Monday, 22 August 2016

CHILDHOOD CAPERS - CHAPTER ONE...


Image copyright DC COMICS

It was around 1970/'71, and myself and two pals were leaning
on a railing outside a row of apartments above the neighbourhood
shops.  Passing below were three thuggish, slightly older females who
hung around with the local neds.   They glared up at us.  "Whit ur you
f*ckin' lookin' at?"  they trilled in their delicate, girlish way (sarcasm).
"Dunno - the label's fallen off!" I yelled back.  The gauntlet had been
thrown, and the nedettes responded by mounting the stairs, their
Doc Martins pounding the steps in pursuit of ourselves.

I say 'pursuit' because the moment I opened my gob, the other
two legged it and I followed.  These girls were bigger and older than
us, and as hard as nails.  Having been brought up never to hit a 'girl',
we'd have been at a distinct disadvantage trying to defend ourselves
against the furious assault that was surely forthcoming.  We fled
past the front of the apartments towards the door to the in-
terior stairway which led down to the shops below.

We reached the bottom door with a sigh of relief.  Once we
were through that exit, our safety was secure and an inglorious
fate would be avoided.  Alas, 'twas not to be - the door was locked,
being early evening, and that avenue to freedom was denied us.  We
considered going back up the stairs to the first floor offices above the
shops and below the apartments, and using the corridor leading to
the library to escape.  Too late!  We heard the 'girls' on the steps
and realized discovery was imminent.  What to do?

Then I had a brainwave!  The bottom flight of stairs wasn't
closed off, allowing us to seek shelter under them, so I beckoned
my comrades to conceal themselves as I did likewise.  We bunched
together tightly, as the merest glance under the stairway would've re-
vealed our presence, and tried hard not to make a noise.  The nedettes
pushed and pulled at the locked door, then grunted in frustrated rage.
"They must've got out on the first floor!" one snorted.  We expected
them to return to the upper levels again, but they plonked them-
selves down on the steps above us and each lit up a cigarette.

We moved not a muscle and feared even to breathe, lest we
betray ourselves.  After a seeming eternity (but was actually only
a couple of minutes or so), they ascended the stairs and made their
exit, amidst much muttering and detailed descriptions of what damage
they'd inflict if they saw us.  We stayed rigid for a few moments longer,
but once their voices were no longer audible, we exhaled a collective
sigh of relief.  What a narrow escape and we knew it.  I can't recall
any other moment in my life when I felt more alive, every sense
attuned to my surroundings, and I'm sure my two friends felt
the same.  (I wonder if they even remember it now?)

Even today, I think back to that moment and recall how
I felt at the time;  the excitement, the exhilaration, the fear,
and, of course, the sheer relief and gratitude at having survived
a precarious predicament unscathed.  It was like something from
Investigators or a Mission Impossible tale - a truly thrilling
moment that lives on forever in my mind, and reminds me that, once,
my life was more than the uneventful series of events that it is now.  I
felt like James Bond, even 'though, at that time, I'd not yet seen a
Bond film.  However, I knew that anyone who had a real car like
my Corgi Toys Aston Martin must be a cool guy in the face
of danger - much like myself, in fact (he said, modestly), as
the tale I've just related surely testifies.

Okay, so, technically, we ran away from three girls - but
that's only because we didn't want to hurt them.  (Well, that's
my story and I'm darn well sticking to it.  Wanna argue?)


Ever been in a similar situation?  Then let's hear all about it
in the comments section, o fellow mellows.  Spill the beans!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

PART TEN OF SCHOOLTIME SCANDALS - THE LABRADOR 'SAUSAGE' DOG...



Mr. CURRY was the janitor of the second primary
school I attended.  He lived in the end house of the fourth row
down from mine, straight across from the school, and his house
came with the job.  Imagine my surprise when, a year or two after
we'd flitted to a new house and neighbourhood, I noticed that Mr.
Curry had become janitor of the primary school just around the
corner from us.  His house (that again came with the job)
stood in splendid isolation in the school grounds.

