We'd moved here a few months ago and I quickly made new friends, both at school and in the neighbourhood. There's a place called Cooper's Quarry which is now a formal garden with paths, benches, flowerbeds, an orchard and a glade. It used to be an adventure playground and according to the group of kids I'd befriended, it was 'totally ace'. They spent many hours playing there, and the more dilapidated it became, the more fun they had... then the council decided it was dangerous and removed all the fun stuff, replacing it with flowerbeds and benches which are only good for OAPs and parents with pushchairs.
A few weeks ago, we were passing through Cooper's Quarry and reminiscing about how much fun they had there, as well as grumbling about how boring it is now. I could only take their word for it since the space was redesigned before we moved to the area. Climbing frames, elevated walkways, rope swings and a 'death' slide sounded loads better than what there is now. Looking back, I'm not sure who started it, but it didn't take long for the rest of us to join in; stomping on the flower beds, uprooting shrubs, breaking branches, booting the bins and benches over and generally destroying or disturbing whatever we could.
The act of vandalism was front page news in the local paper, which stated that one of the gang had been caught at the scene and the others ran off. That one was me, but I didn't grass my mates up. I'd have got my head kicked in if I had, and no one wants to be friends with a grass... so keeping shtum and taking the rap all on my own was, I believed, in my best interests. Being a minor meant they they couldn't print my name in the paper, nor could the authorities fine me for the damage caused, make me do x hours of community service or anything much... the most they could do was make me attend Sunday School which sounded really boring. The judge who heard my case said that I'd have to attend Sunday school for a period no less than 48 weeks and no more than 48 months, and that my attendance period would be closer to 48 weeks if I did the decent thing and gave the authorities the names of my accomplices. I refused and claimed that they were some kids I’d just met and I didn't know their names or where they lived... but they knew I was lying, I knew I was lying, and I knew that they knew I was lying.
I figured it would be a normal Sunday School and having briefly attended one when I was around eight years old, I figured I knew what to expect. It was really boring. The teacher would read us bible stories and encourage us to ask questions about God and Jesus, then we'd sing some happy-clappy Christian songs and talk about prayers... after a month or two I stopped going because I could think of better ways to spend my Sundays. Mum told me that this Sunday School will be nothing at all like that Sunday School... it isn't anywhere near a church for a start, and it won't even involve any bible readings. “How's it a Sunday School then?” I asked.
“It's a school you attend on Sunday.” my mother bluntly retorted. “I can't believe that you've got yourself in to so much trouble young man... we've only been here a couple of months.”
“It wasn't my fault... it was the others who wrecked the garden.”
“And it was you who were caught.” she stated. “Are you going to name the others?” she asked.
“I can't.” I replied. “If I grassed them up I'd be in even more trouble.”
“I can't imagine you being in even more trouble than you are now Liam!” my mother snapped.
I tried to explain the unwritten 'no grassing' rule and imagined the consequences if I did grass on my friends... but mum said I was an idiot, and yet again claimed the right thing to do (other than not getting involved in the first place) is to confess the names of my accomplices. “How long is forty-eight weeks?” I glumly asked after her latest lecture ended.
“Well there's fifty-two weeks in a year, so forty-eight weeks is eleven months.” she replied. “And forty eight months is four years.” she added with hefty sigh. I'd already worked that out for myself... and when you're only eleven and a half, four years is an incredibly long time.
“I know.” I gulped. Still, it's only a Sunday School and it's only once a week. It'll be really boring but it's not like I’d be doing a four year stretch in Wormwood Scrubs.
Mum was livid with me after my hearing. Not only have I been found guilty of reckless vandalism, we've also got Social Services on our back which means regular visits from a welfare worker. I'd been grounded indefinitely by my mother, and aside from having to attend Sunday School, I'm also subject to an official curfew. This means that I'm not allowed out of my house between 6pm and 7am; Monday to Friday and between 6pm and 7am Friday to Monday, unless I'm accompanied by my mother or a named minder.
Despite my name being kept out of the local newspaper, all of my teachers and seemingly most of the kids at school knew it was me that'd been caught vandalising Cooper's Quarry and all of them frowned on me... all apart from the kids I was with on that fateful night. They praised me for not grassing and that made me feel a bit proud, but only a bit. The prospect of attending Sunday School seemed so mundane that I didn't bother telling any of my mates about it. I'm currently ranked quite highly for not grassing them up and they'd only think it was some sort of boring bible class and take the piss. I did tell them about my curfew however... and that if I break it then all the police and PCSOs would be out looking for me. It's highly inconvenient for my social life but it does carry some kudos amongst my circle... and I can still see my mates at school.
A couple of days later, Mum mentioned something about a Sunday School uniform. “A uniform?!” I retorted. “Why do we have to wear a uniform? It's only Sunday School, it's not like it's school school.” I sneered.
“You'll have to wear a uniform because that's the rules.” Mum replied. “You remember the last time you went to Sunday school and each week, there'd be a handful of children who'd just been Confirmed?”
“Yeah.” I cautiously replied.
“The boys always wore smart trousers and a white shirt and tie.” Mum said.
“And the girls always wore white dresses with white tights.” I reminisced.
“They did.” Mum replied.
After a short silence, I asked what that's got to do with the Sunday school I'll be going to, reminding my mother that it's not a bible study group for happy-clappy youngsters. Mum told me I was correct, then added that the uniform is similar to what the children who'd been Confirmed wore. “So it's just trousers and a white shirt?” I asked.
