Picture the scene: I’m seven years old, and I’m on my bike.
It’s a glorious autumn morning, my hair is a mess and I haven’t noticed because I haven’t looked in a mirror because I haven’t developed vanity yet because I’m only seven. I am wearing some pretty fly grey and yellow Gola trainers, though.
It’s a good day.
So, I ride, bright, rosy-cheeked with the possibility of filling my growing brain with useless facts and sermons on obedience to authority – that’s right, looking forward to another day of school.
As I have been taught is the correct way to behave, I cycle all the way to school on the pavement. When I get there, I need to cross the “busy” road.
I say “busy” – the (non-parental) adults I encounter when I am seven mostly tell me that this particular road is busy, but it rarely is – even at seven years old (perhaps because my parents grew up in an impoverished urban conurbation in the 50s and 60s, and are therefore less hysterical about the minimal traffic in the quiet, mostly middle-class suburban nightmare/paradise/market town/commuter belt where they raised/dragged me up, it being somewhat quieter and safer round these parts) I understand that suburban middle-class adults have overstated the dangers of traffic so as to scare their children away from roads.
(Also, the only time this road is genuinely busy is at the start/end of the school day, when parents drive their children about the same distance I have cycled/walked to get to school. My parents find this laughable, even in this pre-climate-change-conscious era.)
I am slightly later than most other kids on this day, but not late, and the roads are quiet.
So, like a good little boy, I stop my bike, clamber off, and stand, ready to cross, with my front wheel back from the curb. The very picture of serene infant conformity.
I look right. (Nothing.)
I look left. (Nothing.)
I look right again, but as I do, I begin to roll the bike’s front wheel down the kerb in readiness to cross, since I have neither seen nor heard any reason not to.
At this precise moment, a metallic-blue mini Metro appears from nowhere – or, more accurately, from the hill to the right.
The car slams on the anchors, skidding a little bit.
I move back the three or four inches I had encroached onto the road.
When I do, the car’s driver, a harassed-looking middle-aged woman I immediately identify as a classmate’s mother, leans out the window and screams, banshee-like:
I am, naturally, taken aback.
I note that the skid marks on the road are at least twenty yards away from where I am standing, and the car itself, at a standstill, is still a couple of car lengths away (I have still not moved).
The car speeds away, the driver eyeing me with red-faced fury.
I look around again – the road is eerily quiet as the Metro disappears.
I am absolutely certain the road is clear, as I cross carefully, looking both ways all the way, jerking my head left to right like a tennis spectator.
I am shaken as I get into the cloakroom. The adrenaline is pumping through my juvenile veins, as I try to make sense of what has happened.
As I am going over the events in my head, trying to work out why
1. The car was going so fast
2. The driver performed an emergency stop despite being nowhere near me, and
3. All this was my fault and the driver was therefore justifiably (and loudly) angry at me, the head teacher approaches.
She glares at me like I am in trouble.
“That was stupid” she spits.
Thinking she must mean stupid of the driver to be so recklessly fast going past a school and performing a quite unnecessarily-urgent stop, I nod my head meekly, not sure where she is going with this.
“You could have been badly hurt.”
She mutters some other nonsense about being more careful in the future and hurries off to her other business.
I am slack-jawed; stunned.
She is, apparently, not angry at the parent of her pupil who goes tear-assing around the school so fast she has to slam on the brakes as soon as she sees anyone, endangering other pupils of the school.
She is angry at ME.
The child, the very picture of innocent wonder, who has been so egregiously slighted for having the temerity to cross a road to get to school.
My incredulity stays with me all day, as I keep repeating to myself.
“She’s angry….at me.”
The sheer unfairness of this response is utterly bewildering – she is not comforting me, after my near-death experience. She is not showing any recognition of the wrong-doing on the part of the recklessly-driving (“old enough to know better”) adult with the dangerous car, on the “busy” road. She is not even suggesting I have done anything wrong, merely “stupid”.
I am further incensed to realise that the head teacher has somehow seen all of this, yet saw fit to watch the scene, coolly concluded it was all my fault, that it was indeed dangerous, and that the best course of action for her, the authority figure, the adult in charge, is to scold the child who has nearly been killed by a car, driven by a pupils’ parent, right outside her school.
I go into my class to seethe and curse all day. The driver is a bastard, the head is an even bigger bastard, I could have been killed by the bastard. I was nowhere near the bastard, why was she so angry at me? The bastard.
I feel alone against a cruelly-inclined adult world that closes ranks when they know they’re at fault. An adult world that lectures me all day on seriousness and honesty and road safety. And is always shocked by the cruelty of children…
And that’s why I don’t like authority.
Clayton Blizzard aged 7