[the following was originally posted to AvAngel.com in 2001; a copy is archived here]
Like an autobiography, only without about 99% of it being here…
I was born unexpectedly on 8th January 1981, in Inverness. Actually; that’s not correct. I’m pretty sure that my birth was pretty much certain for almost nine months prior to that time; not least by my dear mother who was forced to carry me without a break for the entirety of the time between my conception and my departing her body… and, in fact, for some time afterwards. What I mean to say is – conceiving me was, as I’m told, a bit of a surprise to my parents, who’d been happily married for years beforehand, and had had no luck in trying for a baby until that point. The hospital in which I was born has since been replaced with a car park, which is, I suppose, a better use for it in a society in which home births are becoming increasingly common at not quite the same rate that the motor-vehicle-driving population grows. As policy of the hospital in which I was born, I was given my tuberculosis booster there and then, which far later turned out to be a mixed blessing when it saved me immeasurable torture at the hands of the school nurse – and lost me a lot of friends for the day, as everybody I knew went around clutching at the plasters on their arms, jealously – fourteen years later. This also means that, unlike most British people my age, I don’t have a small raised bump on my left shoulder. I may sound like I’m hanging more weight on this than it warrants, but when you’re in the third year at high school and you’re told that everybody you know needs to be stabbed with a particularly nasty germ which will probably make a marginally disfiguring mark on their upper arm for the rest of their life, except you, it turns out to be a pretty major concept.
As an only child for most of my younger years, I learned to be independent and adventurous, exploring the world around me as soon as I could crawl (not strictly true – according to my mother, before I learned to crawl forwards, I was only able to crawl backwards, which restricted me somewhat when I reached a corner of the room, until somebody turned me around to head back across it again). I spent the majority of my pre-school years living in a house on a slope in Talisman Drive, Aberdeen, in Scotland, where an excessive amount of my time seems to have been occupied, my fragmented memories of the time remind me, building Stickle Brick walls, practising the much-fabled technique of kicking a football down the garden with both feet and not-falling-over, and hiding in bushes. It’s worth noting that while to this day I haven’t perfected kicking a football, I can now build Stickle Brick walls in record time and my ability to make myself unseen in foliage is almost unsurpassed. Most mornings, or so it would seem, would see me eating cornflakes on the front doorstep of our house, with my father, and watching The Cranes. The Cranes were a mysterious and distant landmark – three tall towers of metal (two yellow, one blue) which shifted girders most mornings, constructing some fascinating building which my dad and I would frequently ponder the meaning of (many years later, revisiting Aberdeen, I’ve discovered that they were making a swimming baths, which is nice, because as far as I recall, the town didn’t have one before then).
At this time, we had four tom cats: three black ones – Binky, Little Son, and Mowgli – and one tabby one – the aptly named Horror, who flatly refused to drink from a bowl of water if there was any way on Earth that he could persuade a human to turn a tap on for him to lap from. Mowgli was a free spirit, going wherever he chose, whenever he chose. He was very attached to the neighbourhood and, when we moved to Preston in 1985, we did the only nice thing to do in the circumstances and let him move in with a neighbour of ours and stay in Scotland, while we moved away. Binky was slow and a little dim: even more so as he grew old, living to the ripe age of 15, if my memory serves me correctly. Little Son was an affectionate cat, always ready to climb aboard some willing human’s knee to be petted, and he would follow people’s heels incessantly, leading to many occasions in which he got his tail stuck in closing doors, and similar.
I first started primary school in Aberdeen, in the class of a Mr McGinty. I remember little of this school – save for the day that we all drew round each other on large sheets of paper, and then coloured them in appropriately, creating a ‘life size’ picture of ourselves. I only attended this for a few weeks before we moved house, to Preston, in Lancashire – I remember the move as a very exciting time: looking at houses for sale, where I would run off and explore all their little nooks and crannies while my parents would discuss things which were somehow more important with the current owners. After many gruellingly long (remember, I was four – “Are we nearly there yet?” barely cuts it close when you’re travelling 340 miles in the back of a car, several times, and can’t see out the front because you’re too short) trips, we settled on a lovely property in a cul-de-sac in Holme Slack, Preston. I remember it being my favourite of all the houses we’d visited, not least because it had not only a front and back door, but also a third one at the side. While my parents sat in the living room and talked with the Valentine family – the current occupiers – I ran in and out of the house, finding breaks in the conversation to challenge people to guess which door I’d come into the building through this time!
