Growing up in the 70’s has quite distinctive memories for me. There was a certain visual flavor to that period for a small boy. Attitudes, clothes, and from a kids perspective, toys even more so stick in my mind.
Everything seemed garishly bright. Or patterned like a carpet, so you looked like you were wearing a weave people could wipe their feet on.
My (purple) Raleigh Chopper bike that I loved, was one of those items that must have been designed by someone taking LSD when it was on the drawing board. It was a step up from the Chipper I had had prior. My bright yellow chipper. Both bikes had been developed with that 70’s affliction of terrible colours.
Dreadful, but still, I have to say, incredibly cool in their own way.
Then there was the bionic man. The boys doll. Steve Austin. The six million dollar man, almost killed in a rocket launch into space, almost. But not quite.
But they managed to drag his mangled arse from the wreckage, minus one arm, eye and leg, then rebuilt him with bionic parts.
With his super strong bionic arm, his superduper bionic eye that gave him super vision, and his amazing bionic leg. That very leg that enabled him to jump incredible heights and run at 60 miles an hour. With only one bionic leg mind.
I never quite got my head round that. Wouldnt the other one plough a furrow in the tarmac trying to keep up?
And what sticks in my mind most significantly was he knocked the shit out of Big Foot. The American equivalent to the yeti. Why? No idea. But I remember being glued to the television waiting to find out. Steve always managed to overcome the odds. I think they became friends.
Big Foot and Steve.
Again. No Idea.
It could only happen in the 70’s.
There were different attitudes to an awful lot of things back then, and it wasn’t all for the good. Punishment back then was much more casually dispensed. And it was meted out to a young age by people in authority. An accepted..
School and church were also significant in my life during my early Catholic upbringing. I’ve already mentioned this in Bless Me Father. Being interrogated on the Monday at school over whether or not I’d been to church on the Sunday and had I been to confession before hand? As a young boy, of course this was a priority in my life.. Go tell the priest all the bad things I’d done that week. Before I was sent to Hell for my sins.
Well. I think I went a ways towards reserving my position down there in the eyes of some people during this particular week.
Oh. And the other thing I remember.
A kind of bamboo stick that you would get across the seat of your pants or palms of your hands for some misdemeanor.
I found myself seriously considering how much it could hurt this particular morning, sitting on one of the four chairs lining the wall outside the headmasters office, reflecting on the last 24 hours. Wondering how things managed to go so bad, so quickly.
Because in a small boys world, lets be honest, from their perspective its always bad.
And, stationed on the furthest chair from to me, just to highlight how bad thing actually were, was my friends mum. The thunderous frowns of distaste she kept throwing my way only adding to the pressure.
And just to add to all this, my mum in her wisdom had decided today, I was wearing short trousers. Short trousers. Short trousers my mother chose that I felt were too tight, too short and too revealing. I honestly believe my lower buttock cheeks were on display.
Having the build of a sturdy sumo as a kid always left me feeling as I grew up that clothing was just, tight.
Nothing ever quite fit. My mum was usually taking up trouser legs after buying something bigger to fit me. But, this was the 70’s.
Everything was either tight, ridiculously flared or florally psychedelic.
(Above a typical outfit to go to the shops in.)
Everything I wore fit in the “Tight” zone. Even my flared stuff was tight. Bythe time my mum took the legs up, the flares became drain-pipes anyway.
I actually believe my shorts were flares she took up too much but was determined she was going to get her money’s worth out of.
Knowing what I was facing at school today, I felt I could have done without the anxiety of making my way around the playground being the only young kid wearing hot pants.
When she gave me my clothes for that day, my lip had dropped in preparation of a dispute, but the warning look from my dad dissuaded me from any utterance. I was already in enough trouble as it was.
Roll back a day.
Its amazing as a kid, just how quickly your easy-going no problem day, can turn upside down and find you in – to your young mind – the worst amount of trouble its possible to be in.
