“Born To Run!!” Memoirs Of A Serial Absconder.
Running away from home. You just can’t top it.
When I was a callow yoof in the ealy 80’s, a time I like to think was the golden era of legging it, it was right up there with the big hitters like climbing trees, nicking hubcaps and pelting small animals with stones. It was about the best fun you could have back then. “I really don’t remember much about my childhood” punk legend Richard Hell once wrote. “I just remember running away from home all the time. I’d do it every few months. Just pick up my bags and leg it. It seems like the entire point of being young is to run away from home. As often as possible. Of course, what would happen was that I would run off then return a few hours later. Until the day that I run off and realised that I didn’t have to turn back – that I could just fuck off somewhere and cut all ties. Which is just about the best feeling you’ll ever experience.”
Personally speaking I couldn’t get enough of it. It all started when I was 7. One Sunday afternoon, my Dad casually announced that there was to be no ‘Wacky Races’ that day as there was program about The Reformation or some bullshit on the other side. “Sod this for a game of soldiers,” I thought. And, there and then, I made my mind up to make myself scarce and hotfoot it out of there. Hastily throwing together a satchel of what I thought to be ‘essentials’ – ball of string, broken Swiss army knife, a packet of Wine Gums and half a dozen stale mini-sausage rolls – for the journey ahead, I was out the door quicker than you could say ‘Dick Wittington’s cat’. It was when I reached the bottom of my road that I found myself asking that occurs to any young turk who decides to fly the coup. Namely: “What the fuck do I do now?!”
After briefly entertaining the idea of heading off in the direction of the foreign legion, I settled instead for climbing up a medium sized tree along at the Cricket Club. And there I remained until sunset, spending an uneventful few hours observing a couple of squirrels larking about on the grass below. Then, finally, I was found by a search party which consisted of my Dad and the dog. “If you don’t get down from that tree this instant,” he shouted, “I’ll boot the tar out of you!” And so, taking the line of least resistance, I dropped down out of the tree faster than a bridesmaids knickers. Not that this stopped my old man leathering my legs with a copy of Autotrader.
The very next week I was at it again, having got a bee in my bonnet after my Mum casually announced that we’d run out of Cadbury’s Smash and would be having proper cooked potatoes for tea. On this occasion I headed for a river where I whiled away a few hours skimming stones until I realised that Batman was on Telly and bolted home faster than a frightened rabbit. Even at this age I was beginning to have my suspicions that this running away lark was an entirely pointless exercise. However, it quickly became a habit and by the end of that Summer, I was going AWOL at least once during the week and twice on weekends. The slightest annoyance would set me off. On one occasion I ran away simply because I objected to a certain brown dress my Mum wore. Another time, I took exception to the way my Dad pronounced the word ‘rubberised’. Any excuse would do.
Sometimes, if it looked like raining, I’d only pretend to run away, then sneak back in and hide in the cupboard under the stairs and sit in the dark for a couple of hours until boredom set in or I was frightened off by the arrival of a spider. Clearly I wasn’t the only chancer taking wing on a regular basis.
Quite often, in the course of running off, I’d bump into an acquaintance with a similar sense of mission. “Alreet mate.” You’d say. “Where you off to?” And they’d reply, “I’m running away from home.” It was like a fucking epidemic round my way. It got so bad that it reached a point where you could hardly move on the streets for young bucks making a hasty getaway from their folks. After the first couple of times, my folks didn’t even bother with search parties and the like anymore – having got used to my absconding at regular intervals. “Where do you think you’re off to?” my Mum would ask as she watched me pack a world atlas and a tin of corned beef in a duffel bag. “I’m running away from home,” I’d say. To which she’d reply, with much glazed indifference, “Right you are. We’ll expect you back around 8 O’clock then.” Which made the whole thing even more meaningless – half the point of running away in the first place being that it was a cracking way to make your parents hopping mad.
It was at this juncture that I realised that I’d have to raise the stakes if my running off was to have the desired effect of worrying the living shit out of mater and pater. Once I managed to stay out all night, hiding out in a nearby bar, only to return the next morning to find that my folks hadn’t even noticed my absence. A week later, I hid out at the bottom of the garden, poured tomato sauce into my ears and staggered through the patio doors hoping to be mistaken for the victim of a mad axeman at large. Sadly my Mum wasn’t taken in for a minute. “Next time you decide to play the arsehole,” she said, hardly bothering to even look up from peeling the veggies, “could you please remember to put the lid back on the sauce bottle?”
It was after a year of this that my father decided that there was something decidedly odd about my behavior and dispatched me off to a child psychologist who, after extensive tests involving some WELL iffy Rorschach ink blots and a course of anti-histamines, concluded with an oily grin that I was “incurably deranged” and sent me on my way with instructions to eat more greens. The experience seemed to have the desired effect and curbed my enthusiasm to do a runner from the old homestead. At least for a few more years that is. Until I realised, like Richard Hell before me, that there was nothing to stop me fucking off and never looking back. Which is precisely what I decided to do. And sod the consequences.