When I was a young lad, my family and I were moved from a soon-to-be-demolished downstairs flat that was infested with mice, to a brand new three bedroom house on a nearby estate. The move sparked a lot of change in my life; there were new friends to hang out with, I had my own bedroom, whose walls I would festoon with posters, and an inside toilet, which allowed me to go about my business free of the company of woodlice.
As my friends and I settled in to our new habitat, we partook of street games of the day, or rather night; fox and hounds, knock-door-ginger, and a new nocturnal pastime that would inject a little excitement into our lives, garden hopping.
The aim of this new sport was to climb over a wall into someone’s back garden and creep across all adjoining gardens towards an adjacent wall, negotiating obstacles on the way, such as fences, clothes lines, ponds and suchlike, without being discovered. If the second wall was reached and scaled, the mission was deemed a success. I didn’t realise it at the time, but my training in that field would come in useful years later, when I was an adult.
In the middle of a particularly pleasant summer, about the time when T-shirt wearers told us to choose life, a certain gentleman advised us to relax, and one band performed under a blood red sky, I was young, and as carefree as a non-iron shirt.
My friend Tom was seeing this girl Linda, and I’d had a sexual encounter at a party with her friend Rosalyn a few weeks earlier. One Saturday evening they were in The Feathers bar together, and Linda told us that later that night they would be taking a bus over to the suburbs, where they were going to look after the house of a couple, who were going abroad on holiday that night.
The girls invited Tom and me along for a bit of a shindig, but I was somewhat reluctant, due to the uncertain nature of my relationship with Rosalyn. By the time the bus was due, however, I’d consumed sufficient alcohol to dispel any doubts, and I marked myself available. We bought a crate of cider and set off for the bus stop.
The street where the couple lived was quite well-to-do, being a long curving terrace of large houses. A school stood at one end, and Tom and I hid behind its gates, while our dates went into number twelve. We cracked open the cider and drank and talked and smoked. And we waited. And waited.
Among the drunken claptrap that fell from our lips came the suggestion that we investigate the cause of the delay by hopping over the back gardens to number twelve, and seeing what we could glean via an open window or a chink in the curtains. We hid the cider in some long grass and set off on our dangerous mission. I harked back to my garden hopping days, certain that training would come in handy for our drunken commando raid.
The garden we wanted was six along from where we stood. However, we were able to skip the first two because the third house along had a low fence that backed onto the school field, so we scaled that and set about our mission. Taking great care, we made our way slowly across the bottom end of the gardens, scaling fences, giggling and looking out for the nemesis of all garden hoppers, the barely-visible clothes line.
A Loud Scream
Finally, we reached the garden of the target house, and we were in luck. There was a gap of about four inches in the curtains at the back window. I spotted a mug on a table, and I could hear muffled voices. Tom moved in for a closer look. At that point I heard a loud scream from within.
If our advance across the gardens had been meticulous, our retreat was more akin to the Grand National. Clothes lines were brought down, plants were trodden on and fences collapsed as we made our hurried escape.
Back at the school gates, we laughed as we gasped for breath. We drank more cider and smoked more cigarettes as we watched for activity in the street, keeping a keen eye out for the police. After what seemed like an eternity, a taxi pulled up outside number twelve, and a suitcase-laden couple got in. Finally, we were beckoned to the house.
Danced the Night Away
Linda wasn’t impressed by our commando antics. What had happened was that as they had waited for the taxi, the woman of the house was standing by the table I had seen through the window. She had been instructing Linda to be sure to close all the windows and lock the house up securely at night, as there had been a recent burglary in the area. It was at this perfectly-timed moment that she saw Tom’s bemused face peering at her through the window, and screamed. Linda said that the woman was all for cancelling the taxi and not going on holiday at all, but they managed to bring her round.
So we drank and laughed. There was a well-stocked drinks cabinet that the girls had permission to sample, so we made various cocktails, played music and danced the night away.
I woke in the morning naked in what was the spare bedroom. Rosalyn, in a similar state of undress, was next to me. Tom came in seeking a light for his cigarette. I told him to check the pocket of my jeans, and when he fumbled for the matches, he spotted my boxers on the floor. Tom had always been deep and unpredictable, and this sight, and its implication that I’d had sex (he hadn’t), triggered in him an almighty huff that still possessed him when we parted back in our home town several hours later.
(Originally published on Medium)