Friday, 25 September 2015

The Bad Influence by Tony X Stanton

I remember my mother sitting me down on plenty of occasions when I was about 5 or 6 years old and warning me about other kids who were a ‘bad influence’ and could encourage me to get into trouble.  She was and remains a singular woman and most times she was right, although on subject she couldn't be more wrong.  I didn't have to worry about people being  a bad influence on me, because I was the bad influence.  To be fair, this didn’t really kick in until my teens, when I seemed to go from sweet little kid to total fucking lunatic overnight.

I’ve always tried in life to do the right thing, most times I’ve managed it but sometimes I either haven't or I’ve went down a different path.  I sometimes see myself as a toxic individual who has a nasty case of ‘it seemed  a good idea at the time’. I’m usually the guy who when everyone is ready to go home after a night out convinces everyone to have just one more… one more drink, one more bar, one more song.  It’s always ‘one more’.  But never in an alcoholic way, simply as I hate the whole idea of things ending or winding up.  The very idea of ‘an end’ is uncomfortable to me, once I am on a roll, be it work or play I have a tendency to keep going until there is no option but to stop due to tiredness, lack of resources or inclination.

I’m an extremist by nature. I remember when I was about 4 years old a friend of mine and I wanted to climb / walk up a wall like batman did in the old TV series.  So I came up with the idea of waxing some string to strengthen it and use that.  I clearly remember the afternoons it took with wax candles covering this string and trying to get it ready.  When the day finally came, a fantastic sunny day, and we tied the string not to the top of somewhere small as my friend Andrew insisted (he was 2 1/2 years older than me) but at the top of the highest bloody wall I could find in the entire housing estate. After Andrew tying what seemed like  hundred knots in the string around a railing, it was decided that we’d start from the bottom, of a 20 foot wall with a sheer drop onto concrete.  (See kids! This is why you listen to your parents!)  we did our best to climb the string, Andrew declaring it wasn't strong enough, but me? I knew different. I was convinced of such and would prove it.  So I kept on climbing, getting halfway up when I started hearing a horrible stretching sound, somehow the waxed string held and I reached the top and felt like king of the universe. I was Batman goddamn it!

I managed to get Andrew caught up in my enthusiasm, and I declared to this much older boy that it was rather hard climbing up, so maybe we should climb downwards instead.  Of course it was Andrew's turn next.  He didn't want to do it (probably as he had at least some semblance of common sense, even when caught up in the moment.) But I insisted, a deal was a deal and he had to do it.  I’ve always had that horrible ability to cajole people into doing stupid things I want them to do, or to help me in doing the crazy things I want to.  So Andrew started climbing down...the waxed string did not hold and he fell 20 feet onto concrete.  He broke his arm, something somehow I managed to keep from my parents who to this day don't know why the kid I used to play with suddenly had an arm in a plaster cast.  His mother for whatever reason thought it best not to mention this to my mam.  He walked around for what seemed like forever with that plaster cast and never once would mention or discuss ‘the Batman incident’ again.

But that wasn't the end of me encouraging him to do crazy shit.  In fact just a couple of months before we moved away when I was 5  and never saw him again something else happened.  My mother used to let him take me to the cinema on a Saturday morning. It was much simpler times when kids could walk the streets without fear of paedophiles, muggers etc.  we used to queue up and watch really old black and white films from the 20’s and 30s which for some reason the local cinema used to put on for us kids.  The queue was always long and we always would chat away about whatever the latest ‘thing’ was while we waited. This one time (the last time I was allowed to visit said cinema in fact for reasons that shall become very obvious), I decided that we should see how hard we could punch an old glass window on the cinema and not break it.  Hey! Don't judge me! I was 5 for god's sakes!