Before flitting, I'd been a secondary school pupil for
nearly two years, but Mr. Curry was still a regular sight on
account of him passing my house to or from the pub on the far
side of the shops across the street.  It was therefore a tad strange
when, after we'd flitted, he again became a regular sight to me in
my perambulations around my new neighbourhood, either when
I passed the school on my way to the town centre, or saw him
walking home from his local public house.  He liked a drink,
did Mr. Curry.  Died quite a few years ago now.

Let's now jump back to when I was yet living in my
former neighbourhood and was still a primary school pupil,
sometime around 1968, give or take a year either way.  While
gazing out of the window of the annexe huts across from the main
building one afternoon, I saw Mr. Curry taking a kick at a golden lab-
rador which appeared to be seeking shelter in the doorway.  His
kick may have connected, but I couldn't say with certainty after
all this time.  I was shocked to see an adult behave in such a
heartless manner towards one of man's best friends, and
felt sorry for the poor animal.

The very doorway.  The school was demolished
nearly two years ago.  Photo taken circa 1984

Later that evening, coming back from a pal's house, I
saw that the dog was again sheltering in the school doorway.
Had it been abandoned?  Was it lost?  Or had it tracked down
its young master to the school and was now faithfully waiting for
him to emerge from the building, not realizing that he'd gone home
hours before?  I told my father about the dog, and, along with my
brother, we went down to the school and brought the dog home
with us.  It was a friendly animal, and hungrily scoffed the
cold link sausages we fed it from the fridge.

My father, who worked for the police, arranged for
them to collect the poor dog and house it in their kennels
'til collected by its lawful owners.  He later informed us that the
canine had been claimed, but even at the young age I then was, I
wondered if he was telling us what had actually happened or what
he knew we wanted to hear.  Many years later, I saw inside the
station kennels for strays, and they were the dirtiest, smelliest,
vilest quarters imaginable.  To think that, if the dog wasn't
reunited with its owners, it had spent its last days in
such conditions is awful to contemplate.

I never much liked Mr. Curry after that, 'though, truth to
tell, I hadn't much liked him before, but he fell even further in
my estimation from then on.  Strange thing is, whenever I see
a golden labrador now, I can't help but think of that poor beast
from so long ago, and still find myself hoping that it was a
happy ending all round for the dog and its owners.

Sometimes there are some things we're better
not knowing, don't you think?  Just in case.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

"WHEN GIANTS WALKED THE EARTH!" PART NINE OF SCHOOLTIME SCANDALS...


A bit of photoshop at work here, I believe

don't remember her name, but I do remember what
she looked like.  She taught English (I think) in a room of one
of the annexed huts at the back of my secondary school's main
building.  I don't recall how the topic came up (talking about DAVID
and GOLIATH perhaps), but I suddenly tuned in to what she was
saying when I heard her say that giants had never existed. 

I knew that wasn't necessarily true.  Didn't my ENCYCLO-
PAEDIA BRITANNICA Anthology say otherwise?  You can
bet your last ROLO it did!  Here's part of what it said:

Remains of Giants

January 11.  1613, some masons digging near the ruins of
a castle in Dauphine, France, in a field which (by tradition) had
long been called the giant's field, at the depth of 18 feet discovered a
brick-tomb 30 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 8 feet high;  on which was a
grey stone, with the words Theutobochus cut thereon.  When the tomb
was opened, they found a human skeleton entire, 25 feet and a half long,
10 feet wide across the shoulders, and five feet deep from the breast-
bone to the back.  His teeth were about the size each of an
ox's foot, and his shin bone measured four feet.

It goes on to list other examples, but the one above will
suffice for the purpose of this post.  I couldn't remember the
exact details when I put my hand up to point out her 'error', but
I knew I had the book back home which revealed the rashness of
her claim.  I told her (in the politest of terms, naturally) that (if the
EB accounts were true) she was wrong, but she pooh-poohed my
earnest assertion with the assured, contemptuous manner of the
intellectually superior towards the gullible and superstitious,
and heaped scorn and derision on my head.

The very book I took to school in 1971 or '72

"There's no such thing as giants!  Only the most unedu-
cated of people would ever believe they once existed," she
mocked, dismissing me with a wave.  Next day, I brought in
the very book and showed it to her in front of the class.  As she
read, she paled, then blushed, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
She might be able to look down her nose at me, but the
Encyclopaedia Britannica was a different matter.

