I have never experienced childbirth, but I have lived with pain. I was a child of the sixties. I had nylon underwear and nylon pyjamas. After a night in a bed with fitted nylon sheets the adults simply wired me into the National Grid in the morning and watched me discharge. An inadvertent touch of a doorknob produced a lightning bolt that blew fuses for blocks around. My hair stood on end until at least mid-morning. Passing a comb through it produced the kind of crackle and sparks normally associated with an unintentional fag-end dropped into a box of Brocks*. There were no nits in our house – they were all fried alive.
In order, I presume, to keep me ‘topped up’, in common with many of my friends, I was deposited into a nylon shirt for the duration of my day at school. If things got too racy during the morning playtime ‘kiss chase’ session, you could find yourselves stuck together for the rest of the day.
I’m not certain what happened to nylon – one day it was there, the next it was gone – but I’m pretty sure that if we put our children back into it, within a couple of days we would have more renewable energy than you could shake a stick at. I remember my early school days as a time of perpetual motion, but I couldn’t honestly tell you what I was doing, or why, only that I was always moving. Junior school is one giant memory, like the ocean, with little island peaks sticking through that I can grasp hold of: like bottles of warm milk in the summer and the smell of pilchard salad; like glasses of warm water on the dinner table that contained more submarine fragments by the end of the meal than spring vegetable soup; like stalking the corridors, a caged animal on a rainy playtime, while the dinner ladies guarded the doors, preventing our exit into a fantasy world of puddles and mud.
Whilst the finer detail of much of what occurred during my infant schooldays has been swallowed up by the haze of age, certain incidents do stand out with an amazing clarity. I remember finding what I thought was a huge ball-bearing during one evening’s foray onto the ‘big school’s’ sports field. It turned out to be a ‘junior’ shot putt, about the size of a tennis ball and, to my memory, as heavy as a bag of cement, which I thought would make me unbeatable at marbles. I remember rolling it the full length of the playground only to see some oik mistake it for an actual tennis ball and kick it with all of his might. His toes yielded. The bolly did not. I remember his scream of agony and the look on his face that attempted to come to grips with how a tennis ball could possibly do that to him. He was taken to hospital and I had my prize alley confiscated. Although I had not broken any rules – there was no ‘Thou shalt not bring giant metal orbs into the school playground’ edict – so I wasn’t in big trouble, I didn’t get my marble back. Not only that, but the oik got several days off school owing to an inability to walk and a tendency to whimper. That time was rightfully mine.
I remember once being taken to hospital with a playground cut (I can show you the scar today, if you would care to look) in an ambulance full of war veterans who ‘kept my chin up’ by removing their prosthetic limbs to show me that things were not so bad after all. I remember the absolute horror of entering the classroom of the teacher for whom I had been sent around to take a leaving collection. To her credit, she did make a contribution and, whilst I can never be sure of whether she told the other teachers what I had done, I do know that she always gave me a conspiratorial wink every time she saw me from then on. And I remember the feeling of being as one with my classmates – a closeness of disparate souls, the like of which I do not think that I have experienced since.
And then I remember what brought me here. A jumper that crackled as I pulled it over my head; that made my hair stand on end. I decided to research whether it was still possible to buy nylon clothing and what popped up was ‘Nylon Spandex’ and, specifically, whether it was safe to wear Spandex underwear all the time. The answer is ‘no’, because it will turn you into a human Van de Graaff generator, which switched on the memories of nylon socks crossing nylon carpets and the kind of electrical sparks that could light a theatre. As I said, I have never experienced childbirth, but I have lived with pain…
*Brocks – a brand of 1960’s fireworks that went off with all of the pyrotechnic power of an unexpected sneeze at the cinema.