I don’t know if my friends and I were particularly unusual or not, and I suspect you will let me know, but being a teenager for me was an opportunity to show off, try new things and sometimes learn from my mistakes. Early on at high school we boys wanted to impress others and this started for me in a decision that has never made sense to me afterwards. I somehow came up with the idea that drinking Quink ink and eating chalk would be my way of achieving status in the class. Now I really had no idea whether this was potentially dangerous or not and seeing as probably very few would deliberately try this, even the manufacturers would have not considered this when producing their products. Anyway, I know that I performed this feat on several occasions and, seeing as I am still around, I can only assume it was safe. Whether the act impressed my classmates I can only guess. Why wouldn’t they be impressed with someone with a blue/black tongue? Luckily this was a short phase, but I think I did develop it a while later to eating cigarettes, and I should think the level of folk who it would have amazed would have been close to zero.
I did develop another innate skill that I didn’t know I had until I blew my nose hard one day. The pressure as I held my nose forced air out through my tear ducts and, apart from making my eyes water, the ducts made a clear whistling noise that was quite loud. I still can be encouraged to perform this feat for adoring crowds to this very day, but for some reason it isn’t in great demand. I have only seen one act where this skill is taken to greater heights and that is the Tokyo Shock Boys. This group of four Japanese men perform dangerous stunts such as juggling working chain saws, but they do have a stunt called the Milk Man where one takes a drink of milk and then holds his nose whilst blowing hard. Instead of air, as in my case, the milk comes out of his tear ducts. I guess if he is out of action I could probably stand in!
Of course, it wasn’t just me, and people did have a range of tricks that were introduced to the groups of friends at parties or when round at each other’s houses. One trick was supposedly easy for girls, but almost impossible for boys. A dining chair was place against a wall and you stood directly in front of it. You then had to rest your head against the wall and then take hold of the chair and lift it off the ground. The task was then to stand upright. I have seen girls do it easily, but almost all boys fail. The explanation at the time was that it was due to body shape and pelvic differences. I don’t know if that is true, but we boys just floundered at it.
Another similar trick was played at parties. Someone had to sit on a dining chair and four people then had the task of lifting them and the chair, using only two fingers each. This task started with the four pressing down hard on the top of the head on the person on the chair. At an agreed time, probably ten or twenty seconds, the four had to remove their hands and place two fingers from the same hand, as if pointing, under the seat of the chair and, at the count of three, lift. The effect was quite stunning as it was quite easy to lift the seated person, hold them and them lower them safely back to the ground. I have no idea behind the science of this, apart from that four people focusing their strength through two fingers creates considerable force, at least sufficient to lift and chair with someone sitting on it. I can’t see what pressing down on the head does, apart from making it seem more magical.
One simple challenge was the Jacob’s Cream-cracker eating challenge. The task was to eat two plain crackers and swallow them in a minute. The only stipulation was that you couldn’t have a drink of water. To most of us this appeared to be a simple enough and one we were confident we could achieve and we started with great gusto, but the dry cracker quickly removed all moisture from the mouth and made swallowing very difficult. Needless to say, the first person to bring this to a group with no prior knowledge could make a killing with small wagers.
Whilst at Roundhay School breaks and lunchtimes, when in the early years, were often spent playing Chicken. Chicken involved pen knives and the two combatants stood facing each other with their legs wide astride. Each boy then took turns to throw the knife between the opponent’s legs and stick it in the ground. If it landed correctly the boy had to bring in one of their legs to the point where the knife was and therefore shorten the target area. That boy then took his turn and each time the space between the legs narrowed. This carried on with the gap getting smaller and smaller until one of the boys gave in and admitted defeat, rather than being prepared to have their foot impaled to the ground by the knife, hence the name Chicken. The most scared surrendered and was the Chicken! In most cases this was just a bit of fun, but sometimes it was quite a serious business with kudos on the line. I don’t remember any real accidents, but some wayward throws did come very, very close to piercing human flesh and bone.