Binky vomited in his cat box on the journey down, and Horror took his claws to his cardboard-cat-box, and had to ride on the back seat for the remainder of the journey. The removals van didn’t arrive until the day after we did, and so I remember my mother, father and I lying in sleeping bags on the floor of our new home, the few possessions we’d brought with us in the car in boxes around us, and being unable to sleep for excitement…
Owing to differences in the education system between Scotland and England, I’d started school in Aberdeen – and left – before the start of the English term! As a result, I got an extra four weeks of holiday before I started at Holme Slack County Primary School, a short walk from where I lived. Here I was taught by Mrs. Kitchen, whom I stunned from day one by demonstrating a reading age exceptional to that which was expected (thanks, Mum, for teaching me to read and write early), a grounding in basic mathematics, and a great comprehension of any material with which I was presented. As a result, I was frequently ‘borrowed’ by higher classes to work, and, upon polishing off whatever they presented me with, too, let loose in the library and left to my own devices, the theory being that if you put a student with a knowledge-absorbtion rate, comparable to a sponge’s water-consumption or a Weetabix’s uncanny ability to consume milk like a black hole, in the vicinity of a lot of knowledge in the form of books, something should transfer from the latter to the former. As often as not, though, I’d stick to fiction – my entire childhood lent me a love of books that left me eating through documents in next to no time and becoming frustrated if anybody was unable to keep me supplied with the words which I sought.
As a young child I was quite popular; getting on well with almost everybody I met, and making friends equally well with boys or (ick <LOL>) girls. I retained a close friendship with some of the people I met at the beginning of primary school – Daniel Thompson, Martin Cross, Wayne Pugh, Raza Kahn – for far longer than anybody (including my parents) seemed to expect would be the case: all the way into high school and in some cases – such as my very good friend Gary Cavanagh – to this day. I never much enjoyed (nor was particularly good at) any sports, but apart from that, enjoyed engaging in all the usual kiddy games: Tag (called ‘Tig’ in that area of the country – this seems to vary as you move around, I find, like slang), Kiss Catch, British Bulldog, and the usual variety of “let’s pretend” games, and those based on T.V. programmes I used to watch: He-Man, Thundercats, and Mysterious Cities Of Gold, for example.
Early in primary school I took a very active interest in computers. This started with the family Amstrad CPC 464, with it’s primitive green-screen and integrated tape deck, and at about age seven or eight, started experimenting at programming in Amstrad BASIC 2.0, bundled with the system. From this kind-of restrictive start I got an Amstrad CPC 664, and a colour screen, and, later, a memory upgrade, before eventually giving up on it in favour of the IBM Compatible PC. I was innovative and proficient with computer hardware, and I remember clearly several occasions while I was in the junior ‘end’ of my primary school that the school’s BBC Micro had malfunctioned (usually owing to somebody failing to reconnect the disk drive, flip a configuration switch, or just be typing the wrong thing) and I would be called out of my classes to go and solve the problem on behalf of another class!
But as every single one of my primary school reports – and all the comments passed on Parent’s Evenings’ – illustrate: “Daniel is an extremely able pupil who shows a great deal of potential. He works very well alone or in a group. However, his disruptive approach to class is detracting from his class work, and he gets distracted easily.”
