This story is part 1 of 2, the other being The 7 Left Shoes.
“Fake friends are like shadows: always near you at your brightest moments, but nowhere to be seen at your darkest hour
True friends are like stars, you don’t always see them but they are always there.”
― Habeeb Akande
When l first returned to England in 1977 from Australia with my family l was 14. We didn’t have anywhere to live in so far as our own home. Dad had been employed in Australia by a company called Mobil Oil and that meant that he had to work down south in London Monday to friday most weeks, and one in every five he came back to see us in North Wales.
Whilst he was working down in London he stayed with his own Sister in Kent, and at the same time as working on the weekends he would look for a house for us as a family to live in. As it was we ended up living in Surrey which was an easier route into London by train and even when he got car it was a quickish drive.
My Mother, Sister and l lived near Dad’s Brother and his wife in a little village called Trefriw in North Wales, in a small house they owned that was part of the local woollen mill there, which was owned by the Mother of my Father’s Brother’s wife.
When l first got there, l obviously didn’t know a single soul, l attended a Welsh school in Llanrwst which was a bus ride away from the village l was living in and slowly, very slowly over time l did get to know some of the local kids.
I was considered a bit of an oddity, l was for starters despite being English born, considered to be more of an Australian due to my extremely broad accent, l was not a local lad in so far as the village, l was the nephew of one of the ‘locals only by marriage’ who was already considered a bit of an oddball and to boot l was seen as an oddball and quirky to boot.
I know you have read this before in my posts, but although l am on the spectrum, l was not diagnosed officially with my Asperger’s until much later in life, but now know that l would have been displaying signs of it back then, that would already place me at a slight disadvantage to my peers. Australian schooling at the time was behind the English curriculum in learning which meant that l had to fall back a year to catch up, and so when in Welsh school l had to be placed in a year that was younger than me by a year.
It was hard back then, l wasn’t used to the English weather and l arrived in Wales towards the end of their winter and wasn’t used to really cold weather nor snow. I had to learn Welsh which l couldn’t see the point to considering l wasn’t going to be living in Wales, and was constantly querstioning everything which wasn’t apparently the done thing. In addition to everything else l was very very shy and especially around the girls who were not backwards in coming forwards!! So making friends was a really hard slog for me, l was constantly laughed at and called slow because of my having to put back a year.
It was here that l learned to ‘act the clown’, and l did so in order to win approval from my peers, and in so doing l soon won not ‘respect’ as that was not my intention, but just ‘friendship’, and to be treated as an equal. So l would go to great lengths to do stupid and silly things which caused my Mother a lot of anger and concern over my ‘normally’ placid and easy going nature. I was starting to get into trouble at school, not through absolutely terrible behaviour but acts that would land me in hot water with my teachers, and it meant notes would be sent home.
That soon came to a stop when upon my Father’s return one weekend, my report card was thrust under his nose and he reacted by awarding quite a severe beating, so the silliness at school stopped! But l was so desperate for friendship that l had to find other ways of keeping my ‘friends’ friendly.
You see back then, l was so very desperate and wanting to have a friends that l would go to any lengths to be seen as normal in their eyes, even though l was simply looking back overdoing everything and l must have looked even odder in my attempts to win friendship that any friendship was better than having no friendship. These days l have very few friends and am happier for it. But back then, l just wanted to fit in.
Now where l lived in Wales l was surrounded by water, and most notably rivers that connected to the River Conwy and in those rivers lived trout. My uncle had introduced me to trout fishing, but my mates had introduced me to ‘tickling trout’ which is an art of gently ticking the underbelly of the trout and sending them into a trance and then if successful you can actually pick them up out of the water.
My uncle had taught me that if was to catch any trout by fishing that l was to put them back in, and l did this but my mates said that they were fair game if tickled as they hadn’t actually been fished out. Now admittedly l didn’t agree with this, and would always tell them to put them back in, however they l know poached them from the rivers. One day whilst tickling with a view to putting back in, l was caught red handed by the fisheries ranger, and reported to the police for stealing and this brought even more stress to my parents and once more l was beaten for this.
So tickling trout soon stopped, no one believed l wasn’t putting them back in and just assumed l was poaching because of the kids l hung around with.
It was then that l came up with the next prank, probably the most dangerous of them all, one that would garner a laugh from my ”friends” but not win me any brownie points with any one else and most assuredly not my parents … becoming a human trout! I was no longer allowed to act the fool at school, l was no longer allowed to fish, l was no longer allowed to tickle, the list of don’ts was soon starting to become longer than my list of ‘do’s!
So the only thing l had left was the actual rivers themselves, and so l started to ‘fall into them’, l would always somehow accidentally fall into fast moving waters, and my mates would laugh and because they were laughing, l would naturally assume they were laughing with me, when sadly the truth was they weren’t, they were still laughing at me! I wasn’t a clown, l was just a fool.
During these so called ‘human trout days’, l lost three left shoes, three shoes in the space of six months at a time when my parents could NOT afford for me to do that, in addition to that l came home most days soaked to the skin, and l was constantly being scolded and told off and much worse when Dad came home on the weekends until eventually l was grounded and so the human trout days ended as well. In fact l was still grounded by the time we left Wales in December 77 to go and live in Surrey, and it wasn’t until l had lived there for around 2 months that finally the ban was lifted in late january 1978!
The reason behind this story was in fact to introduce you to tomorrow’s story of The 7 Left Shoes!
All l really learned during my 9 months in North Wales was 2 things, 1] l had to improve my clown act and 2] l needed to learn the difference between real friends and fake friends. It would take me another thirty odd years before l came to realise that l was fine the way l was friends or no friends.