“Not quite.” Mum replied.
“Shirt and tie?”
“Nope.” Mum said.
“Well what then?”
“Guess.” Mum said. She was enjoying this.
“Well... I mentioned the boys in their smart trousers and white shirts...” Mum said, and after a long pause she added, “...and you mentioned...”
“The girl's wearing dresses.” I shrugged.
The penny still hadn't dropped. Mum's lingering expectant expression turned to one of exasperation. “Sometimes Liam you're so dim that I wonder where I got you from.” she impatiently sighed. “Everything needs to be spelt out for you.” she gasped. “Right...” she began. “The Sunday school you're being sent to is a correctional school. Yes?”
I gulped and nodded and meekly said “Yes.”
“Being a correctional school, it's very strict and has plenty of rules... rules by which you must abide. Yes?”
“I guess.” I mumbled.
“And one of those rules is that you have to wear a uniform.”
“Er... if you say so.”
“I do say so Liam.” Mum snapped. “No one expects you to like the uniform but being a correctional school, you have to wear it, like it or not.”
“Yeah... I get that.”
“Good. Now bear that in mind... because everyone at this Sunday School, regardless of whether they're a boy or girl, has to wear a dress.” she clearly stated. My jaw dropped a little. I may have even shook my head. Mum assured me with a slow shallow nod and a pursed smile.
“I'm not wearing a dress.” I stated.
“Well you just said that you understood that you have to wear the uniform whether you like it or not.”
“Yeah but... that was before you said it was a dress... it's not a dress is it?... they can't make us wear dresses... not the boys anyway...” all the while my mother sat nodding. Eventually I said “Why?”
“I guess it discourages the boys from wondering off if they're bored.” my mother replied. “Put them in a dress and they should stay put.” she added.
I can imagine that working, not that it makes the prospect any more palatable. “You're not going to make me wear a dress are you mum?”
“It's not up to me Liam... I don't make the rules.” she reminded me.
I dropped my head. “So I have to wear a dress every Sunday for the next eleven months.”
“At least.” Mum replied. “You'll probably get used to it after a couple of weeks.”
“I won't!” I retorted.
“Well maybe you won't and maybe you will... you'll just have to wait and see.” she said.
A couple of days after that, on a Friday I recall, I returned home from school and Mum enthused, “There's something in your room for you.”
“What?” I expectantly asked.
“Go and have a look.”
I dropped my school bag and eagerly headed to my room. Mum wasn't far behind me. I don't know why but the very last thing I expected to see was a white dress hanging from my wardrobe door... I guess it was the tone that Mum said 'there's something for you'... it hinted at something I'd approve of. I stopped in my tracks. My jaw dropped. Mum's hands rested on my shoulders. “I bought it today.” she said. “What do you think?”
“It... it's horrible.” I managed to murmur, before gulping so hard that I almost swallowed my tongue.
“Well I didn't expect you to like it.” she said. “But I had to get you one before Sunday.”
“You could have told me!” I muttered.
“Would you have rather chosen it yourself?” Mum asked. “Maybe tried a few on 'til we found one you liked?” she suggested.
“No!” I whined. I guess under the circumstances, it is best that she just went and bought one whilst I was at school. I briefly imagined being shown around a dress shop and Mum holding them against me.
“Do you want to try it now or wait 'til Sunday?”
“No!” I yelped.
“No, you don't want to wait until Sunday... or no, you don't want to try it now?” Mum asked
“I don't want to try it now... or ever.”
“Well Sunday it is then.” she said. She removed the dress from its hook and admired it.
I noticed its buttons on the back and gulped. I imagined myself being buttoned into it and prepared myself to swipe it away if Mum went to hold it against me, but she didn't. “Where are you going?”
“You don't want to try it on so I'm putting it away.” she said, adding “Somewhere that it won't get damaged before Sunday.”
I couldn't get the dress out of my head for the rest of the day... I’d only seen it briefly but its image lingers in my mind; its collar, its sleeves, its skirt and all those buttons tiny on the back. I imagine it being quite tricky to remove myself. I maintain a glimmer hope that my mother's just trying to scare me and that I won't really have to wear a dress for Sunday School... but deep down, I know that I will.
I consider running away from home, but that'd only land me in even more trouble and being a mere eleven years of age, I knew that I wouldn't be able to fend for myself. At least it gave me something else to think about. I imagined hiding out in the woods, making a camp and foraging for mushrooms and berries. I visualise being a real survivor like Bear Grills, but the reality would be more Stig of the Dump. I wonder about stowing away on a cargo ship, being found and made to mop the deck or being cast ashore on a desert island with palm trees, pirates and treasure... but round these parts the only boats are on the canal so I doubt I’d get anywhere very quickly. I imagined myself as Oliver Twist.. heading for London and being taken in by Fagan's gang and making my living thieving and begging... then I remember when Oliver wakes up in the big posh house wearing a frilly white nightshirt... and all of a sudden my meandering thoughts came to crashing end and an image of me wearing that dress immediately pops into my head. I gulp and dread the prospect of actually wearing it.
Tomorrow is Saturday so it'll be OK. It's Sunday I’m worried about. Since I'm under curfew and in a whole lot of trouble... I'm not allowed to play video games or watch any of the TV shows I like. I complained that I was bored. “You could tidy your bedroom before you have your bath.” Mum suggested. I claimed that my bedroom was tidy, and added that I had a shower yesterday. “Well tidy your room again.” Mum impatiently suggested, before telling me that I will be having a bath tonight. “In fact it's bath night every night from now on.” she added.
