At the age of nine I joined the Boy Scouts. The adventure started promisingly enough- there was a family trip out to some kind of well-to-do Boy's Outfitter in the genteel suburb of Jesmond to purchase the uniform, and great ceremony back home in Fenham as the bottle green sweater and stripy toggle were donned for the first time in preparation for my initiation, at a ramshackle wooden hut outside the church on Hadrian Road, into the Northumbrian Cub Scout Pack (49th Division).
After a few weeks spent in a side-room being mercilessly drilled until we could recite every page of the Jungle Book almost word-for-word (exactly to what end, I never quite understood), we new boys were allowed out into the main hall to take our alloted places among the 'Sixes', as the half-dozen strong cells of fully-fledged recruits were known. It was here that things started to go slighly awry. Under the stern tutorship of our 'Sixer' (a spotty fourteen-year-old from Wingrove Gardens already fast-tracked for a high-flying role in the Venture Scouts) I would get my dib-dib-dibs mixed up with my dob-dob-dobs, and would fall to daydreaming while the many streams of staccato instructions were being doled out.
It was this particular failing which led to my career as a cub scout reaching a sudden and ignominous end. The Big Parade (I'm sure it had an official title, but even at the time I couldn't have told you what it was) had been the subject of intense planning for weeks. The great and good of Fenham were expected to line Hadrian Road to see the 49th Pack, boots shining and banner rippling in the wind, march out of the ramshackle wooden hut at the proud head of the procession, closely followed by the boys from the Salvation Army with their tambourines, and every other quasi-militaristic band of pre-pubescent boys the West End of Newcastle could muster. A stretch of road had been closed off in preparation for our massed show of strength, and a queue of stalled number twelve buses stood to attention as we stepped, left-right-left-right, out onto Hadrian Road and took the sharp left turning towards the junction with Wingrove.
At least that's what everyone else did. The plan to turn left must have featured somewhere among the reams of infomation our ten-year-old heads had been filled with over the preceding two months, but I can only suppose that this particular nugget must have been imparted at one of the many moments when I was lost deep in the recesses of my own imagination, no doubt running onto a nod-down from Newcastle United centre-forward Peter Withe before advancing on the Gallowgate goal to chip an unerring finish over the outstretched dive of the helpless Barnsley keeper (Barnsley, note, not Manchester United; if we disregard the small matter of the reticence of professional football clubs, even those languishing in the Second Division, to pluck small schoolboys out of obscurity and insert them in the first team sight-unseen, my footballing daydreams retained a laudable plausibility).
Clearly, we can speculate as to the finer points of my inner dialogue during the weeks preceding the big day. What can be stated with all certainty is that, alone among the 200-strong gathering emerging blinking into the midmorning sunlight that Saturday Spring morning, I turned not left towards Wingrove Road but right towards Coulsons Newsagents. Five minutes later I was sitting in my front room eating a bowl of weetabix and taking in the closing stages of a particularly enthralling edition of Swap Shop.
My mam came back home about twenty minutes later. She swears the following exchange took place:
'Which part of the parade were you in, Son? I was waiting outside but I couldn't see you!'
'Parade? Was that the parade? I thought we were all going for a walk, but I didn't much fancy it so I just came home.'
I don't think I ever went back to the ramshackle scout hut after that. And this ultimately unsuccessful flirtation with The Scout Movement was perhaps the first instance of what has henceforth been a recurring theme: Good Intentions And Grand Plans That In The End Didn't Quite Pan Out The Way They Were Supposed To. I wondered whether if I pieced together a few more of them the whole might give as much an insight into my life-story so far than any list of the things I actually have gotten round to doing. Let's see shall we? We can start with....
1988-89... being in a band
I was away from Fenham by now and studying languages at Wolverhampton Poly. Me and my mate Anthony (yes that one) were the frontmen of the cutely-named Garylinekers, an up and coming four-piece heavily influenced by the Phil Spector Wall of Sound, Talulah Gosh, and the nascent 'Shoegazing' movement just then making itself heard in the southern provincial newtowns. The only slight snag? Me and Anthony were the only members of the Garylinekers and neither of us could play any instruments or had any musical ability whatsoever. In truth, the activities of the 'group' were limited to taking arty snaps of each other behind the Halls of Residence with my second-hand polaroid camera and deliberating over which of the resultant black-and-white prints would look best adorning the cover of our first seven-inch single (we were strictly an imaginary singles band so never got as far as an album shoot).
1991-92 Becoming Prime Minister
Well I had lots of inflammatory opinions and, having returned from a spell of TEFL in Spain and signed back on the dole in Newcastle while I waited to take a teaching degree, plenty of time on my hands. A phone call to the nearest Labour Party contact in the telephone directory was quickly followed by the receipt in the post of my membership card, emblazoned on the back (because this was still in the days of Old Labour) with the thrillingly revolutionary, but clearly impractical, Clause Four. A week or so later I joined my new comrades on the election battlefront, knocking on doors in an attempt to drum up some support for the upcoming local elections. The pissing-down rain made our leaflets all soggy, and the downtrodden Fenham citizenry seemed strangely uninterested in taking to the streets with poppies in their hair in a May '68- style outpouring of collective anti-establishment euphoria. Suspecting that this politics lark was perhaps quite not quite as glamorous as it was made out to be, I retired gracefully from the scene, thus leaving the way clear for Tony Blair to emerge from the backbenches and Change The Course Of Modern Labour History.
1993-95... become a schoolteacher
This one is a family speciality- we are always enrolling on teaching courses of varying descriptions, sometimes even finishing them and getting letters after our names, only to fall at an early hurdle when it comes to the holding down of actual gainful employment in the field.
My own record is typical- after somehow surviving a PGCE featuring three months of student placement hell, I fled the profession in preference for becoming a trainee skirt-pleater in Gorton, south Manchester. After two weeks of hard labour I resigned, sending forward as my replacement an exiled Ugandan Prince who my mate Lee had met down the launderette, and signed up as a supply teacher in Oldham. After two terms of predictable classroom chaos (the nadir was possibly the day a boy who I had ejected from the class returned to lob an onion through the open corridor window, in what I took to be a pithy but definitive comment on my professional credibility) I escaped again- this time for good, to embark on a lengthy if unspecactular career as a lowly office clerk.
Oh, I could go on. The list of unfinished business I have scrawled on this post-it note here includes 'go strawberry-picking in Cambridgeshire', 'Dye my hair black', 'Start a business hawking marmite to British exiles in Barcelona', 'learn German', and 'become a Spanish Third Division Footballer'. And there's probably another thirty of these Grand Plans That Didn't Quite Work Out languishing somewhere in the pending tray of my consciousness, sorted away in a file marked 'Good Intentions'. I don't know- perhaps I'll get round to some of them one day. The multilingual one-time lead singer of the celebrated Garylinekers becoming the greatest Labour Prime Minister of the 21st Century? Remember where you read it first.