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Excerpts from a Charmed Life Story

In which our Sex Editor learns he's some sort of a freak, discovers his Mum's black and has bother with his brother, a baseball bat and some bruised bollocks

Cam with Bat cc William Klos Flickr


c. 1977/1978

In Which I Discover I’m Some Sort Of A Freak



Mum and I are heading north over Kew Bridge in the battered old yellow 2CV. We’re discussing something I do, something that is second nature to me but gross to other people.


“Don’t other people do it?” I ask.


“No,” Mum replies.


“Why not?”


“Because they can’t.”


“No one?”


“No one I’m aware of.”


“So why can I?”


“I don’t know, love,” she says kindly, “I don’t know…” As she trails off in bewilderment I realise the differences between other people and me really are as big as I’ve feared.


“Why am I so different from other people?” I ask myself. “And why’s everyone so funny about something I do naturally? Hey, can I do anything else other people can’t do?”


For some reason, realising that I am some sort of freak didn’t upset me. Rather than feeling scared or completely isolated, rather than feeling anything negative at all, I was strong, confident it wasn’t going to bring me down in any way. As an introspective teenager and twenty-something I used to wonder where my positive reaction came from. Was it my natural optimism, my instinctive eye for opportunity in even the direst situation? Or was it something to do with to the loving way Mum broke the news to me, her apparent acceptance of my… uncommon ability? Or did I have a subconscious understanding that my parents are, in their own ways, outsiders too?


Later, I realised that that earlier realisation hadn’t upset me because it wasn’t a complete surprise. Some sort of speech problem affected me until I was about five, which must have given me some practice at being unlike other people, even though I remember very little about it now. I would have seen the difference between how adults and other kids responded to each other’s communications and how they reacted to my sub-Donald Duckesque attempts. I must have been used to being treated, or at least listened to, another way, at least on a subconscious level and maybe even consciously. Maybe my speech problems are the cause of my need to explain and justify myself, my dislike of being misunderstood and my verbal diarrhoea. Maybe they’re the root of my need to ensure I can express myself without the possibility of confusion, my need to write. Are they the root of this book?





Early October 1983

Mum’s Black



I’m in an English lesson in Upper Six A, Hobson Court’s scholarship class, and we’re having one of our weekly discussions to develop our debating skills and viewpoints. Mrs O’Brien, our teacher, has chosen racism for today’s topic and in the middle of it all Allan suddenly says, “Well Peter’s mum’s coloured and she’s just like everyone else’s mum.”


It’s never occurred to me before and takes a moment to grasp. Yes, Mum’s hair’s dark and curly, but so is Ben’s mum’s. Yes, Mum has dark skin and gets better suntans than most people I know, but not everyone. As the rest of the class agrees with Allan it hits me.


She isn’t like the rest of the class’s mums.


Though I hide my surprise from the teacher and class, inside I’m upside down.


Once, when I was about five or six, a girl asked mum why she was the colour she is. Mum asked her the same question back. It didn’t seem strange to me and Norm and I thought nothing of it. It was stranger when Mum sometimes told people her dad was from America. I knew Granddad was from Liverpool, although he did look like a Red Indian, as they were called BPC (Before Political Correctness). Most strange was that when I asked her why she said Granddad was American, she’d say she was making it up. “Why would she do that?” I’d wonder. It was extremely out of character…


Now it all comes to me in a flash. I suddenly understand Granddad could not be my mother’s father – her father must have been a black man. It’s so obvious now. I understand why Mum says her Dad is American. I understand what Vijay Patel being Indian, James Chang being Chinese and Mum being ‘coloured’ means, including that they – and my brothers and I? – are the types of people the National Front don’t like. No wonder Mum and Dad never let us go to the old-fashioned barbershop next to the religious bookshop in Richmond. They didn’t like its NF stickers and racist postcards…


Fortunately my reaction to this next life-changing revelation was similar to how I reacted in the car with Mum the first time I understood I really wasn’t like other people, and the first time I heard of miscarriages of justice. When the surprise receded I was strong, not scared, and determined to do everything I could to fight racism, ignorance and injustice, whatever that might be. It wasn’t going to bring me down. It was arguably the most important moment of my life yet.