I apathetically tidied my room, which kept me occupied for all of five minutes. Mum eventually ran the bath and watched over me, making sure I used the nail brush and both shampooed and conditioned my hair. I felt like a six year old, having to bathe in the presence of my mother. Mum said she didn't care how I felt. “I'm not letting you out of my sight until I know I can trust you again.” she informed me.
I felt hard-done-by but I couldn't blame her... but when I was sent to bed the moment that I was out of the bath and dried, I mostly blamed my mother as I grumbled myself to sleep. After a long dreamless night, I awoke. And just as I'd done every morning since my hearing, I spent a blissful few moments before remembering that I'm in big trouble and everybody knows it. I shamefully mope downstairs and have a bowl of cereal for breakfast. I asked if I would be allowed to watch SMTV but it was a definite no. “What can I do then?” I moaned.
“Well you can get dressed for a start.” Mum suggested.
I skulked back to my room and sulked on my bed for a moment. Being grounded is so boring. I huffed and puffed and sighed before opening my drawer. “Mu-um!” I hollered.
“Yes Liam.” Mum said, stepping into my room. She must have been right outside, waiting.
“Where've my pants gone?”
“They're in your drawer.”
“They're not mine!” I claimed. The contents of my underwear drawer have changed since yesterday... and quite significantly so.
“Yes they are.” Mum said. “They're new... I bought them yesterday when I bought your dress.”
“I don't have to wear my dress today do I?” I gulped.
“No... that's for tomorrow.” Mum told me.
“But...” I gulped and peered back into my underwear drawer. “...these are girl's undies.”
“They are.” Mum replied. “They're also your undies... now come on, put some knickers on...” she said, grabbing a pair and handing them to me. “Then I'll show you how to fasten a bra.” she added, removing one of those.
“But... boys don't wear bras.”
“It's only a training bra.” Mum replied, holding the garment from its straps. “It's not a proper one.” she added, as if that made it any more acceptable. After much huffing and puffing, I pulled on the knickers with great reluctance. They're white with lacy trim and a little bow stitched on the front. Mum showed me how to don the training bra and trying to fasten the clasp behind my back was really fiddly. I complained that I couldn't do it, but mum said “Honestly Liam, if a girl can do it I'm sure you can!” as she fastened it for me.
I hung my head as she straightened the chest band and adjusted the shoulder straps for me, then gave me a vest to wear over it... a girl's vest with lacy trim and a little bow to match both my knickers and training bra. I felt incredibly self conscious in my girlie underwear as Mum got out a clean pair of jeans and a jumper. “Why do I have to wear girl's undies under boy's clothes?” I moaned as I pushed my feet into my jeans.
“So you won't forget how much trouble you've got yourself into young man.” she told me. “Here.” she said. Mum gave me a pair of socks; girl's ankle socks no less. I stuck out my lip and pulled them on. The knitted diamond pattern became apparent as it stretched over my foot and ankle. There's no mistaking them for boy's socks and pleaded with my mother to let me wear some of my old ones. “No one will see them when you're wearing shoes.” she reckoned.
“They might!” I blurted, before launching into a tirade about it not being fair that I have to wear a dress on Sunday and that she's being horrid by making me wear knickers today....
Mum told me that if I misbehave in anyway, she'll remove one item of clothing from my closet and replace it with an item of girl's clothing. “I don't want any back-chat, any whining or moaning, no getting you knickers in a twist, no strops or tantrums... nothing but your very best behaviour, all day, everyday.” she informed me. “Otherwise you won't have any boy's clothes left... understood?”
I gulped and nodded. Mum was right about me not forgetting about the trouble I’m in. I might have forgotten that I wore a pair of knickers beneath my jeans but the presence of my training bra was ever apparent. Being a Saturday, Mum had to do the weekly shop so we drove into town. I looked at my feet in the footwell and it's obvious that I'm wearing girl's socks. I worried that someone might see them and hoped that no one would. It should be OK once I'm walking, I figure. I recalled the new contents of my underwear drawer and asked my mother if I had to wear knickers everyday from now on... since there was nothing else in there. Mum said I did. I gulped. “Even at school?”
“Mm-hmm.” Mum replied.
I gulped again. “But... what about PE?” I asked.
“This isn't back-chat I hope?”
“No...” I whined. “Honest.” I added.
“Good.” Mum said, before telling that I don't have to worry about my classmates seeing my knickers when I’m getting changed for PE because I won't be doing PE at school for a while.
“Why not?” I asked.
“To spare your blushes.” she replied, grinning at me. “Plus... the other boys might get jealous that their underwear isn't as pretty as yours.” she added.
“I doubt it.” I murmured.
The shopping trip itself was uneventful. Mum went to the fishmongers and pie shop, a home and garden store and Superdrug where she bought herself some lipstick and a big tub of moisturiser before browsing some fashion stores, then doing the 'big' shop in a supermarket. Normally I'd just moan and wish she'd hurry up, but today I was unusually patient. I did begin to moan when Mum wouldn't let me have my usual sugary breakfast cereal and told me to grab a box of boring bran flakes instead, but Mum reminded me that every time I moan or whine or complain, she'll replace my boy clothes with girl's clothes, one item at a time. “Good boy.” she said as I put the bran flakes in the trolley. “You can stop sulking now... otherwise you might find yourself wearing a nice nightie instead of your PJs whilst you're eating them.”
