I wrote about my most embarrassing moment in my ramble ‘Puberty’, when one evening in 1957 I enthusiastically shot my trusted imaginary Tommy gun at a swastika on the television screen in a room otherwise full of German visitors. However, this was not the only embarrassing moment of my formative years where I completely misunderstood the moment and totally – albeit innocently – put my foot in it.
Boyhood battles and an annual truce
During the summer holidays of about 1960, I was laiking out with my mates in the fields across from our house. This area was used for all our ‘Cowboys and Indians’ and ‘Jerries and English’ battles during these summer holidays and it was also ideal for the snowball fights in winter. There seems to be a common theme here: fighting, either imaginary or real, ‘boys will be boys’, as the saying goes, or certainly were in those days, in my experience.
The one time we all pulled together was during the run-up to bonfire night. This photo is of me and my mates chumping for things to burn on our Sycamore Avenue estate. Longfield Avenue is in the background and the house where I lived from seven to 15 years of age is just out of shot to the right. This photo was sent to me by my little bruv last year. It was apparently posted on some social media platform asking if anyone could recognise anybody in the photo.
‘Historical re-enactments’ of Guy Fawkes mischief
This time of year was also a time for raiding other bonfires in the district and for carrying out acts of mischief on the evening of the fourth of November. This was a re-enactment of the mischief Guy Fawkes carried out in the same evening of 1605 when he and his mates plotted to blow up the House of Lords including King James I during the state opening of parliament the following day. Many of the plotters were caught – tortured, hung, drawn and quartered, and as a consequence never did it again.
The mischief we carried out was never quite so dramatic, mostly consisting of knocking on doors and running away. Another knocking-on-door prank was to tie the door handle to a yard brush so when the door was opened by the occupants they were attacked by the brush. We may have hidden garden gates if they were easily removed, or we did the bull roaring prank, whereby several sheets of newspaper were placed at the bottom of a cast iron drainpipe and when lit it made a hell of a roaring sound up the pipe.
I’m sure Guy Fawkes would have been proud. It was all very juvenile stuff, of course, and I’m sure the last one would not be a good idea with modern plastic pipes.
An unholy faux pas
Anyway, back to the embarrassment. One summer’s day, we were approached by two smartly dressed young men with fancy American accents. They seemed very friendly and offered to teach us the fine art of baseball and as we appeared keen they turned up the following day with all the equipment necessary. They turned out to be Mormons, whom we had never heard of, but they seemed very interesting and persuaded me and two of my mates to join them at their church. I felt completely out of my comfort zone but I was keen to impress.
The first evening included a Bible meeting. All the young lads were gathered together – I would say there were about ten of us – and one of the elders began to read a story about the early days of the Mormon founder Joseph Smith and the troubling times he had with the native Americans.
The story continued and the elder asked what the howling sound in the night could have been. I keenly shot my hand up “Oo, Sir! Please, Sir! Me, Sir!”. I was desperately trying to impress and when the elder pointed at me I said, “Wolves mating, Sir”. There was stunned silence from the room; I’m sure I could hear the woodworm in the floor. The silence seemed to go on for a full minute, as it slowly began to sink into my tiny mind what I had just said. Not only was it a stupid answer but I had mentioned sex in a Mormon church. I didn’t last long there.
A budding film buff rebuffed
Another formative embarrassment happened during the Colne Valley High School autumn term of 1960. Being very keen on films, I joined the school film society and one of the early examples was Shane from 1953, starring Alan Ladd. Cowboy films continued to fascinate me and I couldn’t get enough of them; in fact, it was on the strength of another that I had joined the film society.
I seemed to be by far the youngest of the pupils who turned up to that first meeting. Again I was feeling out of my depth but keen to impress and also to show that I knew a thing or two about making a good cowboy film. The teacher who was chairing the meeting was asking about a particular scene where the goodies and baddies were hell-bent on trying to kill each other.
He asked the assembled group, who seemed to be less than interested in the whole proceedings, “What do you think of the shooting of that particular scene?” I again keenly shot my hand up “Oo, Sir! Please, Sir! Me, Sir!”. As I was the only one in the room willing to put forward an answer, all eyes turned to me and I said, “How could the goodies hope to win if they didn’t shoot more than the baddies did!”
Again there was stunned silence where again the woodworm could be heard scurrying about (do woodworm scurry?) and then a collective groan. Even the teacher had a smile that looked as if it was imminently threatening to develop into a laugh. I realised my answer was very wrong but didn’t know why until we left, and that uncomfortable moment ran through my mind several times until the stupidity dawned on me. I didn’t last long there either.
Embarrassment – part of life’s rich tapestry
The memory of those embarrassing moments in my formative years has stuck with me all my life. There have also been many, many embarrassing moments in my adult life but much of the difference has been that I don’t remember them – probably because I am not as self-conscious and don’t care now, which is probably a good job, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.
I have found that a full and happy life includes all its quirky ups, downs, laughter and sadness with a smattering of embarrassment along the way.