Friday, 18 August 2017

MYSTERIES, MUSINGS, & MEANDERINGS...



In previous posts I've bored you all rigid with ponderous ponderings on the nature of time, as well as rambling reminiscences of my childhood and how I've never been quite able to comprehend how I went to bed one night as a teenager and woke up what seems like the very next day as the grumpy curmudgeon I am now.  Well, the bad news is that it's more of the same, I'm afraid.

As a child I was always looking backward.  When I moved from the first house I remember (but not the first I lived in), I made little pilgrimages to my old street to look at my former abode and derive some comfort from the familiarity of its presence.  What's odd about this over-developed sense of nostalgia is that I only lived three or four minutes away and was a mere five and a half years old.  Wow!  Not even six and already hankering after the 'good old days'.


This compulsion to revisit the past has been a prominent feature of my personality all through my life to this very day.  I recently added photographs of the views from the windows of my previous houses to my screensaver facility so that I can again gaze on familiar scenes whenever the mood takes me.  At the click of a key I can re-experience any one of several landscapes that once met me when I drew back the curtains in the morning at various stages in my life.

However, there was one particular house (the third after the aforementioned ones above) I lived in for several years that I didn't miss 'til over a dozen years after moving out (and two houses down the line) and I've often wondered as to the reasons for this 'delayed reaction'.  If you're interested (or aren't currently engaged in watching paint dry), feel free to join me as I explore the possible explanation for the curious complexity which has puzzled me for many a long year.


When I moved from the house in question (back in 1972), my life still revolved to a great degree around the neighbourhood it was situated in.  I continued to attend the school just across the road from it for another two and a half years.  I still went to Summer and Christmas fayres in the church at the top of the street, and my mother dutifully trotted along to the Sunday services every week, even though there was another congregation of the same denomination just around the corner from our new home.  (In fact, it was from this group that the one my mother went to had sprung.)  My friends all lived near or around my old domicile and I continued to frequent the area for quite a few years after.

It wasn't unusual for me to come home from school (and later, work), have my tea, and then return to my previous neighbourhood to hang about the local shopping centre (about thirty seconds away from my old front door) with my pals.  Perhaps that explains why I wasn't consumed with the same rabid pangs of nostalgia I nursed for previous houses;  I saw it so often that I simply never had a chance to miss it.  The ambiance of the house was preserved in our new home by the presence of the same furniture we'd had in every place we'd ever lived in - plus, our new house was similar in many respects to the first one I remembered, hence it conjured up a feeling of familiarity that pre-dated the dwelling we had just recently vacated.


It wasn't until we had again moved house (in 1983) and were ensconced in yet another new residence that I gradually started to miss the one we had quit way back in 1972. What's strange about this was that I was simultaneously wallowing in nostalgic notions for the homestead we had just left (to say nothing of the ones which preceded them both), so it certainly can't be denied that I was spoilt for choice when it came to such sentimental self-indulgence.  Maybe I'm just greedy?

Perhaps another reason I only started to miss this particular house when I did had something to do with running into an old classmate from primary school in the neighbourhood shops across from my old home in 1984 or '85.   ALEX LOWE by name, and as fine and decent a bloke as you could ever hope to meet.  We exchanged greetings, enquired after one another's well-being, and then Alex asked:  "Are you still living across the road?", nodding in the direction of my previous abode.  He was surprised to learn that I'd moved away about twelve or thirteen years earlier, and it made me wonder how many other people I knew still thought I lived in a place I'd left almost half my life away at that point.


Talking of Alex (and veering wildly off topic), I hope he won't mind me recounting that he once appeared in our secondary school play as a fairy, uttering the immortal lines:  "I'm a fairy, bright and gay, helping others every day!"  I don't recall anything else about that play, but Alex's turn got such a huge laugh on the night that everyone remembered it - and constantly quoted the lines back to him in lisping, falsetto voice over the course of the next few terms.  (I know I did, little bastich that I was.)  He always took it in good humour, being the fine fellow he is.

