Blast From the Past 1 - The Eggbasket

Dear Reader,


Join me if you will, in a confession of one of my most innermost secrets. The tale that you are about to read is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It recalls an event in my life that, as a child, had quite an impact on my formative years.

Looking back, as I recall the events that took place on that fateful day, I can smile and even joke about it, but at that time, as a kid, it was a truly traumatic experience.

So sit back, get comfortable, and follow me as I describe to you, in all its gory detail, the events that took place in your humble scribe’s young life one day in the year 1980.

I was seven years old.
Life is simple as a seven-year-old.
Of course the world seen through the eyes of a seven-year-old, is anything but simple, but with the benefit of hindsight (and with a certain amount of longing for the innocence of youth), I realise that life was great as a seven-year-old.

In 1980, I was in P4 (primary 4 year) at Ballyclare Primary School - the largest primary school for a 6-mile radius in the borough of Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland. Apparently it has quite a good reputation these days – and I’m sure it did in those days as well, but that’s not the sort of things that you worry about as a seven-year-old kid.

I worried about the fact that I was the youngest in my year.
I worried about the fact that I was smaller than nearly all of the girls, never mind the boys.
I worried about whether or not I was going to embarrass myself in front of my teacher, the Goddess that was Mrs. McAuley, in the weekly spelling ‘B’ competition.

Ah yes – the spelling ‘B’ competition.

This was a wonderful way of torturing the kids which took place every Friday afternoon, when we should have all been daydreaming about the adventures that the upcoming weekend would bring us.
Basically, it involved us all standing up in class taking it in turns to spell words that the teacher read out to us. If you got it wrong you sat down in an embarrassed silence and waited until there was only one person left. The last person standing was proclaimed the spelling champion for the week.
The prize offered to the weekly spelling champ? As if the wonderful smugness of beating your classmates wasn’t enough, you also got to write your name on the black board in a box in the bottom right-hand corner. No matter how much Mrs McAuley used the blackboard the following week, she never removed that person’s name.

Oh how badly I wanted to get my name in that box!

I was totally and utterly convinced that by being able to spell words like ‘Mississippi’ and ‘diarrhoea’, I would be able to instantly make up for the fact that I was a seven-year-old midget and convince her to leave my nemesis, Mr. McAuley and ride away into the sunset with me on the back of my BMX.
Strangely enough, despite the fact that I got my name up in that box on more than one occasion – we never did run off together, but I kept the BMX in good condition, just in case…

An interesting footnote to this, is that whilst I was still at primary school, Mrs. McAuley, changed from a P4 teacher to a P7 teacher THE SAME YEAR as I went into P7!! So she was actually my teacher when I was an 11-year-old midget as well!

Draw your own conclusions, Dear Reader!

But (not for the first time) I digress.

Ballyclare Primary School is quite an old building. It had just the one floor and was shaped in such a fashion that the classrooms were side by side in a square shape, surrounding the inner courtyard, where there was a small garden. It was in this garden that Mrs. McAuley would read to us on warm summer term afternoons. We sat around her completely wrapped in such tales as The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, written by fellow Northern Ireland man C. S. Lewis.

Oh how wonderful she looked with her hair shining in the sunlight, her white cotton blouse seeming to illuminate….

Ahem – but I digress again.

Unfortunately, the school was built at a time when there were only farmers and sheep in the area and Lord knows, whilst great companions for amorous encounters sheep may well be - in need of a school education they most definitely are not.

This meant that originally, the size of the school was never an issue. But then something strange started to happen in my hometown - or more to the point in other towns within commuting distance on the other side of Belfast to the South. The price of property in towns like Bangor, Hillsborough and (the original) Hollywood (I kid you not), started to rocket – so when people couldn’t afford to buy property there, they started moving into our wee part of God’s own country. This meant that the capacity of the school increased to proportions never envisaged back when the school was first built.

So what did the North Eastern Education and Library Board do to resolve the situation? They supplied the school with mobile classrooms, that’s what. These were what could only be described as flimsy wooden huts similar to those seen in Prisoner of War camps.

Our class was one of these, and was situated on a small hill overlooking the school playground. In the morning, no matter what the weather, we had to stand outside and wait on the teacher arriving before we could go into the ‘classroom’. The room was freezing in the winter, and we had to sit wearing our coats on more than one occasion.

