Part 10: I danced here, wearing a black cape and oversized sombrero

Doctors were concerned about blood in my urine. The collision with the car may have damaged my kidneys. To check I’d need an internal examination, under general anaesthetic. I could guess what that involved but preferred not to ask.

The procedure was a breeze. I was knocked out with drugs, woke up, went home. The result: my kidneys were fine.

Dot and I, shortly after my release from hospital.
Dot and I, shortly after my release from the hospital.


A week later we visited my Aunty Dot. As usual she was indelicate. ‘How did you get on at the hospital when they put that camera up your dick?’ she asked. ‘It was fine!’ I said rolling my eyes, laughing.

I no longer used a stick to walk. Physiotherapy focused on strengthening my quads, weakened by 3 months of bed rest. My fellow outpatients and I groaned collectively as the physios called out instructions, boot camp style. Set after set of leg raises, using sandbags for added intensity. ‘Keep those legs in the air! Another 30 seconds!’  We’d regret it later if we slacked off they said.

Typically I spent the whole morning at physiotherapy, arriving at school in time for one-on-one Maths tuition with Mr Cochin. In the afternoon I hung out in the sixth form common room, revising for exams or chatting to whoever had a free period. Mostly the latter.

Exams were held in the school’s Main Hall. A huge space with parquet flooring and a raised stage with heavy velvet curtains. I first saw this hall when I was still at primary school nearby. As a 10 year old I danced here, wearing a black cape and oversized sombrero.

My primary school encouraged pupils to perform. Playing guitar, recorder, spoons, percussion. Reading stories or acting. I was often given a leading part. Not because I had talent.  Because I had the other essential quality required – I could be bothered to learn the lines.

Y Viva Espana featuring Sylvia
Y Viva Espana featuring Sylvia

Sometimes we were asked to perform our popular shows for other schools nearby. I was the stooge in an Espanol dance routine. Two girls, Julie Bateson and Jill Loftus, tap danced to the popular song Y Viva Espana  (a song about Spain, written by Belgians, sung by a Swede). Partway through the song I (hilariously) galloped on stage from the wings, wearing an enormous black sombrero. Made by my dad from painted cardboard, it was pulled down over my eyes for comedic effect. We made two small eye holes at the front so I didn’t fall off the stage. The girls danced well, I danced badly – muchos laughter from the audience.  

As The Magnificent Mercer The Magician I levitated above a bench. My two glamorous assistants, twins Colleen and Nicola, held up a sheet to screen me from the audience as I lay down. Only my head was visible. The sheet was then draped over me as I surreptitiously pulled up a pair of false legs from behind the stage. A drum roll then I stood up slowly, holding the legs at arm’s length. Et voilà: the illusion of levitation.

Captain Kirk
Captain Kirk

In a spoof of the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby ‘Road’ films, I played Bob. Pete Norman played Bing. Posters around the school promoted ‘The Road to Bali Hai starring Bob Mercer and Bing Norman’. In a production of Star Trek I was Captain Kirk, wearing a mustard polo neck with the Starfleet insignia cut from a plastic bag and sewn on by my mother. 

When I turned 17th I learned to drive an automatic car with minor adaptations. I was one of the first in my year to pass the driving test. Afterwards, as I walked through the school gates, I saw a group of friends sat on the stairs peeking out through the railings. They cheered loudly when I gave a smiling thumbs up. There was excitement in the common room and lots of questions. An otherwise positive day was tainted slightly when one close friend, instead of congratulating me, said glumly ‘well that puts the pressure on the rest of us doesn’t it?’ 

In the north of England, drinking in pubs before reaching the legal age (18) is a rite of passage. My voyage of discovery in this area had been interrupted by the accident. I had some catching up to do. Through trial and error, we found the pubs most likely to serve us without requiring ID. Fortunately one of these (The Station) was a short walk from school. We’d often return to school on a Friday breathing beer fumes.

Older friends had access to cars. We could fit 8 people in Tracy Kirkwood’s small Austin Allegro. She was happy to be designated driver. We toured the pubs of the area. After closing time we’d go exploring. We visited cold, windy Tunstall Beach. Rolling up our jeans for a barefoot stroll on the sand.

My friend Mark was given an old mini-van by his uncle. One of those with varnished wooden detail down the sides. The motor for windscreen wipers was broken so Mark had tied the 2 wipers together with string, then created a big loop, threading the string through the car windows. When it rained we pulled the string left and right vigorously, to drag the wipers back and forth across the windscreen.

Our boozy adventures made the local press. On a dark country lane, we pulled over to investigate twinkling lights in a field. Drunk as lords, we disentangled ourselves from cramped positions in the car. Hanging from the trees we found a pack of Boy Scouts in makeshift hammocks. Raising money in a novel way – a sponsored stay-up-a-tree-all-night. We gave some drunk encouragement then squeezed back into the Allegro. In an interview with the local paper, the Boy Scouts described their experience and how they were visited by ‘late-night pub revellers’.

 

 

Hull Daily Mail, 23rd July 1984
Hull Daily Mail, 23rd July 1984

Smelling what Im cooking

4 Comments

  1. Pete, I’ve just read the first 10 all as one block. What a fascinating, compelling, insightful and at times shocking read. Beautifully written, keep on blogging!

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