It all began with a bet. With my dad. For actual money.
I was about 13 years old and my bedroom walls were plastered with posters of animals rather than pop stars. I don’t think I was a normal teenager. I’d chosen animals simply because at that age it was either boys or furry things with 4 legs, and since my crushes tended to be on the likes of Clint Eastwood and Omar Sharif, my options were fairly limited.
I also had this wonderful factual poster all about the Amazon rainforest ecosystem. It had a cool picture of a native indian and information about fascinating animals like the tapir (a name I’m still not sure how to pronounce). I’d pinched it from a 1992 National Geographic Magazine in my parent’s vast collection in the study and from that day became obsessed with all things Amazonian.
Around the dinner table on my 13th birthday Dad commented that now I was a teenager I’d be more interested in boys and make-up than the wide world, and my bedroom walls would suddenly become adorned with the pin-ups whose self-indulgent wailings had somehow captured the hearts of so many of my peers.
I of course challenged this rather indignantly. That wasn’t going to happen to me, I was different. And there it was, the gauntlet laid down. Dad bet me the princely sum of £50 (a fortune to a 13 year old in the 90′s) that by the time I was 16 my preference would have changed, and I’d be sharing my room with hunks rather than hedgehogs. I of course didn’t hesitate to take him up on this, although quite how he would have expected me to pay him if I lost I have no idea.
The years rolled slowly past, with the bet rarely mentioned, but I’d certainly not forgotten and stuck rigidly to my guns. Dad would occassionaly poke his head around the door and cast an amused eye over the latest additions to the collection, perhaps a poster about the Antarctic, or a couple of bottle-nose dolphins. Odd really, since I’ve never really been an animal person.
Little did he know however that by the time I was 15, hidingbehind those innocent cute and fluffies were the sinful beginnings of a collection of leather jacketed popstars with too much hair gel. I didn’t really know who any of them were, and wasn’t particularly interested, it was all about the thrill of getting away with it.
So I turned 16, and could barely contain my smugness. I’d done it, and had just earnt myself a tidy sum (which I could now go and spend on make-up and boys!). Dad however, didn’t seem to have remembered, and as the day wore on and presents were all opened my heart sank. Perhaps he’d discovered Jason James Richter (at least he was in a film with a whale, does that count?) lurking behind the iceberg, or several Clints inside my wardrobe, and my game was up?
I nervously went down to dinner, wondering whether to say anything, when I noticed an envelope on my plate. I tore it open, expecting another birthday message. Instead, it was a card from Dad, saying how he was a ‘sucker’ and would always honour his debts. Tucked away inside were 5 shiny new £10 notes.
I felt slightly guilty that I hadn’t quite stuck to my word, but reasoned that his exact words had been “you’ll prefer boys and make-up to wildlife” and I could, with confidence say that was definitely not the case.
To this day he doesn’t know about the secret posters, so if you’re reading this Dad, sorry!
But as Clint Eastwood once said, “everybody’s got a right to be a sucker once”.
I still have that birthday card, and the Amazon poster, as I believe that’s where my passion for discovering the world really began. I wanted to know about the places all those animals came from! So perhaps if Dad hadn’t made that rash bet, I might not be sitting here today writing a travel blog. Who knows. What I do know is that I still own very little make-up, still don’t fancy pop stars, and have progressed from having animal posters to being the proud owner of 10 Indian stick insects and a couple of goldfish named after Greek Gods. Make of that what you will.