Saturday, 8 February 2020

PLODDING AT RANDOM ACROSS THE PLOUGH (PLOW TO U.S. READERS)...



Anyone who's read The WIND In The WILLOWS by author KENNETH GRAHAME will surely be familiar with the chapter entitled DULCE DOMUM, in which MOLE and RATTY are returning home over the fields (after a day out with OTTER) one winter evening near Christmas.  Suddenly, Mole senses his own home which he'd 'abandoned' months before to stay with Ratty (come now, we won't be having any of that kind of innuendo - their relationship is purely platonic), and feels compelled to visit it again.  It's a very touching episode, and speaks about the importance of having one's own place to return to, and the comfort which can be derived from being able to reconnect with one's 'roots'.

I feel like that about every house I've ever lived in.  They call to me, plead with me to return for a visit and relive the memories associated with the times I stayed there during my childhood.  I've mentioned before that, whenever I'm in any of my former neighbourhoods, I almost feel that I could stroll up the pathway to whichever old home it happens to be, insert my key in the lock, and go inside to find everything as it was in 'my day'.  It's an instinct.  I recall that, late one dark night in '83 or '84, I was walking my dog TARA (not to be confused with her successor ZARA) along one of my old streets, when she turned in at the steps of the house we'd left several months before, glanced 'round to see if I'd caught up, and made to ascend the few steps to the pathway leading up to the door.  Instinct (and memory) y'see.  She seemed slightly confused when I walked past and called her to my side.

Like I said, it feels like the most natural thing in the world to me to walk up the path to any of my former abodes as if I still inhabited them, presumably due to a similar 'instinct' to that which animals possess.  (At least, that was my defence in court when I was charged with several counts of attempted burglary.  Relax, I'm joking.  I just claimed it was a case of mistaken identity.)

Tonight, I again felt the 'summons' to revisit the house and area where I lived between 1965 and '72, and I was all ready to do so when I remembered how many changes had occurred in the last 30 years (which seems like only 3 or 4 to me). The alterations had taken place incrementally over a prolonged period, until they eventually overwhelmed some aspects of the street and the surrounding environs, to such an extent that revisiting is not entirely the happy experience it used to be. I want to see the place as it was in my day, not the place it's since become, and which sours things for me to an extent.

So I resisted the call, and instead entered the past via the portal of modern technology - namely my computer.  I have large folders of photos (and some video footage) of how the area used to be in younger and better days, the same as when I lived there, and I found my 'virtual' visit almost as satisfying as my actual ones before the face of the landscape had been altered, in many ways, almost beyond recognition.

Any fellow Mellows do this sort of thing, or am I the lone inmate in an asylum of my own construction?  ("Trapped... in a world he DID make!" would per-haps be the comicbook subtitle.)  Feel free to say I'm bonkers in the comments section - but be polite about it.  (You know what a sensitive soul I am.)

******

What's that - the title of this post?  It'a a line from the first paragraph of Dulce Domum.  Give it a read - you'll enjoy it.
      

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

DOES THE KING'S HORSE RING A BELL WITH ANYONE...?



One day back in the late '60s, my father brought home a book for me which contained various children's stories. The book wasn't new, so he'd most likely bought it in a jumble sale or 'The Barras'.  Amongst the tales within its pages were The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Little Red Hen, one about two kids looking after a hedgehog, and The King's Horse. (Or it may've been The King's Bell.)  There were others of course, but these are the ones I remember.

My favourite story was The King's Horse (or Bell), which was about a King who installed a bell in the town square, for any of his subjects to ring in order to obtain justice in matters where they had been wronged.  The way I remember it, the King had a horse who, when it was no longer of use to him, was turned out into the street to fend for itself.  One cold winter's night, the bell is heard ringing in the square, and when the King turns up to see who needs his help, is ashamed to see that he himself is the guilty party, is overcome with remorse, and the horse returns to its comfy stable to live happily ever after.

The tale is based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem The Bell Of Atri, which has been rewritten as a prose story more than once, I believe.  However, in the original version, the horse doesn't belong to the King, but a knight (or soldier), so I'm left to wonder if I might be mis-remembering the details, or a little artistic license had been taken with events in order to provide an ironic ending to the tale. (Y'know, King who wants justice for others is himself guilty of inflicting an injus-tice on another - in this case his horse.)

So fellow Mellows, the call goes out. Have any of you ever read the version I remember, or owned the book of which I speak?  If any of you actually have the book, I'd be prepared to purchase it for a more than reasonable price.  You know where the comments section is.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

A MOMENT IN TIME, NOT FAR REMOVED...



Chances are, dear readers, that you've moved house at least once in your life.  Do you remember the night before flitting, and the day you arrived at your new home?  I do - in all my houses but the second one.  I no longer recall actually leaving the house, but I do very much remember arriving at our new home, the third one.  Why do I ask?

For quite a while after moving into a new house, one's repertoire of memories is still very much anchored in the previous one.  On your first day in a new home, if you wish to recall anything that happened more than a day ago, your recollection of any event is set in the time of your former home, for however long you happened to be there.  Was it five years - ten?  Then, as I say, most of your accessible memories are rooted in your old house, not your new one.

What am I on about you may be wondering?  Well, I sort of feel that, until you can cast your mind back any significant amount of time and it's a memory of something that occurred in your current residence, then it's almost like you're still living in your old one and haven't yet fully 'acclimatised' to the change.  I'm maybe overstating things to make my point, but it's perhaps not 'til the balance of memories of both houses is at least equal that you've fully settled in.

What I'm trying to suggest is that, when the majority of your recollections are based in a different location, in an unconscious sort of way you're still living there. It's a bit like your partner dying (or you getting divorced) and you marrying someone new soon after.  The day after your wedding, you can't think of your spouse beyond that point without it being your previous one.  It takes a while to build up a new stock of memories so that when you think back any length of time, your new spouse is part of the picture.

Okay, I'm stating the obvious in order to prepare you for the ground along which we're headed, which is this.  Sometimes, when I wake in the morning, because it's the same room I slept in when I was 13, it's easy to imagine that it's my first day in that room.  Meaning it's only the day before that I was sleeping in my old room, making the time I resided in my former home feel much more immediate and recent than it is, which I find comforting.  It feels like my time in that former home, and therefore my childhood, is no further away than the day before.

