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12 and 14

Another little milestone. Over the last month our daughter and son have celebrated, respectively, their 12th and 14th birthdays. I recall a birthday party, soon after our daughter was born, at which a friend kept saying “6 and 8, 6 and 8”, like a mantra. She was looking ahead a few years, to the day when her daughters reached those ages, and things would be so much easier. That happened, for them, back in 2010, and we reached 6 and 8 in 2012.

Unsurprisingly, considering how much I think and write about memory, my own 14th birthday has been on my mind these last few days. It was a Tuesday in September, at the start of what we now call Year 9. It was the first academic year when we were allowed to leave the school premises at lunch-time. A group of us (four or five) walked down King Street to the old-style Wimpy. Or was it a Golden Egg? The two were very similar. I’m pretty sure it was a Wimpy because one of my friends had a Coke float (a scoop of ice cream in a glass of Coke), which was definitely on the Wimpy menu. I had an eggburger and chips. I was telling my son about it on his 14th birthday, and trying to work out why I had missed out on my school lunch to eat something so much more extravagant, other than to enjoy the novelty of leaving school at lunch-time. It came to me shortly afterwards: I was trying to avoid a couple of guys who were determined to give me the bumps. I had eluded them at break-time and they seemed confident that they would get me on the way to lunch. The mates I went to the burger place with weren’t bothered; they had no intention of joining in.

In case you’re unfamiliar with “the bumps” it usually involves at least four people grabbing hold of you (one on each hand and one on each foot) and throwing you repeatedly, up in the air and down to the ground. The latter movement will typically cause at least one part of your body to bump against the floor. They do this on your birthday, one bump for every year of your life. Do children still do this? It certainly doesn’t happen at my son’s or daughter’s schools. They’ve never seen such a thing. On my 14th birthday I continued to evade the chaps who were looking for me and made it home unscathed. By the following year the practice of giving people the bumps had ended. The day passed without incident and that evening three of us went to The Windmill on the High Road for a couple of beers. We had moved on from Coke floats and eggburgers.




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