[sic] Magazine

Fresh Hex – Reflective Romantic

I don’t know why but the music on this EP reminds me of one specific location from my past that was the setting for many a childhood memory: my grandma’s back garden.

I grew up in an Edwardian terraced house with not much of a back garden to speak of, only a small area of concrete with some flower beds against one painted brick wall and a shed in the opposite corner (well, an old outdoor lavatory used as a repository for tools, to be precise), with the only real patch of grass nearby being found in the backs beyond next-door-but-one’s garage. So, in the immediate vicinity, there was nowhere to really play out and do any fun, outdoor activities, especially considering I lived on a main road, so had to wait until I was a bit older to go and play on the streets of a less trafficked cul-de-sac near a mate’s house, or make the short trek to the local park.

I regularly visited a cousin’s who lived on the end house in a terrace in a less built-up area, which had what seemed a huge garden beside it beyond the adjacent drive, and was surrounded by rolling fields spotted with sheep and cattle (and soundtracked by the ever-present drone of a nearby motorway). That place was the scene of a few clear-cut memories, and a share of them quite negative to boot; a dog biting and ripping my brand new United goalkeeper top almost the day I received it as a birthday present )the purple 96-97 season edition, one of many iconic Schmeichel strips); crashing a mini quad bike into the garden’s mesh fence from the side of the opposite farmer’s field, with luckily my only injury being shock and embarrassment. Everything else I can remember from that verdant space seems to be related to playing football (especially headers and volleys, but sometimes red-arse if a more sadistic mood descended on us) or wally (could be spelled ‘walley’ or ‘wallie’, as it’s one of those colloquial words that exists only in childhood and evaporates with the passing years, much like ‘dudding’, ‘chinny reckon’, ‘pile-on’, and countless others that have already dissipated from my 27-year-old memory banks), or messing around in the trees or on the garage roof when my auntie thought we’d spent enough time playing Sega Saturn (later, Dreamcast) and some fresh air and exercise was needed. I can even clearly picture the kind of football we used to favour, a Mitre Ultimax, often scuffed up to the point of being unrecognisable, and my preferred footwear, the classic Puma Kings with the big floppy tongue over the laces. So, plenty of memories, but this EP didn’t really conjure that place and those thoughts from my subconscious, this was just a preludatory ramble to warm up the noggin and establish context to the focus of my nostalgia.

Aside from odd occasions when I spent some time at a mate’s whose property actually had a decent-sized garden (a surprising rarity, even in the larger houses on the nearby housing estate), for a fair chunk of my early youth the most numerous and fondest outdoor memories beyond the playground are contained within no more than a 10m x 10m patch of land to the rear of a converted red-brick semi-detached bungalow. About two-thirds of that area was open grass with a swing situated on one side abutting a pebble-dashed garage (that hurt like buggery if you grazed yourself on), the other third consisting of a yellow-and-pink-check flagged patio with a raised stone lip demarcating it from the turf. On the same side of the garden as the garage, but further away from the house, was a tiny wooden shed that housed the gardening tools and various toxic chemicals, with there being a shoulder width gap between the two structures. This short and narrow, dead-ended alley was paved, and its main function for the kids (and sometimes the adults) was as an emergency toilet in case the bathroom was occupied (number ones only, obviously). To the rear of the garden was a row of densely foliaged trees that grew to about 7 or 8 feet at most, high enough and thick enough to block the view of the rear neighbours’ adjacent back garden, with a patch of soil for flowers to grow in between the trees and the grass. This soil surround also stretched along the side opposite the garage and shed, and was separated from next-door’s garden by a wooden fence affixed in a concrete base. That pretty much gives you a rough idea of the layout of that memorable place in my past, and now I’ll describe some events I remember occurring in that location, all of which were triggered by my listening to the EP in question.

I remember playing football with my younger cousins and the other kids my grandma looked after in her role as a childminder (She normally looked after at least two or three non-family children at any given time, as well as me, my sister, and a couple of my cousins. Most stayed for many years and I can remember them all fairly vividly). I remember we were playing with a crappy ‘Bully Boys’ (or something similar to that name) ball that was such a fly-away we spent more time fannying around jumping over fences into neighbours’ gardens (using the ‘hitsies-getsies’ rule to determine the brave traverser of forbidden ground) than playing football, or using the prop for the washing line to try to retrieve the ball from garage roofs and inaccessible gutters.

I remember somehow nearly hanging/strangling myself by jumping onto the clothes line, with the cord catching me just under the chin and holding me off the ground for a few seconds. I can’t recall exactly how I got into that situation of distress, but seeing as the washing line was a good foot higher than the top of my head at the time (even when it was hanging loose), I must have leapt off the side of the swing headfirst and not realised the line was up at the time. I came out of the predicament with no serious physical harm, only being a bit shook up by the experience, but my grandma can still remember the feeling of panic she felt as she ran out the back door to unhitch me from the cable.

I remember often playing on an orange and blue Little Tikes slide, but instead of using it in its intended manner, turning it upside and trying to balance on its two legs in unusual ways, or using it as a building block in constructing some kind of ‘fort’, along with other accrued toys and furniture. I also seem to remember misusing the swing on occasions as well, as instead of swinging forward and back, I would turn laterally, twisting the two suspending ropes around each other until they became taut, then letting go and proceeding to rotate about the same vertical axis at a fair rate of knots until the cords became untwined, and then I would repeat the process in the opposite direction to try to compensate for the inevitable dizziness and prevent any possible puking.