I was informed by Andrew that this could be a very bad idea, but I managed to talk him around with how cool it would look to the other kids queuing up and how it was the sort of thing Batman and Robin would do. That was all the damn convincing he needed.  So we started punching this small glass window. taking turns we punched this dirty glass window each one punching harder than the next.  Getting more and more worked up about it, until Andrew (at my prompting as the queue was moving) punched far harder.  His hand went through the glass and seemed to cut his hand to ribbons. I still remember the blood running down the dirty shards of broken glass washing it with his blood.  I felt like running as I KNEW this was my fault, but I didn't because he was my best friend and he was badly hurt. I stayed put even though I knew it would have consequences.  rather unsurprisingly the noise of both breaking glass and screaming kids drew some attention from the people in the cinema, police were called Andrew it turned out wasn't as badly cut as everyone had thought  due to it being a hot day.  I tried to explain it was all my idea, to take the fall I should have done.   But as I was aged 5 and he was 7 ½ years old they didn't believe me or him.  So Andrew took the fall for it and we were both given lifetime bans from that cinema.  Andrew’s mother stopped him playing with me after that, although he still visited when he could escape right up till I moved away. I shudder to think what would have occurred if I had stayed there, the way I kept ramping things up could never have ended well.

As I grew older I kept that side of me in check, it scared me and I could never get the thought of the blood running down the window out of my head. I knew I’d fucked up and as a result it fucked me up a bit.  But once I hit my late teens all bets were off and if there was a crazy idea you can bet your arse I’d be behind it, if there was something crazy to do it’d usually be my idea.  (Usually by making others believe they’d thought it up all by themselves), But as a rule I was the bad influence encouraging others to do things.  I was the secret bad egg, the rotten apple in a fake apple skin.

Around this time I was best mates with a guy I’ll simply call R as he now has a rather nice job, a family and friends who have no idea how much of a fucking nutcase me and him used to be.  R had ‘issues’ and hadn't had an easy life up till he moved into my home town.  It was a case of two people just clicking together and working as friends immediately.  He was also one of the few people I’d met who could be just as much of a bad influence as I.  I however knew he had a bit of a pyromaniac tendency, something once afternoon I decided to encourage.  Every sunday afternoon we’d walk around a long walk near my home town called the ‘Derwent Walk’. It was miles long and lined with trees and bushes either side and when the sun was shining as it was on this day it was glorious.  

There was never anyone about apart from the occasional jogger or bloke walking his dog, so we could play our music on his ghetto blaster at full volume.  The mix tape for Sunday's usually consisting of Alice Cooper’s ‘Raise your Fist and Yell’ album and some Rush tunes.  I remember mentioning to R as we both lit a cigarette that it’d be fun to see if one of the bushes would light on fire.  So after checking there was no one there...R set fire to a small branch.  However in the hot dry weather the brush went up like a bomb with flames 6 feet tall within seconds.  Before I could stop him R lit another bush...and another...then another!   Before we knew it a 100 meter section of the derwent walk was an inferno of burning bushes with not a single sighting of god in any of them anywhere.  Suddenly the reality of the situation kicked in. Oh Fuck! We’d just set the place on fire! We were fucked!  We were going to fucking jail for this!

So we ran…. not along the Derwent Walk itself but off one side…. through muddy fields (me losing a shoe in the process, something which was interesting to try and find an excuse for to my parents later that day).  We ended up behind bushes about ½ mile away the sound of fire engines filling the air with faint voices of the fire crew.  Eventually we calmed down and decided never to speak of it again… it made the local papers and it was put down to vandals.   On a positive note though, after that R’s pyromaniac streak vanished!  Never again did he set light to things like that, so it cured him.

Once again that put rest to any crazy ideas I’d have for a while…  Although as I got older the ‘it seemed a good idea at the time’ thing reared its head from occasionally until it got louder and louder.  So my tip is this: If you ever meet me and I convince you of an awesome idea to do something crazy, say no. Make an excuse because as a general rule it hasn't really worked out too well for others.

When the real fun began was when in my late 30’s I met up with 2 other people just like myself. But that is a story for another day.

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