Sunday, 24 July 2011


On the very first day of my final year in primary school, I hit the proto-pubescent jackpot of being felt up. Rather than mark the genesis of my soon to burgeon sexuality, the incident was the first indicator that, despite popular opinion, I wasn’t gay. To my distress, I was felt up by a boy.

The class seating arrangement had been chosen at random. Year six harboured more serious pretensions than previous classes, so there were to be no more groups. Now it was strictly two per table, the pairings chosen, I can only assume, by how much the teacher hated each individual.

The boy I was seated with was not a friend of mine. Nor were we enemies, I knew him mostly for his fondness of riding around the neighbourhood on his bike no-handed and quite garishly topless. His assignment to me was neither a boon nor disappointment.

I soon discovered that he would laugh at any joke I cared to utter. No matter how stupid or inane, as I’m sure they all were at that age, the boy would laugh as if nothing were funnier. For a shameless class clown such as myself, it was all I could have asked for. The only problem was that every fit of laughter was accompanied by a hand on my leg.

At first it was only the knee. As the day progressed, the knee became the thigh. And alas, by day’s end the situation had progressed dangerously close to the crotch.

Initially I let it go. It was the start of the year. Perhaps it was a misguided mode of establishing a friendship. The assault persisted throughout the second day. And the third. What had been strokes turned into squeezes. I knew it had to stop.

At that tender age, I didn’t know why it made me feel so uncomfortable, only that it did. I was like a comely young maiden who had moved to the big city just at the time of her flowering, attracting new attention that I couldn’t understand.

There was only one escape: a painfully embarrassing admission to my mother.

‘Mum, the boy I sit next to keeps touching me.’

She answered more like an enthusiastic voyeur than my mother. ‘How does he touch you?’

It was enough at least to be taken seriously. The next day I marched into the classroom, straight to the teacher’s desk, and handed her a letter. I don’t know what it said. Possibly My son has become the class bitch. Whatever the content, I was swiftly assigned a new seat across the classroom, and some other poor soul took my place at the school’s equivalent of the prison shower.

Unsurprisingly, I did not remain friends with my abuser. But we did end up at the same secondary school. Here the significance of the incident paled during a bizarre spell where a group of the tougher kids (large black guys all) took to roughly grabbing the unsuspecting arses and crotches of the rest of us as we went about our daily business. If it had occurred to me at the time, perhaps I would have missed the softer caresses of my year six amour.

I still saw him from time to time, riding the streets with chest bared for all to see. Another boy had befriended him. They bonded over a love of cars, karate, and other such masculine pursuits. 

I spoke to this new beau once and mentioned his newfound companion.

‘Yeah, he’s really cool,’ the boy told me. ‘But he does touch me a lot.’

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Water Torture

Only once did being fat ever cause an injury. Conveniently, the injury was to someone else.

My secondary school only ever managed one ski trip before the concept was abandoned. I like to think that this incident, along with other stories to come, went some way toward the defeat of my teachers’ international ambitions.

In between the doomed attempts to snowboard in spite of my girth, the school laid on a number of other activities. These varied from bowling and saunas, to the contraction of crippling food poisoning that caused many of us to evacuate our bowels whenever the coach hit a bump in the road (On Austrian mountain passes, this was more often than desired).

The best of these was swimming. The pool was large and clean, the locals hairy but mostly clothed where it mattered. Best of all, there was a water slide.

With all the usual egalitarian grace of thirty teenage boys, we had soon frightened off any and all children and claimed the slide as our own. Of course, there are only so many times you can barrel down the chute and land arse-first on a disgruntled local man with more hair outside the borders of his Speedo than in before you start searching for more elaborate enjoyment.

The game was suitably violent. Ten or so boys would launch themselves down the slide at once. Half way down, the frontrunner would wedge himself to a halt and see how long he could hold the throng behind him at bay. The water slide was constructed from two halves of a pipe bolted together in the middle, leaving a ridge easy to grasp even with wet hands.

My particular role in this game was unique. Once I had overcome the terror of publicly removing my top (the boy accustomed to trilling ‘Boobies!’ at every such occurrence was not on the trip), I was invited to be an Unblocker. As the fattest, and therefore heaviest, who better to send down as the last man to dislodge the tangle of beached bodies?

I positioned myself at the back of the queue and waited for the first boy to leap into the tube. The rush of water carried him away, and one-by-one the others followed, disappearing around the first bend until only I remained. I allowed a gap so that the brunt of my impact would be felt all the more. Then I waddled to the water slide’s mouth and let the current take me.

The rapids threw my weight around the first bend, down a decline and into another corner. I spied the convoy as I exited. Nine of my peers jammed fast in the cylinder. A whoop escaped me as my momentum slammed into the back of them. The noises they returned were less appreciative. A chorus of oofs and ows and You fat fucks! Only one noise rose above them. The genuine scream of horror from somewhere near the front.

The blockage disbanded suddenly. I surged forward on the heels of the boy ahead. As the tide sucked us down, I noticed with dismay that the water was full of blood.

Screams greeted me as I tumbled out of the tube. Clouds of blood here too. I struggled out of the pool and saw the source. The boy who had been at the front was in tears, blood streaming from his hands. The Austrian life guard, an 80-year old man who looked about to faint, was trying to staunch it with a towel while the teachers crowded round to contemplate premature retirement.

It soon became apparent that in his efforts to block the slide, the boy had wedged his hands tightly into the ridge where the tube halves met. The plastic sliced his fingers half to the bone.

He was taken to hospital, while the rest of us were ushered into the changing rooms and instructed to not be so bloody stupid ever again. That very same night, when the teachers had retired to bed, we spent until dawn climbing and jumping between the chateau balconies four storeys off the ground.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

WWAD? (What Would Arnie Do?)