(I tell you this, Dear Reader, for no other reason than to pull at your heartstrings, to ‘butter you up’ for the traumatic events that I am about to describe).

Each day we had two breaks – a 15-minute break at 10:15 and a 45-minute lunch break at 12:15. Every break time, the playground would be a huge cacophony of noise. Shrieks of laughter, fear and pain fought with each other to create a noise that can only be made by the holy terriers that are primary school children.

Kids ran, kids fought, kids played ball games, and kids chased each other all in the form of pre-pubescent entertainment. As a result, two six foot walls were placed just in front of the exits from the girls and boys toilets, in order to prevent serious injury occurring when we ran screaming out of the toilets into the madness and mayhem of the playground, where all the other kids were already running and screaming.

When it came to running and screaming, the guys I knocked around with made it into an art form. We played games like British Bulldog, where the object of the game was to run from one end of the playground to the other without being stopped dead in your tracks by members of the other team. Basically anything went, as long as you were able to stop your opponent.

Another game that we played was ‘Tag’. This involved one person being ‘It’ and chasing all the others to try and catch them. Once a person was caught – that person then had to help ‘It’ catch all the others. As we got a little bit older this game was changed to ‘AIDS’ – as in “You’ve got AIDS!” and then we ran about ‘infecting’ each other by catching them. Highbrow stuff it most definitely was not, but at least we weren’t infecting each other in the proper way…

One day we were playing the ‘It’ game and I was one of the few remaining boys to get caught. I had about half a dozen boys chasing me. I may have been a midget, but I could run like the wind. (Being chased by a gang of lads all several inches taller than you is always a wonderful incentive!)

One of the guys who was chasing me was well known to the rest of the school as the fastest boy in the school apart from my best mate ‘Dinger’ Bell (these are facts that only seven year old kids know or even care about), was chasing me.

My pursuer belonged to one of the largest families in town. Indeed there were four huge families in Ballyclare that everyone knows. Each family was enormous with at least a dozen children (and these are Protestants!) who then went on to have other children of their own. Several of his brothers were well known as ‘hard men’ and as a result, he struck the fear of God into me - being chased by their kid brother was not a nice feeling.

In my efforts to avoid getting caught by him, I tripped and started to stumble, headfirst.
Rather than fall flat on my face, I continued for several steps, fighting to keep my balance, scared to death of putting a hole in my school trousers. On reflection, it really would have been a wise idea to fall and take the flak from my mother instead.

As I stumbled head first, I was unable to see in which direction I was going, so you can imagine my surprise when my head crashed against the corner of the ‘safety’ wall outside the girls’ toilets.

The whole world went head over heels as I fell, stunned, backwards to the ground.

I lay where I fell, completely without any idea as to where or who I was. I could hear nothing apart from a loud ringing in my ears. I have no idea, for how long I lay there in that state, before one of the teachers who was on playground duty that day came and picked me up to take me into the school.

Up to this point, in the words of Mr. Plant, Mr. Page and the rest, I was “dazed and confused” but that was all soon to change.

The easiest way to get into the school from where I had fallen was through a door just adjacent to the girls’ toilet. As the teacher carried my stunned self into the school, two girls, a couple of years older than me, walked out of the toilets chatting animatedly. They took one look at me and stopped dead in their tracks.

“OH MY GOD! – LOOK AT THE HOLE IN HIS HEAD!!!” screamed one of them.
“EUUUUUGGHHHH!!!” exclaimed the other in disgust.

Upon hearing this, I started to scream and thrash my legs about in wild panic. What the hell had happened to me??! The buzzing noise was being replaced by excruciating pain. My head felt like it had exploded into tiny parts!

The teacher tried to calm me as best as she could, which is quite difficult to do, considering I was taking some sort of epileptic fit in her arms as she was trying to carry me through swinging doors without accidentally banging my head on the doors adding further to my pain.

She took me to the staff room, where I was greeted by rather surprised expressions from a male teacher who was to become my P6 teacher and a female teacher who was an old witch of a woman who used to beat my father up on a regular basis (several years before whilst he was a kid at the school of course).

