Friday, 16 July 2010
My parents always loved me, of that I am certain.
However, my dad had a slightly mischievous personality and used it to scare the crap out of me when I was a child.
Sadly I have inherited this trait and have taken it to new levels – just ask Mrs PM and my two lads.
Anyway, allow me to tell you how my father, the man who loved me, was responsible for scaring me half to death as a child.
Parents are generally wonderful people who build a found a foundation for our lives. Sometimes they use their own lives as a blueprint to construct a basis for their children to take those first independent steps into the wilderness that is adult life, directing them in the general direction of prosperity and arming them with the tools and equipment to survive.
There are times, however, when our parents, for one reason or another, sow seeds of fear into the minds of their children. Maybe they do it for fun. Perhaps it is to prepare them for the difficulties and reality of life outside childhood.
I only know that a child’s imagination can misinterpret their parents’ words, creating an entity that, in extreme cases can stalk them throughout their lives.
There is enough to fear in the world without inventing horrible creatures, nightmarish characters and bizarre monsters to intensify that fear exponentially.
I have vivid memories of being a child in a cold terraced house in Walsall and my father tucking me into bed. It was winter and the temperature was so cold that I could see my breath. There was no central heating. To keep myself warm, I wore thick pyjamas and my bed was covered in layer upon layer of blankets. Within ten minutes of crawling into the mound of bedding, I was embraced in wonderful warmth and safely tucked in so that nothing could get me. And then my loving father uttered a sentence that chilled me to the bone:
“Stay under the covers or Jack Frost will come after your fingers and toes.”
And then he left the room, turning off the light and leaving me in total darkness, before I had a chance to utter the words:
“Who is Jack Frost?”
Instead of succumbing to sleep in my cosy bed, I hid under the covers, shivering despite the warmth, wondering what kind of man would come into my bedroom in the middle of the night and attack my extremities. If my father's plan was to make me sleep, he made a colossal error of judgement.
After a dreadful night’s sleep, I asked my father the next day who this crazy pervert called “Jack Frost” was.
He told me that Jack Frost was the man who made the windows frosty in winter and that if naughty children messed about in the middle of a cold winter’s night, he would nip their toes.
I was horrified and suffered several sleepless nights. On one occasion, I swear there was something in the room and screamed until my lungs were empty. My father came rushing in, switched on the light and said: “What’s the matter?”
“J J J J Jack F F F F Frost is in the room,” I stammered.
“Don’t be so bloody stupid,” he said. “Now go to sleep.”
I’m certain that his reasons for introducing me to Jack Frost were not malicious; he probably wanted a peaceful night and thought that Jack Frost would have the desired effect. Unfortunately he forgot how vivid a child’s imagination can be – mine is particularly strange and vivid and it worked overtime.
It wasn’t just Jack Frost; he told me about the Sandman.
Why would a man who loved me, tell me about another imaginary creature who somehow breaks into my room every night and throws sand in my face to send me to sleep? On cold winter nights, I had to contend with Jack Frost and the Sandman invading my room. I started to ask myself questions like:
What if the Sandman had arrived first and sent me sleep before I was fully tucked in and left my feet dangling outside the bed at the mercy of the perverted Jack Frost?
I know my father loved me but whatever his intentions, he couldn’t possibly have dreamed about the sheer terror he introduced into my life for a good few weeks. I got over it because after many sleepless nights it was plain that neither the Sandman nor Jack Frost actually appeared in my room.
Another nasty creature he introduced was the Bogeyman.
I am not talking about the weirdo at work described here.
I am talking about yet another monstrous beast that preys on naughty children. My parents used to say, again just before bedtime:
“You had better behave yourself or the Bogeyman will come to get you.”
And this resulted in even more sleepless nights. I’m surprised I slept at all as a child.
The Bogeyman was probably the scariest of all of the creatures I was warned about. The Sandman and Jack Frost were people, as far as I could tell. They were sick, perverted and fearsome but at least they looked human. The Bogeyman was a formless beast that nobody could describe.
“What does the Bogeyman look like?” I asked my dad as he was about to switch off the light.
“Nobody knows,” said my dad menacingly.
I almost crapped the bed.
To me that meant that if you were unfortunate to be visited by the Bogeyman then you would not live to tell the tale. I hid under my bed clothes and shook with terror. When I finally did get to sleep, I had nightmares. I still remember to this day the terrible recurring dream I used to have about being chased down a tunnel by a huge humanoid monster with a massive white head and huge red eyes.
The problem with the Bogeyman was the fact that I had nothing to guide me. Consequently every single shadow in the room was the Bogeyman; every single noise was the Bogeyman.
My imagination ran amok, resulting in huge terrifying monsters being created within my dreams. I saw beasts with massive sharp teeth, huge claws, bloodshot eyes and vile, terrifying bodies. I had a lot of nightmares.
I got my own back by screaming like a banshee in the middle of this nightmare and waking up my parents. I recall my mum running into the room one night and saying: “What’s wrong, love?”
I had a bad case of the “yips” and could barely get my words out.
I’ll bet you are wondering what the “yips” are, aren’t you, dear reader?
A comedian, Billy Connolly I think, coined the term. It describes the sensation when you have been crying so much that you can barely catch your breath and when you speak you take sharp involuntary breaths.
“Thuh thuh thuh thuh thuh the Buh Buh Buh Buh Bogey muh muh muh muh man wuh wuh wuh wuh wuh was ih ih ih ih ih ih ih in muh muh muh muh muh muh my ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh ruh room.” I yipped.
