I don’t have many really clear memories from my early childhood, at least not that I am able to draw from the depths of my mind’s well at will. No doubt a skilled hypnotherapist or psychiatrist might be able to tap into them but that might not be such a good idea anyway. Something I do recall though, with painful clarity is a fancy dress event that I went to when I was about seven. I might have been six or even eight, but I don’t think the precise age has any bearing on the depth of mental scarring that resulted from the experience.
Scars are funny things. Physical ones can be devastating, causing lifelong mental anguish and destroying confidence but equally they can be the source of pride and bravado spawning many an embellished account of how they were acquired in a moment of youthful daring. Mental ones on the other hand are almost invariably damaging and in most cases we strive to limit that damage by burying the memory deep to protect ourselves from it. No matter how much I try to supress this one though, it comes back to haunt me from time to time and I sometimes wonder if it shaped me in some way in later life.
The fancy dress party wasn’t at a friend’s house it was in some kind of public institution with a hall and a stage but I can’t recall why it was held there or what the occasion was. In fact I don’t actually remember that much about it at all really. There must have been girls as well as boys there but I have no recollection at all about what the girls were wearing. They were probably all fairies or princesses I would guess. As far as I am aware radical feminism hadn’t entered our seven year old world at that time so I very much doubt there were any fire women or female builders. What I do remember about the whole affair is the costumes of the other boys. Most of them were good friends from school; I can even name a couple of them and I am confident of one or two more that would have been there even if I can’t actually picture them in the hall.
There was certainly a cowboy, Keith Elliot I think. I might be wrong about that because I think Keith was a cowboy most weekends, swaggering around the avenue in his Stetson and spinning his six guns like a miniature John Wayne. There was definitely a cowboy though so it was probably Keith. The obligatory footballer (George Bannister) was in a Stoke City top and black shorts and the Red Indian (Native North American Indians hadn’t been invented at the time), had an impressive feather head dress. Somebody’s Mum or Dad had spent a lot of time wrapping tinfoil around cardboard packages to recreate a convincing space man’s suit and there were at least a couple of rugged looking soldiers and a policeman. What you will notice about this list is a certain commonality about the various outfits, namely, they all represented what we boys wanted to be when we grew up or they fulfilled our concept of what was a hero. I know I was obsessed by football at that time and the idea of flying off to some distant planet, probably saving the world in the process, loomed large in my imagination.
By now you are probably keen to know what daring hero I represented that day and I wish I could tell you that I was an astronaut or a knight in shining armour but alas no. I can only assume that my own fancy dress outfit wasn’t so much chosen as clutched at. My Mum was a working one and as such probably didn’t have the time to start constructing some elaborate Hollywood style costume so when Mrs. Thorpe from across the road offered to lend us a ready-made one she was probably hugely relieved and grateful. I suppose at such a tender age I trusted my Mum’s judgment implicitly and having donned my outfit I probably trundled off the party full of beans, excited to show off to my friends. It was only once there, with time to consider the relative macho qualities of all the boys various disguises and contrasting them with my own particular regalia that it began to dawn on me what a terrible predicament I was in.
A strawberry! Really? Yes, I kid you not I was a strawberry. How could anybody think it was a good idea to send me along dressed as a strawberry? The voluminous bright red body of the fruit was topped off with a green ruff and a silly little green hat with a stalk on the top. I looked completely ridiculous and felt so too. The hot prickly tears of humiliation that I desperately tried to suppress that day are welling up once more in my eyes even as I type.
I try not to blame my Mum but whenever anybody mentions ‘five a day’ and I think guiltily about the limited amount and variety of fresh fruit in my diet, I can’t help but wonder if my aversion to the stuff, and particularly strawberries, started back then at that fancy dress party. Scarred for life I am.