That feeling is fleeting and only lasts 'til I see the old man in the mirror staring back at me, but for a brief instant, a cherished moment in time is resurrected and it feels like I'm not so far removed from it.  Trust me, that's mainly a good feeling - until it passes and reality once again reminds me of the cold, hard facts of life.

Friday, 18 October 2019

PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW...



Here's a strange story for you, one that I suddenly just remembered while looking at the photo in a previous post (click here).  I'll say why in a moment, but the tale I'm thinking of dates back to 1964 or '65, when I was going home for my dinner at noon one day, and saw a 'rag and bone' man parked outside the primary school gates.  No horse and cart like STEPTOE & SON, but a blue or grey van with the back doors swung open to display his wares.  I enquired how long he was going to be there and he replied that he'd be 'on site' for the whole dinner hour.  So I ran home, had my grub, and asked my mother whether she had anything she didn't want that I could give to the rag and bone man.  Usually, all you got was a balloon on a stick, so they were actually not so much rag and bone men as 'con the kids out of stuff that's worth money' men, but my mother gave me one of her old coats to swap for a balloon.

It was a blue coat if I recall rightly, and off I set to school with it, but a funny thing happened on the way to the cruel place of confinement that tortures children with enforced learning that they neither want or need.  (Am I showing a prejudice here?)  I started to feel sorry for the coat, and shame at my cold and callous attitude in being prepared to part with it.  I'd once felt like this before when a toy metal bus I owned suddenly separated in two because of a loose rivet.  I flung the bus on the grass and walked away, but was then overcome with a sudden remorse and rushed back and reclaimed it.  I felt like a parent abandoning a child, and the feeling was too much to bear.  It was the same with this coat - I simply couldn't give away a 'member of the family' to a stranger, so it sat under my desk until 3 o'clock and then I took it back home with me.

So cut to a few years later and another house or two down the line.  I heard a rag and bone man blowing his horn and rushed to ask if my mother had anything she didn't want.  I think it was another coat (maybe even the same one), so I ran out of the house just in time to see the van driving away.  I followed it on foot as best as I could - for quite a length in fact, but it got away from me.  If you look at the photo in the post at the link above, you'll see a bus stop in the distance, and it was around there or just past it that I gave up the chase.  (Bear in mind that the photo was taken from my bedroom window and you'll realise just how far it was I trekked.) As I trudged back along the road, I felt a sudden sense of relief, as I realised that, once again, I wouldn't have been able to part with the item of clothing my mother had given me anyway, so I wasn't too downhearted.

Even today, I find it extremely difficult to part with things because it's almost like I'm rejecting them, and that's not something I want to be responsible for inflicting even on inanimate objects.  Who knows what deep-rooted psychological reasons are responsible for me being this way.  Maybe the time my dad took me for a run in the car miles out of town, gave me money and asked me to go buy a newspaper, and then drove off as I entered the shop - well, maybe that has something to do with it, who knows?  (Pick your jaw up off the floor, you gullible ninny - I'm only kidding of course.)  Being a collector, I sometimes replace comics with better-condition ones, but it's extremely difficult passing on (or selling) the lesser-condition items to someone else, and I can only do it (and even then reluctantly) if I haven't had it too long.

So readers - do you have any strange peccadilloes that you don't quite understand, but feel yourself in thrall to and are unable to resist?  If you'd care to share, you know where the comments section is.
   

Thursday, 15 August 2019

THE SADDEST WORDS...



         Three friends were sitting at the bar, by late hour undeterred,
         "Pray tell me, lads," says I, "what are, the saddest words you've heard?"
         "Could they be 'bar's now closed'," says one, "when ordering the drinks?"
         "Or how about 'we're dry', my son,"  the other says, then winks.

         "But no," says I, "the saddest sound that you will ever hear,
         is two words very often bound with thoughts of one held dear.
         See, once I loved a gal so fair - (in fact I love her yet),
         with love that was beyond compare, though seasoned with regret."

          "She loved a better man than I, saw me as 'just a friend',
          and never knew for her I'd die, so I had to pretend.
          Aye, pretend that she meant nothing and didn't hold my heart,
          but lads, the strain of bluffing almost tore me apart."

          "We've all been down that road I'm sure, that well-worn travelled track,
          where we've no choice but to endure someone not loving back.
          Ah, if only she had loved me, if only she had dared;
          if only she had wanted me - if only she had cared."

          "If only she had needed me, as living things need air.
          If only she had longed for me, I wouldn't know despair.
          Another time, another place, who knows what might've been?
          The look of love upon her face is what I might've seen."

           "Despite my heartache I'll be brave, though no fate's worse than this -
           to trudge through life towards my grave and never know her kiss.
           The saddest words you'll ever hear (the anthem of the lonely),
           come with a sigh and oft a tear - two whispered words... 'if only'."

Friday, 9 August 2019

TALKING OF LOCKUPS MAY GET ME LOCKED UP...


The corner lockup was ours, but all the doors were grey back then

A couple of months or so back, I was along at one of my former neighbourhoods and decided to check out the lockups where my father once housed his NOBEL 200, and later, his first RELIANT ROBIN (well, someone had to have one).  Far too many of the lockups were in a dilapidated state, with doors hanging off or simply missing.  My local council are in the habit of demolishing lockups, which doesn't make sense to me.  After all, what with the lack of parking spaces outside houses nowadays, you'd think there's be a huge demand for lockups where people can keep their cars.

Over 30 years ago, when we first moved back to my current house (regular readers know the story), my father tried to re-rent his former lockup (not the one mentioned in the above paragraph - different house, different lockup), and was told that the council were no longer renting them out.  He persisted though, and was eventually given his old lockup back.  He had it for around six years before several of them (including his) were demolished to make way for new houses, but at least the council got six years of rent out of him, instead of the nothing they'd have got for leaving the lockup empty.

Back of the lockups - the far away end is where ours was located

Perhaps the council thought that the cost of maintaining them was too pro-hibitive, but that cost should have been covered by the rent, and it seems daft to dispense with a means of raising revenue when pedestrians can hardly walk on the pavements these days because of two-and-three car families parking their vehicles up off the road.  (Talk about inconsiderate?)  But that's not the point of this post, which I shall now try and get to.

