No-one could have guessed that something was going to explode inside me. I was a happy child.
I was the youngest of four kids in a big, Catholic family, and there was always dressing-up and water-fights and conkering and Captain Haddock; orphaned pigeons to break our hearts over and trips to pat the pigs down Pig’s Lane. I remember the electric hush when we saw a wild deer in the Wyre forest, and the low buzz of Dad’s voice through his back when he carried me, even though I was a bit too big to be carried. I remember Mom’s hand reaching from the front seat to stroke the chubby little knee behind her. How she’d rearrange my saggy socks without looking.
I remember the thrill of naughtiness when my parents’ backs were turned – the daily acts of gleeful perversion: mixing cat poo poison in jam jars; singing Gregorian chants over dead mice; pulling faces at Father John at the ‘body of Christ’ bit. And I remember the bums – me and my older brother Pat were positively enraptured by bums. We made sourdough bums; we drew bums on frosted windows; we painted faces on our bums and made sumo bums with our swimming trunks. On rainy afternoons we’d huddle under the bed with the neighbours’ kids and sniff each other’s fingers after a diligent bum-scratch, adopting the mannerisms of the most sincere sommeliers and applauding the hints and top notes. It became a game. We called it Smell Bums.
Our biggest brother Ted knew very well that he could elicit shrieks of delight from his younger siblings by mooning out of a bedroom window on Easter morning, or spelling ‘ARSE’ on the scrabble board, or farting during mealtimes. How we’d roll with laughter at Dad’s disgruntled face and booming reprimands: ‘You’re a DRAAAIN, Ted, a true vulgarian’.
We lived in a 1950s semi behind the train station, and you could hear the platform announcements clearly from the garden. Pat used to climb the lime tree by the back fence and belt out erroneous timetable information and made-up destinations through a traffic cone. I’d stand at the bottom of the trunk jumping up and down in ecstatic throes.
Me and Pat were separated from Ted and our older sister Maggie by eight long years, and they were therefore our benchmarks of being – our heroes. We listened to their alien lives develop through the walls. Guns N’ Roses through Pop Will Eat Itself then Saint Etienne. When they let us sit on their beds and spray their deodorants and build houses with their cassette collections, we were kings.
Ted and Maggie were both devoted Rockers, and all their friends had long hair and chokers and big t-shirts. You were either a Rocker or a Townie in those days. Townie boys were called Kevs and they had curtained-hair and stud earrings and collared shirts. Townie girls were called Sharons, and they wore hair mousse and lip liner and plastic miniskirts. I was going to be a Rocker when I grew up, I knew that for sure. When I was seven I chose a pair of imitation Doc Martens for my school shoes and Ted said they were ‘wicked, man’. I was high for weeks. Twenty years later he would cry as he hugged his little sister – as tall as him now and a howling Sharon – sorry he never knew.