They grabbed some hand towels and tried their best to mop up my blood. Upon the sight of all the blood, I went into hysterics again, but she did a great job of calming me down. She then decided that it would be quicker if she drove me to hospital instead of waiting on the ambulance.

My mother was contacted and, understandably so but still rather surprising to me, my recollection is a bit vague at this point. I’m not sure if she came along with us in the school van, or if she went directly to the hospital.

Either way, the next thing I remember is lying on the hospital bed getting stitched up when my mum came into the room. To paraphrase her at this point, she describes what she saw:

“When I came into the room you were lying on the bed with a huge bandage on your head. You looked so small and frightened but you were trying your hardest not to cry, biting onto your bottom lip”.

The sight of her brave eldest son fighting back the tears made my mum want to cry herself but not wanting to start me off into (more) hysterics, she decided to crack a ‘joke’.

Dear Reader, I love my mother dearly, but honest to God - the ‘joke’ that came out of that woman’s lips was possibly the worst thing she could ever have said to me under the circumstances. For at this moment she was to utter the following words:

“I hope you didn’t lose any of your brains when you hit the ground!”

A feeling of pure undiluted fear shot through my spine and stabbed my heart. My mind raced as I tried to think back to the playground. All sorts of thoughts and questions flew through my aching head.

As a seven-year-old boy, I had no concept of human biology. I did not know what I do today about the human brain. So when my mother made this remark – I assumed the human brain was like a basket full of eggs!

Perhaps some of my brains did fall out! I wasn’t looking at the time - did anyone pick up my brains and put them back in my head??! Don’t stitch me up yet doctor – I have to find out if my brains were picked up!! How am I gonna cope with some of my brains missing??!

Rather surprisingly, I kept all these thoughts in my head, as if I was scared to lose even these most horrific thoughts - at least my brains were still functioning well enough to scare the shit out of me!

So for the following two weeks, I stayed at home drinking Lucozade and Ribena, watching daytime TV, whilst all the time wondering whether or not I still had all my brains.

When I returned to school, I went back to the scene of the accident – and was more than a little disappointed not to find any brains (mine or otherwise). I was also disappointed to see that despite the pain and agony that had been inflicted upon me, my clash with the wall had not even left so much as a scratch on the wall.

For the next few years, whenever I struggled with my school homework, I was convinced that it was because some of my brains had dropped out. When my Mum or Dad shouted at me because I was struggling with my homework, I would reply (at least in my head)

“WELL WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM ME???! I LOST MOST OF MY BLOODY BRAINS IN THE SCHOOL PLAYGROUND!!!!”

As another little footnote to this story, whilst living and working in St. Albans, just north of London, I met a couple who drank in my ‘local’ – The Noke Hotel bar.

She worked at the same company as me and he was a decent enough fella, who liked his football, even if he did support The Arse(nal). He was also an avid Glasgow Rangers supporter and one weekend I headed up along with him and the girlfriend to see the game against Hibernians (like Celtic but from Edinburgh).

He was a member of the “The Nottingham and Sheffield District Loyal Glasgow Rangers Supporters Club (F**k The Pope)”. That was their name - I am not kidding – if you don’t believe me, I can show you the T-shirt he gave me! So I travelled up with him and this bunch of absolute psychos. Actually, the whole trip is something that I would like to document but perhaps at another time.
However, imagine my surprise, when, just as we went to take our places in the Broomloan Stand, I heard a Ballyclare accent shout “Oi - What the fuck are you doing here?!”.

I turned around wondering who the hell was behind me, when who did I spy grinning at me like a loon from two rows behind? – yep – none other than my pursuer. I replied in the time honoured tradition “Fucking hell – what the hell are you doing here?!”. To which he replied – “I’m a season ticket holder – I’m over here every other week!”

It was at this point that I noticed who he was sat with – some of Ballyclare’s finest low-lives. Not to mention a couple of his brothers.

I turned to face the game but was left with an uneasy feeling, I still remember the last time he was so close behind me – no matter how many of my brains fell out….

Comments

Jenny Okanagan said…
I've had the pleasure of reading this piece before but it never fails to entertain me. In a squeamish sort of way! Cheers!