Hula Hoops Were My Downfall by Clare Reddaway

My name is Myfanwy Jones, and this is my confession: Hula Hoops were my downfall.

Now you might be imagining that I’m referring to the tasty savoury snack easily purchased from your local convenience store, and I’ve noticed some of you tutting at my waistline already, so perhaps you have leapt to the erroneous conclusion that I have been over-indulging in those salty morsels. But I’m talking about the other hula hoop which our preacher called ‘the Devil’s plaything’.

Some of you might remember the craze for the hula hoop. It was the first of the great crazes. It swept the world, the whole world except, perhaps, Russia which was, of course, the Soviet Union then if you recall, and in the grip of a regime that saw the hoop as an embodiment of the capitalist menace. But here in Wales, children took to the concept of a craze with alacrity. Hula hoops were everywhere: on television, in advertisements and even the magazines were full of hooping tips. And all of the luckiest, richest and most spoilt children in my school arrived on the first day of term with a hoop slung through their satchel, casual like.

So. Me and Angharad, my best friend who lived three down, were not rich, and our parents were very proud of the fact that we weren’t spoilt – oh no, not at all. We wanted to be spoilt. We wanted a hoop. We begged and we wheedled and we cried and we screamed. We didn’t comprehend why we could not have one. There was nothing simpler: a hoop, used from time immemorial by small boys to roll along the street with a stick. The difference with the hula, of course, was that you didn’t bowl it along the street, you rolled it around your midriff, see, with a swish and a wiggle of your hips. It was Elvis all over again. I suppose it made my Ma and my Da think of just one thing – fornication. Well, to tell you the truth, I suppose most things reminded the grownups in our street of fornication. The old man at number 44 even had a pop at the sack race. Really, you wouldn’t want to see inside of his head.

But Angharad and me, well, we itched to have a go. Indeed, if we didn’t have a go with our very own hoops, Angharad and I thought that we would, without a doubt and with no advance warning, die.

So, if they won’t buy it for us, we thought, we’ll have to get hoops ourselves. We had pocket money, of course, but somehow it never managed to stretch. The lure of the sherbet lemons that Davy Evans sold at his corner shop was too strong. The sensation of the sherbet exploding on the tongue, like a thousand fireworks on bonfire night, could not be beaten. So, all we had on that first day of the autumn term was one sixpenny bit between us, and that wouldn’t buy us the paper bag that the hula hoop came in.

I am not proud of the solution that we found. Angharad and I were not bad girls, although if you look at the way we turned out you might be forgiven for disagreeing. We were obedient. We brushed our hair, we knew our French irregulars and had our twelve times table down pat. But now that I am old, I do think that the Chapel had it right: There was something in the lure of the hula hoop that would turn a girl’s head. That would remind a girl that her Da had a roll of notes that he kept in the toby jug on the mantelpiece over the fireplace, the toby jug with the face of Kier Hardy and which played the Red Flag when you picked it up. The roll of notes that was there for a family emergency, and no-one, not even Angharad and me in the fever of our lust for the hula hoop, could say that this was a family emergency. But that did not stop me from coming home from school one Wednesday afternoon when the house was empty and reaching into that toby jug, taking out the roll, and removing a fresh, new five pound note from the middle of the stash before quickly rolling it up and putting it straight back into Kier Hardie with not so much as a backwards glance as I dashed out of the door and up to Angharad’s house with the note burning the fingers that had stolen it.

I would like to say that I was caught and punished for my misdemeanour. But I wasn’t. My Da looked worried when he counted the notes and I did hear Ma shouting at him about spending his money on drink and not saving for the family emergency which she hoped would not come this Saturday as there was hardly enough to cover a 3rd class train ticket to Cardiff, if that was where the emergency took us. Da stayed away from the public house for a good while after that. But he didn’t suspect me. He trusted me.

I would also like to tell you that the hula hoops the money bought for us turned to ashes in our hands. But that would be a lie. Oh, the rapture the first time we touched those thin bands of plastic. Mine was orange as a lolly. Angharad’s was the bright green of arsenic.

So, let me tell you what it feels like when you hoool your hoop. At the beginning, it fell straight down, and it was really quite a while before I managed to get it to stay up at all. The sweat was pouring off me and I was bright red in the face, but the first time I managed to tame that hoop, spinning it around my waist for one whole minute, made me as proud as any other achievement in my life before or since.

