Part one of John’s adolescent dilemma
Despite the progress women have made in the last generation and a half , some things are and have always been easier for girls. At 13 years old they are blessed with greater confidence, greater maturity, greater common sense and most importantly are not faced at every turn by the constant threat of embarrassment. True! Here’s a story I kept to myself until my children found out about it when they were in their teens. Who would let an irresponsible 13-year-old boy take his 18-month-old brother on a 15 minute walk that involved crossing at least one main road? Well, my parents. One January morning I set off with my 18-month-old brother to visit our gran. We were both walking. After spending some time with her, we set off on our return walk.
Unknown to me, a bullock had escaped from the local abattoir that morning. It was careering around the town to the horror of all who saw it. It lunged without success at several people as it explored an unexciting industrial town to which it had been brought to die. On our way back my brother and I crossed a car park near our home.
There were not many vehicles in the car park and my brother dawdled because he was getting tired. I was some 30 metres in front of him. Turning around to give him a hurry-up, I saw the bullock storming around a corner of a lane which led into the car park.
It slowed down as I saw it, perhaps 50 metres away. Then it put its head down and charged at my brother – and so did I. In this race, I got there first. I picked him up and darted between two cars which were too close together for the bullock to follow me.
It gave up the race for my brother and me but went on scaring as many other townspeople as it could. Finally it was shot by a soldier on the hockey field of the local girls’ high school.
The whole episode passed from my life, or so I thought. I took my brother home but didn’t say a word to mum and dad about what had happened. I did not want to get into any bother with my parents and 18-month-old little boys don’t tell tales. So my parents knew nothing though they read about the escaped bullock in the local newspaper that evening.
But the bullock’s rampage remained big news. I can remember my parents discussing it because the paper reported the bullock had been seen to charge at a small child in the car park over the road from where we lived and had been rescued.
Early that evening there was a knock on our door and my father went to answer it. I heard the caller introduce himself as a reporter from the London based Daily Mirror and he asked if Dad was my father. The reporter regaled my surprised dad with an exaggerated version of what had happened and then asked if he could interview me and get some pictures of me and my brother.
I was off: Out the back door like a robber’s dog. I did not want my photograph in the Daily Mirror with the reporter’s version of events. All my classmates would see it. Everyone in our town would see it. I would never live it down. If a 13-year-old girl had done the heroic deeds now attributed to me she would have washed her hair and put on her best frock and posed for endless photos. I was a boy and was consumed by an embarrassment which dogged me for decades.
I ran to my grandmother’s and told her the story from the time I’d left her house with my brother. The doorbell rang. It was dark and she peered through the curtains. “It’s your Dad with another man.” she told me. She nodded at the stairs and I ran up them and hid in one of the bedrooms. “No,” I heard Gran lie to her son, “Haven’t seen him since this morning.”
My father and the Mirror reporter left. After a while my grandmother persuaded me to go home. When I got there my parents were very displeased with me. They would have been delighted to see their first-born splattered all over the next morning’s newspapers. Their first-born did not however share their view. All this happened remember, in the days when newspapers had more than 20 words on their front page and used words with more than two syllables.
Nor did they put sport on the front page. What did all the British national newspapers have on their front page that morning in January? Me.
Thankfully there were no photographs. My parents ran a newsagent’s shop and I could see all the papers the next morning. Each named me and wrote an exaggerated fabrication of what I had supposedly done. A girl would have glowed in the attention, but I was a 13-year-old boy. Less than half of all people have been a 13-year-old boy and they cannot possibly imagine the embarrassment.
Of course my parents remained unhappy with me for my ill-mannered and churlish (a new word to a 13-year-old boy) behaviour. For weeks and indeed for some years, people coming into my parents’ shop would call me Toreador or whistle the Toreador tune from Carmen.
The mood at home had eased a little when one morning a week or so later, into my parents’ shop stepped a reporter from The Northern Daily Mail. Perhaps miffed because the paper did not get a piece of the action a week or so earlier they wanted a photo of the famous hero. I was trapped – there was no escape.
That evening, mercifully on an inside page, were my brother and I. Had I been a girl I would have delighted at the attention but as I said, I was a 13-year-old boy. I was praised for my quick thinking. It was rubbish. Teen-aged boys are renowned for not thinking; unlike girls. I squirmed with embarrassment for days. As the embarrassment wore off, the Christmas school holidays ended and I went back to school.
The headmaster was pleased to have me stand up in the school assembly where once again I squirmed under undeserved attention hyped up by newspapers. In the immediate aftermath of my brush with fame I received a few letters from newspaper readers who were impressed with what I was reported as having done. I even received in the post a pound note and another envelope with a one pound postal order.
Easter came and went as did summer and the summer school holidays. Life went back to normal as I proceeded through my early pimply teens. The bull fighting escapade as my detractors called it, was now behind me. Or so I thought…