Sunrise over Beadnell Bay in Northumberland
Sunrise over Beadnell Bay in Northumberland

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"New Braces". . . .

A short story . . .

Lingustic note: In Britain men use braces to hold their trousers up, and women wear suspenders to keep their stockings up. In America men wear suspenders to keep their trousers up.

It was in 1948, towards the end of my first long school summer holiday, that my mother presented me with a new pair of braces to keep my trousers up for my first full school year. I'd started school the previous Easter just before I was five years old. So, after lunch, that warm summer day I set off to play with the gang up the lane, wearing my new braces over my shirt. As I approached them I noticed at once that everyone else was wearing belts, not braces. Although such words as "cool" and "street cred" had yet to acquire their modern meanings it was clear that braces had no street cred. They were not cool. The trendy belt was an elastic one with an 'S' shaped silvery metal fastening on one end that hooked into a metal eye on the other end of the belt.

Such a small thing really and yet I knew at once that in my braces I was an outsider. I was different. I did not conform. But I longed to be on the inside, a member of the gang. There was only one thing to be done. I took off the offending braces and tied them round my waist like a belt. Honour was satisfied. We could all get on with the day's exploring without the embarrassment of naff clothing. We headed off towards our usual haunt, the fields at the end of the lane and the polluted beck that ran through them.

The beck was often different colours from the dye works upstream, but we took no notice of such matters. It was an ideal place to build dams, collect straight sticks for swords, and to hide from the Indians or to ambush the stage coach. It was a hot afternoon and we wandered over half a mile upstream before becoming aware that it must be tea time and turning for home.

As we reached the end of the lane my mother was already out looking for me." Where have you been all afternoon? You won't come up here again if I can't trust you not to go wandering off like that.", she threatened. Then she noticed something was missing. "Where're your new braces?" she demanded.

"I just tied them on for a belt " I spluttered trying to explain. " A belt! What's wrong with braces for goodness sake." she retorted. She never did seem to have much idea what was "cool" dress for kids. "And where are they now?" she continued in that way that parents have of throwing one thing after another at you leaving no time for the perfectly rational explanations that you could give if only they would give you a chance. "I expect they must've fallen off when we were playing." I said. "Fallen off! Fallen off! What do you mean fallen off? Fallen off where?" The tirade was in full flow again.

"We were just playing by the beck"

"The beck? It's filthy down there. If you fell in you'd be drowned AND poisoned. Come on we'd better go look for them. We can't afford to loose a brand new pair of braces"

So off we went back along the edge of the fields next to the beck, trudging in the afternoon heat, fruitlessly searching for the missing braces. I was hot and tired. My mother was cross at the silly waste of hard earned cash. After about half an hour we turned back and then my mother noticed the black creature at the far side of the field starting to move towards us.

We began to hurry, but the creature was still gaining, we started to run and so did the advancing animal. The riverbank was rough with rabbit holes and tufts of coarse grass. I stumbled and fell. Still clinging tightly to my mother's hand I brought the pair of us to a halt.

No it wasn't a bull running towards us, although you could be forgiven for thinking so, to judge by my mother's reaction. It was a small black pony with round belly and long untidy mane. To make matters worse it was tethered. Albeit by a rope about twenty yards long and the pony had trotted the full forty yards of its range from one extremity to the other to reach us. It wanted a pat and had stopped a few yards from us at the end of its rope waiting for us to greet it.

The pony had saved me. My mother felt so foolish at her irrational fear that she sat in the grass and laughed uncontrollably with relief and embarrassment as I patted the pony. My misdemeanour with the braces was forgotten.

Frank Firth, July 1995.