Front Bottoms

Christmas Term:

I had a part in the school play. I got out of Maths every Tuesday for a month to rehearse. So I was the first to know.

Rumours spread like wild-fire in the playground. "Miss Hienze is having a baby, pass it on."; "Johnny Keanan got the cane, pass it on." Whole play-times were spent passing secret intelligence from person to person,

This time I started the rumour. Mr Margate, our headmaster, was going to have a part in the play. He was going to be an escaped circus gorilla, and run across the stage in a mask, beating his chest and yoddelling like Tarzan.

I ran up to the first person I saw.

"Mr Margate's the gorilla in the play!" I passed it on to everyone I saw, even people I didn't like and girls.

Mr Margate's the gorilla in the play, Mr Margate's the gorilla in the play. It was still going on after home time bell, and Paul Adams came up to me on the way home and said, "Did you know that Mr Margate's going to be the gorilla in the play."

And I said I knew first, I was the first one who knew, I'd started that story, I had known first.

I was so proud.

Christmas holiday:

There'd been a new rumour in the playground. It wasn't Father Christmas who left presents at the end of your bed. It was mum and dad.

I tried not to think about it.

Somewhere around December 22nd, I was in my Mum's bedroom while she was hanging her best blue dress in the wardrobe. She closed it quickly as I went in. I wasn't looking for them; I hadn't wanted to see them; I couldn't see what they were; only that they were there: a bag of Christmas toys, not-very carefully hidden.

I looked the other way, and tried to pretend that I hadn't seen them, but there wasn't much point.

It only spoiled Christmas a bit. I got an Action Man, the explorer with the beard because my mum didn't like guns.

Action Man doesn't have a willy. I checked. My sister doesn't have one either; I checked that too. He does have a bottom. Bottoms are almost as funny as willies.

Early Spring Term

Crazes go round the playground almost as fast as rumours: conkers, French skipping, bubble-gum: they usually get banned by Mr Margate within a week or so.

This terms craze is a game of dares involving looking at each others willies. Girls aren't allowed to play.

Miss Bone caught us at it. She looked almost as shocked as if we had done something really wicked, like torn a page out of an exercise book. We were all quite scared; bottoms stop being funny when there is a prospect of someone slippering them.

"What you are doing under the table," she said "Is VERY RUDE. Very, very rude."

And that was all. We didn't get sent to Mr Margate or punished or anything. 

Late Spring Term

This time, I was almost the last to know.

It was lunch-time, horrible mashed potato that dissolves into the gravy and looks like dogmuck. Suddenly, Gordon looks up from his plate and says "Do you know about It yet?" 

I didn't have the faintest idea what It was, so I said "Yes, of course I do".

"Well, tell me then."

Obviously, I couldn't, so I said "Just 'cos you don't know yourself."

"Yes I do", he said, and he told me. He told me rude poem and showed me a rude hand signal. You make your thumb and finger on one hand into a circle, and put your finger from your other hand through it. That really said everything you needed to know. Sometimes, people didn't even say "It" or The Facts of Life or Sex  they just said  "Do you know about "...." and made the sign, like the deaf lady on Vision On.

The next day we were changing after swimming, I tried passing it on to Kevin. The changing rooms in the swimming pool are the only place in the whole world where you are allowed to let other people see your willy which spoils the joke.

Swimming lessons are half an hour each week. "Lessons" isn't much of a word for it, really, because they don't teach us anything, just put us in the water with floats and show us breast stroke. Maybe that is how you learn to swim. I learned to swim by myself one summer holiday in Cornwall where there was a natural pool that filled up every day with sea water. The salty water held you up. You couldn't not swim. Once you couldn't not swim there, you couldn't not swim in other places as well.

Anyway, while we were in the nude and drying ourselves and not looking at each others willies I said to Kevin "Do you know about it."

"No I don't," said Kevin, forcefully, "I don't know about it and I don't want to know. Don't tell me."

This was a new approach. Not knowing.

I don't know why Kevin decided not to know. It might be because it was something that we weren't supposed to know, that we had found out by accident, before the grown-ups had told us, like skipping to the next chapter of the reading book before Miss Bone tells you to. That made it naughty. It might be just because he didn't like the idea. Come to think of it, it did seem pretty disgusting. I thought Kevin was probably right; in fact, I would try doing the same thing as him and not knowing from now on.

I wasn't completely sure that this would work.

Easter Holidays

You have a cold.

There is no handkerchief in your bedroom drawer.

The serpent in the garden says "Your father keeps neatly folded ironed white handkerchiefs in the second drawer of his wardrobe."

After Christmas, you should have known better.

You approach the bedroom door.

You walk towards the wardrobe. Turn the handle. Open the second drawer. It is full of handkerchiefs: white bogey-blow handkerchiefs, blue handkerchiefs with patterns on them, purple box of durex, unopened boxes of Christmas tree handkerchiefs,

Purple box of...

You hardly know what a "durex" is; possibly the same thing as a "johnny-bag."  They have something to do with it. There are durex jokes about nuns in the nunnery and queeros with pins. You don't understand them.

Your parents.

They do It. That disgusting thing. They are the same as all the others.

But now you've seen the--durex--you can't pretend. It's like Father Christmas and swimming. You can't not know. It's true. 

End of Summer Term

I go camping with the Cubs. There were three of us in a tent.

Graham was a whole year younger than me so the rumours about "it" had only just reached him. He was also trying very hard not to know.

"Disgusting," he was saying "Just yuck disgusting. I mean putting your, up her...." We agreed that this was so far as we could ascertain, the procedure.

"And I mean, our parents must have..." We agreed that this was more than likely.

"I mean, why would anyone want to..." We couldn't really help him on this point, although we understood the activity was quite popular, so maybe it was a taste you acquired as you got older, like Panorama.

"Well I suppose if I have to, I'll do it but I'll most likely kill myself afterwards. I mean, yuck..."

We explained to him that he wouldn't necessarily have to do it; that there were things called monasteries, which were very much like Cub camps, only all the year round. He seemed to think that this was quite an interesting idea.

Then Mr McCay puts his head into the tent and tells us to go to sleep. We stop talking and slide down into our sleeping bags. The ground is uncomfortable and lumpy under the ground sheet. I sleep face down on my tummy. It gives me a strange feeling in my willy; quite nice.

I wonder if this could have anything to do with It.

The summer holiday was nearly over, and when next term started, we'd be going to the local Comprehensive.

There was a good chance that we'd be hearing some more rumours.