On this day at school I was wandering around the school yard with my friend Martin Greavy – AKA Groovy Greavsy. Our school had two playgrounds, one either side of the school buildings. The older kids, 9-10 year olds, were placed in the yard at the front, where the main road was situated just the other side of the fence that separated us from the rest of the world.
The younger kids, the 7-8 year olds were placed in the yard at the back of the school. In between the two playgrounds was a sort of middle ground, a small square area that you was accessed by a walk through from either yard. It was kind of out of sight of the dinner ladies that patrolled the two yards, and kids from each age group tended to bump into each other there.
Today Greavsy and I wandered around there to find three girls huddled over something, whispering between themselves. I knew them all, two twins and their best friend. It was impossible not to know everyone in the school in one way or another. It was a small place. They were some two years younger than my friend and I, 8 year olds, all in my younger brothers year.
“Oi! What’ve you got there then?”
I shouted over. The girls jumped at the sound of my voice, from the way the three of them bunched up facing us, hiding whatever they had behind their backs made it clear it was something worth seeing.
“Behave. Come on. show us what you’ve got.”
They shared a glance then one of the girls brought forth a damp looking magazine.
“Here. Just this. We found it over there – its not ours!”
Greavsy and I took the proffered magazine and both stood looking at the cover.
There was a moment of silence. The three girls stood, staring at us, staring at the magazine.
“Is it yours?”
One of the twins asked us.
“What? No! Its not!”
What we held in our hands was a kind of paper gold to a small boy. It was an adult magazine of the day.
We’d just been handed a visual promised land.
Not that we were any the wiser about Razzle. But it was full of semi-clad and naked ladies. Where else was a 10 year old going to see something like this.
We began to turn the damp sheets breathlessly, even reverently. Pealing back each page carefully from the one below it. And each page brought something new into our lives. Complete absorption followed. Two small boys huddled over this magazine. Turning the pages to different angles to better observe what was before us. looking like a pair of siamese twins, joined at the shoulder, heads turning in complete sync following the viewing position.
Probably unaware we were making slight Ooooing and snorting noises, and occasional
“I say old chap that’s just not cricket”
I came out of my daze to hear a determined tread coming towards us, and looked up to see Mrs. Abbot walking along the pathway from the young kids yard. I have to impart at this point that Mrs. Abbot was the head dinner lady, who brooked no messing about. She was a lady of firm, clear beliefs and rules and you crossed her at your peril. I’m sure she was a very nice lady. But as a young boy there were certain people in the world you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of. Your dad being one. God. And Mrs. Abbot was another.
She was flanked by the twins and their friend, with one of the twins leaning around the iron lady to point and whisper something urgently to her. The steely gaze that took in the scene as she marched towards us was enough for me.
With a slight whinny I passed my share of the magazine sideways to Greavsy without taking my eyes off the assembly marching my way, and stepped sideways, trying to put what little distance I could between myself, and what was the focus of Mrs. Abbots fixed gaze.
Greavsy never lifted his eyes, only taking a firmer white knuckled grip on the magazine and becoming that much more absorbed now he had full control on the paperwork.
He even went to nudge me, elbowing fresh air, mumbling incoherently, leaning slightly to display the page with his gaze still fixed, with me bending away like he had the plague.
Christ I wanted nothing to do with it!
She shouted at him.
He almost shredded the magazine out of hand. Mrs. Abbots voice was an instantly recognizable sound. The colour drained from his face and he automatically tried to pass me the mag. Only to find the short gulf between us unbridgeable as I swayed out of reach, leaving him proffering it into fresh air while his attention was firmly rooted on Mrs. Abbot.
“Greavy! What have you got in your hands?!”
“I don’t know Miss! Nothing Miss! I found it Miss! With him!! He found it first! I didn’t even want to look!! He made me look!!”
(contrary to the avid concentration he was displaying when Mrs. Abbot arrived)
He wailed, looking at her and pointing at me with the magazine in hand, like a kind of lewd pointing stick, its pages wide open to the world.
