When I was little, maybe 3 or so had a best buddy next door, John Metcalfe, who incidentally gave me my first experience of heartbreak when he callously moved away.
My two sisters and my brother were off at school for most of the long long day when the BBC test card became very familiar to me, to the point where I eventually knocked over the TV while reconnoitering the area behind it, looking to see if I could get in and convince that dopey girl and her stupid clown to actually do something. Grown ups have no sense of humour about such things of course and I was alone in thinking that the yellow electrical tape was an improvement on the tellys’ appearance.
So, I had a lot of spare time on my hands to indulge in personal projects and to explore the perimeters of my world, reporting back to the strangely disinterested grown-ups. No matter. I was keeping tabs for them, keeping everyone safe.
This is the time my first memories are from and all in colour. The carved legs of the dining room table are spiralling yellow ochre, the crimson painted floor of the pantry, the red telephone. Colours, I loved them so much so that I felt obliged to add some colour to the wallpaper in the hall despite my Dad having set aside wall space in another room to scribble on. Again I didn’t receive the appreciation I deserved but I comforted myself with the thought that it’s often the case that one’s genius is not immediately recognised.
One day I was patrolling our back garden and it suddenly became imperative for me to collect the best leaves I could find from the ground near the bushes. The best being the brightest, the greenest. I was totally immersed in my important task when I spotted, shining out at me, a bright neon green, the green of all greens, the king of leaves. I reached for it eagerly, grabbing it with my chubby dirty hands. Well you know that feeling when you touch something and it is not as expected?This was my first experience of that. This ‘leaf’ was round and plump and soft to touch, not leafy at all. I had, to my horror, picked up a big fat caterpillar.
I dropped my precious leaves and the unfortunate caterpillar with a howl and ran screaming into the house, into the Mammy. For some reason, inexplicable to me to this day, I don’t think she understood the earth shattering nature of the experience I had just endured but I am sure I probably got a glass of milk. I really needed a stiff whisky but there’s no talking to some people.
The shock has reverberated through my life, as you the reader will surely understand. It was many years, in child time, before I ventured back into the garden, later that afternoon. I was a little older a little wiser, a little more cautious when I saw the caterpillar again, my honed powers of recall convincing me that it was the same one, this time half way up the faded viridian back door and obviously coming after me. But I had learned already and instead of screaming and running about, my long experience in reconnoitering(wreckonnoitering?) and security patrols came to my aid and I merely gave it a wide berth. He would have his work cut out for him if he was going to catch me unawares again. So I left him to his own devices. After all I had some bushes to inspect.