"Fortune favours the brave - it does not favour the stupid."
In my teens I spent a lot of time with Big Ben and Bill Wood.
...And Byron Crystal.
No, not a sly code word for hallucinogenic drug paraphernalia, but a real living breathing human being, who was witty, sharp, fearless and crazier than Patsy Cline.
He called his parents by their first names, rather than ‘mum’ or ‘dad’, which I found very cosmopolitan.
He liked taking the piss out of the teachers at school. There were lots of worthy candidates, and he was really good at it. There was a ‘Careers Meeting’ one day. We’d hit GCSE-age, and our educational superiors had become obsessed with guiding us towards a life of opportunity and possibility.
We sat in a big room and the teacher told us that our "choice of career was very important".
“I’m still undecided between North and South Korea!”, Byron shouted.
He was very fun.
He was also a key protagonist in the noble art form of ‘Hedge Surfing’.
Hedge Surfing was a simple sport, and became extremely popular amongst my friends, and more amusingly…my brothers.
And all of their friends.
The idea was that you would jump into (or ‘surf’ on top of) a hedge.
That was pretty much that.
Any hedge would do, although the experienced hedge surfer would carefully check the foliage for prickles, firmness, thorns, stinging nettles etc. Not to mention whether or not there was a hidden fence or obstacle within the hedge, and also whether there was soft landing material, such as a lawn or grassy verge on the other side of the shrubbery, thus easing the process of the dismount and preventing unnecessary injury.
Some, like my middle brother, favoured "The Bastard", a form of leaping very similar to the attacking technique of your seasoned high jumper, sometimes with extraordinarily long run-ups to guarantee maximum purchase...
"The Bastard" - an example
This approach carried the most risk of personal injury, but also guaranteed high marks, not to mention the adulation of your peers for outright bravery.
Others, like my eldest brother, if memory serves me correctly, preferred "the Flop-Drop". This, as you can hopefully envisage, involved gradual extended leaning into the hedge with both feet on the ground, until you were completely submerged, or ‘swallowed’ by the hedge, often with a finishing position of having your feet up above your head. This was a style designed for maximum disturbance, amusement and impact, but some say it lacked the finesse and overall "je ne sais quoi" artistry of "the Bastard".
I once surfed the formidable hedges of a certain hotel in London, needing a leg up from both brothers to do so. I jumped up high before rolling off the other side, narrowly missing the bonnet of a parked car.
Amusingly, years later, I would spend my first night as a married man in that very hotel.
I can’t walk around certain parts of the town where I grew up without remembering, sometimes with visual evidence still left intact, our hedge surfing exploits of the mid-to-late 90’s.
Byron Crystal was a keen purveyor of jumping into as many hedges as he could find, no matter the size or risk to his general well being. He was braver than a film critic interviewing Russell Crowe, and as agile as a gibbon.
“You do silly things after a few beers, don’t you?” he’d explain, to the Police.
As you age, drunken exploits become more severe and carry graver consequences, due to your increased responsibilities as an adult. The loss of personal items, such as glasses, house keys or wallets, made you rethink the worthiness of your recklessness - as Big Ben, whose entire pocket contents remain somewhere in amongst a massive bush in the centre of Richmond to this day, will testify...
But when you’re young, cocky, and stupid, you’re up for anything.
One night, I was staying at Byron’s house, and having spent the walk home from the pub throwing ourselves into various hedges, we walked down a road and noticed the frame of a bed, in a skip by the side of the road. Upon closer inspection there was also a mattress, some pillows, and a duvet of sorts. Someone was obviously having a massive clearout, and had dumped an entire bed.
Perhaps, on reflection, a couple had gone their separate ways, and whoever was left in the house decided that new furniture was required.
Either way, we instinctively, mischievously, and some would argue foolishly, pulled out the bedding, and started to re-create an actual bed...on the roof of the nearest car.
First off was the entire bed frame, then the mattress, head board, pillows…
Then, the ‘coup de grace’, the moment of genius. We stuffed some bin bags beneath the duvet to make it appear that there was someone actually asleep, in a bed, on top of the car. I laughed so hard, I wept like a fool. Imagine waking up, getting dressed to go to work, leaving the house to jump in your car, and finding someone asleep, on top of your car.
In a fully made bed.
I seem to remember Byron then suggesting that we then filled the car with water and put some of his fish in it, making it a ‘car aquarium’.
We both decided that was going too far.
In more recent times I’m rehabilitated, and no longer pose a risk to your, or anyone else’s hedgerow.
It all came to a head when I drunkenly hedge surfed a massive 10 footer one night, leaving a (insert your own joke here) Nick-shaped void in the middle of it. Unfortunately, having been woken by my eagle-eyed landlord in the morning, it became apparent that I had surfed (and destroyed) my own hedge, outside my own block of flats, and was therefore going to lose my deposit.
Le jeu a été fait.