When I was along at the lockups in my previous neighbourhood (as mentioned several years back in the first paragraph), I saw a guy working on his car and commented to him about the condition of some of the other lockups and how I considered the situation to be a disgrace.  He told me that the council were going to renovate them, so if true, maybe they're finally learning sense, and realise that it will help alleviate parking problems while generating income at the same time. I pointed out my father's old lockup a few doors along, mentioning that my family had once lived in the area. He informed me that it had been JIMMY CAMPBELL's lockup, who'd given it up only recently and it now belonged to someone else.  (I forget the name, but he pointed out the row the guy lived in.)

I was slightly amazed by this, because the Campbells had been our next-door-neighbours when we lived there from 1965 to '72, which means that Mr. Campbell had most likely taken over the lockup right after my father had relinquished it when we flitted. The Campbells were living there when we moved in, having inhabited their house from around the early '60s when it was first built.  In fact, amazingly, they still live there today, all these many years later.  (Their kids have grown up and moved out, of course, but Mr. & Mrs. C still reside there.)

Taken from across and down the street a bit.  The end one was ours

And so to the point (such as it is) of this post.  I just find it strangely significant (in a way that I'm not able to competently convey) that my father's lockup had been taken over by our former neighbour, thereby maintaining some sort of (admittedly nebulous) connection (in my mind anyway) between us and them.  It somehow seemed fitting that the next 'tenant' of 'our' lockup had been the next door neighbour, and was therefore not too far removed from ourselves.  (In a figurative way of course, as we no longer lived in the area.)

The guy who currently rents it lives in the same street, but a couple of rows down (maybe the row behind the trees in the second pic, I think), so if I was consistent in my thinking, the distance between the lockup and myself (again, figuratively-speaking) is now greater than it's ever been, but - truth to tell - although it was nice to think that Mr. Campbell had rented it for all these years after us, I still tend to regard it to this very day as my father's lockup.  And you know what?  I probably always will.  (Incidentally, the first three photos were taken around 30 years ago.)

And in case you're wondering what a Nobel 200 looks like, here's
pic of a limited edition model which I own.  I've since added
copies of my father's original number plates  

Sunday, 30 June 2019

GOING HOME...



Grahame stood in the doorway of his new bedroom on the first day of the flit and surveyed the interior without much enthusiasm.  He'd not wanted to move from the house he'd known since the age of two to the freshly turned teenager he was now and hadn't been shy about letting his parents know how he felt.  His mother had dismissed his reservations.  "You'll like it when you get there," she'd said.  "It's a much bigger room, with a cupboard, so you'll have plenty space to put all your stuff."

Grahame had been unimpressed at the prospect.  He was a solitary child who preferred the familiar around him, and the coming move had upped his anxiety to unprecedented levels.  He liked where he lived - the house, his room, the neighbourhood, and was reluctant to relinquish it for the unknown.  He had a commanding view over a playfield across the road and knew he'd miss climbing the trees and running over the patchy grass while pretending to be a superhero.

His new room was nearly twice the size of his former one and he felt dwarfed by its seeming vastness.  The view was a disappointment, overlooking a parking area for neighbours' cars;  grey, colourless, and uninspiring, he knew it was unlikely that he'd ever get used to it.  Anyway, with any luck he'd probably spend much of his time sleeping.  He'd suddenly found himself feeling inordinately tired over the last few weeks, so perhaps he'd just avoid looking out of the window.  Shame, because he loved doing that in his old room, watching to see who was playing in the field, or gazing at the birds hopping about in the branches of the trees that ran alongside it.

Why did things have to change?  He resented change, resisted it, promised himself that he'd be a child forever, but knew from the way his body was developing that he'd eventually have to bury that particular dream.  His idea of paradise was for everything to stay as he knew it for eternity, with him being a perpetual schoolboy and his parents never growing old or dying.  For things to stay as they are, where death and decay had no dominion, and 'change' was an unknown concept that held no sway.

It was with great reluctance that he snuggled between the sheets that first night, but he was tired.  Perhaps he's wake up in the morning to find that the flit had all been a bad dream, merely a psychological manifestation of his fear of change and losing the comfort of everything he held dear.  He had a doctor's appointment in a couple of days to determine why he'd been so tired and fatigued of late, so that was yet another unwelcome intrusion that he'd much rather do without.  Sleep claimed him with unusual alacrity, and when his parents looked in on him later, they found the scene heartwarming, in the way that only parents can.

The next morning, much to his mother and father's concern, Grahame couldn't be roused, so the family doctor was summoned, who pronounced that the lad had passed away in his sleep.  His parents were understandably devastated - he'd been their only child.  A few weeks later they were informed of the results of the post-mortem.  "Leukemia, I'm afraid," said the doctor.  "There was nothing that could've been done, even had you brought him in months ago.  Sometimes it just pops up out of nowhere and does its damage before we even know it's there.  At least he's in a better place now."

Grahame's mother looked into her husband's tearful eyes as she replied to the doctor. "Yes, somehow I feel in my heart that you're right.  If I know Grahame, he's just where he wanted to be."

******

When Grahame awoke, he was surprised to find that he was no longer in his new room, but his old one.  What a relief!  It had felt so real, but was obviously only the dream he'd hoped it was.  It never even occurred to him to run next door to his mum and dad's room to express his joy at the discovery.  Grahame would never think of his parents again, nor would he be perturbed to find himself the sole occupant of the house.  In time, his parents would join him, but until then he'd be completely unaware of their absence.  For now, it was enough that he was in his old room in his former house, and that was all he really wanted or needed.  He was happy.
    

Thursday, 27 June 2019

CARESSING THE KEYS OF MEMORY...



This is another of those tales that I know I intended to relate a while back, but can't remember if I ever actually did so or not.  Anyway, back in 1972 when my family first took up residence in my present abode, the family with whom we swapped houses left a piano behind.  I can no longer recall how long we kept it, whether it was a year, two years - maybe even going on three, but my parents, at some stage, decided to dispense with its seldom-used services.

None of my family played the piano, and apart from a rare visitor occasionally tickling its ivories, the poor 'box in the corner' lay neglected for the most part.  So my father donated it to the town's hospital, and a contingent of youths in the charge of an adult (I have a vague memory they may have been Scouts, but I'm not certain) came to our home one day and wheeled away our unwanted house-guest.  I wonder how it felt being so unceremoniously evicted?