My mum was livid and not just because it was 3 o’clock in the morning. She comforted me and told me, in soothing tones, that there was no such thing as a Bogeyman. I didn’t believe her.
And then I heard her bellowing at my dad in the other room for “scaring the hell out of him”.
As I grew older, my fear dissipated despite my dad’s attempts to frighten me half to death (you can read about one such episode involving vampires here ) and I found myself becoming fascinated with all things that go bump in the night.
I am drawn to creepy horror films. I’m not talking about those dreadful films with axe wielding maniacs that seem to delight in hacking teenagers to bits. I am talking about genuinely frightening films that stretch your imagination to its limits.
Moreover, I love a really good horror novel.
I have been known to read these stories late at night and struggle to sleep as a result – even now.
Take “The Dark” by James Herbert. The synopsis on the back cover of the book describes “a malignant power”, “physical blackness” and “unstoppable evil”.
I read this book before I was married. I was twenty two years old, living alone in a small flat in Manchester and I recall lying in bed at around midnight, totally engrossed in a particularly tense scene. I switched the light off and tried to sleep. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dim room, I looked across at the wardrobe and noticed something odd. The wardrobe was white and clearly visible – except it wasn’t white at all – a black shadow was cast over it.
My imagination screamed at me.
“Come on Dave,” I thought. “You are an adult. You’re eyes are deceiving you.”
I studied the wardrobe and, sure enough, it was obscured by an amorphous black shadow. My mind drifted into the past, remembering the time when I thought I saw the ghost of my father.
Even further back, I started to recall the fear of vampires and the time that I convinced myself Count Dracula was in my room, his red eyes boring into mine as he prepared to feast on my blood.
Even further back, I remembered the Bogeyman and the recurring nightmare that I was being chased by a horrifying monster down an endless tunnel. Images of Jack Frost appeared and I pulled my toes under the duvet, for fear that the shadow was going to lunge forward and attack my extremities. I kind of hoped it was the Sandman – at least if he were to throw sand in my eyes, I might actually get some sleep.
The shadow didn’t move at all. It waited there, teasing me, taunting me, terrifying me.
I had no choice but to reach out and switch on the light. My heart was pounding more than Neil Peart’s drum kit during a Rush drum solo.
I reached for the bedside lamp and promptly knocked it on the floor.
What should I do?
Should I hide under the duvet and hope that it scared the shadow?
Should I be brave and get out of bed and face the beast?
To be honest, the idea that a duvet will act as protection against a hellish fiend is as preposterous as the concept of supernatural monsters actually existing. What use would a duvet be if Count Dracula decided to break down my door and use my neck as chewing gum? How would a duvet protect me against a Bogeyman with ten inch teeth, claws that can rip skin from bone and who delights in dismembering young children?
I went for the light.
I leapt out of bed and fumbled around in the dark, almost crippling myself as I fell over the bedside table. It seemed like an eternity until I got the light on – enough time even for a crippled old vampire to hobble over to my bed and gum suck my jugular.
The room was bathed in glorious bright light.
I stared at the wardrobe.
What do you think I saw?
The bloody door was open. I almost kicked myself in frustration. Why? Because I remember opening the bloody thing. I just forgot to close it.
What an utter arse I was.
These days I am much braver and far less inclined to crap myself because of my imagination.
Mrs PM on the other hand is not. She is fine as long as she can forget whatever scares her. And I am just as bad as my dad was; I delight in scaring her half to death.
We were watching “The Ring” a very scary remake of an even scarier Japanese film. A work colleague (who incidentally reads this blog – sorry Mr T) went to the pictures to see it and was so scared that he couldn’t even say the name of the film; he referred to it as the “R” film.
Anyway, we were watching it at home and, to make the atmosphere totally conducive to the tone of the film, I insisted that we switch off the lights and watch it in the dark.
It scared the buggery out of me and terrified Mrs PM even more. She clung to me like a limpet.
When it came to bedtime, she insisted – no - DEMANDED – that we take one of the cats in to act as protection. I howled with laughter at the image of our fat cat sitting on the bed watching an insane beast tear us limb from limb, staring into those grizzly red eyes as if to say “you’ve had your food – can you feed me now?”
We lay in bed reading (I was reading a Stephen King novel and she was reading something soft, fluffy and safe) and eventually she started falling asleep.
I turned the light off and, instead of saying “See you tomorrow” I said something else. I don’t know what possessed me to be honest but I said it anyway. I whispered:
“Don’t forget – SHE NEVER SLEEPS”.
It was a quote from the film and it had a dramatic effect. All of the lovely fluffiness from the book that had filled her head making her totally content and happy with life was annihilated as the image of the monstrous girl crawling out of the TV stampeded into her imagination.
“YOU UTTER &*%$£*&” she screamed. “I’LL NEVER GET TO SLEEP NOW!!”
And she didn’t – at least not for a long time.
Did I regret it? Absolutely – she had a nightmare and woke me up in the middle of the night. Worse, she didn’t speak to me the next day.
“It’s only a film,” I said laughing.
It didn’t work – she simply didn’t see the funny side of it at all.
She did say that she would get me back and I sense that she might.
The truth is, all she needs to do is fire up my imagination and allow it to go beserk.
I’m not going to tell her how to do that.
I just hope she doesn’t read this post.