I remember getting a Digimon virtual pet with a kind of pedometer built into it that you were supposed to attach to your belt or trouser waist, and with each step the device would register the shaking motion and eventually grow or level up your monster. So me and another lad went out into the back garden with those on our belts and ran around in circles chasing each other for ages until our monsters levelled up or evolved or whatever. Even weirder is I can remember that whilst we were performing this unwitting spot of aerobic activity, Pete Sampras was playing in the Wimbledon final and he had just won the trophy as we came in knackered from our exertion and ready to battle our virtual beasts. (Weird how I can remember trivial details from childhood like that, yet completely forget about things that happened last week, or fail to recall important items of business I ought to get to work on, but those are the mysteries of the human mind.) This was before I or anyone I knew with one of the toys got the bright idea of shaking the electronic gizmo manually in a masturbatory motion (we were too young for the real deal then, but looking back it must have been weird for the teachers at school when we snuck them into class, them seeing a load of primary school lads with their hands under the table, vigorously shaking something up and down as surreptitiously as possible).

I remember getting out some of the smaller gardening tools from the shed like trowels, dibbers, small forks, maybe a little spade or shovel, and digging for worms in the damp soil around the edges of the garden. I seem to recall being amazed that cutting an earthworm in two not only didn’t kill the animal, but instead created two separate worms (obviously I know this isn’t the case nowadays), and proceeded to bisect the creepy-crawly until it no longer appeared to resemble several worms, but rather umpteen tiny chunks of slimy pink crap. I also seem to remember being fascinated by finding broken shards of clay, china and other unidentifiable materials that I presumed were pieces of valuable relics from ancient times, most probably Roman. And I can vividly remember being dared to eat some mud by some mates when I was really young, maybe 4 or 5, to which I obviously obliged, and learnt a valuable life lesson: mud tastes bad.

I remember the simple joy of getting a free bouncy ball with a comic, and then going outside and bouncing it on a brick wall for ages until I got careless or overzealous in my approach and it ended up in the gutter or lost somewhere unknown. I remember the small Super Balls were both the most impressive and also the quickest to disappear into the ether, never to be seen again. I also remember being bought small styrofoam planes from the local paper shop. They were all modelled on various planes from WWII, such as the Spitfire and the Hurricane, and were self-assembly jobs, consisting of three flat pieces of styrofoam (the body, the wings and the tail) and a plastic propeller that clipped on the nose of the plane. They were pretty flimsy and broke up not long after assembly but they provided hours of fun, and the roofs and gutters of surrounding buildings must have been chock full of those miniature gliders for a time.

I remember when I was a bit older, possibly 10 or 11, playing basketball on the driveway to the side of the garden. My grandparents had recently installed a (short-lived) basketball hoop to the side of the house in order for their numerous grandchildren and kids they minded to play a sport other than football (possibly after multiple complaints from the neighbours about playing wally against their back room wall), and during a game one shot rebounded off the rim and went flying straight into the windscreen and bonnet of next-doors Nissan Micra. As you’d expect from a group of young lads, the second we saw that ball headed towards the car, we jibbed it out of there, legged it inside and mentioned nothing of it to any grown-up. Obviously, the neighbour informed my grandma and we got a right bollocking (I don’t think it was me who made the misplaced shot, but that detail is lost in the mists of time), but I always chuckle when I think how naive we were to think we’d get away with something as blatant as that, but I suppose that first instinct of shirking responsibility and praying you’ll somehow get away with it never leaves you fully, it’s just a case of your conscience and rationale finally outweighing the innate flight response as you grow up and learn how to function in society, and realise that to face the consequences of your actions with grace and candour is usually the most noble route out of any sticky situation.

I remember when my slightly older cousin (the one who had the large garden that I mentioned earlier) came round to my grandma’s for some reason once (the grandma in question is my maternal one, and the cousin was my father’s brother’s son, so their meeting was rare as they were on different sides of the family). Anyway, we got into the position whereby he was holding me from behind, his arms under my armpits, spinning me around in the back garden, all the while relating something so amusing that I proceeded to piss my pants. So there I am, having a gay old time, being swung around in this kind of pseudo-wrestling move, laughing my head off, then, whoosh, trousers soaked. I can’t remember either mine or his parent’s reaction upon seeing the outcome of the aforementioned scenario, but I do remember after having a wash, watching Michael Schumacher win the Japanese Grand Prix with only a towel on (me, that is, not Michael Schumacher). Here is another example of trivialities sticking with me over and above more relevant details, like my parent’s or grandparent’s initial reaction to mine and my cousin’s buffoonery.

I’m sure there are other memories that will return to me if I ponder long enough, but for now that’ll have to do.

As I grew up I spent less and less time in that back garden, only occasionally going round to sit and sunbathe in it on sunny summer days, or to play a spot of cribbage with my granddad, and although both of those grandparents are still alive and kicking, residing in that same bungalow, and despite the fact that I make sure to visit them most weeks, I can’t remember the last time I was actually in that garden. That location has become a time to me as much as a place, and that time is the past.

I guess this writing demonstrates one aspect of the power of music, and how it can mean many things to many people. The 17-minutes worth of music on this EP triggered a train of thought in my mind that resulted in the creation of this seemingly unrelated (to the music) series of reminiscences; memories that have no connection with Fresh Hex; emotions and feelings that may not have even crossed the mind of the art’s creator. Yet I have managed to wring a ring of roses about my childhood after hearing these tracks, recalling some events, objects and people I haven’t thought about in years. That music can do this shows the art is but a tool, a key to unlock what is inside of us, and that it has no definite value in and of itself, only in what it can do to move a person.