The cruellest day of the cruellest month. The beginning of the end of everything. Summer. School holidays. Cricket. Light. Hope. When it comes, the end of everything itself will be better than this. At least when you get to the end you stand on the banks of the new. But the Eye of August is all presage and premonition. Darkness visible. The walled-eye of August. The year's glaucoma.
It's probably worse for me because my birthday falls in August. The Romans counted backwards to the calends. But come the 1st of August for me the dreaded count forwards begins. One, two...
Everything bad that's ever happened to me has happened on 1 August. I fell off my first tricycle on 1 August. I was knocked down and trampled by a runaway donkey on Morecambe Sands on 1 August. I invited the whole street to my birthday party on 1 August - Max Filtz, Norman Lighter, Reeny who peed for us in the air-raid shelter, everyone I knew - led them up the path like the Pied Piper and then had to suffer the humiliation of hearing my mother tell them all to go back home: my birthday party was still 24 days away and there was no room in our house, anyway for a hundred people.
Three, four, five...
I passed my driving test on 1 August. That should have been a good thing. "Well blow me down, I never gave you a dog's chance," my driving instructor said when I ran to him flushed with my success. "Does your father know somebody in the Ministry of Transport?"
Did I smack him in the teeth? He was an ex-policeman, an ex-SS man, an ex-guard at Auschwitz, an anti-semite with a Barnsley accent and a sneering way of saying, "Right, now let's see if you can execute (execute!) a three- point turn today, flower."
He'd been Mussolini's speech coach. He'd looked after Goering's English tailoring requirements. He'd been Eva Braun's and Hitler's personal relationship adviser. And now he was expressing surprise that I'd passed my driving test. Did I put his eyes out?
No It was 1 August. Extinguishment day. Instead of extinguishing him, instead of pulling him out of the car and driving backwards and forwards over him a hundred times, I opened my mouth and heard a chocolatey voice I didn't recognise say, "I could never have done it without your help and support, Mr Clayton."
Six, seven, eight...
Two years earlier I'd lost my virginity. That was also 1 August. To say I lost my virginity conveys a false impression. It sounds inadvertent. Oops, where's my virginity gone? In fact I did what I should have done to Herr Commandant Oberfuhrer Clayton and kicked the living daylights out of it.
I'd been out with my friend Malcolm looking for scrubbers. Forgive the language - I'm endeavouring to evoke the idiom of the period. If we'd really considered them scrubbers we wouldn't have spent so much time looking for them, would we, or tried to put so much of them into our mouths once we'd found them.
The two we found that night seemed high quality scrubbers, anyway, so we felt comfortable about taking them back to Malcolm's place which just happened to be empty for the weekend. I smooched with mine to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong singing "Stars Fell on Alabama", and told her I loved her.
But in the morning - the morning of 1 August - she was gone. They both were. Without a word. Malcolm's had left him a lipstick heart on his parents' dressing-table mirror. And mine, what had mine left me? Short. Short by six shillings and eight pence which she'd found in my grammar school blazer pocket.
6/8. Why 6/8? Why so precise?
"6/8 is exactly a third of a pound," Malcolm calculated. "Maybe that was all she thought you were worth."
"Not so," I said. "She told me I was her best ever."
"68 is soixante-huit, one short of 69," Malcolm calculated again. "Could that be significant?"
"Absolutely not," I said. "We made it to 69 comfortably. We even got to 70 once."
We let it go as a mystery and a lesson. It didn't put me off scrubbers, but I was careful not to leave loose change in my blazer pocket in the future.
Later on, though, I worked out for myself what the 6/8 meant. Six-and- eight was rhyming slang for straight. Bent didn't mean much to us in those days. But we sure knew what straight meant. Square.
The eye of August closed. Nine, ten, and OUT.Reuse content