Saturday, February 15, 2003


Today, I am thirty-seven years old. It’s that age where you give up any pretence of being young and have nothing to look forward to except years of grey fading to eventual black. I can still skateboard, and kick a football round the park, but my body has discovered new ways of punishing me for this, mostly involving trading in my thirty-four waist jeans for a thirty-six, and having knees that feel like they’ve gota handful of gravel in each one. But am I down-hearted? Things can’t get any worse than my thirteenth.

Unlucky for some. It was the school half-term holidays, and I had my best friend Cookie round for the day. Mum took us all into Reading to go to the cinema. It was a double bill of “Gold” and “Diamonds are Forever”. We sat in the dark for FOUR HOURS, and Mum still made us stand to attention for the national anthem at the end. Most of us were barely able to stand at this point.

By the time we got home, we were bursting with energy. We had foresaken the Kentucky Fried takeaway at Cemetary Junction because of the nasty rumour attached to it (you know - that Urban Myth about the cinema punter biting into a rat rather that juicy, succulant chicken), and had the old standard of Cookie-round-for-tea: Egg and Chips. Mmm.... egg and chips.

Things started to go wrong from there on in. There was a knock at the door. It was Mrs Wilson, our neighbour, in a state of agitation. She arrived home from work and opened the garage door to find Mr Wilson hanging from the rafters, dead as a dead thing, tongue sticking out in a grotesque impression of Buster Bloodvessel. An ambulance was called, and the police, and, because he had used some pretty heavy duty knots, the fire brigade. We were confined to a back room. The party was cancelled. The selfish bastard.

When you’ve got four kids in a confined space, all pumped up on Sainbury’s own-brand Rola-Cola things tend to get a tad excitable. Forgetting the unfolding drama next door, we decided to re-enact some of the more exciting moments from that afternoon’s cinematic masterclass. In other words, we beat the crap out of each other.

There is one particular move, in Diamonds are Forever’s final scene when 007 throws either Mr Wint or Mr Kidd (I can’t tell one effeminate assassin from the other, you know how these things are) over the side of the cruise liner by way of an aggravated wedgie. My sister decided it would be a good idea to try thid out. On me. In the film, Mr Wint/Kidd’s fall is broken by the sea, and it was just his bad luck that he happened to get blown up by a bomb just seconds later. The only thing to break my fall was a concrete floor.

I don’t remember an awful lot of what happened next. There was blood, there was a certain amount of unconsciousness followed by rather a lot of egg and chips chundering all over the floor. The dog, always one to take the side of the victor, waded into the melee as well, biting me hard on the leg and leaving a scar I still have the best part of twenty-five years later.

Mum kept her head at this scene of devastation, and refused to let them cart me to hospital in the same ambulance as the late Mr Wilson who had buggered up my birthday. Instead, I lay in my bed, a lump the size of a peach on my forehead, snoozing, groaning and puking for the next day and a half. I got a bike for my birthday, a lovely sleek racer, which I wasn’t allowed to ride for a week.

And there’s more. A couple of days later, my grandparents rang from Northern Ireland to ask if my present had arrived. It hadn’t. The bloody IRA had only gone and blown up a mail van at the airport, obviously in league with Mr Wilson and my bloody sister to bugger up my birthday even more.

Ah, golden days. You don’t get birthdays like that any more, thank the stars. Sean Connery still owes me an apology. And Gerry Adams. I'll let Mr Wilson off, just this once.


ManYoo 0-2 Arsenal. Bobby Charlton! Zoe Ball! Angus Deayton! Can you hear me? Your boys took one hell of a beating!!!

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