Not being American, we didn’t have show and tell. It was the eighties, and much as we have now learnt that the eighties were almost-exclusively populated by light-entertainment perverts, it was a simpler time.
We had a thing on Fridays at school. I suspect it would be called ‘Show and Tell’ now, because Statesian is the common tongue. We were permitted to bring in a toy from home, introduce it to the class and play with it at break time.
I never brought in a toy. Jim was my favourite toy, a long soft monkey, about as big as me. He was my friend, and I didn’t want to lose him. Instead, I brought a story.
One of the best times ever at school was when the teacher had what I now recognise as a hangover and we were given busy work – we were to write a story for the next twenty minutes. Now, this was when we were around seven years old. Twenty minutes was an eternity. In that time, we were not to ask the teacher any questions, we were not to make any noise, spelling errors were the stuff of life, they were character-building, we were to be silent for the next third of an hour.
I wrote some sort of adventure story. That would be the totality of my remembrance except for the spelling error which drove me to distraction. I couldn’t think for the life of me how to spell ‘Phew’. The damsel had saved the hero (I have always been me), and let out an utterance of relief. There was no entendre, double or otherwise, because I was seven. I certainly didn’t refer to it as ‘an utterance of relief’ but the writing of ‘phew’ was a major stumbling block.
I raised my hand. It was waved down by the teacher, somewhat red-eyed and exhausted, and I tapped my pencil against my head.
Eventually, I settled on ‘fyoo’. I’m still a little bit proud of that.
So, I used to bring in stories I had written for the class. There was one I wrote while I was babysat across the road by our neighbours, Ann and Geoff.
It was a long story, it took three weeks to finish reading it out. Most of my stories were fiction, with clanky-named characters and extraordinary circumstances. Much was inspired by soap operas of the time. Occasionally, I wrote down real life.
Rather a lot of years before, my grandmother had been expecting my dad and word reached my granddad that she was in labour. Most people had their babies at home at the time, but when the word came through, he heard that my gran had gone to hospital. This was very serious, and not of the norm.
He got onto his Enfield motorbike, slammed on the cloth cap and goggles, and sped off towards the maternity unit. It was early January and the snow was falling. My granddad went round a corner a mite too fast, hit a patch of black ice and skated down the road on his side, his leg pinned and sliding under the weight of the bike.
When he came to a halt, he turned his bike and shone his headlight on the road to see what had knocked him off course. Something small and wet-looking sat in the middle of the road.
Perhaps it was a mouse? A vole?
It was his ear, it had come straight off.
From what I can make out, people didn’t worry too much in those days. I am told my granddad took a handful of snow, took his ear off the road, and bundled the two up in a handkerchief. He arrived at the hospital only to be told that my grandmother had gone home. It was a false alarm. He took his ear out of his pocket, and they sewed it back on for him.
My dad wasn’t born for another two weeks, at home.
The only time I couldn’t think of a story for whatever we called Show and Tell, I brought a toy. It felt like a cop-out, but I had a severe case of writer’s block.
I was five years old. Growing up just outside Croydon, down the road from Biggin Hill and Sevenoaks. There had been a storm the night before.
Six of the eponymous seven oaks had come down in the night. There were telegraph poles splayed, splintered and fallen all along our road. The buses had stopped. Surrey almost blew away in the hurricane of ’87. The school was closed.
Jim and I went home.