She spoke, but her voice was hoarse.  She cleared her
throat, then stuttered and stammered her reply.  "Er, there's
no such thing as giants, but there were tall men.  I never said
that there weren't tall men.  This was obviously just tall man -
a very tall man," she said lamely.  The class sniggered at her
desperate and unconvincing efforts to extricate herself from
an embarrassing situation of her own making.

"Well, 25 and a half feet seems pretty gigantic to
me - but regardless of their exact height, that's what
they called 'very tall men' back then - 'giants'," I said.  "And
what about the other examples?" I continued, triumphant in my
vindication.  "Tall men, just very tall men," she blustered, trying to
cling on to her credibility.  Too late!  It had vanished like a thief in
the night, and yet another teacher had learned the folly of under-
estimating me.  Neds they could deal with, but  I represented an
altogether different kind of challenge - one that they routinely
found themselves ill-equipped to tackle.  (Yeah, you can
feel the ego there, can't you?)

She always tried to avoid my gaze after that.  We both
knew who had come off second-best in our little encounter
and doubtless she didn't want to be reminded of it should
our eyes meet across the classroom.  Teachers, eh?

Famous 'giant' Robert Wadlow

The full extract.  Click to enlarge

******

(What she should have said, of course, was that she
was talking about fairy-tale giants who lived in castles in
the sky, or that the excerpts in the book reflected the know-
ledge and opinions of earlier times, which had since been
supplanted by subsequent discoveries and enlightenment.
However, she wasn't quick-thinking enough for that.)

Monday, 11 April 2016

'TOMORROW' SEEMS EVER CLOSER, 'YESTERDAY' SO VERY FAR AWAY...


The world-famous Nardini's

I took a little trip into the past not long ago and visited Largs
and Millport for the first time since 1971.  It was an experience
that I'm not quite sure how I feel about, nor am I sure whether my un-
certainty is something I can adequately express.  The reason being that
there was enough that was still recognizable to recapture glimpses of my
past, but there had also been a few changes which somewhat prevented
me from being able to fully immerse myself in yesteryear.  If I'd continued
in a state of unawareness of present conditions, the place as it had been
would have remained alive to me forever in the evergreen land of
memory, but now, alas, I'm all too aware that things are no
longer as they once were, which saddens me.

The new pier, buily around five years ago

A new pier, the old war-mine and toy boating pond long-gone,
the paddle-boat pond now used for remote-control model ships, the
amusement arcade on the beach-front converted to other pursuits, the
pier at Millport no longer visited by the ferry (thereby requiring a bus trip
to and from the ferry's 'new' drop-off and pick-up point) - all this and more
took a bit of the shine off my return to the holiday haunts of myself and my
family back in the dim and distant days of 1968, '69 & '71.  I know that my
parents and brother returned at intervals, even if only on day-trips, but
those were experiences in which I never shared, and therefore
my memories are time-locked into a specific period which
remained inviolate - until recently, that is.

A stroll along the seafront

One thing that did please me was finding that the toy shop
in Millport from which I had bought my STEVE ZODIAC and
ZOONY The LAZOON friction-drive JETMOBILE in 1968, was still
in business.  MAPES, it's called, and 'though it had closed for the day
by the time I arrived, I could see from a glance through the windows that
it seemed to be the same inside as it was in my day.  New stock obviously,
but apparently the same general design and layout as on my visit 48 years
previously.  The bus driver informed me that the gentleman who ran the
shop back then (Mr, Mapes, I think it's safe to say) was his next-door
neighbour and that the shop is still family-run today. 

The Waverley - "goin' doon the watter"

So, in some ways a rewarding experience, but in others a disap-
pointing one.  Who knows, perhaps my memories of my recent visit
will eventually recede, and allow my previous fond recollections to
resurface in the ascendant once more;  then Largs and Millport as
they were will live again, allowing me to re-walk their seaside
streets as I knew them when I was a boy.

In the meantime, here's a brief photographic tour
through Largs and Millport as they are today.