I'd planned to expand the scope of this topic and try and explore (in an epic exercise in tedium) wider themes than I actually have.  For example, what it is that draws us to our past and connects us to where we came from, and whether or not it has any bearing on the direction we take in life.  Can a house in which we once stayed shape our perceptions of ourselves, or would we be precisely the same as we are regardless of the bricks and mortar which shield us from the elements?  However, the realisation has now dawned on me that it's simply too big a concept to concisely and competently capture within the confines of a blog post - in an interesting and entertaining way, at least.


I'll have to content myself with the hope (slim as it may be) that I may have prompted some readers to indulge in a little quiet contemplation of whatever memories reside within the repositories of their own minds.

Or, failing that, helped cure them of their insomnia.


Sunday, 30 April 2017

CHILDHOOD CAPERS - CHAPTER THREE: THE 'AMAZING' UNCLE WILLIE...



I used to have an uncle;  nothing unusual about that - lots
of folk have uncles.  I had more than one uncle of course, but it's
one in particular I'm going to talk about today.  Let's call him Uncle
Willie - mainly because that was his name.  Although, in the interests
of historical accuracy, it behooves me to admit that I'm unsure whether
he was an 'actual' uncle or merely an 'honorary' one, in that convenient
bracket that older male relatives are placed when it's not known exact-
ly what their title should be.  He never struck me as a very nice man to
be frank, and he was eventually sectioned under the mental health
act for beating up his wife - who, unsurprisingly, happened to be
my aunt.  They were both quite elderly when all this was
going on, which is all rather tragic I suppose.

I remember being through in Edinburgh with my family
back in the late '60s, visiting one of my father's sisters (another
aunt), and Uncle Willie and his wife were there too.  We all left at the
same time and I remember Uncle Willie put his hand in his pocket and
slipped some coins into the hands of my other aunt's kids.  I was sur-
prised to see this act of generosity, because he'd never done that
with me or my brother.  I liked him even less after that.

Uncle Willie was a bit of a blowhard.  Full of tall tales and
unlikely stories designed to portray himself in the most flattering
light.  Anything anyone else had ever done, he'd done first or done
better - and sometimes even both.  He and his wife were visiting our
house one night, and he took the opportunity to regale my brother
and myself with tales of how fit he was and how he was able to
expand his chest to nigh Olympian proportions.

He could see from our expressions that we remained un-
convinced (nor were we much interested, truth be told) so he in-
sisted on demonstrating his 'amazing ability'.  At first he stood in a
stooped position with his chest as far back towards his spine as pos-
sible, then slowly stood up, thrusting his chest out as far as he could
and, arching his back while leaning forward, attempted to create the
impression that he'd achieved his stated goal.  When he was finished,
he proudly announced:  "Mabel, I've just expanded my chest by 11
and a half inches!"  He hadn't of course, all he'd done is made a
tit of himself.   We were too polite to say so, but we had a
good laugh at him after he'd left.

 I'm glad I've no nieces and nephews, because at least I know
I can never be regarded with derision or disdain in the way that
me and my brother discreetly regarded Uncle Willie.  So I suppose
the moral of this story is that if you want your young relatives to be
left with a good impression of you when you're gone, then you
should avoid trying to impress them while you're here.

Monday, 13 February 2017

MAN IS A DOG'S WORST FRIEND...



Not long after our dog TARA died, a friend asked me to
look after his four-legged friend for a while, so I did.  Two weeks
after my doggie-sitting term had ended, I bought a puppy, ZARA,
who was the final dog out of three that my family had over a nearly
26 year period.  Let me tell you something - people who don't like
dogs - or any animals in fact - and are untouched by an animal's
death, are unnatural.  There's something missing in them and
they're very probably latent serial killers.

