In these post-Yewtree days I like to think I’m not the only one taking stock of my childhood and the moments in which it is entirely possible I could have been bummed but wasn’t. Is this too soon? Am I alone here? I might be alone here. Probably everybody else out there who had a brilliant childhood with no bummings is simply thinking: “This news is truly awful, all these people off the telly being nonces and that.” This is the correct thought. But I am having another one as well. If everybody fancies children, why was I not bummed?
I went to Catholic school from the age of 5, which everybody knows is prime bumming grounds. Our priest was a nice Irish dude who we would see every morning as we neared the school, wearing all his priestly garb while jumping up and down in the skip, trying to flatten the rubbish. Our school was later shut down due to lack of funds, so this was undoubtedly another penny-pinching device, this thing where our priest was used his own personal body to flatten the school’s rubbish in the manner cartoon Greeks made wine, attempting with all his bodily weight to compact our discarded fingerpaintings and pipe-cleaner artwork into something as heavy as lead with his cassock bunched under his armpits. In order to get out of sports I volunteered to help polish the chalices in the vestry, and once we got to help the priest get dressed, all while not being remotely bummed. I did 12 years of Catholic school a bum-virgin.
Ages 7 through 12 were mostly spent sliding down hills on things with wheels. Skateboards mostly, but we diversified. My friend had made herself a go-kart with planks of wood, a bit of rope, and some wheels off her little sister’s pram. She had painted it black and added white skull-and-crossbones which meant it would be a better, more dangerous ride, obviously. The fashion of the time – the Hayley Campbell fashion of the time – was tiny black bike-shorts with a T-shirt over the top so huge that I could, at parties, stick my knees up under it and pretend to have massive tits. This meant that when I went down the biggest hill in town and decided half-way down that actually it was too big and I was going to die, that when I tried to turn a corner and only I ended up turning the corner while the go-kart careened person-less down the hill towards the intersection, that while I skidded butt-wise across the hot bitumen, that I was essentially bare-assed. I left the top few layers of my ass on that street and bled down the backs of my legs all the way home to my friend’s house where I was then bent pants-less over the kitchen table while her dad fashioned a Frankenstein’s monster of a bandage out of five of his wife’s sanitary pads and dabbed Dettol on my buttcheeks. I was not bummed then either, and the level of mutual embarrassment in that room in 1996 has never been surpassed in any room since.
I have long thought that the cherry on top of the traditional McDonald’s birthday party was this one particular thing I recently mentioned to a group of people who also had a McDonald’s birthday party feature prominently in their sub-10 life. “AND WHAT ABOUT THE BIT WHERE –” I had begun, expecting this to be a shared experience in our group reminiscence, which it wasn’t. We all had our “friends” (“the whole class”) invited, by order of our mums and some envelopes we had to hand out the previous week, to come and have a Happy Meal and a party bag in this tiled room in the basement of the restaurant where there were facemasks and some poor bastard being paid to entertain us. We abandoned this sad Equity member in favour of the jungle gym outside. But between that bit and the fries there was another bit that nobody else got but me.
“Remember when the guy came and took you for a tour of the freezer? That was amazing.”
“Sure you do! Remember he came and took you away from the party into the backroom with all the frozen chicken nuggets and the mesh fencing and stuff?”
“And you got to climb up on the ladder and get your ice cream birthday cake down from the shelf? And the guy held your legs so you didn’t fall off?”
“How were you not bummed?”