I gulped and bit my lip, knowing she wasn't joking. I spent the afternoon in a state of complete boredom. Not allowed out, no TV, no video games, none of my books inspired me as I've leafed through them numerous times in recent days and the 'talk' radio station mum insisted on listening to neither intrigued nor entertained me... and not being allowed any snacks between meals only added to the tedious monotony. Having my bath at 7.30pm was the most eventful thing I'd done since we returned home from shopping... which should explain just how dull that Saturday was. “What time does Sunday School start tomorrow?” I asked.
“In the morning!?”
“Well it's not going to be eight o'clock at night is it?”
“No... I just thought it'd be after church, around lunch time, like the last Sunday school I went to.”
“It's going to be very different than that one.” Mum replied.
“What time does it finish?”
“In the afternoon?!”
“Yes, in the afternoon.”
Eight hours! Blimey, I thought. “What are we going to do for all that time?!”
“Well I don't know.” Mum replied. “I suppose you'll find out tomorrow.”
I frowned. I wasn't at all looking forward to it. “Can I watch some TV tonight?” I asked, adding “Please” for good measure.
“No Liam... it's bedtime.”
“Now?!” I whined. “But it's Saturday.”
“Bedtime is after bath time and it doesn't matter what day it is Liam.” she informed me. I stuck out my lip to make it clear that I wasn't happy about having to go to bed before 8pm. “Sulk all you like young man.” my mother said before sending me to my room and telling me that she didn't want to see or hear from me before morning.
I sulked myself to sleep and was woken by my mother. “What time is it?” I yawned as she opened my curtains.
“Ten to seven.” she replied. “Come on... up!” she said, pulling my duvet off me.
“It's too early.” I moaned.
“You've got to be at Sunday school for eight remember.”
“Oooh.” I groaned. I hadn't woken up enough to remember that prospect. “I don't really have to wear that dress do I?”
“Yes, Liam, you really do.” she sternly stated.
I ate breakfast in my pyjamas, then went to the bathroom to wash up and brush my teeth. When I returned to my room, Mum had laid the dress on my bed and was rummaging through my underwear drawer, tossing a pair of knickers and a training bra onto the bed. With great reluctance, I donned the knickers, but unlike yesterday's pair which were quite close fitting, these were baggy and gathered around the legs with frilly lace, and running along the bottom half of the backside was six rows of ruffles. I fiddled with the bra but Mum fastened it for me. “Arms up.” she said, before dropping a white satin slip over my head. She told me to put my socks on whilst she unfastened the buttons that run down the back of my dress. “...and make sure the patterns are nice and straight.”
Once I had my socks on, Mum held the dress open and I hesitantly stepped into it. I hung my head in shame as she fastened the buttons. “These are really fiddly.” she said and she slowly fastened them, one by one. It seemed to take ages and once all the buttons were done, she wrapped a broad white satin sash around my waist and tied it in a big bow. “That looks nice.” she said, but I could only imagine how bad it looked. Finally, she strapped a pair of girl's shoes to my feet and like the rest of my outfit, they were also white, save for the shiny silver buckles. They had heels, but not high ones, barely an inch I guess, but they were heels none the less. I stuck out my lip and began to sniffle as a tear tricked down my cheek. Mum wiped it away and said that she understood why I was upset. “But remember Liam... it was you who vandalised the garden at Cooper's Quarry and you who chose not to reveal the names of your accomplices... so you've only got yourself to blame.” she reminded me.
Thankfully there wasn't a soul on the street as we exited the house and got in the car. Mum had twisted my satin sash around to the front so it wouldn't get squished between me and the seat and the big bow looked as bad as I’d imagined. The Sunday school was in a part of town that I wasn't familiar with, in a single story building with a wooden façade and its windows covered with wire mesh to stop them getting smashed.
It didn't look very welcoming and neither did the area. Mum pulled into the car park but I really didn't want to get out of the car... although I knew I’d have to. When I had, she twisted my sash so the bow was at the back and put a girlie white handbag over my shoulder. “What's that for?” I moaned.
“It's a handbag.” she told me. “Your dress doesn't have any pockets so you need a bag.” she said, before taking me inside. I gulp as I'm faced with ten or twelve other kids, all wearing white dresses with either white tights, knee or ankle socks and each carrying a white handbag. Their dresses weren't identical, but they were similar... and all of them bore a miserable expression on their faces.
A grown up approached and Mum introduced herself. “You need to go in the other entrance... out the door, to the left, round the side... there'll be a queue.” the woman told us... so out we went, following her directions around the building where a queue of about five kids waited with a parent or guardian. Mum made small talk with the adult nearest, about the weather mostly. The queue didn't move very quickly... in fact we shuffled forward a couple of feet every five minutes. Mum checked her watch and said I'd be late at this rate as it's already five to eight.
When we finally got to the front of the queue, I was asked my name and taken into a small room. Mum followed. A buxom lady with a stern expression looked me up and down. She asked if it was my first time and I nodded. “...and you've brought your nappies?” she asked.
“Errr...” I said, thinking I'd misheard but knowing that I hadn't.
“In your handbag Liam.” my mother said. It never crossed my mind to look inside the bag, and when I did, there inside was several factory folded disposable nappies.
“What are they for?!” I asked. My voice was shaky, my hands shakier.
“They're for you Liam.” my mother said. My jaw dropped as I turned to face her.
“Face me boy!” The buxom lady instructed me to give her one of 'my' nappies and with a hesitant trembling hand, I did exactly as I was told.
