The Secrets of Soap

One of my favourite memories from my childhood was to head off with my friends on a bike-ride. We’d leave my home in Thoroughsale Road in Corby with our well packed sandwiches and, if my memory serves me right, a bottle of orange juice and enough pocket money to buy something from some shop or other wherever our ‘adventure’ might lead. I say that because we’d never plan anything. We’d just set off in one direction or another. At least one of us would have a puncture repair kit which would be squashed into the smallest little leather bag attached to the back of a saddle, though I don’t ever remember having to repair a puncture by the side of the road. “Where have you been today” my mum would ask. “We’ve been to Gretton” I’d reply. Not ‘Gret-un’’ you understand. My mum was a stickler for grammatical correctness which would sometimes cause me to over emphasise my words: Gre-t-ton. Kettering had to pronounced exactly as it was written, not, as most of my contemporaries might say, ‘Kettrin’. The word ‘yeah’ was a serious no-no as was any form of profanity. Anyway, it was on one such bike ride that my friend Ken Short and I created our version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement: a sixties U.S. television series). Whilst peddling along, in between singing songs, talking nonsense and taking turns at being the front rider, we came up with a name for our secret organisation that would get us through at least the three subsequent summers. We would be the founders of the Secret Operational Area Patrol: S.O.A.P. for short. We would be a force for good in the world fighting against all injustice for the benefit of the common good. When your twelve years old anything is possible. I remember sitting in Ken’s dads shed in Eskdale Avenue designing our uniform, badges, rules, pledges, even salutes. Now all that was lacking was a natural enemy: a S.O.A.P. nemesis. U.N.C.L.E.’s archenemy was an evil organisation known cringingly as T.H.R.U.S.H. (the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity). As we waited for our natural enemy to make themselves known, we needed to find evil people that might rue the day they ever messed with those magnificent agents from S.O.A.P. Easier to say than do, which might explain why Ken and I would ride for miles into the lovely countryside surrounding Corby endlessly talking and talking about the inner workings of S.O.A.P. Sometimes we’d find ourselves sitting for hours on the edge of the West Glebe Woods, suitably armed with our plastic binoculars, hats, invisible ink pens and two Woolworths note-pads. We were convinced that anyone who might wander through a dark wood alone was obviously up to no good: or seriously misguided. Naturally, I can’t tell you any more about S.O.A.P.s maneuvers or highly top secret missions. The trust and camaraderie of blood-brothers and childhood secrets live forever.

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