One of the bigger problems you can have, as the oldest of a gang of kids, and therefore their de facto leader, is the pressure on you to always be the best at stuff. How embarrassing would it be, for example, to announce that you were all going to have a game of something, and then get your arse handed to you by a five year old? Exactly.
I had a massive problem then, in that when it came to sports of any shape, size or description, I was essentially, and I use the technical term here (I looked it up), absolutely f'ing useless. Ever the resourceful chap though, I soon came up with ways that I could capitalise on my inherent strengths and hide my weaknesses. Namely, by inventing games so that I could tailor the rules to suit myself.
I have a very high pain threshold. I say this not to brag, or to out myself as a masochist, but merely to state a fact. (I could get into why I had an abnormally high pain threshold for a little child but if you've read this blog before, or intend to again, it'll be pretty self-explanatory.)
This high pain threshold meant that if I invented games that gave the advantage to people who didn't fear pain, or could persevere through pain, I would be able to kick some toddler butt, no problem. So that's exactly what I did. It would come back to bite me.
Now, when I say that I invented these games, what I actually mean is that of course I didn't invent these games. At the time though, in the arrogance of youth, I thought I did. In truth, they were pretty basic variations of old staples.
Like the one where you had to race to the bottom of a bank and then back to the top. Except in our version we found the steepest slopes we could (some were practically vertical) so getting down was a virtual freefall and getting back up was like climbing Everest. Add in the fact that interfering with other participants was positively encouraged, in as violent a way as you liked, and it's a miracle no-one died.
Or the one were you split into two teams and one team had a codeword, with each member being responsible for one letter. The other team had to capture you to get your letter. We'd done this at school, in PE, but there it was a basic 'tag and you're out' deal. In our version they had to physically restrain you and you could refuse to talk, which meant they had to torture your letter out of you. I actually nearly died once, playing this game late at night, on unfamiliar terrain. I was staying at my cousin Ian's house for a couple of nights and we introduced his friends to this game. I was being pursued down a back alley in the pitch black, completely unaware that it was used by residents to hang clotheslines. One was hanging low, I ran into it at neck height and...well, you can guess. Good times.
Ah, the Daddy. In which we would all congregate in the big clearing at the centre of the woods and split into two teams, with one team having a headstart to scatter into the woods and the other team hunting them down to either capture or 'kill' them. What made this game such great fun was that we played it with guns. Actual guns, that actually shot you, with actual bullets.
Well, I say guns... What we used were air rifles and pistols that fired little lead pellets. They rarely broke the skin (only once on me, and that wasn't even while playing Hunters; it was a doped up neighbour firing blind across the back gardens) but they stung like mad if they caught you just right. Until you got used to them of course; once you'd been shot a few times you stopped feeling it so much and could often mask you're reaction and claim not to have been shot. Cheating, yes, but victory was everything, don'tcha know.
Most people wanted to be Hunters, because having the guns made them feel cool but I wanted to win and knew my strengths, so Hunted it was. I threw myself out of trees, down banks, over fences and through hedges...I came over all Rambo, with not a thought for how my body was going to recover. It's partly because of this that I'm so decrepit before my time now. Never mind though, I had a meaningless victory to last for an hour, that was the important thing.
My Mother knew about this game, as did most of our parents, and none of them tried to stop us for the longest time. Which, to put it mildly, was f*cking madness, now that I think back. Not the maddest thing about the whole affair though; no, that would be the fact that Maurice, responsible adult and de-facto Step Father, actually joined in! He regularly came down into the woods and took great pleasure (far more than the rest of us) in getting a hit on one of the kids. He even once tied me to a tree and fired over my head into the trunk; I'll freely admit, my bravado slipped that day.
We were finally forced to stop playing Hunters as a result of something Maurice did, actually. You see, as crazy as we were, in hindsight, to be doing what we were doing, we were actually careful. We shot at arms and legs (fleshy bits) and always aimed carefully. We were daft kids, but we were friends, and there was no way we were gonna risk hurting each other seriously. Maurice, it seems, had no such compunctions. During one particular game, I was being chased by him and after fording the stream and scrabbling up the far bank I hid behind a large bush. He knew I was there, but couldn't see me. Do you know what he did?
He fired blind, into the bush. Hitting me in the right temple. I'm not sure, but it's entirely possible that Maurice was an idiot.
I don't mind telling you, I screamed. I screamed louder than I'd ever screamed before or ever have again. Not even a drunken beating from my Mother at her most frenzied ever felt that bad. My vision was swimming, bolts of lightning were shooting through my head and I genuinely thought I was going to die.
We were never allowed to play Hunters again.