“Put your arms up like this.” she said, raising her hands high above her head
“Er...” I hesitated but raised my hands, only for my mother to whip her hands under my dress, pull my knickers down to my ankles before swiftly lifting my skirt all the way up and holding me and my skirt in bear hug. The lady quickly fitted the nappy as I wriggled and writhed in a futile attempt to at least hinder its fitting. My knickers were pulled up over the nappy... or so I thought. In the scuffle, they'd dropped off my ankles and lay discarded on the floor. My mother let go of me and told me to put my knickers back on. The buxom lady picked them up and handed them to me.
“Put them on Liam.” my mother repeated. “Unless you don't want to cover your nappy.”
“Why do I have to wear a nappy?” I whined. “I'm eleven!”
“The same reason you have to wear a dress... it's the rules.” my mother replied. “I don't make them. I don't necessarily like them either... but like you, I have to abide by them.” she said.
I perched on a stool and threaded my feet through the frilly leg holes, then stood and pulled them all the way up. In the quick skuffle, I realised that the lady had not only fitted my nappy but also pulled a pair milky see through rubber knickers over it which left the pastel coloured design on the front of the nappy perfectly visible. It's a butterfly and I felt physically sick just looking at it. I wasted no time pulling my big baggy knickers over it and realised that they're not knickers, they're a nappy cover! Mum led me out of the changing room and the next boy was called inside.
We entered the main hall again where the children and parents/guardians loitered... all the kids wore similar but not identical white dresses with either white tights, knee or ankle socks and carried a small white handbag, slung over their shoulder. Mum began to faff with the bow on my back. “You actually look quite nice considering.” she said. “Hopefully this experience will do you good.”
“How can this do me any good?” I asked.
“Well... if you'd known that vandalising Cooper's Quarry would put you in a dress every Sunday, would you have done it?” Mum asked. I shook my head and hung it. “There you go.” she said.
“Do I have to wear a... er... every Sunday too?” I glumly asked.
She nodded again.
“But... what if I need the toilet?”
“You do know what a nappy is for, don't you?” she said. I gulped and hung my head.
A loud clap grabbed my attention and that of everyone else in the hall. “Is everybody present?” A lady said, before asking the boys and girls to assemble. Mum shoved me forward and I did what the others did; stood in one of several rows facing forward. The lady welcomed us to Sunday school and told us that we've got lots of fun activities to look forward to, and for the benefits of those of us who are here for the first time, she listed some of the activities. The book group didn't sound so bad, and 'games' was too ambiguous to draw a conclusion. The group discussion on morality and misbehaviour sounded both serious and complicated, but when she said “...and before we break for lunch we'll do some dancing.” a shiver went down my spine. She told us to assemble ourselves into three groups of seven and one group of six. I glanced around nervously, as did all the others before hesitantly gravitating towards each other. I joined the group that had assembled closest to me. “Hi.” I timidly said. The others muttered similar, unenthusiastic greetings.
At first I presumed all the others were boys like me, in spite of the fact we're all wearing white 'Sunday' dresses. There's twenty-seven of us in total, but only four girls, one of whom is in my group. She looks as shy and as timid as the rest of us, but at least she looks normal in her dress, even if it is a big 'young' for her. I wonder if she's wearing a nappy too, and the same of the others. Maybe it's just some us... I really don't know. I cast my eyes to the edge of the hall where my mother and other grown ups stood, but they'd all gone. Whether they were in another room or had gone home, I didn't know.
One of the staff attended our group and asked a couple of the kids if they'd enjoyed Saturday Club yesterday. “Yes Miss.” they humbly replied. They didn't sound very convincing.
“And I understand you'll be joining our after school club next week James.” she said to one in particular. He gulped and nodded. “Right.” she said. “Why doesn't our new boy introduce himself by telling us how he came to join Sunday School.”
“Er...” I croaked as all eyes fell upon me. I wasn't prepared and in a nerve induced stammer, I confessed to being part of the gang that vandalised Cooper's Quarry. I was asked why he rest of the gang weren't here, and I stuck to my story and claimed that I didn't know them, adding that I was only one caught at the scene.
“You mean you didn't reveal their names.” the woman said. “That's very different to not knowing their names, and we don't tolerate lies here.”
I restated my claim and was told that I'm not expected to reveal their names, but am expected to tel the truth. After a little deliberation and an assurance that I wouldn't have to reveal the names of my accomplices, I admitted to knowing them. “Good.” the woman said to me. “You've made your first step towards rehabilitation.”
“James.” she said, turning to the boy. “Why don't you tell the group why you'll be attending the after school club next week?”
Just as meekly as I, James told his story and we all listened. “But, you know that the activities are compulsory James... it doesn't matter if you don't enjoy them or feel silly doing them.” the woman said, claiming that the activities are all designed to benefit us, even if we don't realise what that benefit is. “Hopefully you'll learn to join in and play nicely at the after school club this week... and hopefully you won't have to attend next week too.” she said in a patronising tone.
It appears that if we don't take part or engage with the activities at Sunday school, we have to attend on Saturday's too... and if like James, you still refuse to actively participate, then there's an after school club too. Standing here today, in my girlie shoes & socks and my pretty white frock is the worst thing I’ve ever endured... I can't imagine the prospect of having to attend every day and James doesn't look too happy about it either.
