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Monday, 1 September 2014

M Dunham Are Crap


“That’s wrong” said Geoffrey Bullard in a condescending, “you must be stupid”, “I’m-top-of-the-class”, omniscient kind of way. He was pointing at the words written neatly in red wax crayon on the back of the asbestos garage. He gloated arrogantly as he corrected me. “It should be M Dunham is crap.”   

Why should I embarrass myself by explaining that the words were exactly as intended? You talk about football teams in the plural. “Swinefleet United are good this year.” “Selby are terrible.” You can put it in a song: 

M Dunham are crap,
M Dunham are crap,
Ee aye addio,
M Dunham are crap.

It must have been my dad who first pretended we were football teams competing against each other in a league. He was B Dunham, I was T Dunham, my brother Martin was M Dunham, and M Dunham were crap, as proclaimed in bold red wax crayon on the back of the asbestos garage. 

I didn’t realise when I wrote it that wax crayon on asbestos panelling is like permanent marker – waterproof, indelible, and not-fade-away. So there it was, and there it must have stayed until the garage was demolished over forty years later, decades after we had moved. It’s intriguing to speculate about the people who later gazed at the back of that garage and pitied the poorly educated child responsible for such semi-literate graffiti, and to imagine them wondering who was M Dunham anyway, and why was he crap? 

So, Geoffrey Bullard remained in ignorance of our imaginary football teams, and when he wasn’t round at our house bullying me, I could play imaginary football games in the back garden. I had a full league of teams and fixtures, and played out each match on my own on the pitch of dried mud we optimistically called “the back grass”. This differed from “the front grass” only by being slightly bigger, and by not actually having any grass, except that is for a few odd blades that struggled out of the earth before being unceremoniously stamped back in again by the boots of make-believe teams of footballers. I ran up and down with a ball, puffing and panting between one goal defined by chalk marks on the wall of the house, and the other by the clothes posts near the back hedge, at the same time providing the roars and boos of the crowd, together with an excitable commentary. In my head they were all there, two complete teams of players, spectators, a commentator, the referee, linesmen, and the trainer with his ‘magic sponge’. I drew up team sheets, match day programmes, fixture lists and league tables. I was everyone and did everything. These days kids do the same with consoles and games with names such as ‘Top European Football Manager III’, but my fantasy was played in the back garden, much healthier for all that running around outside in the fresh air, with more highly developed transferrable skills for all the manual record keeping, and no less unsociable than fantasy football on games consoles. 

T Dunham was of course the best team by far. They always won and hardly ever conceded a goal. They usually beat M Dunham (who really were crap) by several goals to nil, and “The” B Dunham (my dad had once been to watch “The” Arsenal while on holiday in London) by a similar margin. It was not long before T Dunham were promoted out of the league containing the other Dunham teams into the local district league, where they played against proper teams such as the dockers and the railwaymen, and teams from pubs and the local villages. I picked my team for each match, and posted the team sheet on the wall inside our team hut, in other words the yellow shed. The team was always set out in traditional 2-3-5 formation, with a goalkeeper, two full backs, three half-backs and five forwards. In those days we always had a centre forward, inside forwards and wingers; no one had yet heard of modern formations involving sweepers, overlapping midfielders and offensive 4-3-3 game plans.

One day, Geoffrey Bullard noticed a team sheet on the wall of the shed. “What’s that?” he asked, looking carefully. My full team was laid out for him to see, ready for the West Riding Cup Final between T Dunham and Norton Woodseats. The captain, ‘Dunham’, in other words me, was on the left wing, the position I had played the only time I was ever selected for my school. The other imaginary players were also names from school. ‘Gelder’ was inside-left, ‘Longthwaite’ was centre-forward, and, as I realised to my consternation about the same time as he spotted it, ‘Bullard’ was centre-half. 

“Why am I only at centre-half?” he demanded.

I cringed inwardly while he thought about it. He considered himself one of the best footballers in the school, and naturally assumed his rightful role was top goal scorer in the forward line.

“Actually,” he then said weighing it up, “I would make a very good centre-half,” and proceeded to let me off the hook by showing no further interest.

But the wax crayon was still there on the garage, and in due course my mother spotted it.

“It won’t come off,” she sounded annoyed, “and anyway, what does it mean?”

It dawned on me that I didn’t really know what ‘crap’ meant either. I’d heard people say it, and thought it a satisfyingly grown up word to use. It just seemed to mean someone or something wasn’t very good. You could snarl it in real disgust, curling your upper lip, emphasising the ‘r’ and spitting out the final ‘p’. I’d started using it whenever I could.

“What’s this word, ‘crap’?” my dad asked. My mother had obviously been talking to him.

It was my dad’s sister, Aunty Dorothy, a hospital nurse, who gently enlightened us as to what it meant.

“Was it you who wrote in wax crayon on the back of the garage?” she took me aside and asked in her quiet way. “You wrote, ‘M Dunham are crap’, didn’t you?”

I nodded.

“Well you do know what it means, don’t you?”

I shook my head.

“It’s very very rude,” she said looking concerned,  “it means babba.” *

I wanted to giggle, but tried my best to look horrified and apologetic.

“It’s not a word we should be using at all,” she warned sternly. “And in any case,” she continued, “it’s wrong to say that. It should be M Dunham is crap.”

* It seems that use of the word ‘babba’ to mean poo is not as universal as I once thought. An internet search reveals very few examples. Similarly, ‘trump’ meaning an emission of wind (I resist an easy American political quip here) also seems mainly to be a northern expression. Both were common in the part of Yorkshire where I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. The word ‘crap’, on the other hand, was beyond vulgarity, and never ever heard. It goes to show how much things have changed.

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