I've long been afflicted with a tendency to imbue inanimate objects with sentience, feelings, emotions - even personality.  What can I say?  I'm off my head!  But did you know that, apparently, when plants and trees are pruned, they scream?  (It's far beyond the ability of human ears to detect, but scientists have registered the 'sound' on audio machines attuned to a certain wavelength.)  True, plants and trees are 'alive' in a sort of way;  they grow - not something that a piano (or any other inanimate item) in the corner of the living-room does.  (As far as anyone knows anyway.)

However, if you cut a leaf in half, and then subject it to a certain kind of infra-red spectrum analysis, the image shows the outline of the full leaf.  So, imagine if a tree, even after being chopped up and made into furniture, yet retains a part of whatever measure of 'awareness' it may have had when it was growing in a forest or field somewhere?  Too far-fetched?  Perhaps, but who can say for sure?

Anyway, where am I going with this you may be wondering.  Years after the fact, I learned that our old piano had been passed onto the church situated across the road from our former abode.  The fellow who told me was one of the boys who had helped remove the piano from our house.  It transpired that he was a friend of a friend, and what's more, coincidentally lived next door to another of our previous homes, though not when we'd lived there.  (Which is neither here nor there, but it's an interesting example of how 'fate' unfolds.)

The woman who now lived in our former residence would undoubtedly have been in that church on occasion, even if only for a jumble sale or a coffee morning. Given my over-active imagination, I found myself wondering if she might ever have passed her/our old piano without recognising it, and whether it had called out to her in its inaudible voice, not understanding why someone it knew was now ignoring it.  "Hello, it's me - don't you remember me?  I lived with you once and then you went away one day and left me behind.  What did I do wrong?  Did I offend you by being out of tune perhaps?  Why won't you acknowledge me?"

Same goes for myself.  Although no longer living in the area, I was back in that church many a time over the years.  As was my mother in fact, as she attended its Sunday services every week.  I restricted myself to jumble sales and Christmas and Summer fayres, but I surely must have passed the piano, or even stood close to (or against) it on one of my many visits over a period of nearly 20 years.  Did that poor piano also call out to me (or, on separate occasions, my mother), unable to comprehend why we turned a deaf ear to its cries?

The church was demolished around '91 or '92 (due to structural flaws) and a new (and different) building was erected in its place.  I took numerous photos, both inside and out, before the old church (which had only been completed in 1965 or '66) was erased from the face of the planet, and our old piano - if it hadn't been replaced or dispensed with by that time - is surely in one of those pics.  It was a large church, with two or three pianos in different halls, but I think I got photos of all of them.  Trouble is, they're in a box in the loft at the moment, so I can't check - or illustrate this post with a piccie.  I'll add one later when I find them.

In the meantime, I've used a stock photo of a piano, which will have to do the job for now.  I guess it's always possible that the piano yet survives in the new church building, and now that the thought has occurred to me, I'll make a point of visiting one day to see if it is.  If it's there, I'll be sure to say hello to it, and run my fingers over its keys, just for old times' sake.  If it isn't, I'll gaze upon it's image in one of my photos and bid it goodbye.  After all, it's a friend from the past, and doesn't deserve to be forgotten.

Whatever its fate, hopefully it had a happy life being played for the enjoyment of hospital patients and church groups.  Had we kept it, it's entirely probable that it would never have got to fulfill the purpose for which it was created, and merely been a surface on which to place framed photos or vases.  It was made to make music, and I like to think  that's what it got to do.  (And hopefully yet does.)

Feel free to tell me that I need 're-tuning'.

******

Update:  Below are three photos of two pianos (I think - could be the same one in two different halls).  I took them in the church sometime in the early 1990s, and I'm hoping that one is the piano we had temporary custody of at the beginning of the '70s.  There's no reason why one of them shouldn't be 'ours', so I prefer to believe that one of them is.




Monday, 3 June 2019

A RAMBLING REMINISCENCE...


Nah, this isn't it, but it's vaguely similar

Here's a true tale of something that happened around 34 or 35 years ago that I've suddenly just remembered.  I was walking home one evening, along a route that took me past a school, when I noticed that the bottom glass panel of a door had been kicked in.  I was all for passing on, when curiosity got the better of me. Perhaps someone had broken the pane to gain access, and maybe they were still inside.  If so, they'd be bound to be teenagers, and I was then strong, fit, and confident that I could look after myself - even against more than one person. (Maybe one day I'll relate a couple of events that demonstrate I'm not just confusing ambition with ability.  Hark - is that the John Williams SUPER-MAN theme I hear?)

Anyway, I walked over to the door and crouched down at the aperture, listening to hear if I could detect any sounds of activity from within, but there was nothing.  I decided to call the police when I got home and alert them to the vandalism, assuming that they'd check to see if anyone was on the premises.  Thing is, by the time I got home, I was so lost in thought that I took the dog out for a walk and forgot all about it, and never did call the local constabulary.  When I eventually remembered a couple of days later, I figured it was too late to bother and that the door would have had at least a temporary repair effected by then anyway.

Cut to quite a while later.  I no longer recall whether it was weeks or months afterwards, but I know it wasn't in the immediate aftermath.  As I was again walking home one night, I heard one of two or three passing boys say to the other(s) "That's the guy who broke into the school!"  It was a mumble, and at first I had to think whether I'd heard right, but that's what it sounded like.  Of course, by then, I'd completely forgotten about the broken panel, and it took me a while to work out what the boy could've been referring to.  (Which is why I know it wasn't any time soon after the event.)  Then it hit me - the boy must have seen me (from some hidden vantage point) crouching beside the door, listening, and assumed I'd been the culprit.

I fully expected a chap at my door at some stage after that, but nothing ever came of it.  It bothered me though (and still does) that I was considered a 'suspect' in the very crime I'd intended to report, but didn't.  These boys will be all grown up by now with wives and kids of their own, and I can't help but wonder if they still remember me and consider me a vandal or a burglar.  The school seemed to be a target for neds, as some years later it fell victim to arson, necessitating it being demolished and a new building being erected in its place.  The new construct was more like a fortress than a school, but given its history, is it any wonder?

Anyway, this has been a rambling reminiscence - I hope you found it worth your while to read.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

THE TRUE-LIFE TALE OF BILLY LIAR...


Me in St. Andrew's Road in Southsea, Portsmouth, 1978

Reading about a tall tale-telling cartoon character reminded me of a real-life inveterate 'fantasist' (by which I mean liar) who used to pal about with me from 1965 until he joined the Navy shortly after his dad died in 1977.  We remained friends until 1981, when I concluded that he obviously had mental health issues and finally severed all ties with him.

