Sometimes in the evenings when we’re knackered, I like to introduce some horrid thought. Like, hey, fancy popping into town? Wanna go catch last orders? Go for a walk? It’s all for the exquisiteness of opposites. That none of these things have to happen. And an awareness too that it’s actually what some people do. Hell, even younger versions of us – though not so much of me. B’s not so fond; doesn’t totally appreciate or welcome my logic. But I persevere, and last night I said, at ten, hey! let’s go Hedge Hopping! Sleepily, B. says she doesn’t want to go hedgehog shopping.
Hedge Hopping is something we did for a while as neighbourhood kids. In the dark evenings – mainly this time of year – after gravy-soaked teas we’d gather as a little gang and challenge ourselves to make it through as many back gardens as possible up our street. Slipping around or over fences, behind the back of a shed and by the rabbit hutches; or all-out dashes across wide-open, kitchen-lit lawns – sometimes straying over into the ends of the gardens backing on to those on our street; the houses on the Ring Road reversing into our own. These were times of no security lights, few yappy dogs, and families hunkered in front rooms, hoofing between the three channels – and yet the aim was to stay as far from the houses as the hedges would allow.
In fleeting memory like the visible puffs of our giddy breath, the forays were far-reaching and expertly orchestrated. In remembered reality we were pretty much pants at it.
For starters, there wasn’t one truly spirited tuff among us. Apathy was about as attitudinal as this part of our suburb could muster. But set against my own shrill keenness for (fairly safe and, frankly, Beano-informed) larks, that was hard enough for me to take. Because I loved these adventures. They stood as a devilish opposite to my morning paper round and its genteel front-gate legitimacy. Here I was now, a-skulking round the rear of similar houses. And however thin it was, I liked the troupe mentality – most, or only, apparent at the outset, with us shuffling in a driveway, badly smoking pilfered cigarrettes and mumbling wetly into our Leeds United scarves; hands in ridiculous goalkeeper gloves, thrust into the pockets of fall-apart parkas… Ah, the stuff of honed strategic beings.
The first five gardens were either of, or closely known to our membership; so in real terms shouldn’t ever have counted towards a hedge-hopped total. Warm-up material, maybe, or qualifying laps. But the truth is we didn’t get massively further beyond these familiar zones. I did say we were pants.
It’s interesting to think now that, for me at least, this was all about grown-ups and the risk of encountering them. Unknown men with bad tempers and moustaches. Cuban heels and Ford Capris. Englishmen with foreign lives. Not to receive a thrashing, head-chopping, but to have their anger directed at me; anger all modern and self-assured and probably reeking of cooking smells alien to me. Did we get far enough to risk this?
Off our own territory and with a different band, I tried the back gardens of other streets. Preposterous circular experiments with cul-de-sacs. And a developed penchant for weaving up and down the gaps between newly-built garages. I was little and I was shifty, with a crazed and crazying look of fear that I think instinctively made pissed-off adults let me slip away.
B. has gone to bed, or somewhere upstairs. I look outside – out the back. A bored cat sets off the light and glances at me like, what? before she disappears into a hedge. I go with her.