Survive The Jungle

Entry by: Phidgers

13th May 2016
Survive The Jungle

Whenever I smell mint, it takes me right back to The Jungle. It was an adventure play area, and it dominated my childhood. There were rope swings and monkey bars, ball pools and slides into them, netted obstacle courses and tunnels. And then there was Andrew Burrows, or ‘Tiger Stripe Andy,’ as all the kids knew him. He owned the place, and he was larger than life. He was tall and plump, with an infectious smile. No one ever seemed to question why he wore a bright yellow lion’s mane when he’d chosen to affix tiger to his name.

I first laid eyes on him when I was seven. He beamed up at me from an advert in my dad’s copy of The Braintree and Witham Times.

‘Come and brave the most daring of adventures!’ his speech bubble said. ‘Can you survive The Jungle?’

From that moment, he was everywhere in our house. I cut out the advert and stuck it to our fridge, using mum’s magnet that read ‘Work hard and you’ll be good enough for your cat.’ It also turned out that posters and leaflets for The Jungle were not hard to come by. I covered my walls, left them on the dining room table, and garnished them with pleas for my parents to take me.

Eventually, they got the hint. One Saturday morning, I bounded into our red Fiat Cinquecento (which was too small even when I was seven) and we drove all the way to Colchester. And there it was; a big warehouse on the edge of town, not far from the bottom of the town’s castle park gardens. I saw the sign on the outside; ‘The Jungle,’ in bright orange letters and right underneath it, ‘Can you survive The Jungle?’

As a kid, more was always better for me. Using ‘Jungle,’ twice on one sign told me that the inside was twice as good as I could have hoped. We went through the automatic entrance doors, and there he was. Tiger Stripe Andy himself was by the ticket booth, lion’s mane and all. He was even larger than his advert. I ducked under the entrance barrier and ran straight at him, ignoring my mum’s shout that we hadn’t paid yet.

‘Not to worry, all in good time!’ he said, taking my hand and shaking it heartily. I’d seen Dad shake his business associates by the hand before, and I felt like quite the grown up. I could hardly believe what was happening. I’d heard that Tiger Stripe Andy had been interviewed on BBC Essex, so he was a real life celebrity. That meant he probably knew Dave Benson Phillips from Get Your Own Back.

‘Do you know Dave Benson Phillips?’ I asked. Andy laughed, and I caught a whiff of his breath. I noticed a strong smell of mint, but it was mixed with something. The aroma was unlike anything I had smelled before. I immediately named it ‘Jungle Mint,’ in my mind, and thankfully, I would not understand it for many years.
‘I think I’d get on famously with Dave,’ he said. ‘But what’s your name, young man?’

‘Jamie Stocker and I’m seven and three quarters and is it true you went on the radio?’ I said in a rush.

‘Yes indeed,’ he replied. ‘I must be getting along now, but it was just splendid to meet you, Jamie. I think you’ll survive The Jungle for sure. Why not go and get your wristband from mum and dad? Then the fun really begins!’

He shook my hand again, gave a nod to my parents and then strode off through a side door.

‘Where the hell’s that invoice?’ I heard him shout as it closed. I thought an invoice must be some kind of wild creature. Dad put my wristband on for me. It was a rubber one, like the ones at swimming pools for your locker key, but it was orange, like the sign. It read ‘one hour pass,’ on the side.

I then had one of the best times of my childhood, running through the obstacles, going down the slides and getting more than halfway across the monkey bars. Most of all though, I loved the rope swings. The largest of them dangled above one of the ball pools, and all the kids went for it. I wasn’t one of the big nine or ten year olds, so I had to wait for ages, but eventually I got to have a go.

An older kid called Josh said he’d push the rope for me, and I realised he was the coolest person in the world.

‘When I grow up I want to be like Josh and Tiger Stripe Andy!’ I declared as we left. I was red in the face and my Power Rangers t-shirt had chocolate stains all down it, courtesy of an easily melted snack from a vending machine. That meant I had got exactly what I came for.

Throughout my childhood, I went to The Jungle as often as I could. My parents reluctantly sacrificed at least one Saturday morning a month, probably wondering when I was going to get bored. That didn’t happen until I was about twelve, which was lucky, because you were only allowed to go until you were thirteen.

‘That’s a bridge I’m glad we didn’t have to fall off,’ I heard Mum say to my aunt when I was about fifteen. My one disappointment was that I never got to meet Tiger Stripe Andy again. Dad said I had just been there at the right time, and he probably worked more behind the scenes, not out with the customers. As it turned out, he was occupied with other things.

I was watching the news when I was eighteen, a few weeks before I went to study history at Cardiff University. I was looking forward to getting out from under the rules of my parents and the financial restrictions of youth. Then, I was reminded of a part of my childhood that I was not ready to lose.

‘Local entrepreneur Andrew Burrows has been found dead at his former business address,’ the newsreader said. ‘The Police are not treating his death as suspicious. Burrows, forty-nine, known to most as Tiger Stripe Andy, had recently split with his wife of twenty years. He had been treated for depression, and had struggled with a long running addiction to drugs and alcohol.’

Over the coming weeks, a slew of information came out about Andy. When his play area opened, he had been a constant presence on the public side of things. However, his appearances became more sparse as his personal life untangled. He got waist deep in debt, and was not able to keep The Jungle running. It had closed down two years earlier, and the site had been left derelict. I could not believe that I had not even heard about it.

In August 2014, Andrew had broken into the warehouse. Apparently, much of The Jungle’s apparatus was still there. After drinking a whole bottle of whiskey, he had hung himself from a rope swing. I wondered if it was the one that Josh had pushed me on, all those years ago.

He had grown up in White Notley, just outside of Braintree, so The Braintree and Witham times printed an obituary. They used an up to date photo of Andrew at his niece’s birthday, which I hardly recognised. I expected the lack of lion’s mane, but there was more to it than just his white polo shirt and jeans.

He had gained a considerable amount of weight, and there were dark bags under his eyes. His dark hair was thinning and going grey. Perhaps it was just because of hindsight, but I thought his smile looked forced, and that his suicide was already written in his eyes.

Every now and then, something makes me think of The Jungle and its unfortunate owner. During my University freshers’ week, I went to a house party. I’d made friends with a guy named Mike, and he had an obsession with expensive alcohol.

‘Try this, Jamie,’ he said that night. ‘It’s Bourbon.’

As I put the glass to my lips, I got a whiff of the alcohol, and found myself hit with a powerful wave of nostalgia. Suddenly, I was back in The Jungle, and I was seven years old again. Tiger Stripe Andy was roaring with laughter. His mid morning breath smelled of bourbon, mixed with a mint smell that was probably mouthwash.

‘Jungle mint,’ I whispered as I took a sip. ‘Here’s to you Andy.’