I last saw him in Gosport near the end of April '81 when I was living nearby, and it was then I realized he was no longer the person I thought he was - if indeed he ever had been.  This man simply couldn't open his gob without a monumental, unbelievable 'porky-pie' popping out.  For example, even before he joined the Navy he used to wear an over-sized diver's watch, and when a friend (RONNIE ROSS, now sadly deceased) asked him what it was, he replied that it was an atomic power-pack for his bionic arm. (This was around '76/'77, when the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN was still on TV.)

Had it been an 'off-the-cuff' remark intended as a joke, that would've been fine. However, in between starting and finishing the sentence, he'd somehow managed to convince himself it was true and fully expected to be believed.  Another example (on a flying visit to our house in December of 1980) came when my father asked him if he had any kids yet.  (He'd got wed in Portsmouth Registry Office two years before, and I'd been best man.)  "No," he said, "I caught an infection from a toilet seat and they had to cut my tubes.  They operated through my back passage so as not to leave a scar."

To the best of my knowledge, those 'in-the-know' say that infections can't be caught from toilet seats (at least, not the kind which affect internal organs) so his claim couldn't be true.  However, why the bit about back-door surgery?  It's unlikely that anyone would ask to see his scar so why say that if it wasn't true? Then I realized - as a Navy man, he shared showers and quarters with others, so he'd need a 'cover-story' to explain his obvious scar-free condition when he first told his bizarre tale.  A normal person would simply have said that he didn't want kids until he left the Navy, not produced a fantastic fable that defied accepted medical facts.  Not so 'BILLY LIAR'.

His lying was no recent development, but stretched all the way back to childhood, as this 1966/'67 account illustrates.  One morning in the school playground, myself, 'Billy Liar' and a fellow called ROBERT (or ROBIN) GOLDIE were standing in line, waiting for the bell to ring to gain access to the building.  Robert was holding an ACTION MAN and opened the jacket to show us AM's dog-tag. Action Man (or GI JOE to U.S. readers) had a rather 'stylised' musculature with a bit of a gap between his pecs.  My brother owned a TOMMY GUNN action-figure with a more realistic physique, so I remarked on how odd Action Man's torso was by comparison.  "That was his sister who did that - she's got really sharp nails!" volunteered 'Billy', ignoring the fact that Robert's sister would've had to be SUPERGIRL to make a dent in such hard plastic.

Regular readers may recall a previous post in which I mentioned a pupil who came into school one morning with a tracing of RUMPELSTILTSKIN (from a class reading book) on a piece of IZAL toilet paper, claiming he'd drawn it the night before.   (Though when the sheet was placed over the book illustration and the fraud exposed, he then said it was the work of his sister.)  Yes, you've guessed it - it was the very same guy.

For almost as long as I'd known him he'd been plagued by cartilage problems in one of his knees.  This meant that not long after joining the Navy it was discovered that he wasn't fit for active duty.  So he was given a choice - either leave the Navy or take up a 'landlubber' position at Haslar Hospital in Gosport.  (He invented a tale which attributed his long-term problem to getting his knee caught between two practice mines while on a training exercise.)  According to him his new job was that of 'medical assistant' (nurse), but in all likelihood he was a hospital porter.  Not for long though, as two or three years later he was back in civvy-street.

In 1981 I'd returned to Portsmouth - at his invitation - only to find that he steered clear of me and never came to visit - apart from one time when I saw him on his moped coming from the direction of my bed-sit while I was returning from the shops.  I hailed him, but he stopped for only just long enough to tell me he'd no time to talk - then he was off again.  He was only about two minutes away from my place and two minutes away from his base (by bike), so I wondered why he'd gone out of his way if he'd no intention of stopping.  When I got back, my landlady revealed to me that he'd only been checking-up to see if I'd returned to Scotland yet.

Me in my room in Boulton Road, Southsea in 1981.
Yes, I know - it looks like a Crimewatch photo

Obviously he was worried that the longer I was around, the greater the chance I'd eventually meet some of his newer friends and perhaps inadvertently blow the gaff about some of the 'tall tales' he'd spun.  After all, this was a guy who, with crash helmet tucked under his arm, used to visit bars that bikers hung out in - even before he had a motorbike.  (No joking.)  

Months later, when I finally returned home, my father told me that while I was in Portsmouth, 'Billy' had 'phoned one night with a curious request.  "Mr. Robson, I was in a bar the other night having a drink, and I told a guy I was talking to that I'm a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Navy."  (This was when he was a porter in Gosport's Haslar Hospital.)  "He didn't believe me, so I gave him your number and told him to 'phone you and you'd confirm it.  If he does call, could you back me up?"  Naturally, my father told him not to be so daft.  "Go on - a favour for a favour," pleaded the deluded 'Billy'.  My father enquired what he meant.  "I visited Gordon the other day and it cost me money for petrol for my bike," quoth Mr. Mental, referring to his lightning-quick dash to check if I was still around.  When I heard this, I gave my parents strict instructions that, if 'Billy' ever 'phoned, I was out - even if I was in.

About six or seven years later, the 'phone (then in the hallway) rang and the answer-machine clicked on.  As I stood at the top of the stairs to hear who it was, an unfamiliar voice emanated from the speaker - a Detective Inspector someone (couldn't make out the name) wanting to talk to me.  I went downstairs and picked up the 'phone - "Hello?" I said.  "What's the matter, don't you recognize an old friend?"  The voice had changed, being that strange hybrid accent that many 'Jocks' acquire from spending years down south, so at first I didn't recognize it.  Then the penny dropped and I hung up without replying.  The 'phone rang again and his voice from the speaker said:  "I'll use my warrant card if that's what it takes to talk to you!"  Poor, deluded fool.  He was never in the police - I checked, even though it was a racing cert that he wasn't.

It seems that leopards can't change their spots.  Egged on by a pal who'd also known 'Billy' we both looked at his Facebook page about a year ago.  According to him he's a Falklands war veteran who was fast-tracked through the ranks of the Royal Navy, is thinking of taking a course in astro-physics (or something equally far-fetched), was taught to cook by both GORDON RAMSAY and JAMIE OLIVER (or two other equally famous TV chefs), has hacked into NASA satellites to take photographs of outer space (with a clearly-cribbed pic from the Internet), had a successful career as a world-class photographer (although his webpage is conspicuously absent of any evidence which would indicate it), and is a personal buddy of BILLY CONNOLLY and folk-singer RALPH McTELL, who he claims to have known since the age of twelve.  Oh, and he learned to scuba-dive at the age of nine.  (Which was all news to me - and I'd known him from when he was six.)