One trick that I was once introduced to at my house, where Chris M and Roger H were present was actually potentially very dangerous, so can I add, ’Do Not Try This at Home, Folks!’ We were in my parents’ lounge and we must have been about thirteen, maybe fourteen and either Roger or Chris new this trick where you could knock someone out. To perform this trick one person had to bend over and take forty quick deep breaths in and out. The other two stood one at the side and one directly behind. At the end of the breaths the person stood up quickly, the person behind put their arms around the chest of the one standing up and squeezed very tight. I was told what to do and I thought I would try it. I did what I had been instructed and, as I stood, Roger’s arms went around my chest and the next thing I knew I was lying on my parents’ carpet, with a dizzy throbbing in my head. The result was so marked and quick that it was frightening. It took me a little while to get my wits back. Some of you will be questioning whether I ever had any, but Chris wanted to have a go and I wanted to do the squeezing to see if it worked. Chris followed the routine and when he stood, my arms went around his chest and almost instantly he became a dead weight and I had to support him and Roger and I lowered him to the floor. I can only think that with hyperventilating and then suddenly standing upright and blood flow being restricted, the brain becomes depleted of oxygen and the victim is rendered unconscious. Luckily, this was an experience that we only ever wanted to do once. I can see so many dangerous aspects to this, one being the possibility of someone hitting furniture or not regaining consciousness, that it truly frightens me now. Fainting is quite common in teenagers and I have done it at Roundhay School assemblies and seen many others do it, but it’s certainly not something to deliberately induce.
Somehow we survived, but I am sure that many others were not always so lucky. There was almost an attitude at this time that you had to learn how to fend for yourself and make the right choices, knowing that sometimes you wouldn’t. Now almost all risk is taken from children and they are cocooned in a safe world, but really the world isn’t. How can you judge danger when you drive, if you have never ridden a bike too fast and fallen off, scraped your knees when running and tripped, or fallen out of a tree? We learn our limits and develop our skills through challenges whilst we are growing up.
My last example has more to do with our mental wellbeing and that was having a séance. Fashionable at that time was the Ouija Board game by Parker Brothers. Maybe it was the enlightened times, but it was not strange for a séance to be seen as a game, but I am sure it would raise a few eyebrows in current politically correct times. Now I don’t believe in the supernatural but that doesn’t mean I can’t be frightened, by old houses, woods at night, cemeteries or other classic scenarios. During our teenage years we had several séances and often they were instigated by girls within the group. This may be provocative, but it has been my experience that girls tend to gravitate more to believing in the supernatural or spiritual. Wind-catchers, crystal healing, candles, scents, holistic medicine, clairvoyance and others have a higher number of female followers. My suggestion is that maybe they hope that there is more to life than the men they have come across. Who can blame them? Certainly the teenage boys left a lot to be desired, as these examples show.
One memorable example was a night held in a friend’s house. There was a group of us and there was Pete, Kim, Anne H, Anne W, Dave G, possibly Caroline and me. We were late teenagers at this point and one of the girls suggested getting the Ouija Board out. I know several of the girls had one and I didn’t know one boy who did. The board came out and we sat around the table. An Ouija board consists of letters and numbers, yes, no and goodbye and there is a pointer (planchette) that everyone has to place their hand on. The lights were dimmed, there might have been a candle and we all touched the pointer. One of our group became the host and called the spirit with, “Avante, spirit”. I believe this is Spanish, but it was supposed to call a spirit of a departed person into the room. The host asked if a spirit was there and the pointer moved to yes if there was. Questions were asked with subdued voices and, if there was spirit, the pointer moved presumably of its own volition and spelled out answers to questions. Now on this occasion, a few spirits in the alcoholic form had been consumed, which seemed to add to the mood and atmosphere. The spirit in the séance seemed quite responsive, and messages, names and answers were provided in a dramatic way that did produce the odd tingle of fear down my spine. We stopped after a while and then there was questioning of the participants. Had you been pushing it? You must have pushed it? But how would they know that answer? I’d never told anyone that! It did spook a few of the group out and some were convinced the spirits had been present, whilst others assumed it was a hoax. I wonder if that night has had an impact of confirming that the spirit world exists for some that were present, or whether it was just a passing evening of fun? If someone was cheating then they have kept that secret for nearly fifty years! For anyone easily influenced or scared, then I certainly wouldn’t recommend taking part. Oh! For the record, I did push the pointer and I have kept the secret until this day!