The regression therapist leans across the couch, looks at me and says: ‘So let me get this straight, David, you’re ten years old and there’s this girl you really like…but she doesn’t like you because you don’t have the right BMX bike.’
‘Okay….so, despite the fact that you were – by your own admission – awkward, didn’t like making eye contact, regularly ran away from girls, often wet yourself at school and occasionally even fainted in front of them, it was definitely the BIKE she didn’t like.’
I glare at him. ‘Are you saying it WASN’T the bike?’
‘I’m not saying anything. I’m suggesting there might have been other or additional reasons for-‘
‘But the bike was REALLY shit.’
‘Okay, but let’s say for one second that she didn’t like you anyway and THEN saw the bike. How would that really have made things any worse?’
I smile because I know I’ve got him cornered and I suddenly feel REALLY smart. I say: ‘Ah…but if she was on the fence about all that other stuff and suddenly there’s not even a good bike to climb on the back of, it’s a no brainer. I’m history.’
He stares at me…..as if I’m actually INSANE.
‘Did she end up hanging around with another boy instead?’
‘Did he have a bike?’
‘No….admittedly, he didn’t….but let me tell you: having a shit bike was worse than having no bike at all. Ask anyone who did bike tricks in the 80s.’
‘Even people who didn’t have a bike?’
The Summer of 1988 was a shit-show for me in the same way that 2020 turned out to be, minus the devastating pandemic. I was really looking forward to the first weekend of the holidays because I was going to stay at my mate Clive’s amazing, massive mansion of a house. Well, to be more specific we were going to spend the weekend in the little summerhouse in the front garden…but it still counted as a luxury holiday and an epic campfire style sleepover all rolled into one. As the holidays drew near, I knuckled down on my plans to become the happiest ten year old in Ramsgate (I was up against some heavy competition as Ramsgate kids were notoriously happy in the 80s). These plans boiled down to three main objectives:
- Get Clive’s dad to pimp my ride (translation: turn my crappy BMX into Street Hawk)
- Ask out my class teacher’s daughter.
- Steal some of Clive’s brother’s Fighting Fantasy books and read them in the Summerhouse (this was a REALLY dangerous mission).
I didn’t really care which order these objectives were completed in, as long as I’d done them all by the Sunday. When the weekend arrived, I heard the screeching tyres of Peppermint F*ck outside the front door. Peppermint F*ck was the name of Clive’s badass BMX – it was snot green and just SO offensively cool that I practically cried when I looked at it. These were tears of joy AND anticipation…because I knew that when the weekend was over, I would have a snot green bike of my own. It was so good of Clive’s dad to do up my bike (my dad wasn’t around so I think he took it upon himself to modify and fix up my own bike in the same way he’d done for his own son).
I waited all Saturday in Clive’s garden, my eyes shifting to the little area where his dad was busy spraying and mending and bolting and unbolting stuff. Finally, there was a huge drumroll moment and the bike was wheeled out.
It was purple.
It was f*cking purple.
I didn’t cry. I was too embarrassed to say anything as the guy had taken time out of his busy life to make me a better bike….but it was purple.
Some of the boys at school – the ones who called me GAY for having a bowl-cut and a flat-top in the same week – would now see me out riding a purple bike.
Purple wasn’t pink….but I immediately worried that it might be a GAY colour. How could I ride round to my teacher’s house and ask her daughter to come out for a ride on a GAY bike?
I started to feel the anxiety build up and then shook myself free from all the negative thoughts: I had a really cool new modded bike and I needed to focus on that. I thanked Clive’s dad for such an awesome gesture and together we shot out of the house and down the road on our rad bikes, riding right into the two boys from school that I’d been worried about. They immediately turned their own speedsters and gave chase.
‘Shut. The. F*CK. Up!’
We peddled furiously, bursting along side streets and secret alleyways, scooting past the Brown Jug pub on our way to the woods in front of our teacher’s house.
‘You’re not still going to ask her out, are you?’ Clive whispered, as we skidded to a halt amidst cries of ‘GAY BIKE’ and ‘Ginger!’ and even ‘Purple Panic! Purple Panic!’
I gritted my teeth and headed to the front door. I raised my hand, shaking like a leaf and suddenly realised that I couldn’t go through with it.
I got back on the bike.
‘Ginger Purple People Eater!’
I started to peddle.
I peddle faster.
I flew over the handlebars, hit a tree, cut my chin and passed out.
That night, as Clive and I relaxed in the summerhouse with our stash of stolen Fighting Fantasy books from his brother’s bedroom, I told him that I was giving up asking out girls – aged 10 – and that I was giving up BMX biking as well. I told him that nothing in the world could ever cheer me up and that I was going to be miserable for ever.
We picked up the first book we’d swiped from his brother’s room: it was Crypt of the Sorcerer by Ian Livingstone. We started reading the passages to each other:
“An ancient evil is stirring! The long-dead sorcerer Razaak has been re-awoken and is poised to fulfil his promise of death and tyranny. The Forces of Chaos are at large across Allansia and it seems that they are all pitted against YOU! For it is up to you to battle against the odds – to find the only weapon to which Razaak is vulnerable, to arm yourself with protections against his awesome powers, and to face him in his lair, the Crypt of the Sorcerer!‘
My god, we literally had the best night EVER.
In retrospect, I probably made the decision to give up girls for Dungeons & dragons right then. It would be another decade before I started to change my mind.
These days, whenever I walk down Salisbury Avenue in Broadstairs, I always look at the house (which is still the biggest house in the road) and the sight of that summerhouse still brings all the memories flooding back. It’s now a shed – maybe it always was – but the other memories are much more vivid. They’re not really of the bikes or the embarrassment or even the girl that I liked so much: they’re of a fight with a sorcerer, an undead fiend with a withered arm and a wizard in a tower full of potions.
Disclaimer: the derogatory usage of the word ‘gay’ in this post does not reflect any views I currently hold about sexuality or sexual preference. It is nevertheless the use of a word which was employed very commonly by children at the time as an insult and was hurled around the playground with swift abandon, just as ‘ginger’ was barked at kids like me relentlessly. Let’s hope things are marginally better, these days.
Picture credit: https://www.instagram.com/aesoterik/
Picture was taken by instagram map artist @aesoterik and shows the cover of Crypt of the Sorcerer by Ian Livingstone, the twenty sixth Fighting Fantasy novel.