We were told to a grab a stool each and assemble them in a semi circle. They're stacked at the far end of the hall and I follow the others to fetch one and can't help but observe their dresses. All wear white sashes around their waist, tied in an ornate bow at the back. The bows bounce and tails flutter as they briskly trotted toward the stools. Their skirts sway this way and that and their shoes clack on the hardwood floor. Some of their frocks are decorated with lace, some with frills and some have puffed sleeves, straight sleeves or no sleeves at all. I return with a stool and place it in position before perching upon it. I'd somehow forgotten about my nappy until I felt it cushion me. The boy next to me tells me not to sit on my sash. “Oh er...” I meekly say as I arrange my bow so it hangs unhindered behind me, just like the others.
The woman in charge of our group perches on a stool and begins to read us a story; a morality tale about a child with options but often takes the wrong path. She asks questions and prompts us to think about our answer for a moment first. Questions such as, Do you think it was right or wrong to give an honest opinion in X scenario? or How would you have felt if someone embarrassed you with the truth? I guess the lesson was that there's a time for telling the truth and a time for being tactful. For example, my mother asks if I like her new hairdo, I should be complimentary rather than apathetic or worse still, honest. If the police ask if I knew the kids I was with the night I got into this mess, I should have said yes rather than lying. I could have 'honestly' refuse to give their names, but denying that I knew them was wrong... although I still had my reasons for lying about that. “I'm sure you did.” the woman told me, before asking how long I have to attend Sunday school for.
“Er.... forty-eight weeks.” I replied. “Minimum” I added.
“And how long do you think you'd have to attend had you not lied about knowing your accomplices?” she asked. I didn't know. “Twenty-four weeks.” she informed me, before claiming that if I'd named them too, I’d have only been here for twelve weeks.
Three months, six months, eleven months... it all seems like far too long, but in retrospect, maybe I should have admitted to knowing them yet refused to name them, that way I’d have only had to come for six months instead of eleven. We spent the best part of an hour discussing the ins and outs of the story she'd read, as well as discussing our own misdemeanours and how we might have handled things differently. It was a long boring hour to spend perched on a stool with no backrest.
“Right... let's have some fun shall we?” the woman suggested after we'd returned our stools to the end of the hall. She asked for two volunteers and told them to fetch the net-stands; two long poles on weighted bases between which a badminton net hangs. We play balloon volleyball, but since there's seven in our group, one stands out leaving an even three on each side. But they don't just stand and watch... they're given a skipping rope to play with until three points have been scored, then they swap places with one member of the winning side. Playing balloon volleyball is far more sedate than proper volleyball but it's still good fun... I almost forgot I was wearing my dress for a few seconds here and there. When it was my turn to stand out, I confessed to not knowing how to skip when I was given the rope. “Well the important thing is you try.” the woman told me... and try I did. I also failed to get into the swing of it.
After five minutes out of the volleyball game, I hoped I'd be able to put the rope down and begin enjoying myself again, but the woman in charge of our group suggested that I continue practising my skipping. “Every girl I know can skip with a rope.” she said. “Why you boys struggle to do play such a simple game I honestly don't know.”
I continued trying and failing to skip as the others in my group played balloon volleyball. I felt like such a ninny in my prissy white dress, pelerine knee socks and girlie shoes, struggling to do something that girls find so simple. Afterwards, the woman asked if I have a skipping rope at home. I shook my head. She suggested that I ask my mother to buy me one and spend the week practising.
The next activity was the book group, and since it's my first time, all I can do is sit and listen to the readings and discussions. One is reading a book called Heidi, others read Malory Towers, Anne of Green Gables, The Lost Princess, What Katy Did and Polyanna. They all sounded like boring girl's books to me and listening the the passages read out, they were definitely boring girl's books. At the end of the book group session I was given a book to read. “Can I choose a different one?” I asked, on being given a book titled A Little Princess.
“You can have a different one after you've read this one.” I was told. “Now put it in your handbag so you don't lose it.” she said, before asking if I’ve wet my nappy yet. I shook my head and felt myself begin to blush. It's embarrassing enough having to wear one, let alone being asked if I’ve wet myself in front of the others.
“I have Miss.” one of the others meekly admitted.
“OK.” the woman said. “You can have a dry one after we've done some dancing.”
This turned out to be the worst activity of the day. The hour long English country dancing class involved having to hold hands with a boy, curtsey and follow the steps whilst some jaunty folk music blared out from a battered old cassette player. I found myself stepping back and forth, twirling in unison, skipping and prancing whilst my dress swished this way and that... and I hated every minute of it. I felt like such a sissy and by the looks of it, everyone else did too... girl's included.
We stopped for some lunch and the boy who'd wet himself was directed the changing room where I'd been battled into mine. At least ten others followed him, including the girl from our group. I figured everyone does have to wear one which somehow seemed more bizarre than just some of us. I remember in primary school, there was one boy whom the teacher claimed kept going to the toilet to get out of class... she got into big trouble after making him wear nappy one day and refusing to let him got to the bathroom. She may have felt justified in doing what she did even if it was wrong. The boy really did have a weak bladder. Why we have to wear nappies I've no idea. Making us boys wear dresses makes sense because as Mum said, there's no way I’m going to run off dressed like this.
We dine on triangular sandwiches with the crusts cut off, washed down with weak cordial in spill proof plastic beakers. Afterwards, we played balloon relay which is more fun that it sounds... but after an hour of country dancing, anything would be an improvement. Another sit and listen session followed, which was long and tiresome and wasn't helped by the fact that we had to sit on stools with no backrest. It was during this session that I timidly raised my hand and told the woman that I'd wet my nappy. She told me to wait until the end of the session. I could have cried as I sat for twenty five minutes in a wet nappy, but I didn't.
