying not to laugh, he looked almost proud of his eldest son’s first big break in life.

I went to bed early, struggling to relax because of the constant throbbing pain. My concerned mother came up with a tray, on it was a mug of sweet tea and a generous plate of custard creams, which I struggled to dip and devour, with the aid of my good right hand.


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