The first thing I did at university was drop a television on my face.

I had said goodbye to my mum and was left with the few pieces of home I had brought with me, piled into boxes and stacked around the room. Most accessible of these was the new TV/DVD combi, purchased so I needn’t be without my Schwarzenegger collection for more than a heartbeat.

The room was so full that I had wedged the door open to allow for overspill. I manoeuvred the television to where it might maximise my viewing pleasure: the top of the wardrobe. It was high, and the television heavy. WWAD? (What Would Arnie Do?) I hefted it up with mighty strength.

There were a number of shortcomings. It was too high to watch unless I stood on the bed. Worse, there was no socket even remotely in reach. It would have to be moved.

I reached up to place a hand either side, and slid the television slowly toward me. Very suddenly its weight pitched forward, and I lost my grip.

What followed is perhaps the least exciting slow-motion moment of my life. The television was falling. My hands were already engaged in failing to hold it. I had two options. I could step back and let my brand new television drop to the floor where not only would it shatter but along with it my dreams of snuggling beneath a warm duvet gazing moon-eyed at the glistening muscles of the Austrian Oak. Or I could catch it with my face.


The television struck my forehead with a thick glassy thud. The impact shuddered through my body. I was quite unable to move. The television on my face, hands still clasping it either side as if I were trying to balance it there.

It was this moment which my room neighbour chose to introduce herself.

‘Are you alright?’ she asked from the doorway.

This particular housemate was a slightly older, quite unfathomably attractive girl with the sort of northern accent which makes chubby socially-maladjusted boys with televisions on their faces weep with lust. I lowered the television and mumbled some sort of greeting

It transpired that four of my housemates were worryingly attractive girls. Unbeknownst to me, the unpleasantness with the television would set the blueprint for our encounters.

I don’t make friends easily. Especially when those friends are women. Most people would try basic conversation as a means of establishing relations. I chose a more stunt-based approach.

There was the time I heard them conversing in the kitchen, and attempted to join in by claiming a bad back required me to lie on the hard floor. After half an hour of being ignored I gave it up. On another occasion I feigned a noisy fall in my room. This garnered a knock of concern, followed by an expression as if I had defecated in her favourite shoes. Often, after a particularly ambitious binge eat, I’d leave the leftovers in the kitchen to be shared. Hours later, my stomach emptied, I’d steal upstairs and return them to my room.

Shortly before the end of the first semester, I visited the kitchen to cook dinner. All my housemates were gathered there, every area of the oven engaged. They were having Christmas dinner together. I had not been invited.

Arnie would have demanded a seat at the table, snagged the finest cuts of meat, pulled all the crackers by himself and not left the room until every girl present was sufficiently pregnant. I am not Arnie. I returned to my room and went hungry.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Speech Therapy

In the early years of primary school, there was a rarely a lunchtime where I didn’t suffer some kind of ridicule. This was commonly by my own hand – my inability to kick a football without falling down; running to the dinner lady in tears because my toy Jaguar car had been stolen; asking oh so naively to participant in games for which I was not remotely popular or athletic enough.

Without fail, a singular form of ill-deserved piss-taking would be visited upon me as I sat at the edge of the playground. I would be packing up my Goofy lunchbox (with the lid that, incredible to me at the time, was also a flask) and lift my head to find myself faced with my sister and a group of her friends. She was three years older than me and in the upper echelons of the school.

‘David – say ‘Tissue.’’

For some reason, it never really dawned on me that this was mockery. Dutifully I would scrunch up my face and give it my best effort.


My sister and her friends would ripple with laughter as only nine year old girls can.

‘No, David – ‘Tish-shoe.’’

Always, I would keep trying. They were laughing. They were paying attention to me. Unlike anyone else, they had included me in their game.


Once again they would laugh, and once again I would smile as if I had earned it.

‘Now say ‘Sausages.’’

This was a trickier prospect which I was far less keen to attempt. ‘Sausages’ was a word I could not manage. ‘Sausages’ and ‘Hospital.’ I can’t remember quite how I mangled them, only that their correct pronunciation was an impossibility.

A mild speech impediment was but one of a number of issues. For quite a while I struggled to hold a pen, requiring a special rubber grip to assist me. I was far behind the class in reading ability, and, despite countless hours in front of Sesame Street, I could not recite the alphabet until I was eight.

To address these oratory inabilities, I would once a week be plucked from school at lunch time to attend Speech Therapy. Strangely, all I recall of these sessions is arriving at the office. Every week the therapist would ask me what I had learned at school that day. Every week I would only reply ‘Can’t remember.’

Something must have worked. I do remember conquering the fearsome ‘Sausages.’ I was sat in the Abbey National waiting for my mum, a grand time for the flicker of a usually dim light bulb.

‘I can say ‘Sausage’’, I said, looking at the weekend queue. ‘And I can say ‘Jizz.’’

Like a particularly slow-witted ape grasping a club for the first time, the concept was clicking together in my head.

‘So if I just say them together... ‘Sausage’... ‘Jizz.’’

‘‘Sausage’... ‘Jizz.’’

‘‘Sausage’ ‘Jizz.’’

By this time I had caught the attention of quite a number in the Abbey National queue.

‘Sausages!’ I shouted in true triumphalist fashion.

Many years later, I knew a boy in secondary school who suffered similar, less pork product specific issues. As he put it, ‘I don’t speak good.’ Years of my own spent overcoming such problems did nothing to stop me laughing at him with all the others. I would clamour to pounce on his mistakes and wring them for all the mirth I could.

After we’d left school, the same boy lost a leg in a moped accident. When I heard, I laughed about him then too.