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Memories of Childhood: Worst, T-Shirt, Ever!



"My glamorous youth."
My step-father had four main interests in life; Elvis Presley, Star Trek, 1970's Action Man dolls, and World War Two. Being born in 1967, the first three were understandable – if not regressive. However, his World War Two fascination bear little resemblance to a general interest in the social or technological aspects of this brutal period of history, and instead of respecting the bravery and agony of those who fought in the conflicts had to endure, for him, World War Two was glamorous, heroic, and a cause of celebration; especially if you were a Nazi...

By Western standards, I had a poor childhood. A life surrounded in broken homes and unemployed parents; where finance was separated into 20% bingo hot-lines, 15% cigarettes, 5% cheap Pizzas from Iceland to feed us with, and 60% keeping our step-father gratified. In 1994 I am 13-years-old, and living in the grim flat-bricked council housing systems of Milton Keynes, England (pictured), which we had moved to from our native London a year previous; though why I am still unsure of. At this point our family are no longer an Island but two separate colonies, connected with a peninsula as thin as Phil Collins hairline. While my elder brother and father remain in London, I live with my mother, stepfather, and five younger siblings.
 
No one drives, and holidays are non-existent. Every second Thursday the government pays a welfare check to our household, and for three days we live like kings; drinking actual Coca-Cola and Iceland brand crisps. Come Monday we are back on the breadline, and for ten days we live off lard sandwiches, tea and reruns of Unsolved Mysteries. My brothers and I handle this in the manner tough kids who know no better do, but it was hard. Not because we had so little, but because our stepfather had so much; Action Men, Elvis mirrors, Star Trek videos, Frey Bentos pies galore - you name it, he had it.

He also owned clothes; piles of clothes. While he wore fresh denim shirts and Reebok trainers, we spent our days scrapping around in school uniform; even on weekends. The only exception I can remember was the 1991 oversized Leeds United home shirt from the charity shop I wore; even though I support Arsenal. So when my secondary school announced an end of term non-uniform Friday, I knew my step-father; who had a habit of sharing nothing and enjoying the process of saying so, was going to take a mountain of convincing.

"Worst. T-Shirt. Ever."
It took a few weeks of asking, making him endless cups of coffee in the 1 litre mug he drunk from, and pretending to give a shit about the Luftwaffe or the latest escapades of Jean Luc Picard, but eventually he allowed me one day only to wear one of his "prized" items; a white cotton t-shirt carrying a graphic of notorious evil bastard Adolf Hitler, giving a Nazi salute above the map of Europe (pictured), under the banner “Hitler European Tour 1939 – 1945.” I don’t know if he choose this shirt as a spiteful joke on my part, or because he had grown bored of it, but I didn't care. To me it was the equivalent of wearing a silk shirt woven by the hands of Jesus; not because of the appalling message the shirt carries, but the fact it was clean cotton.  

That Friday I wore the t-shirt to school; firmly convinced the clothing was an ironic statement against Adolf Hitler and his particular brand of heartless bullshit; the crossing off of England and Russia as being cancelled, as well as the Berlin Bunker reference, enough to suggest it was in fact a statement of his eventual failure. Being a school dominated by white lower-middle class students from surrounding areas, I received few comments; though I am certain most quietly assumed I was a backward thinking right-wing hateful scumbag. I can remember as the day wore on feeling more and more uncomfortable; and not just because the cotton was chaffing on my armpits. That evening I went home, gave him back the t-shirt, and never wore it again; not that I ever wanted to...

Six years later - a little older, wiser, and now an adult and living back in London with my real Father; who was smart enough to realise the Nazi's were wankers, and preferred listening to cricket while wearing Steve Winwood t-shirts covered in cigarette burns, I stroll through Camden Town, where I come across the t-shirt once again. I think back to 1994 as a simple question rolls over and over in my head… “What the hell was I thinking!” This item wasn’t an ironic statement against the failure of the Nazi’s, it was making a mixture of light and profit from the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. I walked around all day at school telling all in my view: “Yeah, that twisted looney who caused the death of six million innocent Jews, and almost obliterated civilisation and democratic freedom – he was cool!” If I were Jewish and had met myself at that age on that day, I’d have probably kicked my own arse.

Maybe I was misguided, perhaps I had some secret admiration for the manner in which the Germans rose to power; not that I have ever felt that I did. In the end, I think I simply convinced myself the design was okay, in order to wear a clean cotton t-shirt for once in my life; and not feel like I belonged to a group of dirty pikeys, who simply lucked out on a council house. I am thankful I could grow up around racism, just to realise how ridiculous and ignorant it is; but it is hardly an ideal method to teach such a lesson. As far as my step-father is concerned? I never saw that t-shirt again, and he never changed his view on the far-right. Six years later he purchased a full Nazi uniform - including signature pips and hat; which he happily wore around the North-Hertfordshire town he resided in.

I guess the time those black guys befriended him and got him drunk; just to steal his Elvis CD's, was karma of the sweetest order. But I will tell you about this another time...

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