The Hole In The Wall – How You Shouldn’t Annoy Farmers And Why It Is Unwise To Pay Attention To Thoughts You Have At Three In The Morning
When I was in my early twenties, I became terrified of a door. It wasn’t one of those spooky, haunted doors you used to get in Hammer Horror films. It was a perfectly ordinary, perfectly functional door. But this door scared me more than any portal to a room full of ghosts or monsters ever could.
I think the reason for this fear was all the Public Information films I’d seen as a child. You know, kids drowning in stagnant ponds, kids flying kites into electrical power lines and, in extreme cases, kids having their feet cut off by speeding trains. The worst Public Information Film was called “Apaches”.
I was about nine when I was shown this film at school. It was about how dangerous it is to play on farms. It stars a group of six kids who like to pretend they are Apache warriors and that their local farm is a fort that they have to keep capturing.
At the start of “Apaches”, the children were all running around and pretending they were Geronimo and stuff, but then one of them jumped on the back of a tractor to fire his cap gun at his mates. Inevitably, he fell off, went under the wheels and was killed stone dead.
I had seen a lot of these films, even by the age of nine, and thought “Well, that’ll be it then. We’ll get a message saying: DO NOT PLAY ON FARMS and we’ll have to go back to lessons. Ah well.”
But no, the film did not end there. The film turned into something that looked like it was directed by Sam Peckinpah. Possibly after he had just done “Straw Dogs” and then maybe thought to himself “Well, that wasn’t anywhere near controversial or nasty enough”. This is how the rest of it goes.
The kids carry on playing their game on the farm. One boy dies when he falls into a massive vat of cow shit and drowns in it. Then a girl dies in agony, screaming for her Mummy, when she swallows some liquid rat poison. Then another boy dies when a massive iron grating that’s been propped up on the inside wall of a barn falls on top of him. And finally, one lad sits on a tractor, pretending to drive it, and snuffs it when he accidentally knocks off the handbrake and drives over the edge of a cliff.
Even at nine years old, with no sense of my own mortality, by the time it got to victim number three I was thinking “Who are these idiots? If even one of my mates had been killed somewhere. I’d never go back there again. Never mind three.”
The reason we were shown “Apaches” was because where we went to school was right on the edge of my home city, Newcastle upon Tyne. And I lived very close to the school. There was a farm literally at the bottom of my road. But showing us this movie was a complete waste of time. None of us played on farmland anyway, for two very good reasons.
Firstly, it pissed the farmer off something chronic. And if you pissed the farmer off, he wouldn’t let you go potato picking when the time came. The money you could get from a week of that was peanuts really, but it was serious wonga when you were a schoolkid. It could buy you an awful lot of Blackjacks and Fruit Salad chews.
Secondly, the farmer didn’t want anyone on his land, no matter what age they were. So he often carried a blunderbuss packed with rock salt to “warn off” anybody that did. Being on that land when it wasn’t potato picking time and you weren’t being paid for it could mean you might be picking rock salt out of your arse for a week.
So, “Apaches” didn’t really make much of an impression on me. But one Public Information Film that did was this one. It makes me shudder a bit to this day.
This film is the seed that grew into my fear of the door I was talking about. When I left higher education, I could not get a job for love nor money. I was made to join “JobClub”. Free stamps and envelopes and unlimited reprints of your CV. Twelve hundred job applications I sent off. I got one interview, for a job assembling rubber stamps for sixty quid a week. I didn’t get the job.
But, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know and my father-in-law wangled me a job on nights at the supermarket where he was a manager. This is where I encountered the scary door.
My job on nights was to fill the freezers. This meant going into the big back up freezer to fetch the frozen stock. The scary door was the door of this back up freezer.
It was a big, metallic sliding door. You opened it with a long, lever handle. It was about five inches thick and when it shut, it shut with a very resounding and final “thunk”. When you had to load up stock, you were supposed to close that door behind you to maintain the temperature of the back up. There was a handle on the inside of the door for you to get out, obviously. The handle on the inside was often a bit loose though.
So I could never bring myself to shut it. The thought of me trying to get the door back open, the handle coming off in my hand and me suffering a slow death by hypothermia was just too much.
This may sound like very paranoid thinking to you, and you would be right. Like I said, I was working nights. You know those paranoid thoughts you get at three in the morning when you can’t get to sleep, or you have got to sleep but have suddenly just pinged awake? Well, you don’t get them because you are in bed. You get them because it is three in the morning. Humans are not supposed to be awake at three in the morning. The brain cannot handle it.
One night, my shift leader (a man called Marty), walked past the freezer back up and saw me working with the door open. He pointed out that I was not supposed to do this and quizzed me as to why I was. He was a nice bloke, Marty, so I thought “Oh, fuck it. I’m not going to lie or make an excuse. I’m just going to tell him”. So I did.
I thought he was going to die laughing. “Mate,” he said, “this door is made of Styrofoam. The metal shell is only about two millimetres thick. The runners it’s on are made of aluminium. If you get stuck, just fucking kick it.”
So I took a closer look at the door. I lifted it up slightly. It weighed bugger all. I examined the runners. They were very flimsy indeed. A six year old boy could have kicked that door into the corridor outside. For months, I had been worrying about nothing.
This experience taught me a couple of things. Firstly, if you are scared of a thing, find out as much about it as you can. Knowledge is power and that thing may not turn out to be as scary as you thought. Secondly, doors are an important metaphor.
There is a common phrase we have all heard : “As one door shuts, another door opens”. Perfectly valid. Life offers us opportunities on a daily basis if we just learn to open our eyes and recognize them. But being a big fan of Occam’s Razor, I prefer this phrase: “If life shuts a door in your face, open it again. It’s a door. That’s how they work.”
And if somebody has locked that door, hell, why not try kicking it in? You never know. It might just turn out to be made of Styrofoam.
Copyright Michael Grimes 2016
Tags: Apaches, Blackjacks, Controversial, Farmers, films, Fruit Salad Chews, Geronimo, Ghosts, Hammer Horror, Haunted, Hypothermia, Metaphors, monsters, Nasty, occam's razor, Paranoid, Public Information Films, Sam Peckinpah, School, Spooky, Straw Dogs, Styrofoam, Terrified, Wonga
About thedailygrimeAt that awkward age - too young to be a grumpy old man, but just acerbic and downtrodden enough to have an opinion. Read it here.
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