During my childhood in the sixties, getting up in the middle of the night to have a pee was fraught with danger. I had the run the gauntlet of the monsters in the wardrobe and bogeymen behind the door waiting patiently to pounce on me, like most ten year olds I hadn’t figured out that they never pounced on me during my previous ten years because they didn’t exist.. probably..
However, it wasn’t so much my fear of monsters and the occasional bogeyman jumping out on me (well, not just that) that made me reluctant to go pee but because I had to creep out to the bathroom in total darkness and silence. In my bedroom Colin, Terry and Gerald also slept, apparently comatose but never-the-less wide awake in an instant if the floorboard so much as creaked, for it was considered just cause for a beating if you ever woke one of them up. I got to know that floorboard very well and was well versed in avoiding the creaking ones.
So, after waiting for so long that you felt your bladder was going to burst and your fellow siblings would drown in a sea of pee, you HAD to get up but you snook out of bed very quietly. You didn’t dare switch on a light and awaken any sleeping giant, in your bare feet you had to feel your way around all the obstacles on the floor and grope your way out of the room in pitch darkness.
As an aside, did you know that the most perfect instruments for finding Lego bricks on the floor are bare feet? And that stepping on an upturned plug is possible even more painful than childbirth? I was painfully aware of these things at age ten.
Then when you got to the landing you had to do the same manoeuvre, feeling your way with your bare feet and holding tightly onto the banister hoping all those obstacles on the stairs didn’t trip you up or even worse fall and wake up the house. Occasionally I’d be half way down the stairs when I’d hear “WHO’S UP!?” shouted from my parents bedroom and I’d say it was me going to the bathroom only to hear them cursing at me for waking them up – they thought it was a burglar – not like there was anything at all to steal as we were so poor but burglars didn’t know that.
It was only when you got downstairs and fumbled your way to the bathroom and shut the door quietly did you dare switch on the light – hoping of course there wasn’t someone else from the tribe already sitting there warming up the seat. One year I got the fright of my life as I crept down the stairs only to feel someone’s cold hand touch mine as they groped their way back up the stairs. I don’t think my heart has ever jumped so much, so all those stories my mother told me were true – there are bogeymen.. It was my older brother Colin returning to bed and I think we both filled our pants that night – Colin for the second time.
I was reminded about all this fumbling about in the dark recently; I was in the maze at Hever Castle taking false turns and going down dead ends, trying to get to a place of safety, of security, of where I was meant to be. I think we spend a lot of our lives groping our way blindly, not having a clear path and not knowing exactly where we are going to end up – in the bathroom – or on our butt at the bottom of the stairs.
I’m sure it’s like that for a lot of people. I went to school with some very bright sparks and they seemed from birth to have their lives carved out for them, you knew they would get married to someone great and that they would end up running a large corporation before too long, but for me and the vast majority it was more about trying to find a path to some kind of half decent life. And we’d grope our way around, trying to find a path and come to a dead end and have to go back and start again.
And even these days, forty years later I still have that sense, probably always have had, of gingerly stepping out with my bare feet, feeling my way blindly, stubbing my toes along the way, trying to find my way, to somewhere I’m meant to be, to somewhere I’m loved, to home sweet home..