Young Frankie is asleep and I am marvelling over his unblemished seven-month old skin, as yet hardly touched by life’s rigours. How long will he remain in such pristine condition? If his dad’s record is anything to go by, about 7 years. That was the time I lasted in showroom condition, before an altercation with the school playground fence left a lasting dent in my bodywork. Nearly three decades later, a tour around my corporeal being reveals half-a-lifetime’s worth of wear-and-tear. What follows is the full story of the various lasting ravages that have been visited upon my person, reducing a once-pristine baby to the sorry specimen you see before you today.
To start then, with that playground incident…..
The Accident Prune
It is 1976 and I am a second-year pupil at Wingrove Junior School, Fenham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. A boy called Kevin Ilderton challenges me to a race across the width of the playground- first to touch the fence in front of the caretaker’s house wins. I manage that easily enough, but perhaps not in the recommended fashion- looking back during the last stride to catch a view of my lumbering opponent struggling several metres behind me, I lose balance and go flying through the air- coming to land teeth-first against the metal fence.
When I regain consciousness I am in the unfamiliar and glamourous surroundings of the headmistress's orange mini (the car, not the dress). I am driven back home, and then onto Newcastle General Hospital. On the way the headmistress calls me ‘quite an accident –prone little boy’, which is a phrase I have not heard before and don’t quite catch. On arrival home I ask ‘Mam- what’s an accident prune?’
The adventure ends with the first of several fittings of caps to replace the smashed-out parts of my two front teeth. The latest, and longest-lasting of these feats of dentistry still takes pride of place to this day on the front of my face.
The Rookie Chiropodist
It is 1979, and I am having a bit of trouble with the old plates of meat, which keep developing unsightly verrucas, meaning that I am one of those spindly kids who always has to sit out the school swimming classes. My mam takes me down to the clinic at Arthur’s Hill for a course of chiropody, which for a while is going painlessly enough. Perhaps a shade too painlessly, as the verrucas are still there and as ugly as ever. Losing patience with this softly-softly approach, the friendly young chiropodist one day decides to get rid of the little buggers once-and-for all with a good zap of some recently-developed patent ointment or other. It may as well have been dynamite. In place of a couple of unsightly verrucas, I now have half a foot caked in rock-hard, raw, painful skin. When the burning subsides after a week there is no feeling in the bottom of the foot, and never mind swimming, I can’t play football, walk, or even go to school for the rest of the summer term.
Feeling the ball of my foot right now as I sit barefooted at the computer, there is still just the trace of hardness to the skin, as if I have been hiking around in hobnail boots for a while. The legacy of a twenty-five year old rush of blood to a fledgling chiropodist’s head. I do hope she went on to better things.
The chat-up line that went wrong
It is 1986 and I am a beginner’s level drinker in the pubs of Fenham, or at least the ones that will let us in (I am 18 but with my cherubic and only slightly ravaged features look some years younger). After three-and-a-half-pints of cider I take it upon myself to get talking to a girl on the edge of our company, who appears to be on her own. She is not; her boyfriend is at the bar, and he is a big scary skinhead with (I later find out) a famous temper, and seven pints of McEwans Best Scotch inside of him.
At the bus stop after closing time I am talking with my friends when a blow from the side sends me reeling into the West Road. The skinhead manages to rain several kicks to to my head and body before my terrified friends manage to chase him away. I am battered and bruised, but thankfully there is no lasting damage- apart from a sort of tiny red blotch that is visible on the temple under my gradually receding hairline. My first (and hopefully last) fighting injury- if you can call an unprovoked assault on a spindly kid at a bus-stop a fight, that is.
The ‘footballing’ injury
It is 1992 and I have returned from some time teaching English in Spain and am living back at home. Every Saturday night I go out on a drinking spree with an old schoolfriend I have taken up with called Mark Gillard. At the end of one such night (I have had considerably more than two-and-a-half pints of cider this time) we are rushing down the stairs of Jesmond Metro station to catch the last tram back to town when I twist my ankle and go flying down two flights of stairs. I am in some pain but Mark, a former apprentice footballer with Sunderland and Hartlepool United, reckons he has seen worse on Saturday afternoons and I will walk it off.