I stood facing this very visual denial, recoiling each time he waved it in my direction and flinching each time he appealed to Mrs. Abbot with it flapping in his hand.
Mrs. Abbot, her shoulders back, hands on hips, a look of disgust on her lined face, like this here, was the lowest moment in her long and proud career of service to small boys and girls. These two boys stood before her, fighting to make the other hold the dirty mag. What was also interesting in my detached third person observation was, she also managed to convey that she wasn’t at all surprised…
“That’s it you two! Come with me!! You’re going to Mrs. MacTaggart !!”
Oh for fucks sake.
I thought things were bad being discovered by Mrs. Abbot.
Mrs. MacTaggart was a teacher at the school. She was old OLD school. She was one of those old teachers who ruled with an iron fist. No discussion. No mercy. Probably coming towards retirement age. she had seen it all and dealt with everything.
And crushed all before her.
There wasn’t a kid in the school who didn’t shudder when her name was whispered.
I actually felt some pee pass. I think Greavsy went straight past Go and filled his boots.
“What? Noooooo! He gave me the magazine! And Them!”
(Pointing at the girls, still, using the magazine)
They just went into round eyed denials, supported by Mrs. Abbot.
“How dare you accuse these young girls Greavy!”
While Greavsy, goggle eyed himself at this point, continued to wave the magazine at me then Mrs. Abbot, spouting vehement denials.
(Please God just put the fucker down and back away I kept wishing every time he flourished it)
Mrs. Abbot decided the matter for him and snatched it out of his hands, tucked it under her arm, gripped both of ours and marched us off to see Mrs. MacTaggart .
I looked at the girls as we were dragged past, Greavsy wailing as we went. The smug smiles said it all.
We had just been rolled over.
The only good thing to come out of it was firstly, Mrs. MacTaggart wasn’t in. (She was probably on call at some death camp)
Neither was Mr. Conlan the headmaster. But that just delayed what was coming when he was the next day.
As a good catholic lad, I was enthused with guilt. On top of what was coming I had the fear of going to hell already burned into my bones by our local church over the slightest miss-step in life.
I mean. Fuck knows where looking at a ladies beaver and busters rated on the punishment scale knows with the church.
And the cane.
I’d never had it before. I didn’t even know for sure if I was going to be strapped to the wall and whipped with gusto by someone dressed in an Third Reich uniform, or if it was a couple of strokes across the hands. The uncertainty only added to the anxiety.
I spent a long, sweaty day, waiting to go home. Confess to my dad or not? Stay stum? After all, he was going to find out all the sordid details when I saw the headmaster the next day and received a call describing the filthy thing I had done. And this would only happen after he had caned me, expelled me, then passed me over to the clergy to be excommunicated and my head shaved.
I was going to look a right state when I got home.
The thing was, it wasn’t that I was going to be battered all over the house by my dad. But I’d just spent a day have looks of disgust aimed at me by all the dinner ladies and listening to every kid in my class tell me what was going to happen tomorrow.
I was going to see the headmaster for looking at PORN!
I didn’t think my dad wasn’t going to slap me on the back and say,
“Well done son!
I decided to come clean that night. Get it over with.
“Dad? Can I tell you something?”
He stopped what he was doing to focus on me.
“Yes son? And…?”
“I got in trouble today at school dad. I’ve got to go and see the headmaster tomorrow.”
It came out as a torrent of words.
“Right. (Deep breath before he went on) And what have you done?”
I hesitated. How to break it to him?
“I got caught looking at dirty pictures dad.”
He did a double take.
Again the words spilled out.
“MeanGreavsygotcaughtlookingat ladies Nellieeeeeees dadddd!!”
I wailed at him.
I got a crack round the ear.
“Don’t do it again then! You dirty bugger!”
I think the crack round the ear was a token gesture. His face was unnaturally set as I received the lecture.
