Total Pageviews

Monday, 30 April 2012

Chocolate Mousse

Do you remember the day you learned basic shit? Like, bog standard basic rubbish that we all know, but rarely think about; Columbus/1492, the 4x table, 1066, i before e except after c, 1914-18; that sort of rubbish. No, me neither. Except for one.

Yes, I shall always remember the day I learned about the area of an equilateral triangle. Because that very formula won me a chocolate mousse. Petty? Trivial? Well, no.

We were in the dining hall at school and as was traditional, after everyone had been served and as people started to look like finishing, it would be announced what was left over and you could go up for another serving if you wanted. On this day, they had, I shit you not TWO  chocolate mousses left. And they announced it.

Now, if you only have 2 left, of something that is almost certainly going to popular (cos it's chocolate fucking mousse, for God's sake) then why would you announce it to a roomful of little kids? Madness.

Or so you'd think, but for reasons which I still, to this day, don't understand, only 5 people stood up. Maybe my understanding of the thought processes of my contemporaries was as rubbish back then as it is today. 5 or 35 though, the problem remained. There were only 2 mousses. What to do?

Well, as it turns out, we were all from the same class, so our teacher decided that we would decide who got the mousses by a test of our understanding of what he'd taught us that morning. The swine! 2 people immediately decided they weren't hungry after all. Shockingly, I wasn't among them.

 I say shockingly, because the voices were fucking screaming. You know the ones; "Sit down for fucks sake, people are looking at you!" and "Oh my God you can't answer a question in front of the whole fucking school, what if you get it wrong, oh my God, sit down you utter cretin." etc, etc, etc.

Bear in mind, we're talking about the person who pissed himself in class because he was afraid to ask permission to go to the toilet. And who lied to his parents about being forced onto a football team, because he thought they'd tell him he was too shit to join. I was literally shaking as I stood there waiting for the question.

I was panicking so badly, in fact, that I missed the first question altogether. Which meant I felt even more stupid. I gave my head a shake, and prepared for the next question. Which was a piece of piss, to be fair. Once I answered it, and the LOSER sat back down, I shuffled up to the counter, all embarrassed and cringing, to collect my prize which I wasn't entirely sure had been worth the effort.

Embarrassment continued, as I got to the counter and had to explain to the servers how I'd known the answer; I'd like to think they were humouring the little kid, but I suspect they genuinely didn't know; when all I really wanted to do was get back to my table. Could they not see that I was mortified?

They say that all's well that end's well, and in many cases they're right. I mean, I conquered the voices in my head long enough to win myself a delicious dessert, so that's a decent result, yeah? Hah! As I left the dining hall that day, it was with a little voice, chirping away in my head;

"Everyone already thinks you're poor. Then you do that for a little extra food."

"They're all laughing at you for bothering to try."

"They think you're desperate."

My head, ladies and gentlemen.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

A Week In The Life

No trip down memory lane this week, unless you count the last 7 days, because I'm going to do something a bit different (for this blog anyway; I'm sure plenty of others do it all the time) and do a week in review kind of thing. 

MONDAY I post on here about how my Grandad had died and how I'm feeling; or not feeling, as the case may be; about it. Not the best start to the week, I'll be honest, although as is often the case when I get too whiny on t'internet the lovely @The_Moiderer from the twitters gives me a slap and puts me in my place. Her words of calm wisdom are always appreciated.

 Get a couple of 'We'll keep you on file' letters from prospective employers. Yeah, like I don't know what that means. Grumble grumble.

 Opening a couple of envelopes is obviously too much exertion for me and I collapse on the sofa, sound asleep, until 8pm, which means I missed Emmerdale. Oh, the humanity!

  TUESDAY I walk into town. Then walk back out of town when I realise that my JSA doesn't actually go into the account until Wednesday. Such is life.

  WEDNESDAY I walk into town. JSA is in account but I can't get it because machine is faulty. Grrrrr. Wait for branch to open, go for a wander, hop on the bus to Old Darlington Town. Get a haircut, buy a book (The Outcast Dead; part of the never ending Horus Heresy series that I can't seem to catch up with), a DVD (Jekyll, because I never saw the end on TV and it was only £3), and a cup of coffee, then hop on the bus back home. Excitement doth abound, doth it not?