By the time I get home my ankle is the size of one of the footballs Mark used to cross dangerously into the penalty area in his days as a flying winger. My dad is summoned from his bed to reacquaint me with the General Hospital, where I join the ranks of war-wounded from an average night of pub brawling in the infamous Bigg Market (I strike up conversation with a man whose ear is hanging off the side of his head- apparently you should have seen the other guy). I am diagnosed as having a very severe sprain and told to buy some frozen peas and put my feet up for a week. When I ask if processed peas in a tin will be equally OK I am advised they are to put on my ankle to stop the swelling- oh, I see!
The next day- unsurprisingly enough- I am in no fit state to take part in an eleven-a-side game arranged among some friends. This is perhaps one reason why I have taken to referring to my perennially weak-ankle (it has gone a few more times over the years, I will be walking down the street and will suddenly yelp and collapse in a heap causing passers-by to come running to my aid or flee, depending on their disposition) as my ‘football injury’, when it is not a football injury at all, but the legacy of a succesful but ultimately flawed effort to catch the last Saturday night Metro home.
The call of nature
It is 1999, and I am on my way back from a night out on Merseyside. It is the last train and to my horror I find the toilets are knackered. Of course, I really really have to go, and even toy with the idea of quickly draining one of several cans of Stella that have come along with me for the ride, then relieving myself into the vacuum created. But even in my advanced state of intoxication I can see this approach may cause more problems than it solves, so I opt for attempting to go in the bushes at one of the many deserted stations in the middle of nowhere that the train is insisting on stopping at. The stops are an exact forty seconds long and I have exactly thirty-nine seconds’ worth of extra-strong lager to dispose of. In this last desperate second, with the door buzzers sounding their high-pitched warning, I scramble across the platform and hurl myself headlong into the carriage, just as the door slams shut. I breathe a sigh of relief and simultaneously wince with pain, as I realise that during my unorthodox boarding of the 01:12 from Newton le Willows to Manchester Victoria, I have slammed my right shin very hard indeed into the sharp side of the carriage floor where it is exposed by the opening of the sliding door. To this day there is still a slight, barely perceptible dint in that part of my leg.
The blatant penalty appeal scadalously waved away by an imaginary referee
It is bonfire day 2003, and I am playing in an eleven-a-side challenge game between a bunch of mates and a bunch of one of my mate’s mates. The opposition are a bit younger than us and a few of them are not averse to a using heavy-handed tactics in a bid to counteract our greater guile and collective sleight of foot. On one such occasion I am sashaying gracefully into the penalty area when I am upended by a tackle from behind executed with all the poise and grace of a bus-stop assault by an aggrieved Fenham skinhead. But I have watched enough Premiership football to know exactly what to do, and launch myself skywards while screaming ‘penalty, ref!’. During my descent I have time to remember that not only is there no ref, but that we are playing not on the lush grass of Old Trafford but the considerably harder astroturf of the Armitage Sports centre three miles distant. I land with considerable force on my left shoulder and find that I cannot move my arm. That night at a bonfire, C has to hold my sparklers for me- and my shoulder is still a trifle painful to lie on to this day. Still, at least I can say I have a bona-fide footballing injury- and one sustained in a controversial penalty incident, at that.
So there you are. Unblemished infant to drink, football and skinhead-ravaged bloke approaching middle age with as much dignity as he can muster and various parts of his body held together by pieces of string, in just thirty years. We will see how long we can last without falling apart entirely. If my writing hand stays attached to the arm for long enough, there will be another ‘My Life Story in ….’ story along in a little while- because I don’t know about you reading them, but I am quite enjoying writing them, you know- even if this one has brought back a painful memory or two.