That evening at home Mum told me the basic story of how she came into the world and how my granddad was actually her stepfather. It never changed my love for him.


I later learned that the first time Mum went to meet Dad’s parents, Papa was at work and Nana opened the door. On seeing Mum she ran into the kitchen screaming, “She’s black!” and didn’t emerge until Papa came home. Apparently Nana was pleased Norm and I, her only grandchildren at the time of her death, weren’t little piccaninnies.


Around the time I discovered Mum is mixed race I also realised my life had already been planned out for me: I would do my O and A levels and then go to university (I wanted to go to Oxford and there seemed no reason, given my abilities, why I shouldn’t), getting a girlfriend or few on the way. After I’d picked up a degree I’d get a job and married and get a mortgage and have children and bring up my children and work, work, work until I retired and then died.


Who’d planned this for me? Well certainly my parents, teachers, the other pupils and society at large all expected it. It’s what people do, especially those like me. Until then I’d gone along with it because I was unaware of it. After the realisation, I went along with it because I couldn’t see an alternative. It’s what people like me do. However, I never stopped daydreaming of doing something different, of breaking free from the apparent certainty of a boring preordained life. When, a few years on, I started breaking out, there could be no going back.


What did I dream of doing? Something exciting and adventurous, like Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker or Tintin, would’ve been great – but they were all fictional characters and Mum and Dad said their lives would be dangerous in reality. Acting appealed but Mum and Dad said I couldn’t do much until I’d finished school. Being a pop star would’ve been great but I wasn’t the most musical kid (who cares about musical ability nowadays?). What I really wanted though was to be a politician (god, kids who want to be politicians are so weird!) or, even better, a king – either of those would’ve been best.


Whenever I told my classmates I wanted to be Prime Minister or a king, they got it completely wrong and thought I was on some sort of dictatorial power trip, wanting the trappings of wealth and power and my finger on the nuclear trigger. They couldn’t have been much further from the truth but for some reason, whenever I expressed any ambition people would question my motives, a pattern that repeated throughout my life until my 30s. My friend Jessica, a great astrologer, puts it down to my Scorpio rising making me appear much, much harder and more selfish than I actually am. At school I played up to it, realising winding up my classmates was much more fun than explaining that I really only wanted power so I could do good with it and thus make the world a better place, and dealing with their rubbishing of that. That’s just who really I was, what I really was like. I hated to think of others suffering for any reason and wanted to do all I could to help. I’m still like that now, only older, wiser and better placed to do so… If only I’d gotten out of the habit of pretending I was after fame, fortune and power for my own ends sooner, it would all be much easier now but maybe that’s just how it was meant to be, at least astrologically.



Spring 1985

My Big Brother, a Baseball Bat and Lucian’s Bruised Bollocks



One Sunday afternoon Norm, his best friend Lucian, one of their friends and I were left in the house. We were all watching TV in the living room when Lucian put his arm around me. He would later say that he was just stretching and seemed to convince himself that was the case but I’ve never believed it. I thought he was making some sort of mock pass at me and, although I had no doubts about my heterosexuality, I didn’t want to give him and Norm another stick to beat me with. They must have already been turning my key because I lashed out at him, hitting him intentionally and unintentionally catching him in the windpipe. He howled in agony and came at me furiously but I was too fast and got out of his way. A standoff occurred.


How could a standoff occur between Lucian, who at about seventeen was four years my senior, and puny little me? I threatened to use my special ability, the one that set me apart from everyone my family and I knew of. On Norm.


When people hear what this ability is, it often gives people completely the wrong impression of me. It’s not evidence of superhumanity or anything particularly useful – except for when I’ve been threatened. It’s just really rather gross, which is why I don’t mention it much nowadays.


All my life I’ve been able to regurgitate my food, bring it up from my stomach to my mouth. Almost everyone who knows I can do it thinks it’s really disgusting but to me – well, it’s just natural. I’ve not sure how I discovered I could do it, but I suspect that I’ve been regurgitating food I’ve eaten once and eating it again – that and Norm’s been complaining about what he called me making my ‘sicky smell’ – ever since I can remember. [bit about it being fine when food is recently eaten, only acidic if you wait a while] And now I was threatening to throw up over Norm (he was sitting down, I was standing over him) unless he called his friend off.