  THURSDAY I do not much of anything until the evening, when I start to bash out a bit of rot to go up on the book blog the next day (about Horus Heresy: Age of Darkness; I told you, that series is endless) before suddenly remembering that I have a load of forms I need to fill in for my 'Diagnostic Interview' at the Job Centre the next day. Joy. Fill in the forms. Do not answer 'Cheese' to all the questions, like a certain someone on twitter suggested I should. This feels like a missed opportunity, but sometimes you just have to be mature about these things. (willy, wee-wee, poo drops)

 Get a phone call. Old mate from old job. Tells me that the boss has announced they are hiring and that if I'm still out of work I'll be getting the job. Expect a call, he says. Squeeeeeeeeee!

  FRIDAY Traipse into town. Woman in Job Centre is nice enough, to be fair. She points out that I could probably do with a new email address, which is a good point actually; it has never occurred to me, after all this time, that I'm putting faplad all over my job applications, duh; but she then proceed to give me a tutorial on how to set up an email account, which, you know, I'VE GOT ONE! DOES THAT NOT IN SOME WAY IMPLY THAT I KNOW HOW TO SET ONE UP?


 Nice lady goes on to explain all the many and varied 'training courses' I will be sent on, should I not be successful in finding work. These will 'help you expand your skill set and give you support in your job search.' They won't. I've been on them all before. They are exercises in mind numbing tedium designed purely to shift your name from the 'Unemployed' column to the 'In Training' column. This is not purely cynicism on my part. (May be purely cynicism on my part)

 I leave the Job Centre and head off for a coffee in le cafe. Whilst drinking my coffee and reading my crap book; that I just want to be over, please, and may she never write another one, ever, ever; I get a phone call. Old Boss! Can I pop in, soon as I like? I'm 20 minutes away, but don't want to seem too keen. I'll be there in the next couple of hours, I say.

 I go in. He's busy. He tells me to go and make a cuppa in the bait room. He gets there 5 minutes later. He offers me the job. I accept. We shake hands. We idly natter for a bit, then he chills me to my very marrow. "When E&E (names withheld cos they is like the top bosses and shit) gave me the go ahead to take you back on" he says, with a malevolent glint in his eye, "they mentioned 'developing' you." Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo! (This means training with a view to promotion. I am trained, and was promoted, once before. It was the worst year of my life. Myself and desks do not get along.)

 He lets me stew for a few minutes, then assures me that it's not a prerequisite of the job and he's already told them I probably wouldn't be up for it. He's evil, but he's a good lad really.

  So there you have it. My week. As you can see, I lead one of the most exciting lives imaginable. I could have spiced it up even more by regaling you with my thrilling adventures in CV posting and 'ringing up random people in the phonebook to beg for work' but I decided your hearts might not stand the strain.

Monday, 16 April 2012

A day out the hospital

A while back, I posted this. As it turns out, the writing on the wall was lying, and the man in question was home again in no time; not fully recovered, and he never really did, but he was home. Since then, there have been a few more overnight visits to the hospital, but the Doctors never went so far again as to declare him finished.

Until now.

On Friday morning I received the news that his most recent visit to the ward was going to be his last. The Doctors were giving him a couple of days. My first thought was, "yeah yeah, I've heard that before." My Sister, who was planning to go and visit him that day, asked whether I wanted to go with her, seeing as how it was likely to be the last chance I'd get. I declined.

Not, I hasten to add, because I wasn't bothered, but because I was due to sign on that day. I could, as several people have suggested, have attempted to get a signing exemption, or just a postponement, but she was leaving earlier than the phone lines opened. I was worried that if I went, then rang them and they said no, I'd be stuck. I'll be honest too, my claim for Job Seekers Allowance was new, and the length of time it had taken to get sorted had left me living on fumes; I didn't want to rock the boat in any way, especially for what I was still mostly convinced would be another false alarm.

Friday afternoon came and I got a phone call. He was even worse, and probably wouldn't last the day, but if he did, did I want to go and see him the next day. I said yes. Then I went back to being silly on twitter. You see, if you've read the post I linked to at the start of this, and I've mentioned it in several other posts on here too; I have a problem when it comes to sadness and grief, in that I don't actually feel it. It's odd, and not entirely natural, and it's not something I'm proud of, but it's a fact. So I claim, when I catch myself, that I'm being silly online to take my mind off things, but in truth I'm just being silly online because being silly online is what I do. He barely crossed my mind.