The street (or one very much like it in close proximity) where
we stayed in 1971.  Our house was one with an upstairs room
   
Might even have been this one

Formerly the paddle-boat pond...

...now used for remote-control models

Adjoining flower area

Replica Viking ship outside The Vikingar Centre

Amazing the folk you meet in Largs

And now we're in Millport...

...where peace and serenity reign

The narrowest house in the world.  No -
I didn't know it was in Millport either

Mapes - where I bought my jetmobile toy in 1968...

...before hot-footing it back to the pier so as not to miss the ferry

The Royal George Hotel at the pier entrance

A medieval-looking church tower in the distance

The pier where the ferry once  plied its trade - but
not for 40-odd years, according to the bus driver

And here's a little friend I brought back with
me from Largs.  Cute little nipper, ain't he?

FOOTNOTE:  It was an odd feeling to return from Largs
to a different home than the one in which I was living back in '68,
'69 & '71.  So associated is Largs with that particular time in my life,
that I feel I should've gone back to my old house rather than the one
in which I now stay, had my tea, then ran around the field I used to play
in just over the road (which would've been difficult as it no longer exists).
From my present dwelling I only ever holidayed in Blackpool, so had I
revisited there instead, it would've felt more natural to return here.
I now find myself curiously overwhelmed by the sensation that
I'm out-of-step with my proper timeline.  Weird, eh?

Saturday, 12 March 2016

A DOGGIE TALE...


Zara circa December 1987

was in the back garden filling my bird feeders the other day (as I
do every day) and, coming in through the porch door, I spied scratches
in the paintwork on the lower part of the exterior of the kitchen door in
front of me.  I'd seen them before, naturally (many times), but so used
to them am I now that they don't really register with me anymore,
so why they did on this occasion I'm not quite sure.

The scratches had been caused by not just one dog, but three.  First,
PRINCE, a mongrel we'd owned back in the early '70s that looked for
all the world like a 'miniature' German Shepherd;  then TARA, an actual
German Shepherd we owned from around the mid-'70s to 1986.  Finally,
ZARA (another German Shepherd), who I'd bought to replace Tara
when her time had come to an end earlier in the same year.

Zara circa 1987

What's interesting 'though, is that we'd moved away from this house
in 1983, when Tara was eight and a half years old.  Tara died three years
later, which is when I got Zara - and a year after that we moved back to
our previous house (as regular readers will be tired of reading).

So what's interesting about that?  Well, the back door of that other
house likewise has scratches from both Tara and Zara (made when they
were seeking re-entry after being out in the garden 'watering' the plants),
so both houses bear the marks of the same two dogs, but, in the case
of this house, made with a four year gap between them.

It had occurred to me a few years back to fill in the scratches, but
now I don't think I'll ever bother.  It's somehow oddly reassuring to see
the 'footprints' of our three dogs still there after all this time (Zara died
almost eighteen years ago), as fresh as when they were first made.
It's as if Prince, Tara and Zara are still around in some way.

Tara circa 1984

In fact, sometimes, when the wind is howling late at night, I seem
to hear scratching at the back door and a muffled whining, as if some-
thing is seeking shelter from the elements.  My first thought, of course,
is that my ears are playing tricks on me, but then my curiosity kicks in
and I make my way through to the kitchen to check things out.

Whenever I open wide the door, however, only the inky blackness
of the night beyond stares back at me - but the unmistakable smell of
doggie fur hangs in the midnight air, as if I've only just missed a canine
visitor or three wishing to remind me that their spirits yet linger out
in the garden in case I should ever forget them.

Never, my doggie pals - never.

******

   (I'll add a photo of Prince when I can find one.)
    

Saturday, 20 February 2016

THE THINGS WE LEAVE BEHIND...


The row of houses I once lived in

Ofttimes, when we move from one phase of our lives into
another, we do so without a backward glance and with nary a
thought to what we're leaving behind.  For example, when I passed
through the gate of my primary school for the final time, the fact that
it was part of my life that was seemingly gone forever didn't, as far as I
recall, perturb me in the slightest.  Soon, the classrooms and corridors
of my secondary school became the familiar routine of my daily life,
and I'm surprised, looking back today, at just how quickly and
easily I adapted to the change without even realizing it.

