Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bad Karma takes a leap out of Hubris

Plutarch’s blog, Now's The Time, yesterday mentioned nettles, and evoked a memory.

In 1954, my parents moved from their tiny cottage with an outside loo, at the Horsefair in Malmesbury, to a shiny council house with a gas copper in the shed, half a mile away at Hobbes Close. My father borrowed the undertaker’s handcart to move our possessions.

I was not yet five and had grown so far in the company of girls … mostly. So I was genuinely shocked when the smaller boy from next door approached me with an evil grin and silently punched me in the stomach; the only time I’d experienced comparable pain had been when my sister had sunk her teeth into my hand because she wanted the tennis ball I was holding.

Within a few days, I’d been absorbed in to the gang of kids that lived in our street, and soon I was going with them every week to see the Saturday afternoon picture shows at the Athelstan Cinema.

The unprovoked attacks continued sporadically and I had no inkling how to resist until one Saturday, after the film, when an older boy pointed out that I could do what John Wayne always had, and use my own fists. He explained in two sentences what was necessary, how to clench the fist and which part of the knuckle should lead, and then the two of us were set-up for a fight, surrounded by a small circle of taller boys. I must have just turned five years-old.

The boy next door approached as usual with a grin and clenched fists. I waited as instructed, until a split second before the expected punch, then viciously drove my tiny fist into his tiny nose. We were standing at the top of a bank where tall nettles grew, and he flew backwards down the slope, emerging both bloodied and extensively stung. He ran home weeping and howling.

His mum was very cross but his dad seemed to see the “funny side” of it.

Some weeks later in that same summer, we dug a small pit in the same bank and filled it with sand left over from someone’s path making. A jumping competition developed and I was persuaded to see if I could leap across the pit, a distance probably no more than four feet. I had never made a running leap before, and was surprised to find myself sailing, shirtless, far beyond the pit and rolling down that same slope among those same nettles.

I ran home weeping and howling.

the train now departing ...

calling in for a quick pee and a glimpse of something hot and smokey on 28th february 2006, i took a little picture of a forlorn tanker engine standing in the car park at sheffield park station, the southern terminus and loco shed of the bluebell line.

today i arrived at the same spot, for the same reason, and found the same engine about to depart for the national rail museum at york.

she looks a bit smarter nowadays, and i was amused to notice that she'd been built in nine elms, which is where i start my working day each morning