Having a wet nappy removed at the age of eleven is the most embarrassing thing I've ever endured... far worse than having to wear a dress. The lady who changed it was very nice though. She told me that I was far too old to be put into a nappy like a baby, and showed me how to put one on like a big boy should. “Why do we have to wear nappies?” I asked after fastening the humiliating garment around myself. This one has a picture of some flowers on the front. “We're not babies.” I added as she gave me a dry pair of rubber knickers.
“Why do you have to wear a dress?” she asked. “You're not a girl.” she added. I sighed and shrugged and said I didn't know. “Oh I think you do... you didn't end up at Sunday School for doing well at school did you?”
“No Miss.” I reluctantly replied. I pulled on the rubber knickers. Their tight elasticated leg holes bit into me. These were followed by my big baggy knickers with their rows of lacy trim on the bum and even more ruffled lace around the legs. They're not so baggy over my nappy. I returned to the main hall where the others were playing lava floor. A variety of mats, benches, tables and chairs had been arranged in a maze formation and the game is to go all the way around, stepping from mat to table to bench to chair without touching the wooden floor. The whole point is that it's tricky and that's what makes it so much fun.
“Have you enjoyed yourself?” my mother asked when we were dismissed. “You looked like you were having fun.” she added, having watched the last ten minutes of us playing lava floor.
“You must be Liam's mother.” one of the staff members asked.
“Yes.” Mum replied. “How's he got on?” she asked.
“Oh, fine for a first timer.” the woman replied. “He's been trying to skip with a rope but needs a bit more practice... I suggested he ask you to get him a skipping rope to play with at home.”
“Oh, er yes... of course.” Mum replied.
“He's got a book to read too, so he'll be able to actually participate in the book group next week.” the woman said to my mother. She turned to me and added. “...so you need to make sure you read it.”
“Yes Miss.” I meekly said.
The woman turned back to my mother and made me blush by informing her that I've had one nappy change and that I should still be dry, before asking me if I was. I gulped and blushed and nodded. “...and he's been shown how to put his own nappy on so next week, we shouldn't have to put him in one.” she said.
They said their goodbyes and we left. I didn't even notice that I’d been holding my mother's hand until we got to the car and she told me to let go. “Can I put my own clothes on when we get home?” I asked as she started the engine. “Oh mu-um.” I whined. “I've worn this all day!” I said.
“And you'll wear it for the rest of the day.” she replied... and that's exactly what I did.
The following week, Sunday school was much the same apart from three things; One, I arrived already wearing my nappy having reluctantly donned it myself. Two, I was a little more adept at skipping with a rope... and three, I had to read aloud a passage from A Little Princess in book group and answer questions about it. I'd read the entire book in a week, hoping I’d get something better, but was told that I'd have it for a month and was advised to read it again, making sure that I gave it my full attention rather than quickly skimming through it. It wasn't that bad I guess. I felt sorry for Sarah, loosing both her father and her privileged lifestyle... but even after being forced to work as a maid, she never lost her dignity. It reminded me of the first time I had to sit and wait for my wet nappy to be changed. Looking like a little girl, feeling like a toddler... and trying my best to preserve my dignity by not crying like a baby in front of everyone. Although I kept that out of my short talk on the book.
The country dance class involved a clapping routine which is really hard if like me, you don't know the routines... but the women who manage the Sunday School keep saying things like there's nothing wrong with not being good at something, practice doesn't always make perfect, trying to be better is better than being better... and all sorts of other stuff that I dong really 'get', but the basic message is that we try our best. In the afternoon, between the sit and talk sessions, I was paired up with one of the girls who was charged with teaching me some clapping routines which each had their accompanying rhyme. I couldn't practise the routines at home on my own but I could rehearse the rhymes, and I was told to learn the first ten by heart I time for next week's session.
At least I didn't have to wear my dress on the other days, but I did wear my knickers everyday, even at school. Mum would make me wear a training bra after changing out of my school uniform and expected me to wear until morning. I always took it off at night but Mum would check and wake me... telling me to put it on so after a while I just kept it on rather than being disturbed around midnight. Mum claimed that it's the same for all the boys at Sunday school, adding that some of them have to wear their nappies for bed as well as a training bra. “Why?” I asked. “We're all too big to wet the bed.”
“Probably because they kept taking their training bra off when they were told to keep it on.” Mum smugly said. Just like the dresses we were at Sunday school stop us from running off, the girlie undies I wear from Monday to Saturday serve as a constant reminder of Sunday school and supposedly stops us from forgetting what we're learning. I suppose I’m lucky that I don't have to wear it at school too... or a nappy at night either. There's already a big pack of them under my bed and I believe that the fact that I willingly wear them on Sunday is why I don't have to wear them more often. Some of the others complain about nappy rash and have to wear a special cream, but they're the ones who go to Saturday club and the after-school clubs too, and therefore wear theirs a lot more often than I wear mine.
My mates questioned why I wasn't doing PE class all of a sudden, and I told them that I’ve 'apparently' got Asthma. I spun a line that I had a medical check when I got arrested and it was discovered then, and claimed that the doctor said that I can't do PE in spite of me feeling fine. I discussed this lie at Sunday School because that's what we're encouraged to do, and the tutor dissected the excuse I'd used. She explained that in a roundabout way, I’d actually told the truth and changed a couple of facts. “You substituted Sunday school for asthma, you did have a medical check when you were arrested, but not the sort that would reveal you had asthma, and you substituted your mother pulling you out of PE class, for a doctor.” she said, calling it a defensive lie. “None of your school friends need to know about Sunday school... unless of course they end up here.” she said.