The front gate of my old primary school - from the inside

It wasn't until I revisited my old primary a few years later,
after having left secondary and joined the working classes, that
it dawned on me that, in some mysterious, mystical, magical way, I
was still connected to this aspect of my past and, in truth, had never
really parted from it.  You see, not thinking about a thing is not the
same as forgetting it.  The memory yet dwells in our subconscious;
 what we forget is the act of remembering - until, that is, something
suddenly triggers the memory and causes it to erupt in our
minds like an exploding firework.

The toilets - listen to that water trickle

I remember one day a few years back, when I suddenly
caught a whiff of disinfectant and was instantly transported back
to the toilets of my old primary school, where I often used to retire
to during lessons for a bit of peace and quiet in the cool of the tiled
environs, with the sound of gently-gurgling water emanating from the
cubicle cisterns and porcelain urinals.  I felt such a soothing sense
of tranquility there, and it was my very own 'fortress of solitude' for
five minutes at a time whenever the confines of the classroom
became too claustrophobic for me. ( I assume my teacher
simply thought I had a weak bladder.)

I can see my house from here.  The view from my classroom

I've previously mentioned how I felt when I revisited
a former home for the first time since I'd left 16 years before
(which, at the time, was more than half my life away), and it was
practically the same as when I'd left.  As I said in this post,  it was
as if the intervening years and two houses I'd lived in since were only
a dream, and I still felt right at home there.  I'm sure we've all had
the experience of meeting someone we haven't seen or thought
of in years and it's just as if we saw them only a short while
before.  That's how I felt on that particular day.

My former back garden - ah, happy memories

Well, I could labour the point I suppose, with example
after example, but I'm sure you're all smart enough to catch
my drift.  Things we may think we've left behind (whether or not,
at the time, we were even aware of it) come with us without us real-
izing it.  They reside in the caverns of memory, reluctant to let go of
us despite our seeming indifference to them.  Whether it be garden
gates, bedroom carpets, once favourite toys, favoured friends or
whatever, they follow us throughout our lives, just waiting for
an opportune moment to renew the acquaintance.

  Long may it ever be so.
   

Monday, 15 February 2016

I WAS KIDNAPPED ON TREASURE ISLAND...



A million years ago, in 1966 or '67, my older brother and myself
each received a Christmas present of a book from a literature-loving
aunt and uncle.  My brother got KIDNAPPED (and I often wished he
would be), and I was given TREASURE ISLAND, both written by
R. L. STEVENSON.  I can't remember if I read it at the time or
not, but I did so ten years later and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Well, strictly speaking, that's not quite true.  The one I read wasn't
the original festive gift from years before (which had disappeared
into limbo at some indeterminate stage), but a replacement  I bought
a decade later from a local bookshop on recognizing the cover and
being instantly transported back in time to my childhood.


The cover reminded me of the back garden of the house I'd lived
in when I received my earlier printing of this classic.  That was likely
because of the garden having a wooden fence similar to that shown on
the dustjacket, although ours was held together by wire.  To this day,
whenever I look at that illustration, in my mind's eye I'm once again
gazing through my old bedroom window at the garden below.

The back garden from my bedroom window

Anyway, to bore you with further tedious and unnecessary detail,
unlike my original copy, the replacement carried no dustjacket.  The
cover was just like an annual, applied straight onto the boards.  When I
revisited the house nigh on twenty years after leaving it, one of several
items I took with me (to 'reconnect' to my past, as it were) was the re-
placement edition of Treasure Island.  So now the book not only
reminds me of my former home, it's actually been in it.
  
Some years ago, in the OXFAM shop in Glasgow's Byres Road,
I managed to re-obtain a dustjacketed edition published in the same
year as my original book.  It sits alongside my brother's copy of Kid-
napped (which, happily, survived).  However, whether it's the '60s or
'70s version, there's just something about that cover which sings
to me of an earlier, more innocent time so many years ago.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

BEHIND THE LOOKING-GLASS...