Angharad and I were obsessed. We hulaed on our way to school and as far as the school gates. The school did not allow hula hoops in the playground. A danger, they said. To whom, I ask? After all, you can hang yourself with a skipping rope if you are so inclined. My Da banned the hoop inside the house after I smashed his favourite porcelain statuette of Nye Bevan with a wild hoop lunge. So there we were, out in the street, hulaing until all hours, and we became quite a neighbourhood sight, although I say it myself. The day I managed to get the hoop to rise up my body and glide along my arm until I was twirling it on the tips of my fingers, I raised a cheer the like of which our street had not heard since the Lions beat France 21-zero in Cardiff. Evan Jones was particularly partial to leaning on the wall and passing a sarky comment as he sucked his liquorice string.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that the downfall was me and Evan Jones and that a wee Jones was soon screeching up from a carrycot in the hall of Da and Ma’s house. You’re thinking that it must have been hard swinging that hoop when I was 9 months gone. Well, you’re wrong and your minds are as filthy as him at no 44. The wee Jones was at Angharad’s house – but that came later.

I mention Evan now because it was Evan who showed us the flyer. Hula Hoop competition, it said, in Cardiff, November 19th, Saturday. All welcome. Trying to break the world record, they said, for most hoops twirled all at the same time. Well. What would hold us back? Not Ma and Da who said that Cardiff was too far, that I was too young, and that hula hooping was a foolish pastime and that I’d do better to concentrate on my schoolwork. But I was wayward. Angharad was the same. Which is how we found ourselves on the side of the road to Cardiff, wearing our shortest skirts, our hair neatly brushed and our thumbs out to passing traffic, with Evan Jones crouched in the bushes out of sight. He was there for protection, he told us.

The competition was the pinnacle of our hula hooping experience. There were 463 hoopers, all in one playground, and a bald man with a megaphone shouting, ‘twist, girls, twist.’ We twisted and we rolled and we kept those hoops up, swinging round our waists, until our hips were numb and the muscles in our legs were screaming. Angharad and I, were, without doubt, the best hoopers. I’ll say that for Evan Jones, he did agree that we had the edge with our sashay. The BBC was filming for the news that night. I couldn’t resist. I shimmied to the front, even though I knew that Ma and Da would be watching and they thought we were three streets away at the flicks mooning over Kirk Douglas in Spartacus.

We hitched a lift back home that night. Angharad and Evan found the competition to be a powerful aphrodisiac, and that was that for Angharad and me because, from then on, you’d think that she was stitched to Evan. He told her he preferred her to liquorice strings. Oh, the romance.

Ma and Da were waiting for me with garden shears. They snipped my hoop into small orange nuggets, each one the size of a thumb. They said that should be a lesson to me. But, they said, they hoped the perseverance and dedication that I’d put into mastering my hoop might be put to better use on improving my schoolwork. I had learnt that practice makes perfect, they said. I didn’t mind. I felt that I’d taken the hoop as far as it could go, onto live TV and countrywide fame, albeit for only 30 seconds.

But it had got under my skin, see. Not the hooping so much, nor indeed the lying and the stealing, in case you thought that you were seeing me fresh from a prison cell, brought low by a life of crime. I’m not above lying and stealing, mind, but not for the love of it.

For me, the irresistible, insatiable craving, the itch, is for the latest object of popular desire. To hold it in my hands is ecstasy. To crack its code, to bend it to my will. Take clackers. Remember them? Two balls on a string, what could be simpler? I twitched and shook them and became an expert with all the moves – over the hill, round the corner, backwards, eye closed. Clackers are dangerous, the government said, they’ll blind you, we’ll ban them. Well, I could have told them what a bit of banning does – you can’t buy that publicity. Forbidden fruit, so tasty. Then it was space hoppers. Frisbees. Cabbage patch dolls. Beanie babies – there was no skill there, it was the acquisition, the rarity value. Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles, Pokémon, Gameboy – oh, I loved my Gameboy – Tamagotchi, I had 135, all different, all demanding. And the Rubik’s cube! My fastest time was three minutes 45 seconds. I believe the record is 5.55 seconds.

‘You’re a grown woman, Myfanwy Jones,’ my second husband said as he stormed out of the house. ‘Why do you have to fill the dishwasher with Ferbies?’ ‘There’s nowhere else to put them,’ I told him, but he was too far down the street to hear.

I blame the hula hoop for my downfall, I do. My name is Myfanwy Jones, and I am addicted to crazes.

Clare Reddaway writes stories and plays from her home in Bath. She has been published by Barren Magazine, Fictive Dream, Fairlight, Storgy, Blue Nib, and Fly on the Wall. Last year she had a story shortlisted for the Bridport, hurrah! She likes wild swimming, wild hares and wild laughter. Twitter: @CReddaway