Saturday morning arrives and I'm up and about. I'm making videos for youtube, I'm writing blog posts (including the one that would have gone up today if this one hadn't been necessitated) and I'm watching rubbish telly. What I'm not doing, is worrying about my Grandfather. Then the phone rings, my lift is on the way to pick me up, best be ready to go because they're in a rush. So I get ready.

The journey to the hospital is odd. I'm being regaled with stories of my Uncle's antics in the hospital the night before, and how he kept everyone sane with his jokes. I'm told about how my Mother had refused to go the day before, 'and maybe it was for the best because she was still drunk from the night before', and how my Sister had gone mad at her. Then we pick up my Mother, who apparently *was* going this time, and we get to listen to her thrilling tales of people we know (I don't know them, and say so, and am told that I do; I don't).

Halfway to the hospital my Sister starts to shout at her boyfriend, who is driving, because apparently he is going a different route to usual. While this is happening, my Mother continues to talk about people I've never heard of, to an audience of zero, because I don't care and the other two are arguing amongst themselves. I entertain myself counting my goosebumps, since the window is open and I'm in the path of an arctic draught.

We arrive at the hospital. Upon entering, we make our way along the longest corridor ever committed to concrete, before eventually arriving at his room. And I swear, it's surreal. He's there, sitting up, looking like shit but awake, aware, and able to have a conversation. And he's surrounded by a bizarre cast of characters.

There are 4 beds in the room. In bed 1, we have the tiniest, frailest looking old man you've ever seen, in the biggest, baggiest pair of pajamas you've ever seen, lying flat on his back in an unmade bed, with one foot dangling over the edge. He's asleep, although at this point it's more that I'm *hoping* he's asleep; I'm only reassured when the tea trolley comes around and she doesn't seem overly concerned.

Bed 2 is my Grandad. Bed 3 is curtained off, and I can hear movement. Conversation is low; my attempts to eavesdrop come to nothing. Never mind, what about bed 4? Well the gentleman in bed 4 seems happy enough. He's not actually in bed; rather he's sitting in the chair next to the bed, going through the largest pile of racing supplements, ever. It's at this point that I'm reminded that it's Grand National day. He's also letting go some of the foulest, loudest, and frequent farts I've ever encountered.

Bloody Hell! The curtains around bed 3 are shifting and out comes... a prison warden! Fuck, there's a prisoner back there! What's he in for? (Prison or Hospital) None of my family know. Need for gossip *still* unfulfilled. The warden toddles off somewhere, I don't know where although I'm tempted to follow him (I don't). Should he have been going for a wander at all, I wonder. Is he allowed to leave his prisoner unattended? *Has* he? Or is there someone else behind the curtain? Ooh, the questions.

On the way back, Prison Warden is collared by bed4. Not, as I had imagined, to hear his rendition of Mozart's 6th in fart major, but to be shown many no doubt fascinating pictures of horses. Warden is obviously keen to return to his post, but too polite to say so. I'm tense; is this a distraction to enable an escape? Are armed men about to come barging in? No, it's just a lonely old man showing a captive audience some pictures of horses.

At this point my Grandad swears and his legs start bouncing. Ok. His arm is lifted and rested on his bedside table and his legs stop bouncing. Ok again. At this point I notice that the arm in question is essentially full of blood; The underside, where it's been laying, is one big red fresh bruise.

We leave the room and go to the cafeteria. The cafeteria has two tv's on the wall. One is playing horse racing coverage, the other the film PT-109. Neither has sound. I attempt to watch PT-109 while drinking one of the most horrible cups of coffee I've ever experienced but it's hard, because everyone else is shouting about the odds on the racing, and which horses they've backed. I'm asked which horse I've backed. I say none, because it's a cruel sport. I'm mocked.

As we leave the cafeteria an incident occurs. I'll not go into specifics but I will say that it involved a red stain on a seat and that I had assumed those days were gone for my Mother. Yeah.

Back in the hospital room and sleeping man is now awake, and has visitors; I'm only guessing but I think it was his wife and son. I'm adamant that I know the son, but he doesn't seem to recognise me so I say nothing. Maybe he used to be in Dynasty? Who knows?

We stay for another hour or so. Old sleepy man is led away by his 'Son'? but returns moments later, with wet pajamas. "Too late", says the Son, in a jaunty manner, making light. "Too late again. Too late as usual, he's always too bloody late" says the wife, not making light. I shouldn't jug, but I do. I still wonder where I know the Son from. Crossroads?