Have you ever looked into a mirror and wondered if the many
images reflected in its surface over the years might've been captured
and preserved within its atoms in some way, like that of a camera?  Just
imagine being able to access those images and once more being able to
see the faces of expired family members or even those who owned the
mirror before you.  Or yourself as a child, sticking out your tongue at
your reflection as you combed your hair before making your way
to school in the morning many years before.

Every mirror in existence a repository of snapshots - like a
photograph album - of moments from the lives of every individual
who ever gazed into one.  Far-fetched perhaps, but interesting to
consider nonetheless.  So, tell me - have you ever wondered?


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

GALLOPING HOME...



As I've grown older I've also grown more sentimental and nostalgic for
times past.  Nothing wrong with that you'd think - except for the fact that I
already had an over-developed sense of nostalgia from my earliest years.
This means that my tendency to look back on bygone days is probably
now off the scale, but I find myself unable to rein it in.

Case in point:  A few years ago I bought the NETWORK DVD collection
of BLACK BEAUTY, which used to be shown on Sunday afternoons back
in 1972 through to '74.  There were only 52 episodes ever filmed, but due
to repeated screenings over the years, it sometimes seems that there
were far more than the two series actually made.

Black Beauty was the British equivalent of SKIPPY or FLIPPER,
except that it was about a horse instead of a kangaroo or a dolphin.
"What's that, Beauty?  Kevin is trapped in the old mill and needs help.
You go and fetch Doctor Gordon, Beauty, and I'll go to the mill.  Bring
him back with you.  Go, Beauty, go!"  In short, it was pure hokum -
but entertaining hokum for all that.


It's not that I was a huge fan of the programme, only watching
it occasionally when there was nothing else on, but (as is the way of
such things) with the passing of the years, it now represents a certain
time in my youth which has become more meaningful to me the
greater the distance I'm removed from it.

It's strange to view it now and see all the characters preserved
in time while I have aged and atrophied.  This feeling is increased with
the sad knowledge that the actor who played young KEVIN GORDON
(Roderick Shaw) died back in 1996, and Tony Maiden, who played
ALBERT CLIFTON, committed suicide in 2004.  (And Charlotte
Mitchell - housekeeper AMY WINTHROP - died last year.)

However, at the press of a button, there they are - just as they were
when I was around the same age as the two lads (and their pal NED
LEWIS, played by Stephen Garlick) who got into such adventures as
most kids could only dream about.  And who could forget VICKY and
JENNY GORDON, played by Judi Bowker and Stacy Dorning?
Then there's Doctor JAMES GORDON himself, played by
William Lucas, who's still around to this day.


Seeing them again is almost like dropping in on old friends, ex-
cept for the fact that I've aged and they haven't - although the weight
of years temporarily drops from my shoulders while I spend time in the
company of these childhood acquaintances from so long ago.

At the end of A.A. Milne's The HOUSE At POOH CORNER, there's
an extremely sad and touching moment when Christopher Robin tries
to explain to an uncomprehending Pooh that life is taking them in different
directions.  The book ends with these words:  "But wherever they go, and
whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on top
of the forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."

That's the way I feel about Black Beauty whenever I watch an episode.
Somewhere, near a remote and picturesque farmhouse, an ebony horse
and his human companions still roam the enchanted pastures and wooded
hills of Hertfordshire - and I'm with them on their adventures.  (With Denis
King's stirring theme tune, GALLOPING HOME, playing rousingly
in the background of course.)



Saturday, 5 December 2015

PAST, PRESENT OR FUTURE?



Imagine that scientists were able to devise a means by which
humans could relive any point in their past as if experiencing it for
the first time.  Working on the premise that more detailed memories
of every moment we've ever encountered are embedded in our subcon-
scious than was previously realized, we could reconnect to them with
such potency that they seemed real in every way.  We'd see, hear,
feel, and taste with a clarity so vivid it would virtually be time
travel, except that it'd be happening only in our minds.