Right, altogether now - "JACKANORY, JACKANORYJACKANORY".  Need-less to say, we both fell about laughing at this catalogue of absurdity. Unfortunately though, there was a sad side to his inabiltiy to grasp reality, and let me wind up this overlong reminiscence by revealing what that was.

As I previously said, I was best man at this fantasy merchant's wedding in 1978, but I had gone down to Portsmouth a few days in advance of the 'big day'.  The morning before the ceremony, while he was out somewhere, his fiancee broke down in tears and confessed to me that she was now having severe doubts about going through with it.  Her brother and her friends considered him a complete weirdo and had expressed concern over his alarming propensity to tell the most outrageous lies at the drop of a hat.  What was I to do?  What I should've done was tell her that I didn't think he was mature enough to get married and had been telling porkies for as long as I had known him so was therefore unlikely to change.

However, I was faced with a dilemma.  If she called off the wedding as a result of anything I said, I'd then be the bad guy.  I knew that he'd continue to pursue her and woo her after I'd gone home, and probably persuade her (against her better judgement) into marrying him, and I'd then be excluded from the celebrations and most likely be a pal short as a result.  So I chickened out, telling her that I'd have a very serious talk with him and explain that all his lies had to stop; that he was about to embark on a wonderful new chapter in his life which he should take extremely seriously and stop embarrassing both himself and his beloved with his absurd fabrications and fantasies.  So I did - at great length and in excruciating detail (as is my wont).  At the conclusion of my sonorous oration he soberly assured me that he was 'indeed an altered Toad'.

He was lying of course.

On the day of the wedding, when the registrar asked her if she took this man as her lawful wedded husband, there was a long, long pause.  Then, with tears streaming down her face, she hesitantly said "I do" and thereby made one of the worst decisions of her life.  A decision that I could probably have prevented - and to this day am filled with regret that I didn't at least try to.  The marriage lasted a couple of years or so and the poor woman went through hell.  I hope she's happy now and, should she ever get to read this, can forgive me for my inaction.  I last saw her around August or September 1980 when they were both up on a brief visit.

So there you have it.  Trust me, the cartoon character I alluded to at the start of this post is nowhere near as bad as the guy I've just been telling you about.  He's certainly a lot funnier though.

Monday, 22 October 2018

ROOM WITH A VIEW...



Something that occurred to me only recently is that when I was younger, I only ever looked out any of my windows for one specific purpose or another, never merely for the sake of it.  Things like, to see which of the neighbourhood kids were playing in the field across from my house, or to check what the weather was like, or to catch the approach of someone I was expecting a visit from, or to see what the source of some noise was.  I never, as far as I can recall, looked out of the window just to appreciate the view.  At school, I would gaze out of the windows and lose myself in dreams, but I wasn't really focussing on the scenery.

And now, having typed that, a couple of exceptions have just occurred to me.  I'd look out at freshly-fallen snow, because there's something magical about snow I'm sure you'll agree, and sometimes at night, me and my brother used to look out of our bedroom window at the lights of Glasgow (or its outskirts), twinkling on the far horizon like tiny, dancing fireflies or the glint of frost on the pavement when it catches the sun or the beam of a street-lamp.  I last saw that night-time scene over 46 years ago, though I've seen the view in daytime on occasional visits to my old home - the first of which was 30 years ago, and the last 27 years back.

I first became aware of looking at the view for its own sake during the countdown to my family and myself flitting from my present house to a new one back in 1983.  For some reason it filled me with sadness to realise, as I gazed out into the familiar distance one evening, that I would probably never see twilight again from that bedroom window and that an era was passing.  (Melodramatic?  Me?)  Of course, as many of you will know, just over four years later, we moved back to this house, and I was reunited with my old room and former view from the window.  Strangely, although I'd never wanted to flit to that new house, I now find myself even missing that view, and I'm glad I took quite a few photos of it in the four-plus years we resided there.

Views can change however, as mine has to a certain extent, what with new houses and flats being built on 'spare' ground.  Of course, it was never spare (or 'under-developed' as the local council later categorised it), it was intended for recreational use, and to alleviate the monotony of the brick and roughcast-bedecked structures surrounding it; to provide a welcome oasis of greenery amidst the grey 'sentinels' which stood on its borders, and to provide a sense of space in what has now become an overcrowded concrete ghetto.

Do you ever think back to once familiar views you knew in your youth, readers, and wish you could return and see them again, even though you know that the harsh reality of time and so-called 'progress' consigned them to the phantom mists of history long ago? Feel free to relive those bitter-sweet memories in the comments section.

******

(Incidentally, the above photo was taken in August 1988, 16 years after moving away in 1972, and a year and a day after returning to the house we'd flitted to in '72 and vacated in '83.)        

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

A TALE OF GEORGE AND THE DRAGON - AND THE BEAR...



Elsie held the little porcelain figure in her hand and regarded it thoughtfully. She'd always hated it - ever since George had first brought it home on her birthday and laid it proudly before her, like a cat presenting an expired mouse to its horrified owner.

"It's horrible" she'd growled, contemptuously. "Whatever made you buy that?" she spat, without even the slightest attempt to season the cold nakedness of her words with a hint of gratitude for the thought behind the gift.  Elsie was the kind of person who called a spade a spade and was proud of it.

George looked pained... crestfallen... devastated.  Like a small child receiving an unnecessarily sharp rebuke for a relatively minor offence.  "I... I thought you would like it" he stammered, trying to conceal his hurt.  "Look - it's a little bear - with a hat - and a collar and tie.  I thought it was cute" he ended, lamely.

"I'm not having it in the house.  I don't want the ladies from the guild thinking I've no class, cluttering up the house with cartoon ornaments.   It's junk - get rid of it!" she ordered.  And that was that.

Or at least, it would have been... had George not been made of sterner stuff than his wife gave him credit for.  He just couldn't - wouldn't - discard the porcelain testament of the love he held for the unappreciative Elsie. Over the ensuing months, he would tuck it away, half-hidden, behind a picture-frame or a vase until, inevitably, she would discover it and the game of 'hide-and-seek' would begin anew.  Many a time she wondered why she simply didn't throw it away or 'accidentally' drop it, but there was something about its irritating 'please love me' expression that mysteriously prevented her from doing so.  That was impos-sible, but she hated it - hated it with a passion.  "Damn the man!" she would say.

