On a rare break away from the flats dominating Balham High Road I was sent away on several summer holidays with my paternal grandparents. Many of my teenage years were spent in Greatstone which is on the Kent coast and near to the Dungeness power stations; wearing a safety suit when the tide went out precluded playing on the beach and certainly gave me a dodgy bowling action as I tried to twirl my leg-breaks (this is not a euphemism).
In 1973 I was on holiday in Greatstone. This was my O-level year where I set a record for spending the least time in the school hall during the exams. I feared the worst. The realisation came from a call home when I duly reported in and spoke to my mother – one of the two parents who had, throughout my secondary school career, been constantly told that “Michael could try harder”. She told me, “we opened the envelope and you got one O-level; your father’s bleedin’ furious”.
But all was not lost, as, over the series of many summers, I learned the names of all the engines on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway and learned, having read the Dr Syn novels, believed that life as a smuggler may be the employment route I was destined for with my one O-level. Or, as my O-level had been in English Literature, I thought of being a Scottish King, a miserable prince in Scandinavia or a man who removed thorns from lions.
I never made it as a smuggler, the barrels were too heavy and found that absinthe made me come out in a rash. Also, I don’t suit a bandana – it messes me hair up.