I was born. Many people like to spend a long time gushing over the fact of their birth, yet for me it is pretty evident as facts go. Be strange if I was writing without having been born. I was born in Birmingham. Boring I know. And I spent the first two years of life tottering about in that city. My dad was young Anglican priest, my mother a young Methodist minister, and both were inundated with tips of how to raise a child. The Anglicans told dad to feed me rum; the Methodists told my mum to feed me black pudding. Churches have caused me pain from my very early days. But more of that later.
After my second birthday, life became interesting. Firstly, I had a sister born, which was helpful, as she has been a thing to bully since her birth. Secondly, my parents made the decision to move from Birmingham. To? London? Leeds? Manchester? Some place in Hampshire? No. Zambia. Which was interestingly surprising looking back on it, but to me at the time it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. We went to live in Kitwe, the central town of Northern Zambia, and spent three years there. Life was great in Zambia: I ate lemons that grew from a tree, mangos that did the same, almost got killed by a Spitting Cobra, stole my sister’s legobricks, saw the Victoria Falls, caught fish and helped push a Landrover at the age of 4. In Zambia everyone shakes hands when you meet anyone, which is really friendly and nice. You also have crocodiles which are less friendly and nice. And small aeroplanes that feel like they want to fall apart at any point.
I had reached that stage in one’s life which is post baby and pre-kid: the age of the toddler. I must have been a strange toddler, partially because I spoke in a South African accent which I just had, and also because I had tonnes of freedom in a large garden, and a college campus I could run about in. I went to a school called Lechwe Junior School, which out of all the educational establishments I have been to (six so far) they were the only ones to have purple in their uniform. Zambian school involves a lot of shorts, swimming (which I still cannot do) and being yelled at. A lot. I dropped a banana on the ground. I was yelled at. I asked for my art teacher to repeat the instructions for a drawing she wanted us to do. I was yelled at for not listening. I refused to swim underwater. I was yelled at and then was pushed underwater. Mixed in with this yelling was the more typical life of a toddler. I had birthdays, bouncy castles, Toy Story and a girlfriend called Jessica. Well. I say girlfriend. To her we were just close friends. But when you’re four the edges of the friend zone are very blurry.
Mum had the joy of being Director of Studies at a Theological College in Kitwe, and my dad worked as a priest in a Cathedral in Kitwe. I can’t remember much of the time, but they were golden days. We were far from home, but that brought us together as a family, and the parents were able to flourish. When I say that the parents are clever, I’m not being vain, just reflecting the fact they met at Oxford University. The two of them were able to embrace a dream of a life that mixed being intellectual with a strong family base. And of course God. God was and is a central plank of my family, and although I am agnostic, God is a force which I have to move around continually. Back in those days, I was a strong Christian, but I had no real choice. Yet some of my favourite memories come from those days. The cathedral was echoingly wonderful, and, one Easter, I remember all of the congregation standing at the back. The sound traversed my ears, the people around me were filled with emotion and I was licked by a wonderful feeling of love. From God? My parents? These people? Who can say. These halcyon days were full of blissful ignorance. Blissful.
We were pulled out of Zambia quickly in 2000 for several reasons, which brought me back to Birmingham. We lived in Northfield, small suburb of that city, and I hated it. Life was awful. There was no sun, no one shook hands any more, there were no crocs anywhere and a kid with a funny South African accent was generally looked down. I went to a school in Northfield and cried before each day. The only good things that came out of this time was firstly experiencing snow (which was a strange and miraculous substance), finding the Thunderbirds and learning to read the Magic Key books. My parents were determined I would learn reasonably well, and so basically threw the stuff into my eyes. Fortunately I’ve been a pretty avid reader since. Damn parents. Why do they have to be right.
The parents were sick of Brum, and so we moved again. Sheffield? Liverpool? Herefordshire? Nope. We went to Kenya. Of course. My parents shot off to go and teach in a college called St Paul’s Theological (or “thlick” as I wrote in the front of a book I had) College in a town called Limuru: my mum teaching New Testament Greek and my dad Philosophy. The one thing I have discovered about highly intelligent people is that their social skills are rubbish. I was brilliantly pleased. This was Africa again. People shaking hands, no crocs and in their excellent replacement, there were monkeys. Sadly, these monkeys either sat in trees just looking at you or ran along your roof and nicked bananas. Nevertheless, I learned to ride a bike, went to two great schools, one called Greenacres which had no academic hopes at all but just wanted a child to have a nice time, and Peponi, which had both those ideals in mind. I would go to school, learn stuff, come home, and ride my bike all over the campus.
During this fantastic time, I woke up at 5 each morning. This annoyed my parents somewhat, who bought me a clock with Buzz Lightyear on it, and when it went off I would be able to get up. This led to me reading each morning for about 2 hours, which when you’re a kid and good at reading (I was so good at reading that I had glasses. That’s what my mum said anyway) is brilliant. Swallows and Amazons, Horrible History, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five were devoured. My parents described me as an imaginative child. I would describe myself as cool. People who were feeling kind may have called me sad. But I think we can safely come to the conclusion I was a loser. To prove this, I set up, in a brilliant stroke of genius, my own crime fighting group of young children. We called ourselves the Personal Secret Spying Institute or PSSI, fighting the large amount of crime in Limuru. This was basically a group of about six kids drinking lemonade in a shed (rebellious I know) and sometimes running to a house because we thought that it may be on fire/in danger of exploding/being burgled/ it could be having its precious fruit being stolen. Sadly we never got anywhere. This did not disguise the potential of this organisation which I’m sure, with more crime amongst the impeccable citizens of Limuru, would have flourished like the Kenyan flowers.
Kenya is a central chapter of my life, and I will reminisce about it a lot more in future blogs. For the minute, it can remain quiet. I moved back to England to live outside Birmingham, in Dudley, in 2005. Dudley Right next to Birmingham. So far my life has take me to several places. It’s sadly centred around Britain’s second city.