But that's another subject.  When Zara was a few months
old and still in the process of getting her jags, I was sitting in the
vet's one evening and a dog could be heard whining behind a door.
The vet came out to speak to me, and I caught a glimpse of a black
dog which must've been tethered to a table leg or something.  As I
was speaking with the vet, the whining increased and the dog start-
ed scratching at the door and yelping.  I asked what was wrong
with it and the vet replied "It's getting put to sleep."

Anyway, after my business was completed, I made my
way home feeling a little sorry for the dog, but too delighted with
my own pup to dwell on it.  A few years later, I ran into a friend, who
mentioned that he'd been given the very canine that I'd once looked
after, because its owner couldn't keep it any more.  "What happened
to it?" I asked him.  "I had to get it put down because..."  I forget the
reasons why, but I asked him where he'd taken the poor dog, and,
sure enough, it was the very vet's where I'd taken Zara for
her course of injections.

I checked the timeline with him and it matched.  It was then I
realized that the poor creature had been the dog behind the door,
and must have recognized my scent or my voice - hence its frantic
scratching, whining and yelping in an attempt to be rescued from
what it must have sensed was its final fate.  And I had failed it,
and it had gone to its end unloved and unwanted.

Looking back now, I'm not sure what I could have done, if
anything, but it still bothers me every now and again to this day.
I'd only looked after it for a fortnight or so, and it wasn't as if it was
'my' dog, but that poor creature must've hoped I'd rescue it and I let
it down, unaware of its identity 'though I'd been.  Humans are often
pretty useless when it counts, and I was found amongst that par-
ticular number on that sad and pitiful day.  Alas, I no longer
even recall the doomed dog's name.

Regrets?  I've had a few...and this was one of them.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

GARDENS OF THE MIND...



was passing my former house in an old neighbourhood
 yesterday and, acting on impulse, decided to 'catch a swatch'
at the back garden.  I was saddened to see that the clothes poles
and lawn were gone, and that the garden had been re-slabbed to
cover the whole area.  It was a bit of a shock as the last time
I'd seen it, it was pretty much as it had been in my day.

I'm glad I'd managed to get photographs of the garden
back in 1988 and again in 1991, and preserved it as it used to
be in the halcyon days of my childhood.  For 20-odd years after
we'd flitted, the house and gardens (front and back) had remain-
ed mostly as I recalled them, but since then several significant
changes have been made, and things as I'd known them are
now a mere echo in the hallowed halls of history.

If I were ever to win the Lottery, I'd buy every house in
which I've ever lived and restore them as much as possible
to their former glory.  In a completely self-indulgent wallow in
nostalgia, I thought I'd take another walk around my old garden
and permit you to accompany me.  It wasn't much, but it was
mine - and shall forever remain so in the mystic bands of
memory.  Now, follow me - the past is this way.










Wednesday, 28 December 2016

HAMMY HOUDINI - HE DEFIED DEATH, BUT ONLY ONCE, ALAS...



When I was - oh, I dunno - around ten I suppose, me and my
brother had a pet hamster called  (you'll never guess) Hammy.
The name was  inevitable, both of us having grown up on TALES
Of The RIVERBANK, one of the WATCH WITH MOTHER TV shows
for kids.  Hammy had a cage which was sometimes kept in the kitchen,
sometimes in the garden cellar.  We would watch in rapt fascination as
he raced 'round his wheel for what seemed an absolute age, presum-
ably enjoying himself.  Now I realize it was probably out of
frustration and because he was 'stir-crazy'.

One day, my brother announced that Hammy was dead, and
with the morbid curiosity that most kids are heir to, we examined
the corpse.  Poor Hammy.  We tenderly wrapped him up in a brown
paper bag and gingerly laid him in the refuse bin in the back garden,
then retired back to the livingroom to mourn our departed pet.  But
then I had a sudden brainwave.  "Maybe he's only hibernating" I
speculated, so we retrieved Hammy from the bin and laid him
before the electric fire in an attempt to revive him.