And there's another reason why I really can't grass my friends up... if I do they'll know exactly what I’ve been doing every Sunday because they'll be doing it too. I imagine after that scenario, they'd all gang up on me at school the next day and quite literally kill me! May not actually killed, but I imagine I’d get beaten up, and badly.
After attending for a couple of months, I resigned myself to the fact that this is what I do every Sunday. I don't like it, I don't look forward to it and I'd rather not have to do it... but I know I've got to go and whilst I’m there I've got try my best. Otherwise I'll face having to attend the Saturday club and potentially the after-school club too. From the group discussions, I learnt that the Saturday club is such the same as Sunday school but includes a two hour ballet class and everyone, boys included, all wear a pink leotard, pancake tutu and white tights with pink shoes. The rest of the time they wear 'normal' girl's clothes; being a dress, skirt & top, even shorts and partake in the usual discussion groups, games and a drama class.
The after-school club involves doing their homework and little else, and unlike Saturday Club and Sunday School which are hosted at the run-down community centre on the rough side of town, it's held at their own school! I dread the thought of having to attend that. The boys and girls who do each discreetly carry their two nappies, rubbers and frilly nappy covers in their school bag all day long. The after-school club is separate from other extra-curricular activities and detention groups and so far as I can make out, isn't really talked about. Stands to reason really... if had to go to a specific room after school every day and don a girl's uniform to spend three hours quietly doing my homework whilst wearing a nappy, giving me no excuse to leave my desk... I certainly wouldn't be making a song and dance about it.
So here I am, after a few months of Sunday school, trying my best to be honest yet tactful, to play fairly and nicely with the others, to dance and skip to the best of my ability, to engage myself in the reading and discussion groups and immerse myself in the books we're given to read... if I don't give it my all on Sunday I’ll have do it all weekend, and I’ll do all I can to avoid attending that dreaded two hour ballet class.
The second book I was given to read was Heidi and it was really really boring. I had it for a month and read it from cover to cover five times. I'm currently reading Anne of Green Gables, which is bigger and better but still not great... but just like A Little Princess and Heidi, there's supposedly lessons to be learned from the events and adventures the protagonists have... and every one is discussed on Sunday. The books may be boring but at least they're better than bible study.
After six months, I attend a meeting with my probation officer to see how I’m getting along. Having been told that honesty is paramount, I can honestly tell him that I don't enjoy Sunday School one little bit. It's humiliating and embarrassing and I can't wait 'til the day that I no longer have to attend. But until that day comes, I put myself into my nappy every Sunday morning before letting my mother button me into my dress and I don't complain about it... I daren't. The probation officer is pleased that I can finally admit to knowing the accomplices who'd vandalised Cooper's Quarry and accepted my apology for lying in the first place. He didn't pressure me to reveal their names though, not that I would if he had.
The only good thing about Sunday School is the fact that none of my friends know anything about it. I wouldn't know what to do if they found out but I have a feeling what they'd do if they did. I'd be shunned and teased, taunted and berated, bullied and belittled... day after day after day.
I thought nothing of getting home from school, changing out of my uniform and donning my training bra before some casual clothes. Even going to sleep and waking up in the unnecessary garment felt normal. I can barely remember how it felt stepping into boy's undies, let alone wearing them. My knickers are either big and baggy or tight and stretchy yet always pretty, with lace or ruffles, frills and a bow. As well as my girlie knee socks I've also got tights now and there's all sorts of different types; woolly ones, thin ones, skin coloured ones, patterned ones, a lacy pair, a pelerine pair and several different deniers. I prefer them to socks, especially now the temperature's dropped and even wear a nice warm pair under my boy's clothes sometimes. I carry a spare pair in my handbag, along with my nappies, rubbers and reading book, just in case the pair I’m wearing get snagged, laddered or damp.
As my forty-eighth week approached, my probation officer came to the Sunday School to observe my progress. I did everything right, from playing nicely with the others and trying my best when we did the country dancing, to being confident and positive in the discussion groups. He gave me a glowing report to give to the authorities, then dropped one final thing in my lap. “Are you ready to reveal the names of the others Liam?” he asked. “It's not too late to prosecute them, and if what you say is true, and I believe it is, they did most of the vandalising.” he said. I asked what would happen if I did reveal their names. “They'd go before the magistrate, just like you did, and they'll probably end up here, attending Sunday School.” he explained.
“And if I don't?”
“Well you were told that you'd attend for no less than forty-eight weeks...” he reminded me. “...and no more than forty-eight months.” he said. “Failing to reveal their names will mean that you'll continue to attend beyond the minimum term of forty-eight weeks.”
I didn't have to give him and answer there and then. He told me think long and hard about it and we'd revisit the issue on my forty-eighth Sunday School session. I did think long and hard but ultimately, I chose not to reveal their names... even if that does mean having to attend Sunday school until I'm fifteen years old, it's better than the repercussions of me grassing on them. Not to mention them finding out exactly what I go through each and every Sunday, from donning my nappy and being buttoned into a dress, to skipping and dancing and playing clapping games and in part, actually enjoying it. No thanks... even if it does mean each of them going through the exact same routine. I'll keep this to myself and prey that no one else from my school gets caught doing something bad enough to get sent here as well.