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05 Jan 2015 - 05:36:36 pm

THE DARK IN A WELL-LIGHTED PLACE

When we were kids, we were aware, though no doubt unconsciously, to be wary of lurking men in long coats who were rather to fond of the proximity of children. We knew, you might say by instinct, that they were up to no good. But we never saw any. It was a folk-legend, if you like, deeply imprinted on what we had for minds, and whose origin was as ancient as one's uncanny and inexplicable unease approaching forests on a dark night. There be wolves. 

Of wolves clothed as sheep, however, we knew nothing. Besides, in those hallowed days, kids and adults did not, as a general rule, mix socially; when a parents' friends called, one was exiled to another room. And that was, ironically, to be the trap I fell in to. But more anon. Once and only once - while my parents were inside a pub - children were not admitted to pubs in those days where I came from - and I was outside playing with a model airplane, I was approached by a gentleman who professed a great and passionate interest in model aircraft and who had, as you may imagine, a good selection at home, if I cared to accompany him. Instinct kicked in. Kid that I was and probably daft as a brush in other respects, I had the gumption to inform him that I was waiting for my parents and couldn't go anywhere. He moved off. But it was on a visit to people we considered close friends that the jaws of the trap opened and shut.

While two sets of parents chatted downstairs, I was led elsewhere by an individual a deal older. Details are superfluous. My 'reward' for my silence was a toy lorry. But I was not silent, and at breakfast the following morning I told my parents what had occurred. What I recall to this day, half a century later, is my father's utter, dark silence. We never visited that house again. Ever. Nor did we ever see the inhabitants again. I have no doubt that my father went and 'spoke to' them, as they say. The subject was not broached with me again, either. Which was fine. What I am trying to say is that once I had spoken about the business, it was a weight lifted from my shoulders and handed over to the people who loved me and knew what to do in their own way. That was fine by me and I cannot say I was overly distraught afterwards. I had known - again, call it instinct - that the cure lay in breaking the silence. Nor can I say that the incident involved any kind of violence or threat, it was far more subtle. You can see the dirty old man in a long mac a mile away; subtlety is invisible. And kids are not fools. 

Would things have been different had I bottled up the incident? I think so. The freedom to speak about it with my parents almost immediately granted me a another, special kind of freedom in turn. Some might say I was fortunate. I think, perhaps, that I was. And I thank my long-deceased parents for that. I trusted them. I was right to do so. Now one incident in childhood, you may say, and it was devoid of the worst things one can imagine. Nonetheless I thought it important enough that it required expiation in the form of revelation at the breakfast table and that's what counts, in my book. 

In school I had the best and most considerate of teachers, many of them men of the cloth, all of whom were genuinely interested in what we made of ourselves and what education they could impart. Many were also interested, quite passionately, I later discovered, in the political upheavals of the day, wrote about them, publicly protested against them, and were fulsome in their praise for any achievements, scholarly or otherwise. I would have nothing but praise for those long-suffering teachers. So there was nothing untoward or nasty, ever, from that side of the room, nor rumour of such. Nor has there ever been since. One's trust in them was not misplaced. I think of them all fondly, though no doubt many of them have passed on.

No indeed, my little difficulty crouched much nearer to home. And in a convivial setting, though upstairs from the chatty socialising. Just the sort of environment in which it would be unthinkable that one was at risk from anything. Have I harboured a life-long resentment, thirst for revenge? No, I haven't. But then again, I was lucky. In late adulthood, mentioning the event to friends, I have used the descriptive 'bollox' around the person involved. But I have not mentioned it often, barely at all. And have never, before now, written a line about it. We know too much anyway, we know of incredible horrors and corrupt official silences, we know, finally, that the skulking man in a mac is a myth. 

We are no longer innocent and never will be again. Our children are highly unlikely to be lured anywhere by promises of model aircraft or toy lorries; but we weren't easily lured back then either. In the end, if I analyse it, it had to do with the safety, or seeming safety, of the environment in which I found myself. If my parents were comnfortable in that house, then what could possibly befall me? It was an environment in which my kid's primordial instinct for threatening things could be put aside. 

I cannot, of course, make light of it. It's not a chirpy childhood reminiscence. Nor is it a joke. As a writer, I have, once or twice, wondered how it has coloured my writing; my prose has sometimes been described as dark and gloomy. But no, I won't concede that. To do so would be to grant the perpetrator importance that they do not deserve. Darker experiences, none to do with things sexual, may arguably have coloured the writing, and that is normal enough. The worst experience of my life was sleeping rough during winter, not the furtive and guilty one-time gropings of a neighbour fifty-odd years ago. Even reading over that line, I must again say that, compared with what many have gone through, my interlude was relatively harmless. In adulthood, I have never met the perpetrator, and I have met some whose moral-ethical code, if you wish to call it that, was much more warped and malign. I am relating a small tale whose relevance was quickly dissipated over the toast and corn flakes. But let me say yet again that I do not doubt but that I was lucky. 

One is tempted to shrug and suggest that what I am describing was in some way innocent and besides, it was a very long time ago. I do not believe it was innocent. It shook me at the time. I was sensible enough to break the ridiculous and possible damaging silence to which I had been sworn and to put the guilt where it belonged, letting those who knew how to deal with it, deal with it. Therein lay healing. Or at least a sense of cleansing. For, as I recall, I hopped off the following day to school without much concern. And the guillotine, no doubt, fell with a crash on the neck of the bollox whom I had revealed, and who thought he could purchase a kid's silence with a toy lorry.

Click above to add it to the post (fred10.jpg)

- Life was not always a fish bowl in those days . . . .

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