The curtains are closed while new pajamas are donned. While that is happening, we get a glimpse of prison warden number 2 (so that's that answered then). It's a woman; a rather striking redhead, to be exact. I'm smitten. I say nothing though, because I'm also somewhat intimidated. She heads off to get the teas in.

It's decided that since my Grandad has gone to sleep, it's an opportune time to go home and have some food, before some of us (by which I mean, not me) would head back for the night shift. As we leave the hospital it starts to rain. We're parked a fair way from the doors. This causes some grumbling from the party.

We go to my Grandmother's, to drop her off first. There I do my first useful thing of the day and get the washing in off the line. We all drink coffee and I sit and grumble while they watch the Grand National.

I wonder at how small the estate looks since they've pulled down the bungalows between my Grandmothers house and the allotments. The journey around the bungalows made it seem quite a trek between the two; now that they're gone the direct line of sight shows just how close they actually are. This amazes me more than it perhaps should.

We go home. On the way, everyone discusses how much better my Grandad had seemed today, as compared to the previous day. I'm reminded of a year ago, but I say nothing. Then my Mother starts ranting about her neighbour; "the one with the half cast brat", and I say nothing for other reasons. Not that I needed it, but I am reminded how much disdain I have for her.

She is dropped off first. Then I am dropped at home with assurances that I'll be kept informed. I head indoors and after a quick 5 minutes dwell and a couple of tweets on the subject, I'm back to not thinking of him at all. I disgust myself sometimes.

I received a telephone call on the Sunday evening. My Grandad had died at 5:30AM, that morning. I had not been called at that time, because it's common knowledge that my phone ringing doesn't wake me up, so I'd been moved down the list and then forgotten about.

I didn't break down, I didn't feel much of anything, to be honest. In the same way that I had been more interested in hot prison wardens and bladder weakened pensioners while in his presence, my first thought now was getting back to my book. I'll miss him, when I think of him. I'm glad that, for all we didn't make a big deal of it, I gt to see him one last time. But as with every other death I've experienced in my life, I'm not broken up, or upset. Which is why I now have to brace myself for not going to his funeral. I'll see my Grandmother separately, and pay my condolences, but I'll not be attending any formal gathering. As much as people will think ill of me for not attending, the truth is, if I do go it'll be worse. I make people uncomfortable; they don't know how to be around my lack of emotion.

I'll be doing them a favour.

Monday, 9 April 2012

One BIG happy family

I thought that, having neglected the blog for a while, I would come back with some lightweight entries; to ease myself back in to the MoaN way of thinking, if you like. That was fine for a couple of weeks, but talk of school assemblies and Gob Stoppers was never going to last; and so it comes to pass that this week we return to our regularly scheduled programming. Yes, a bad thing is going to happen to me.

To be fair, this story isn't as bad as some, at least on the face of it. There will be no vicious beatings, drunken rampages, accusations of sexual shenanigans or any of the other delights you might have come to expect from this blog. Nope, none of that.

So, longtime readers of MoaN may remember that my Mother, while living rent free in my Aunt's house, had decided that she was madly in love with said Aunt's live-in boyfriend, and started an affair with him. As you do. Upon our moving out of that house and into our own, he came with. Oh Joy. The delightful chap in question was called Maurice, and the full story is here.

Maurice was a bully, no question about it, but he was a clever and unpredictable one. Or he was just erratic. One of the two. You see, he would rarely actually hit us. For large periods he would be the nicest, friendliest bloke in the world, then he would start in with his little 'jokes'; his derogatory comments disguised as 'helping' and his childish love of getting one over on us; proving his power over us in petty little ways. The physical violence happened, and I'm going to give you two examples of it in this post, but to someone with as many confidence issues as I had; someone who spent so much of his time battling the inner voices that were so intent on convincing him he was worthless, and a joke; the snideness and power games were the real killer.

Take the first of the two instances of violence I mentioned. As I prepare to type this, I look back at it and I can see how petty the whole thing was, and I worry that I don't come out of it looking any better than he does, but I'm going to put it down anyway. I was reading the TV mag. I always read the TV mag because I wasn't actually allowed to watch all that much TV so I would use it to get a glimpse into the wondrous stuff I was missing. Except on this occasion, he snatched away the mag, to see what was on, then shoved it down the side of his seat. I asked for it back, but he refused, on the grounds that I didn't need it because I wouldn't be watching anything anyway.