Sure enough, after a while, Hammy came out of his state of
suspended animation and sniffed the air.  What a narrow escape
and no mistake.  I'm unsure as to  just how long Hammy was with us
after his Lazarus impersonation, but one day I noticed he was missing
from his cage in the cellar and a search of the confined space afforded
no joy.  Perhaps a week or so later, I found him dead in our watering
can (in the cellar), and even today I cringe in horror at the thought
of his despair as he waited for a rescue that never came.

I think this time we buried him in the garden instead of the
bin, but at least there was absolutely no doubt he was actually
dead.  No consolation of course, but thankfully he was spared the
awful fate of waking up as he was consigned to the grinding cogs
of a bin lorry and meeting, perhaps, an even worse fate than
the one which eventually claimed him.

Nearly 50 years later, I still think of Hammy on occasion,
and find myself hoping he didn't suffer too much or for too long.
Any Criv-ites out there ever have a childhood pet which they still
fondly remember today?  Resurrect them for a brief period by
telling us all about them in the comments section.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

THE LIGHT IN THE WINDOW...



Do you remember, as a youngster, making your way home
on a dark evening after a day out adventuring, and, as you caught
sight of your house, glimpsing the amber glow of the standard lamp
in your living-room, penetrating the curtains like a beacon to light
your way home?  Do you recall the sudden surge of renewed ener-
gy that infused your weary limbs, egging you on as you realised
you'd soon be warm and comfy in  familiar surroundings?

So do I!  In fact, 33 years ago, after my family had moved
to a new house in another neighbourhood, I'd sometimes pass my
former domicile on dark nights and trying to recapture that feeling,
as I hadn't lived long enough in our new residence to have re-created
the experience.  I'd see the light emanating from my previous home
and imagine for a moment that I still lived there.  Then the moment
would pass and I'd set course for my new abode some distance
away, warmed and fortified by memories of earlier times.

Nowadays, I reminisce fondly about that magical expe-
rience whenever I pass one of my former homes on a dusky
evening, and as I've said elsewhere before, I sometimes feel that
I could wander up the path of any of my previous houses, put my
key in the lock, and walk in to find everything just as it used to be.
You'll find that it doesn't matter how much you enjoy going out,
holidaying abroad, or travelling the world - nothing compares
to that sudden electric thrill of recognition on catching that
first sight of home and hearth when you return.

  Dulce Domum indeed.
  

Thursday, 29 September 2016

IS THE WORLD GETTING SMALLER, OR AM I GETTING BIGGER?



Compare the scene above with the one below.  The above
photo was taken circa 1988, the second one was taken today -
from approximately the same pov as the first pic.  Look at how
congested and narrow the street now seems compared to how it
once was.  My town was built to accommodate Glasgow's 'over-
spill' and had large areas of green within and around the town
to make it open and spacious, unlike the confined housing
schemes of the City which had become overcrowded.

The green areas within were part of the plan, but almost
30 years ago were re-designated as 'under-developed land',
which has resulted in them being crammed with just about any
buildings that'll fit.  The town no longer has that open and spa-
cious feel, and I deplore the change.  Where is it all going to
end?  It doesn't look as if it's going to be any time soon.

Planners don't seem to take account of the fact that, if you
build housing on playing fields, there are fewer play areas for
the larger number of kids that will inhabit the area.  More homes
for families to live in, less space for children to play.  Why can't
those who make these sort of decisions see that overcrowding
a neighbourhood that was originally designed and built with
'breathing space' is a recipe for disaster in the future?

Is the same thing happening where you live?  Have
a vent in our comments section and feel better for it.



IF ONLY EVERYTHING OLD WAS NEW AGAIN...



Just around the corner from my house is a block of flats
that's recently had some renovation work carried out (new roof
slates and rough-casting).  One of the paths that leads to the back
of the flats suffered some broken paving slabs in the process
and half of the path was replaced with nice new slabs.

