My brothers and I liked to push the boundaries.
I well remember our chain-smoking suburban mum and neighbour Mrs Johnson, whose husband a cook did a runner with some sweeter ingredient – can’t say we blamed him, telling her brow-beaten son Jeffery (pronounced as “Jeff-errr-reee”), to leave fumbling around with their garden hose and just let our garage burn down.
The garage was on the boundary of both of our properties. This was after my brother playing with matches accidentally? set fire to the hefty pile of newspapers from his part-time job that he’d dump down the back of our garage rather than delivering.
“Let it burn Jeff-errr-reee, let the whole goddam place burn down” she said emotionless and expressionless with her emphysema-like ‘kicking a can down the road’ rattle-chest drawl, while drawing away on a ciggy that was permanently stuck in a long plastic cigarette holder that she flourished. That together with a permanent hairnet that seemed to have melded with her scalp was the image I have of her. I guess she liked burning things.
Somehow we put that one out ourselves, before Mum & Dad got home.
Speaking of down the back of the property, the other neighbour immediately behind us was an Australian back from Vietnam and somehow we’d gotten into his garage courtesy of an invite from his son, so that we could examine his various militaria collection, ammunition belts, canteens, guns etc. Irresistable to young boys. Anyway, he suddenly burst in on us and chased us out brandishing a World War 2 bayonet from his collection and we’d leapt / rough scrambled over the 2 metre back fence that was behind the garage with this mad fucker after us. We ended up hiding statue-like in disparate neighbour’s properties under steps, in the gardens etc. while he hunted around shaking his fists, calling, shouting and looking for us before finally giving up and going home to give his poor old son a walloping. I think he’d been on a bender with the turps. The wife was nowhere to be seen. Not sure what the whole family dynamic thing going on there was, but I’d hazard a guess that it was an emo-hazard.
Anyway, when we did get found out for our various misdemeanours (rather than felonies I like to think), the immediate reaction in those days for discipline with kids was to give them a whack.
We had two options punishment-wise.
The first was with Mum, who if we were in trouble would brandish and then use a wooden spoon against our butts. But dear old Mum being Mum, could never bear to actually hurt us – so the thing was about as heavy as balsa wood and she would more tap our behinds than take a good swing at it. Of course, we’d plead with her “for the love of God and sweet Jesus too and all that is holy, good and pure in the world. AMEN !” to be spared the horrendous pain of that wooden spoon, knowing that if we played up with crocodile tears and the works we’d avoid the other much more serious option that was my Dad and his drum sticks from Hell. We’d feign lameness with Mum and drag ourselves pitifully across the length of the hallway for effect to our bedroom in order to lie down and “let the healing process begin.” Poor old Mum, she always looked terribly upset and the hamming it up overacting had an added bonus that remorseful, she’d often appear later on with a plate of ice-cream and peaches for us.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Dad joined a band as a drummer with the drawback being that he developed a penchant for using drum sticks on the backs of our legs for discipline purposes. He’d started with the lighter 7A jazz drumsticks for his Ginger Baker (of Cream, lighter more reflective period) and that wasn’t too bad but then he got into the heavier rock ones, the John Bonham’s I think of them as now, and they hurt like hell. We’re talking big welts.
He’d make us turn with our backs to him, while we jumped or crumpled forwards at our knees, trying to anticipate the blows and in doing so lessen their directness and effectiveness so they didn’t hit straight on. Then just as we turned over our shoulders, unsure at what was happening, he’d strike and then the whole thing would be repeated for the dozen or so whacks he figured we deserved for whatever mortal sin we’d committed.
He was like a stumbling, crazed cymbal-crashing toy monkey on autopilot – to use a drumming motif with the cymbals, as is the fact that Micky Dolenz was the drummer with the Monkees. He just kept hitting, and the stumbling came about when he’d take a flying leap in order to ensure he connected with us when we managed a decent squirm sideways. Cold fish eyed, he had some sort of bulls eye in his mind which was the inside centre part of our calves.
Anyway, my brothers and I now give my Dad ‘stick’ for that. He honestly looks surprised and tells us “Aw you’re kidding me” when we explain to him just how violent he was.
To be honest though, we do take the opportunity to ham it up with him like we did with Mum.
Kids have the advantage of being able to play the long game…