And so it went.  Until the fateful day she received a call from George's office.  The voice on the 'phone sounded like that of a concerned parent speaking to a little child. Was she sitting down? They were terribly sorry. There had been an... 'incident'.  It was so sudden.  He wouldn't have felt a thing.  If ever there was anything they could do, it said.  She put down the 'phone, slunk into the chair beside it - and let the tears explode from her soul.  She cried for two hours, then put on her best coat and went down to the hospital mortuary.  When she returned, she was clutching a bag containing her late husband's personal effects.  Along with his watch, wallet and wedding ring was a little porcelain bear which was found in his pocket when he died. For a moment she wondered why, but other concerns drove the thought from her mind.  She made herself a cup of tea, watched 'Coron-ation Street', then went to bed.  Elsie never cried again.

A few months later, the sum total of poor George's life lay in an assortment of boxes and carrier bags in a corner of the hall.  In one of the boxes, lying on top of George's best lambswool sweater, was the object of Elsie's loathing - smiling inanely at the ceiling as if it expected the ceiling to smile back.  "Hark at me" she thought. "It's almost as if I thought the blasted thing was alive."  She laughed at her foolishness and consoled herself with the knowledge that, from tomorrow, it would be gone forever.  Sam from next door had offered to drive George's things down to the charity shop in the town.  Then it would be time to forget the past and move on.  A new optimism had recently begun to permeate her soul and she looked forward to the future with enthusiasm.  Life with George seemed almost like a dream.

"This all there is?" Sam asked when she opened the door to his knock the next morning.  He took the carrier bags first, then carried out the boxes one by one, puffing and grunting as he did so.

"Last one" he said.  As he stooped to pick it up, Elsie's eye fell upon a small porcelain object and a strange sensation suddenly welled up within her.  Feelings of grief, loss, pain, remorse, pity - a Kaleidoscope of emotions that threatened to engulf her.  "Wait a minute" she heard herself saying as she plucked the figure from atop the sweater.  "That's it, Sam.  Thanks very much for all your help" she said, in a slightly bewildered tone.

Elsie held the little porcelain figure in her hand and regarded it thoughtfully.  She had always hated it - but - now she was astonished to find that she couldn't stand the idea of being parted from it.  She couldn't explain why, but that's how she felt. Sometimes people are surprised to find that they are not as hard, or as heartless, or as unfeeling as they imagine themselves to be.

And so it was with Elsie.  She looked at the little porcelain bear and thought of George - and remembered how much she'd loved him - and realized just how much she missed him.  Tenderly, she caressed the small figure, kissed the top of its head, and then placed it on the top shelf of her very best display cabinet where visitors would be sure to see it.   Then she smiled to herself, made a cup of tea, and sat and thought of all her wonderful years with George.  "Bless the man!" she sighed.  From its prize position in the display cabinet, the little bear sat and smiled at Elsie.

And - wherever he happened to be - no doubt George was smiling too.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

A TASTE OF PARADISE...



Robert wasn't sure what had suddenly made him think of his old neighbourhood and want to visit it again, but before he knew it he found himself walking along the street where he'd lived as a child.  It was a beautiful sunny day, which puzzled him as he could've sworn it had been pouring with rain not too long before.  He prepared himself for the shock of the changes he'd first seen around thirty years ago, on a visit twenty years after he and his family had moved to another house in another area.  He'd lived in many different houses and areas since then.

But what was this?  The old folks' home that had been built on the field he'd once played football on with his pals had gone, and the field was once again as it had been in his day.  What's more, the new houses which had been erected on the site of his former primary school had also vanished, and a perfect duplicate of his boyhood seat of learning now occupied the space. Robert was astonished, re-minded of his dreams of winning the Lottery and restoring the neighbourhood to as it had been when he'd lived there.  Had someone else done that very thing?

"Let's have a look at the old house," he thought, and made his way down the back lane of the top terraced row where he'd lived from the age of seven to fourteen. He froze in his tracks as his eyes fell upon his former home, the site of so many joyous childhood and teenage memories.  A man worked in the back garden, while his wife sat in a deckchair, sipping lemonade and reading her women's magazine.  A boy played keepie-uppie in the corner, and the impression of domestic bliss was almost tangible.  Robert rubbed his eyes, not quite believing what he was seeing. Wasn't that his father and mother, as well as his brother he saw before him - or at least their very doubles?  It couldn't be them, because they'd died years ago, at different times and in different places.  Was someone playing a trick on him?

Perhaps he was dreaming, but he could feel the cool breeze that lovingly caressed his heated brow and hear the musical murmur of birds twittering in the nearby trees with a greater potency than even the most seductive dream was capable of. Surely this was no delusion?  He tried to recall what had prompted him to revisit his old environs.  Last thing he remembered was that it was raining, and that he was about to cross the road to buy a paper from the newsagent's on the other side of the street.  Was that a rapidly approaching car he saw from the corner of his eye as he stepped out onto the road...?  Why did he find it so difficult to think, to remember?

His father looked over and hailed him, and his mother and brother smiled in happy surprise.  "We were wondering when you'd turn up," his mother said. "Come into the house and we'll have a bite to eat."  Not quite understanding, Robert glanced at his watch to see if he had time to indulge this welcome fantasy, whatever its explanation, but the watch was gone from his wrist - a wrist which now belonged to that of a young boy.

And then he understood, fully and all at once, what had happened, and with that knowledge came the realization that Paradise is precisely what we wish it to be.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

LET ME DREAM...

                               

                                   They've ruined my old street they have,
                                   they've blotted out the view.
                                   No far horizon can be seen,
                                   the place seems smaller too.

                                   The green field where I used to play,
                                   is long-since built upon.
                                   More kids today than ever was,
                                   but space to play has gone.
                               
                                   The hills that once I spied afar,
                                   no longer meet my gaze.
                                   A looming building blocks them out,
                                   the street's seen better days.

                                   They call it progress - that's a laugh!
                                   The neighbourhood's a sight.
                                   Too many years of 'adding on'
                                   have packed it much too tight.

                                   And yet in dreams I see again
                                   the street I knew when young.
                                   In dreams, the dear remembered past
                                   seems near and less far-flung.