If such a thing were possible, how many of us would then stop
seeking new experiences in the future, instead preferring to relive
previous ones from the past in the here and now?  Never mind going
to the dancing on weekends and trying to chat up some brash, drunken
nymphet - you could re-experience that night sixteen years back when
you pulled the best looking girl at the work's dance and got up to some
hanky-panky in a stationery cupboard.  You could read again any
comic you ever had as a child, faithfully recreated from your
memory-banks for you to peruse any time you felt like it.

Deceased friends and relatives could be 'resurrected', and once
again you could sit and converse with them just as you did when they
were alive.  Any conversation, any kiss, any holiday, any vanished toy-
shop from childhood could once more be as real to you as it used to be
in bygone years.  What's more, in your mind, you'd be the same age
that you were when any incident you wish to relive first happened.
You could spend a day as a seven year old, with all the vitality
and enthusiasm that was yours when you were that age.

The only drawback would be that it happens in 'real' time.
For example, every moment you 'relive' of your past would require
the equivalent time in the present.  That is, an hour would take an
hour, a day would take a day, etc.

So, would you spend your future reliving various memories of
yesteryear in your mind (but which felt entirely real), or would you
rather spend your tomorrows experiencing new sensations in the
flesh?  The past or the future beckons to you from the present.

What would your choice be?

Friday, 30 October 2015

JOURNEYS - BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS...



If you suddenly awoke from a deep sleep to inexplicably find
yourself embarked on a train journey, destination unknown, you'd
probably be startled and wonder "Where the hell am I and how did I
get here?"  Seems an obvious reaction, right?  You wouldn't merely
open your eyes and gaze out of the carriage window as though you
expected to find yourself in transit like it was the most natural
thing in the world, would you?

In contrast, when fully-functioning consciousness (i.e. sequential
thought and memory) first dawns within us as children and we become
able to recognise our surroundings and the people around us (when we
'wake up' in other words), we simply take it in our stride and don't seem
in any way surprised or perturbed by the situation.  Not until much later
do we start asking philosophical questions about why we're here and
where we're going in this unplanned (at least from our perspective)
journey we call 'life'.  Yet, essentially, the two situations are the
same - so why such different reactions in each case?

This has always puzzled me, as has the fact that when we first
become 'aware', we have no sense of never having existed - nor do
we have one of having a specific beginning.  It's as if, in some mystical,
magical, inexplicable way, we've always been - and that we always will
'be'.  Life soon enough erodes the gossamer foundations supporting
the illusion of immortality - at least as far as the physical goes.

As for the 'spiritual', I'd like to think that my consciousness will
somehow survive the expiration of my physical body, but a nagging
doubt assails me.  You see, our conscious selves give every indication
of being inextricably bound to our physicality, seem entirely inter-depen-
dent.  Therefore, since that which we regard as the 'soul' (personality,
individuality, etc.,) doesn't appear to exist separately before birth,
why should it continue to exist on its own after death?

'Tis said that it's better to travel hopefully than to arrive (to
paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson) - but if hope should dis-
embark at an earlier stop, the remaining miles can make the trip a
lonely one.  And what awaits us at the end of the journey?

I wish I could supply you with some profound and constructive
conclusions to my meandering musings, but I find myself ill-equipped
for the task.  If you have any pertinent observations you'd like to
 make on this subject, the comments section awaits your input.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE...



There's a time in every young person's life when they assume,
without ever really thinking about it, that they're not only invincible
but also immortal.  Usually it's around the teenage years and early 20s
when we labour under this delusion, and I have to confess that I was no
exception.  When we're young, we think we're going to be young forever,
and old age and death seem so distant as to be unimaginable.  Then one
day we wake up and realise that, not only are we 'over the hill', we're also
actually halfway down the other side and somebody has cut the brakes.
What's more, we don't even recall getting to the top of that hill to
begin with.  Shouldn't we at least remember the view?

When we're young the world is ours for the taking, and every-
thing seems geared towards us and runs in perfect synchronicity with
the pace of our lives.  Then, one day, it dawns on us that we're no longer
participants in life's race, but merely observers, sitting on the sidelines,
watching younger people revelling in a world that appears to have been
created exclusively for them.  How one can be relegated to the benches
without being aware of when it happened is a bit of a mystery, but
trust me, that's the way things go.

