A lump comes to my throat when I think of Bell Bottom Clive. A more unfortunate boy, I have never known. He was ginger, the particularly unkind kind. Bright red and wiry, kinking stiffly about his face. Ginger hair is cool now for boys thanks to Harry (Prince) and Sheeran (Ed), but it wasn’t then, in the 80s. It was like having ‘go ahead, destroy me!’ tattooed on your forehead. What a terrible price to pay for something growing involuntarily out of your head.
He also wore bell bottomed school trousers, hanging heavily from his slim waist. They were magnificent, great big bells, the kind you could hide small pets in if you wanted to. But Clive was way too unlucky to have a pet to bring him comfort.
I imagine the bell bottoms were handed down from an older brother who had just emerged from the late 70s – a time when they would have been much admired I’m sure. It’s inconceivable, and unforgivable that his parents brought them for him new, or worse still, made them.
I think of Clive often because I have a hazy memory of standing up once when he was being picked on. The scene is set down an alley way, after school – a perfect storm for the picked on. I’m on my bicycle coming up behind the boys (three) and Bell Bottom Clive (one). They are not on bikes. I said something to them though I can’t remember what, and I think they went away. That’s it, that’s the memory.
It doesn’t sit well, this memory. Partly because I am a shameful chicken, more likely to run or hide from trouble than step into it, even if a fellow ginger is in peril. Also, my memory is generally pretty bad, great big gaps lurk where there should be bundles of colourful swirling snapshots from my past. I muddle memories too. Mashing together fact and fiction and any random timescale that fits. My mind’s eye, like the shifty character in a mafia film, never to be trusted.
Finally, I’m a great fantasiser of gallant acts. Heroic re-runs of what I might have done flood through my brain in the spaces where the memories are not. A masterful and stirring speech here, a cutting quip there, even great acts of kindness and benevolence are possible in my mind’s eye. Unreliable it might be, but it still has aspirations.
Despite all this, I’m somewhat comforted that some memories just have a feeling of truth about them. You just know that some things really did happen, or at least the essence of them. With this particular memory – unlike others – I do hope this is true.