“Your just going to have to take what’s coming son. You got caught. That’s it. Now. You wait here. I don’t know how I’m going to tell your mother…”
I sat there ruminating how it had gone. At least it was over, just the cane tomorrow…
There was a muffled conversation from the other room. Then it sounded like someone spat their tea and I heard my mother laughing hard from the kitchen and trying not to.
My dad reappeared round the door pulling it closed behind him, muffling only slightly my mother in the other room.
He took a long hard look at me while I avoided his eyes. Finally,
“She’s as disappointed as I am son. Devastated in fact. ”
From the sounds coming from the kitchen, I begged to differ. But I felt I was getting off lightly. Stay quiet and keep in front while you can. It was as an after-thought that he seemed add, as thought he thought he better punish me for what I thought was a terrible thing.
“And bed. You can go to bed after your Tea. There. That should do it. And don’t do it again! You’ll go bloody blind!!”
And he went back in the kitchen with my mum.
The next day I went to class to confer with Greavsy, only to find that he had ducked. He wasn’t in school. I was left alone to wait for the call to see the headmaster. I was finally summoned and walked past my classmates like one condemned. They all knew what had happened the day before and had probably started a sweep to see how many strokes I would receive.
I had a seat pointed out to me by the elderly secretary outside the office and was told bluntly to
“Wait right there.”
I sat down resigned to what was coming wondering if I would be able to sit down again at the end of it. With these shorts on probably not. I felt like I was getting a wedgie just trying to find a comfortable position. I was left squirming around on the plastic seat.
And obviously as a Catholic I was destined for confession this week. There was no way I was telling the priest what I’d been caught doing.
Fuckit. I’d tell him I was rude to my mam.
I’d worry about the consequences when I died.
When Greavsy’s mum arrived and sat as far away from me as possible, my worry went up a whole new notch. If my friend had sent his mother in because of what was due to happen to us, then things must be really bad. I mean a catholic kid, looking through a porn magazine, on school property. Jesus, they were going to nail me to the school gates.
Mrs. Greavy certainly didn’t wait long. the secretary ushered her in not long after she arrived. And she didn’t waste much time in there either. She was out not long after, door held open for her by the head master, almost deferential in his goodbyes.
I followed her progress past me and away down the hall, only to have my attention snapped back by the head teacher.
“Walsh. In. Here. Now.”
I almost dragged myself into the room, passing the man who was to thrash me. I stood before his desk eyes down as he released the door behind me, allowing it to close as he made his way to his seat and sat, looking at me.
“So. Michael. You’ve been looking at fithy pictures I hear.”
“And did you enjoy looking at them Walsh?”
I sometimes think these are trick questions.
“But look you did, didn’t you?!!”
“And have you learnt a lesson Walsh? Would you look again?”
Christ. Here we go again.
“No Walsh! You’re bloody bang on!”
I could see the cane stood up against the wall behind him, almost bathed in a righteous halo of light from the single window. And all I could think was, I didn’t know where I would prefer to be thrashed with it: on my arse or across my palms.
“Well Walsh. This is your lucky day. I’m going to let you go with a warning. I think we understand each other here. It won’t happen again will it?”
Not where you can catch me I thought.
“Definitely not Sir.”
I answered breathlessly. Still wondering what part of this interview was going to trip me up.
Mr. Conran continued.
“Then we’ll say no more about then. I mean boy, can you imaging what you parents would say if they knew what you had been doing??”
I have to say I stared at him for a moment slightly goggle eyed, as the previous evening raced through my mind.
“Well! Have you any idea how your parents would react boy!?”
“Oh! Yes sir! I think I do Sir! SaynomoreaboutSir!!!”
I answered, almost at attention, staring earnestly at Mr. Conran. While the previous evenings events still skipped across my minds eye.
I actually felt cheated.
Yeah you’re dead right I had an idea how my mum and dad would have reacted.
I wouldn’t have got a crack round the ear and early bed if I’d kept my mouth shut for a start.
But to be fair my mum had done me a favour.
Mr. Conran probably couldn’t bring himself to thrash the young lad with his buttocks hanging out of his high-cut lederhosens..