Before the Frenchgate Centre in Doncaster was massively extended to make room for an H&M – because no town can truly call itself contemporary without a cut-price Swedish fashion emporium – the only way to reach the train station from Doncaster’s shops was by dashing across a very busy dual carriageway or by descending into a dingy, yellow-lit subway where big boys loitered. Big boys were Town’s trolls; their ability to block narrow thoroughfares would have been widely admired by the Three Billy Goats Gruff.
If you were a little boy – a “nipper” – you tended to steer clear of Doncaster’s warrens due to terror, choosing instead to dance with Datsuns and Talbots on the A630. I first darted across this busy racetrack when I was eight; I’d been travelling on buses on my own from the age of seven. You did that then. Different times. We stayed up later, too. On Saturdays, I’d ride my Grifter back from my mate’s house at 10pm with two carrier bags full of model aeroplanes swinging from my handlebars. It’s funny how the Soviets would launch an all-out attack every Saturday while Dynasty was on the telly; our 1:72 air forces maintained your freedom. It was also uncanny that a werewolf would instinctively know I’d be gliding past Retford Walk at 10.03pm, meaning my uphill climb on a seven-ton bike would make my legs turn to wobbly fire-jelly with the strain of survival.
A few years ago, me and an old schoolmate were passing through the aforementioned subway – probably to avoid H&M – and found it had become the hangout of baggy clothed skateboarders. For us, this was a sorry sign of the times. “I despair of the younger generation,” my pal mentioned, and I nodded. I don’t like skateboarding – it’s an Americanism we can well do without. It’s actually a declaration of being anti-British, because you’re bypassing all the great youth movements we’ve had in the past and eschewing all our fantastic edgy musical genres in favour of California, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Vans, pastrami on rye, hoodies and Avril Lavigne.
Ker-CLANK CLANK. “Ooh!” Ker-CLANK CLANK “Yeah!” Ker-CLANK CLANK, “Ooh!” Ker-CLANK CLANK “Yeah!” It sounded like a slowed down version of “It Takes Two” by Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock. It was Saturday, match day. As we neared the skateboarders, at the opposite end of the subway a gang of Doncaster Rovers late-teen hardnuts emerged. Like oryx antelope in the Serengeti, the boarders sensed extreme bother and, for a moment, desisted from their clank until fate revealed its hand. Deeply intimidated, they looked to the floor, shamed because of the mobile-Pacific pastime they’d opted for. The football lads moved past with rolling shoulders. At the critical moment, and with much sneering, one of the football supporters shrieked, “Hey! Skateboard – USA!” It refreshed my soul. I smiled at the incident for the rest of the day.
Skateboarding is the most uncool movement in the history of youth culture. In fact, I dislike anything to do with boards, especially surfing and snowboarding. In the booze-soaked lads-mag days, me and my superior, the editor, had to spend a day getting pulled around a lake on a “boogie board” by a speedboat. It was right next to Heathrow’s main runway. Boogie board is a stupid name. It sounds like Doogie Howser, that child surgeon from the eponymous Eighties’ TV show. As holidaymakers lifted to the clouds in their Boeing 737s, I repeatedly went headfirst into the freezing black water, with my face smashing into the riptide over and over again. Around ten falls later, I decided I’d had enough of this. Eventually, I strode off to the bar in a state of shivering anger. I couldn’t get the basics of board balance – and why should I? The editor, of course, was spraying up 20-feet walls of water and changing the rope from hand to hand, while waving to people on the shore who were walking their dogs. I just think balancing on a plank of wood isn’t much of a claim; not like scoring a wonder goal.
There was a German writer with us that day, a frizzy-haired Karl-Heinz Rummenigge/Andreas Brehme lookalike called Gertz from a surfboard magazine. With their shaggy perms, Germans are perpetually stuck in 1986; they’re born to look like skateboard freakz. Gertz, true to form, wouldn’t queue for sandwiches. He bypassed the system and helped himself to handfuls of butties, so I called him “Greedy Gertz”. “Greedy Gertz, this is Britain! We queue here.” He pretended not to hear. I also had to pull Greedy Gertz up on his quasi-San Fran accent. After cross-examination, he admitted that he’d changed his accent to fit in with the Newquay surfer community, who had affected a Californian/Australian/hippy lilt. Their god is Henry Ramsey.
There’s a videogame called Subway Surfer that all the kids are playing on their £500 iPads and Kindles. The premise of the adventure is that an errant Japanese teen on a hoverboard leaps between, and on, moving Tokyo trains collecting … big coins, by the look of it. I think it’s Angry Birds for 2013. Inspired, my youngest asked for a hoverboard “with lights on the front and two flames out the back”. He’s aware of my dislike of skateboards but obviously hasn’t grasped the family lineage. He seems determined to own a flying toy. Around the time of Hallowe’en last year, he bought a broomstick from the local party shop expecting instant fast-moving fun at altitude. He asked if I’d ever flown on a broomstick and I said that I had.
“We used to have a broomstick in our house when I was young,” I told him, “and I’d climb on it, whack your Auntie Tracey round the back of the head, then I’d fly off round the living room while she jumped up at me, screaming.” “How did you make it fly?” he enquired. I said, “Just believe you’re going to fly and you will.” He spent the next half hour running down the hallway and leaping into the air at critical moments, but, alas, never got airborne. I said the batteries might be low. Later that evening, prior to bath time, I stopped Young Un in the nick of time from leaping off the top of the landing with a helium balloon tied to his waist. He was stark naked too, which, he explained, was to assist with the lift. I maybe shouldn’t have told him about the broomstick. I won’t do that again.
I maintain a resolute determination to get my kids interested in UK pleasures and not board sports. Football is played a fair amount, and we go to the odd match. Trees are climbed, largely unsuccessfully. Railways play a massive part in our existence, whether it’s through Brio train sets, visiting preserved lines or dashing around the National Railway Museum in York. And there are always model-aeroplane kits on the go. I suppose a defining step will be introducing the boys to The Fall, but let’s take it one step at a time. The only pleasure I derive from board sports is the ridiculous fact that surfers feel compelled to ride monstrous waves in South Africa, where 25-foot great-white sharks amass. You just think their brains must have become contaminated by sea water. It’s not the most pleasant way to go, being pulled ten feet down and losing your extremities in the confusion of a submerged frenzied attack, before being wagged to death by a killing machine the size of a helicopter. I like drinking red wine, but I wouldn’t crack open a bottle surrounded by spitting snakes at London Zoo.