Now, believe me when I say that I'm not the kind of person who
revels in anyone's death, but I sometimes wonder if younger people's
untimely expiration is Nature's way of reassuring us 'oldies' that being
young isn't necessarily an indication of being accorded favoured status,
and that, young or old, we're all equally subject to termination at short
(or even no) notice.  If being 20 is no guarantee we'll reach 50, then per-
haps 50-year-olds shouldn't feel so threatened by the passage of time
as they do.  Life's a lottery and our numbers can come up at any mo-
ment  Not quite a 'lucky dip' - but you get the point, I'm sure.

I feel that I should somehow find the above notion reassuring,
but for some reason I remain unconvinced.  How about you?

******

Harvest Gate

I lingered by a gate a little while
and watched some children play in fields of green.
Their joyous voices gave me cause to smile
and filled my troubled soul with thoughts serene.

If only I could once again be young
and join them in their happy escapades,
then all my years would be a song well-sung
and I could claim I've lived my life in spades.

I leave the gate - alas, my mood turns low,
the chills of age envelop my frail frame.
I know I have not very long to go
'til he who wields the sickle calls my name.

But I have lived and loved, both lost and won
and now the course of my life's race is run.

(Harvest Gate by Iain Osborne.)
   

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

TO THE LONGBOATS...THE MOST FAMOUS 'VIKING' OF ALL!



Alas, alack, woe is me!  I am cast down and utterly despondent.  Oh,
despair!  And what is the reason for my low mood, the more kindly amongst
you may ask.  I'll tell you.  As far as I'm aware, I've only ever visited Largs (in
Ayrshire) three times in my life.  At least, that is to say I've holidayed there
three times, but perhaps I've passed through or near to it over the years
without being aware of the fact while in a friend's car en route to
somewhere else.

The years I'm specifically referring to, however, are 1968, '69 &
'71, when I was 9, 10 & 12 respectively.  On at least two occasions,
my family attended The VIKING CINEMA in Largs, once to see Those
MAGNIFICENT MEN In Their FLYING MACHINES and also, I think, The
MAGNIFICENT SEVEN - although I'm not quite sure which of them we
saw first, not that it matters.  Although, come to think of it, it's strange
that both movies had the word 'magnificent' in the title.


The Viking Cinema was a truly, er...magnificent art-deco establishment,
with a sturdy mock-up of the prow of a Viking longship protruding from
the front of the building.  I recall standing on it and thinking what it must've
been like to sail the seven seas in days of yore, doing a spot of pillaging
and... well, I was just a boy, so I was probably ignorant of the other
activity for which Vikings were infamous, so we needn't go there.

Over the years, I've often thought back to those holidays, fully
intending to revisit Largs again and once more stand on the deck of
that prow and relive my boyhood memories.  Imagine my dismay then,
when I learned only an hour or so ago, that The Viking Cinema closed
on August 4th, 1973 (a mere two years after my last visit to Largs) and
was demolished in 1983.  (Apparently it had been turned into a bottling
plant in the intervening years between closure and demolition.)


Now, not only is it devastating to learn that a childhood landmark
no longer exists, but that it ceased to exist so far back in time as to be
separated from my actual experience of the place by only a metaphorical
hair.  All the years that I've imagined it still functioning as a cinema (or, if
closed, only having done so relatively recently), have all been based on
nothing more than the ghost of a memory - a fantasy even.

Alas, alack, I may never again be able to stand on the deck of The
Viking in actuality, but, in the coming years, I'll do so - often - in the
evergreen and eternal land of memory.

******

And, in case you were wondering why a Scottish town would have a
Viking-themed cinema, it's because the long-haired rascals tried to invade
us a few centuries back (October 2nd, 1263 to be exact) and we gave them
a good gubbing.  (Thor's hammer, in the guise of a stick, must still have
been lying in that cave in Norway, which is probably why he couldn't help
them out.)  The cinema was in tribute to our well-deserved victory and
their defeat - not that we like to rub it in or anything.

******

Apparently, after being removed from the building, the ship's
prow was taken to the Isle of Cumbrae and remained there for years.
If anyone has any information as to whether it's still there or not, feel
free to get in touch.