I am not sure exactly how old I was when it started. Probably around 9 or 10.
It was around Christmas time, and I sang a little children’s ditty. There are various versions, but here’s the version that was sung in our playground.
Jingle bells, Batman smells,
Robin flew away.
Father Christmas lost his whiskers,
(Sure, it doesn’t make much sense, but have you ever eaten curds-and-whey? sat on a tuffet? seen a spider sit? All good children’s poems are absurdist.)
My father, Joe, was amused by this rhyme; he hadn’t heard it before.
He made some comment that surprised me – he thought that, as I grew up, I would forget many of my childhood rhymes. I disagreed, and after some discussion, an offer was put on the table: If I gave my father one dollar that Christmas, then, on every Christmas Day after that that I could remember the poem, he would pay me 20c for the recital.
This was a tough bet to accept. At that age, a dollar was a lot of money for me. I was going to have to make some sacrifices, scrimping for the first five years until the debt was paid, but then I was going to be on Easy Street, collecting twenty cents a year, every year, for virtually no effort. I took up the bet, and paid over my dollar.
I collected a few twenty cent performance fees over the next few years, but then I started to forget – I remembered the words, but completely forgot about reciting them on Christmas Day. I hadn’t even collected my full dollar back.
Then came computers – or more accurately, computers with time cards, and AUTOEXEC.BATs.
One Christmas afternoon when I was about 17, Joe turned on the family computer, and asked me quizzically “What on Earth does this message ‘Batman smells!’ mean?”
“Ah ha!” I cried, recited the poem and reminded him of the bet, and demanded twenty cents. I was a lot more diligent in my collections after that.
One year, during a period of high interest rates, I worked out that, because I had missed a few key early years and with rates the way they were, I was never going to get the real-value of a dollar back. Fortunately, interest rates dropped again, and one year (when I was in my early thirties) no-one had any change, and I received a whole dollar as a performance fee.
Everyone was happy. I was on Easy Street, and my father had purchased a very cheap Christmas family tradition.
Unfortunately, my revenue stream has dried up this year. (Maybe, if I am lucky, this blog post will eventually achieve an advertising revenue of twenty cents per year! Fingers crossed.)
In the meantime, I wish you all a happy rest-of-their-lives, and remind you, if you are travelling on any airline during the holidays, pack your whiskers in your carry-on luggage to ensure they aren’t lost.
Oh, and I hope you don’t get stuck sitting next to Batman.