                                   So let me sleep and live in dreams,
                                   where things are as before.
                                   And if I could I'd never wake,
                                   and dream forevermore.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

THEY SAY YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN - BUT DO YOU EVER TRULY LEAVE? (UPDATED)...



A few years ago, I was walking past one of my former homes and observed a family (who had just exited a vehicle) walk up the front path and go inside.  The family consisted of mother and father and two young sons, the same as my own family when we'd stayed in the house.  I couldn't help but wonder if the two kids would one day look back on their time there with the same fondness as I did, or have the same sense of atmosphere - or to be more precise - sense of the same atmosphere as I had.  That's probably unlikely, because different furniture, dif-ferent fashions, toys, TV programmes, comics - all the things which add to the flavour of one's life when growing up - surely affect the perception that different people at different times will have of the same place.  Also, a new church had been erected on the site of the old one (which had only been built in 1965/'66 and was demolished around 1991 due to structural defects) across from the front of the house, and amenity flats for the elderly now filled two thirds of the playing field across from the back, so even the views from the front and rear windows were no longer exactly the same, which no doubt affects the 'sense' of a place. 

Another thing that occurred to me to wonder about is who exactly has more of a sentimental 'claim' on a specific house years after the fact.  The ones who have the fondest memories, or who lived in the house first, or longest, or last - or some other arbitrary factor?  I must confess that I'm a bit flexible in my own approach when it comes to that.  I regard every house I've ever lived in as 'my' house, but my justification differs from house-to-house.  For instance, my family lived in the previous house to this one for four years, and we were the first to live there as it was a brand-new house.  However, the current family who reside there have done so for around 28 or so years and now own the property, so, legally, the house is theirs.  That doesn't matter to me though - I lived there first so in my mind it's mine.  Contrariwise, there have been homes where we weren't the first to inhabit the premises, but we lived there longer than the previous tenants (if not the subsequent ones - or vice versa), so I still regard myself as having a preeminent 'stake' in them.  Yes, you're right - I just make the 'rules' up as I go along to suit myself.  What is it that drives my unwillingness (my inability even) to sever the ties with, the sense of 'ownership' of, all my former domiciles so long after the fact?  Is it simply because happy periods of my youth are inextricably linked to them, and to give up my feelings of connection would be to abandon - reject - those periods?  One for the philosophers perhaps.

How do you feel about your previous homes, fellow-Mellows?  Have you left them behind in the foreign country that is the past, or do the memories of them still loom large in your life and remain a never-ending presence in your day-to-day existence?  Do you yet regard them as 'yours', or have you long since given up any feeling of special connection to them?  Feel free to indulge yourself in the com-ments section.  Before you do, however, here's another thought that's just oc-curred to me.  If houses had 'sentience' of some kind and could have favourite tenants, how would you feel to learn that the favourite dwellers of one (or all) of your former abodes were not your family, but some other one from either before or after your term of residence?  Would you feel slighted by the knowledge or wouldn't it bother you?  I like to think (here in Castle Bonkers) that all of my former homes (and current one) regard my family and myself as the best occupants they ever had.  And who's to say me nay?
       

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

A VANISHED AGE...



The ageing process is a curious thing, in that its effects are gradual and don't usually register with us until they've gathered a fair bit of steam.  This applies not only to ourselves, but also our possessions.  Take my bedroom walls for example, or to be more precise, the posters, pin-ups, pages and pictures which adorn them (and are somewhat obscured in the accompanying photo by some of my collectables).

Most have now been in place for at least 30 years (though some go back nearly 40), but it's only in the last couple of years or so that it began to dawn on me just how faded, tanned, and wrinkled many had become, prompting me to begin the time-consuming task of replacing them with brighter, newer, and more colourful duplicates.  I've now renewed around 80 of them, and my room looks all the better for it, but it occurs to me that I'm living in a 'vanished age' which I've preserved by means of a scanner and printer.

Some were replicated by scanning the originals and digitally restoring them, others by scanning spare issues of the comics they came from - some purchased at the same time as the originals, others a few years afterwards (and a good many years ago).  Truth to tell, many of the wall pics had probably begun to look old quite a while back, but it wasn't until they became noticeably mottled that I realised time had taken its toll and decided to do something about it.  However, when younger, I'd probably have just replaced them with new (and different) posters and pin-ups, so why indulge this odd compulsion to preserve things the way they were?

I think I know the answer.  As regular readers of my other blog may be aware, my family originally lived here (in the house I currently occupy) from 1972 to '83, whereupon we moved to another house in a different neighbourhood and resided there for just over four years before returning to our former home.  Not wanting to move from this house back in '83, I felt like one who'd been "from the room untimely ripped" (to misquote Shakespeare) and this made me want to re-create (as much as possible given the different dimensions of my new room), the ambience of my old one.

Had we never moved, this desire to replicate my former surroundings would likely never have occurred to me and, as I said, I'd probably have replaced time-worn pictures with new and different ones when the occasion required.  The irony is though, that even if we'd never moved, my room couldn't have remained the same anyway, as I'd have had to remove my 'wall adornments' to accommodate renovation and refurbishment to the house a mere year or three down the line. (Thankfully, we were spared that inconvenience.)

This would've meant being decanted to a caravan for a fortnight (with furniture and possessions put into storage) while the house was gutted of original fixtures and fittings, then rewired, re-plumbed and, where necessary, re-plastered.  (New wall sockets and light switches were installed, but not in exactly the same spots, hence remedial work being required on the walls.)  Upon completion, the entire house would've needed redecorated, and as some of my old pictures were glued to the wallpaper, I'd more than likely have just put up new ones.  However, not happy at moving, my reluctance to abandon the warm familiarity of my former surroundings inspired me to try and re-create them in my new room, and again in my old one when we returned.

I've never managed to shake that compulsion, so now sleep in a room that's largely the same as it was between 1975 and 1983, resulting in me living in a bygone age that vanished into the mists of time 35 years ago.  I can only conclude that moving to another house in '83 was a traumatic experience for me, and one which affects my outlook to this very day.  Or it could be that I'm just bonkers I suppose, but if you agree with that diagnosis, I'd much prefer you kept it to yourselves.  After all, you know what a timid, sensitive soul I am, so there's no need to be cruel.

Thoughts, theories, observations or empathy can be left in the considerately-provided comments section if you feel so motivated.
              
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