Ian McMillan: Masked ball that turned into a farce

Me and The Lads had got it all worked out. We’d wait till The Old Bloke (as we called him) was digging in his garden, his braces straining against his barrage-balloon belly, and then we’d climb up his garden wall wearing scary masks we’d bought with our pocket money from Mrs Parry’s. At a given signal we’d pop our heads up and shout WAAAA!

The consequences, we were sure, would be hilarious: the combination of the shock, the cheap but scary masks, and the surprise would, we hoped, cause The Old Bloke to fall over and roll around like a baby’s toy. His glasses might end up at a funny angle on his ample face. Earth might shower into the air if we caught him mid-dig. The possibilities for farce and slapstick were endless.

The Lads were really up for it. I was a bit nervous; for a start, I quite liked The Old Bloke. He’d never done me any harm, and he seemed like a nice chap. The Lads told me not to be daft and we practised in Keith’s back garden, trying on the masks, shinning up his wall, shouting WAAAA until somebody shouted from an upstairs window: “Will yer shurrup! Am on neets!”

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My other problem was that I couldn’t run. An infant could beat me in a sprint. Let’s face it: a walking infant could beat me in a sprint. “What if he chases after us?” I asked. The Lads sneer. “He’s an Old Bloke,” they said, speaking in unison like a Greek chorus. Well, that was true. But I bet he could run faster than a walking infant.

The day of the great prank dawned. I paced the house like an expectant father. I was tense and grumpy and answered my mother’s cheery questions about what I was going to be doing with my day with a muttered response that nobody could really hear, not even me. I met The Lads and we got the masks ready. We’d considered walking down to The Old Bloke’s place in our masks but we decided against it because of the probability of ridicule or heckling. I was more nervous than I’d been when I had to play the part of a shepherd in the school Nativity Play and I’d fluffed my one line “We have come to see the baby Jesus” and Mrs Hinchliffe, being kind, allowed me to do it again, which made it worse.

We assembled at the foot of The Old Bloke’s wall. A flaw in our plan meant that we couldn’t look over the wall to check if he was actually in the garden because he’d probably see us and that would spoil the joke. We stood in silence and listened hard. We thought we could hear the sound of digging and whistling. We nodded to each other and put the masks on. Mine was really tight and I felt my head starting to hurt. Yes, I was a delicate child.

We looked at each other, and, like the SAS, scaled the garden wall. We got to the top in strict formation. As we all popped our heads over, The Old Bloke suddenly appeared, about an inch away from us, and shouted WAAAA! We turned and ran. Well, they ran. I jogged. I could hear The Old Bloke laughing. I tried to take my mask off and the elastic broke with a loud and humiliating twang.