I did something terrible. On my first day at primary school. So terrible that is still remembered and talked about in horrified whispers in the place where I grew up. It was a huge scandal at the time and no matter what I achieve in life – if I go into space or get elected Prime Minister – my old neighbours will still think of me as the kid who did the TERRIBLE THING.

When I was little, I lived in a tiny flat near the docks in Liverpool with my Mum, Dad brother and Grandma. There were only two bedrooms, so it was pretty cramped. On my first day at school, my Mum was very keen that I make a good impression on all the other kids so she made me wear a bright red bow-tie. She was absolutely sure that all the other kids would be impressed and would probably want red bow-ties of their own. The minute I walked onto the playground – which was just across the road from our flat – I realised she was completely wrong. Every single other kid looked at that bow-tie and smiled hungrily. Like I was a wounded wildebeest and they were hungry lions. I could almost hear them thinking to themselves, we’re going to have fun making that kid miserable at morning break. So, the first bad thing that happened that day was the discovery that my Mum was WRONG ABOUT LIFE.

This was really worrying.

But it wasn’t the worst thing that happened that day.

The worst thing was Daleks. If you don’t know what a Dalek is – well, you’re lucky. They’re the most frightening of all Doctor Who’s enemies – hideous little monsters hidden inside something shaped like a six-foot salt cellar – a domed head and no visible legs. I was terrified of Daleks. Mum had assured me that they weren’t real. But now I’d discovered that Mum was WRONG ABOUT LIFE. I was almost certain that the Dalek Invasion was about to begin.

I’d more or less decided to ditch my Mum, run back across the road and hammer on the door until my Gran let me back in.

But just then, the classroom door opened and out came my teacher. She was all smiles. She was a nun. She wore a dress that went all the way down to the floor and a veil over her head. What did she look like? With her domed head and no visible legs? Yes, I was absolutely certain that this was not a teacher but a small blue Irish Dalek. This is when I did the TERRIBLE THING.

Yes. I kicked a nun.

I kicked a nun hard and repeatedly, shouting, “You don’t know what’s inside it!”
I thought I was being heroic. I thought I was saving the World. I shouted “Run Mum Run!”
This was still not the worst thing that happened on that day.

At morning break, no one came to play with me. I assumed this was because no one came to school thinking “I hope there’s a bow-tie wearing nun-kicker to play with.” But it wasn’t that. I had changed colour. I’d turned yellow. Not yellowish. Not “a bit yellow”. But a bright, daffodil Homer Simpson yellow. My Mum was called. The ambulance was called. I was rushed to hospital for tests.

It turned out that I had an unusual blood condition that made my body attack my own blood cells if I got stressed. Obviously, nun-kicking had really taken a lot out of me. It wasn’t even a little bit easy growing up knowing that any minute now you might change colour. I had quite a range of nicknames – Custard Face, Banana Boy, Marzipan Man – they’re all me.

But then I found something in the library that gave me strength. A book about someone else who changed colour. It was The Incredible Hulk comic. The Hulk changed colour when he was angry. So, I decided that changing colour might possibly mean I was a superhero. And when you think about it, Marzipan Man is a pretty good superhero name. So from then on, I walked with a spring in my step. The thing that makes you different from everyone else – that’s your superpower.


Frank Cottrell Boyce
A little bit away from childhood
Outside Scotland

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Image shared by Frank courtesy Chris Riddell chrisriddellblog.tumblr.com/

Frank’s terrible thing