What harm would it have done to let me read it? None, and judging from the huge smirk he wore, he knew it. But he wouldn't relent even when - I'm not afraid to sacrifice some dignity for a good cause - I started to beg him. After a while I snapped, shoutd that he could keep it, and stormed out of the room. Which should have been the end of the affair, but no. He followed me.

The smirk was gone, the mocking tone was gone, all pretense at joviality was gone. He stormed through the door, walked over to me, smacked me full across the side of the face and yelled at he top of his lungs, "Don't you ever talk to me like that, you little bastard." Then, ignoring my crying, he went back to living room and within moments he and my Mother were back laughing and joking. I was so insignificant, so minor a concern to them, that stripping me of one of my few true pleasures in that house for a joke and leaving me red faced and crying when I dared voice complaint, was no more than a momentary blip on the little blippy thing of their day. I doubt my Mother had even registered what had happened at all.

One of Maurice's (very) few good points, at least from the point of view of us kids, was that he very often, on a whim, decide to move out and go back to our Aunt; usually after a particularly big blow-up at my Mother that may or may not have resulted in black eyes and busted lips, depending on hoe much alcohol had been consumed. Of course, we always knew he'd be back; that much was inevitable; but his absences allowed us brief, blessed periods of calm, where we only had one violent drunken bully to contend with instead of two, and even when he did make his inevitable returns things would be relatively relaxed for a while, as they went through their latest 'Honeymoon' period.

Except, on one occasion. On one occasion, he brought his kids with him. Now, the house we lived in was not large. It was a two bedroom-er, and there were 3 of us kids (2 boy and a girl), sharing one of those rooms. When Maurice arrived one day, after an absence of a couple of weeks, with 2 kids in tow, it was never going to be ideal. Sardines in a tin, we were. Before they arrived, our room had a set of bunk beds (for the boys) and a bed for my sister. It was fine. After they arrived 2 mattresses; not beds, mattresses; were sourced from somewhere and the floor in our room promptly disappeared. Marice's youngest boy, Martin, took my bunk and I ended up in one of the floor positions, and Maurice's eldest, Stephen, took the other. My sister kept her bed, which was only fair, but the subject of some argument for a while.

One particular morning, it must have been a weekend or school holiday, because there was no urgency involved, I woke to find that my Brother was crying, my sister was downstairs yelling and my two cousins/stepsiblings/fucking annoyances were screaming at each other about, hell, I don't know. Just another day in paradise.

Rolling over, I tried to go back to sleep. But my brother wouldn't stop crying and those two just kept on at each other, and my head started to pound, so I inquired as to what was going on. Through the screaming I managed to find out that they had decided it was funny to trow things at my Brother. I found this out through amouthfull of abuse, naturally. Then they started tormenting me. Jumping onto me from my sisters bed, making little sing-song references to my loving to read (foreign concept to them) and pulling my books down to throw at me. They were a delightful pair.

I did nothing. I could have shouted at them to stop. I could have gotten up and slapped them one (violence being the foremost means of diplomacy amongst kids at that age). I could have gotten dressed and gone downstairs. I did none of those things. I just wanted an easy life, and even at that young age I knew that trying to do anything, one way or another, would just pour fuel on the fire. So I just lay back and waited for them to get bored. Until Maurice barged in.

He wasn't happy. And his ire was directed in only one direction. You guessed it. What was going on? Why was I letting them bounce on the beds? Why were there books all over the room? Why was my Brother crying? Ah, yes, of course, it was my fault. So I snapped.

I told him if he wanted someone to look after his kids he should get out of fucking bed and do it himself because it wasn't my job. I told him, better yet, he shouldn't have dragged them away from their Mother. I told him "if you want to have a fucking go at someone why don't you have a go at these little bastards cos they're a pair of fucking animals." Then I told him to leave me alone to go back to sleep.

Then he hit me.

This made my Brother cry more, and it made 'those 2 little bastards' laugh. He smiled at them and walked out. And they started up again. Only this time, they did it with the added authority of knowing that they weren't going to get into trouble for it. Here's the thing though; I didn't care, because I think that at that moment my long standing inability to take seriously anyone in authority over me that didn't deserve to be, was born. I had stood up to him, and his response had been to hit me and then laugh and encourage his kids. He was little more than a child himself, so why should I respect him? The blow hadn't even hurt that much. I knew, in that moment, that I was better than him. I waited for them to get bored, then I went back to sleep with a smile on my face.