Norm and his friends had been treating my regurgitation as a party piece for a while but the idea of having the contents of my stomach in his hair (Norm had always been very concerned about his appearance) didn’t appeal to him. At all. “You do that and…” he paused, unable to describe how angry he’d be. “…And you’ll see what happens.”


“Call Lucian off me,” I insisted.


“It’s nothing to do with me,” he insisted.


“He’s your friend and I’m your brother. Stop him from beating me up,” I countered.


“It will be my business if you puke on me. In fact, if you don’t move away from me soon, I’ll beat you up anyway,” he continued.


“So if I stay you beat me up and if I move Lucian does?” No answer. It seemed there was only one possible way to avoid a pasting. I squeezed my stomach muscles, emptied my insides over him and got ready to run.


Last thing I’d eaten was ice cream. It was thick, yellow and came out with more than a whiff of parmesan. Next thing I remember I was on my back in the garden, Norm above me, my ice cream puke dripping out of his hair into my eyes, his strong arms pinning mine, weak as matchsticks, to the paving stones and scraping the skin from my knuckles (I still have the worst scar but the rest have faded). After he’d banged my head on the ground a few times Norm’s rage diminished. He rose and left me, bloodied and pukey, and went back into the living room.


He hadn’t reckoned on my rage, my rage at Lucian, at him, at the sheer injustice of it all. It burned like the pain in my knuckles. Unthinkingly I grabbed a serendipitously placed full-sized aluminium baseball bat and went after him.


Too slow. Norm locked me out in the garden behind him.


Time is immeasurable at times like those. I could have been out there for a minute, or ten, or thirty, but my ire, tempered by my humiliation, was unquenched. Eventually I hatched a plan. There were four ways into the house from the back. On the ground floor, to the left, were the big French patio doors to the living room through which Norm and I must have flown to the garden. They were now locked, and the kitchen door to the right had been locked all along. However, my room was above the living room and the spare room was above the kitchen. They could both be accessed by climbing along the garden wall to the right, pushing past a large and thorny rose bush and other less painful climbing plants, and crossing the kitchen and living room’s tiled roofs. I’d done it many times before and saw my chance.


Baseball bat in hand, I eased past the bushes, fury numbing me to the biting thorns, and up onto the roof. The spare room sash window was open and in a flash I was in and downstairs to the living room, ready to wreak revenge. Norm and Lucian saw the baseball bat in my hand and the blind anger in my eyes and were pleasingly concerned. After all their teasing, having all the power was a welcome reversal. A chase ensued. Somehow they got past me and up the stairs, and locked themselves in the bathroom.


Mum and Dad’s room was at the front of the house next to the bathroom and the two rooms’ doors were close together. I waited in Mum and Dad’s doorway for another immeasurable time. I can’t hold a rage like that any more (what’s the point? Being in control is so much more effective in the longer term) but I refused to let go of my anger until I’d shown them. Shown them what, I wonder now.


Eventually, and it must have been quite a while later, I heard Norm saying, “It should be okay. He must have calmed down by now.” How I enjoyed his error. The bathroom door opened and in I went like an avenging demon, swinging the bat before me.


Dad later said he knew something was wrong as soon as he came home and saw the broken bathroom window. Norm and Lucian had stayed out of the bat’s range and Norm somehow moved behind me, trapping my arms by my side. In the struggle the end of the bat went through the window. My only consolation was that, before I’d realised what had happened to the window, I’d managed to kick Lucian right in the goolies and reduced him to tears on the floor.


After that we all calmed down. Maybe knowing we’d have to explain the broken window helped focus our minds. Dad was home not too long after. Together we told him what had happened but I don’t remember him being particularly surprised or annoyed, or punishing Norm or me. It took a while to patch things up with Norm and Lucian, but they never teased me quite as much again.



Peter Panis

About the Writer

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Peter is Impolite Conversation's Sex Editor. He is openly bisexual and lives in London with his partner.


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