It’s true. While I was happy to learn everything that they’d throw at my for the entirety of my primary school life, I was (in)famous for my ability to prevent an entire class from getting anything at all done with jokes, noise, misbehaviour, or any other distraction I could successfully pull off. I’ve always been a real attention-seeker! Why do you think I’m being so blatant with extracts of my entire life story on a web page? I thrive on being seen as somebody. That’s just part of who I am. But at primary school, as just a child, I had some difficulty in disguising this facet of my personality, and my excessive exhibitionism got me into trouble on a regular basis! Boys will be boys, they say (and, it must be noted, so will a lot of middle-aged men), and I was no exception. I remember once, when I was staying over at the house of my friend Daniel. We crept out, late that night, and climbed the fence at the back of his garden to get access to the rough brushland behind. There, we gathered flammable substances into a pile by a fence, and… you know what’s coming next… set light to it. Before I continue with this anecdote, let me tell you a little about the kind of boy this friend of mine was as a kid: he was morally sound, but he had some strange habits. Biting into those contact explosives – “Devil Bangers” – was one of them. Riding bikes with no brakes down steep embankments was another. Climbing onto building rooves was a third. He was, to quote my parents, “a complete maniac”. It takes hindsight to see it. Anyway; we lit this fire, with a large plant pot of water to-hand for use in emergencies (see, we weren’t that rebellious). Unfortunately, the fire got out of control and set light to the shed of his next-door neighbour (which was, in turn, filled with big bottles of white spirit… which made for an interesting pyrotechnic display). The water wasn’t enough to stop the blaze, and we had to retreat to the safety of his parents house and confess all. We sat in his bedroom and watched the fire brigade extinguish the flames.
On another occasion, approaching the end of primary school, my friend Martin and I realised how damned easy it was to steal computer software from our local Toys ‘R’ Us, which had opened just a year or so previously as part of a local retail park development (the first retail park I ever heard about). This worked fantastically – we’d stolen about half a dozen games each (still on 8mm cassette tapes, of course) – until one time when we went in. We followed the usual procedure: picking up the game(s) from the shelf, retreating to a different aisle, removing the packaging, ‘depositing’ it down the back of some shelves, pocketing the tape, and departing. I’d had a bad feeling about this particular ‘trip’ from the start, and once we were in the store, I realised that there was a member of staff who was following us. I pointed this out to Martin, but he didn’t believe me. I didn’t steal a game that time, which would have been a good thing when we were searched on the way out (I was right, we were being watched), if it wasn’t for the fact that Martin wouldn’t let me get off with Aiding & Abetting, and decided to tell them that I, too, had taken software from them. The police were called. Ditto our parents. We were forced to return all the tapes and pay for the value of them out of our next however many weeks pocket money. Our friendship suffered for it, too. However, in the most part, I’m glad we were caught. It made a more law-abiding person out of me, or, at least: a harder to catch criminal <G>.
In the summer of 1990 my sister, Sarah, was born. Again, this seemed to surprise my parents, because while they’d wanted another child, it wasn’t until now that one… <ahem> came along… Sarah was a baby as babies were. I’m not here to talk about her – I’m here to talk about myself – but I’ll come back to her later on, when she’s had a chance to grow up a little and thereby give me something to write about. Just over a year later, my second sister, Becky, was born (she was actually named Rebecca but took a liking to Becky at a young age, probably influenced by the fact that we usually called her that, because it’s faster to say – also a good reason why it’s now usually shortened even further to ‘Bex’ <G>). Again, I’ll give her better mention when she’s a little older.
Interesting how I’m able to break up my life into sections based upon the academic establishment in which I was studying, isn’t it? Probably not, really. Ho hum.
In September 1992 I started at Fulwood High School, about a mile or so away from my home. If I ever get hold, for a reasonable amount of time, of the photo of me on my first day – dressed so smartly that you wouldn’t recognise me by it after I’d been there for a week – I’ll put it online here for the world to see. By this point I’d abandoned keeping my blonde hair ‘short back and sides’, in favour of even shorter and easier to maintain (i.e. comb? what comb?) ‘just keep cutting’. Again, if I ever get photos onto this page, you’ll see exactly what a prat I looked.
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