It was fleeting of course. The voices in my head would never let me feel that good about myself for long; there would always be some insecurity or some new flaw in myself to bring me down again. But from that moment on, I never feared Maurice, and never took his threats seriously, again. And while there were further occasions when he would raise his hand to me, they became fewer and further between with every passing day. I think he could see that they weren't having the desired effect.

Monday, 2 April 2012

If You Can Dodge A Wrench...

Not that it mattered all that much, since for the most part the buying of treats was limited to moon landings and major Royal Jubilees, but as a child I never liked Bubble Gum. Or chewing gum. Or those Gobstopper monstrosities. Or... Let's just say that I was particularly fussy when it came to my confectionery. Remember that, it's important to this story, later on.

It was a dark and stormy night, by which I mean it was quite a dingy day and we'd had a bit of drizzle. As a result, PE was to be held indoors, in the multi purpose assembly hall. What would we do, though? It wasn't a large hall, by any stretch, so options were limited. Usually it ended up with us running lengths or doing ridiculous approximations of sit-ups. Not this time though. This time, the teacher, being an imbecile had other ideas.

"We're going to play... Dodgeball!" Yeah, great. Now, we weren't going to play dodgeball the way dodgeball is supposed to be played; with teams, and a central line, and you're out if you're hit and catching to get people back in and all those other rules I know from watching the Vince Vaughan movie; but rather the free for all variety that basically consisted of kids randomly throwing balls around for an hour.

I'm sure you know the game I mean, even if what I laughingly refer to as the rules were slightly different were you're from. One person is 'on' and has to hit others with a ball. Anyone they hit becomes 'on' too, so as the game progresses the numbers advantage gradually shifts to the attacking team. More balls are added to the mix at the teachers discretion. Last man not 'on' wins.

And if you do know the game, you'll also know that it could get bloody vicious. You see, it's basic child psychology; most kids care about winning, but they care more about being able to throw the ball as hard as they can at other kids they don't like. So the 'on' person would gently tap a few of their mates who would of course make no effort to evade the ball, and then they'd go on a rampage. No-one ever got tagged with a single shot after that; they were picked off one by one, with each of them being ganged up on and hit with an avalanche of balls. See, vicious. And I'm not just bitter because I always fell victim to the worst of it.

This particular teacher, in an effort to show himself as being slightly less of an imbecile than he first appeared, attempted to rectify this issue in the 2nd game, by offering an incentive to people to actually try to win. There would be a prize, he said, to the victor.

Didn't make any difference of course; everyone went mad just the same. However, it meant that those of us who actually tried to win/didn't have tough friends to gang up with, had something to play for.

Now, I was a very shy and reserved child, much as I'm a shy and reserved adult, and it took a lot for me to get really heated up in PE. This time though, something happened. I wasn't the first victim pelted. I wasn't the 2nd. Or the 3rd or 4th. Others had annoyed the Alpha males more. I could sense an apathetic victory coming; the blood began to race; the adrenaline was pumping; I started bouncing on the spot. *WHACK* The ball smashed off the wall mere CMs from my head. Brown underpant time and no mistake.

I rallied though, and now my gander was up there was no stopping me. I dashed left, I raced right, I sprinted the length of the hall and back again; classmate after classmate fell prey to the balls of doom but not I; this was going to be my day to shine!

It came down to 2 of us. But disaster of disasters, we were trapped in a corner! What would happen. The whole class was well into it by now; we last two had run them ragged and they'd not been able to get us, so they were a little puffed out but properly excited. They surrounded us; toying with us; letting us know they could take us any time they wanted. Myself and my equally determined to win compatriot were desperately trying to get our breath back before making our desperate break for freedom. A real Butch and Sundance moment if ever one existed in a Primary School assembly hall.

This was it! My big chance to shine, or at the very least not look a total prick. I whispered something to him; he nodded; he would bolt out of the corner along the length of the stage footings and I would run for it along the wall. Going at 90degrees to each other we would either split the attacks and give ourselves a fighting chance of dodging, or one of us would get the lot; it was a chance we had to take. Forget Butch and Sundance; this was Billy and Doc in Young Guns II. This was 'Let's finish the game' writ large.

And it had exactly the same outcome; he got pelted with the lot, and I completely chickened out and never left the corner. Ladies and Gentlemen, your winner... ME!

So yeah, I was the last man standing, by virtue of the fact that I was a coward, and I won the great prize on offer from the teacher. One of those cardboard strips with gob stoppers in individual bubbles. I could have cried.