I was struck by how fresh, clean and smooth they were
in comparison to the old ones, and it reminded me of how new
my town used to look back in the 1960s and '70s.  There are two
colours which I used to associate with my town - grey and green.
Grey (a nice light, bright grey) for the buildings, lampposts and
paths, and green for all the grassy areas and fields that
once existed (but now seem to have been built on).

Looking at the surviving half of the original path, it was
old and worn and discoloured, much as large portions of the
town now seem to be.  (And when I catch sight of my reflection,
as I also now seem to be.)   If only the place could recapture that
'fresh and new' look it once had, as too much of it appears a
little shabby and dilapidated compared to years ago.

Is it any wonder that yesterday can often seem
far more appealing than today or tomorrow?

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

CHILDHOOD CAPERS - CHAPTER TWO: 'A STICKY SITUATION'...



I've lived in many houses over the years, but there's one in
which I stayed for around only 15 months back in 1964 and '65.
Curiously, it doesn't seem, in retrospect, that I lived there for any
less duration than houses I inhabited for longer periods, despite the
fact that I had only one Christmas and two birthdays in the place.
And even then, the second birthday (my 7th) fell on the day we
flitted to another house, so I tend to associate that cheerful
event more with my new abode than the old one.

That information doesn't have much to do with the tale
I'm now about to relate, apart from the fact that it transpired in
my short-term domicile mentioned above.  (Just setting the scene
in my mind.)  As I type, it occurs to me that I may have already
recounted this story, but I'll persevere anyway as, even if I
have, it's bound to be new to some of you.

If I remember correctly, #41 was the 'doubler' I bought on the night...
but I had #42 at the same time.  I maybe even bought them together 

My parents were out one night (not a common event), and
an aunt had been drafted in to look after me and my brother.  In an
act of generosity, she gave us two bob each, and we ran around the
corner to CHAMBERS newsagent and spent it.  If I recall correctly,
I bought another copy of an issue of TV21 which I'd already had and
disposed of (I was fascinated by its pristine newness and indulged
myself), and me and my bruv each bought a tube of BRITFIX 77,
a polystyrene 'cement' for plastic model kits, as it always
paid to be prepared.

(Anyone remember Britfix 77?  It was 'THE' glue of the
'60s it seemed, and I'm not exactly sure when it disappeared.
I think I've still got a later tube tucked away somewhere, but the
77 had been dropped by this time, and the design on the tube
was different.  It was made by HUMBROL.)



Anyway, we returned to the house to survey our spoils.  I
snapped the tip off the end of my glue's nozzle and put in a pin,
the customary method used for resealing the tube to prevent the
glue drying up or leaking.  As this was also what my sibling usually
did ('twas he who showed me), I did the same for his tube, thinking I
was being helpful.  He took exception to my act of consideration and
flew into a temper tantrum, throwing the glue on the carpet and
stamping on it.  The result of this was to expel the contents
of the tube directly onto my aunt's black velvety ankle
boots, newly acquired not too long before.

Understandably, being a mere woman (sexist?  Moi?),
she got all emotional and started crying, squealing about the
ruination of her fancy footwear.  "On, my new boots, my new
boots!" she wailed over and over.  "It was Gordon's fault!" my
brother blurted, somewhat disingenuously.  She eventually calmed
down, but my parents had to reimburse her for the cost of the boots
(a fiver).  However, perhaps because she'd been so emotional at the
time of the incident, she only seemed to remember my brother's
attribution of the 'accident' to me (although I was quick to offer
the correct account of events), and it was his version
which was relayed to my parents.

I recall this page from #41 because I cut out the figure
of Steve.  Handy thing having a spare issue, eh?

Some time later, while visiting my gran (my aunt's mother
 obviously), she referred to 'my' crime of ruining the boots, so
obviously it was believed by other members of the family that I'd
been the perpetrator of that particular infraction, not my brother.
Whether they thought I'd been the one who stamped on the glue, or
were simply holding me accountable because they considered my
act of removing the tip (but resealing the tube, remember) as the
provocation for my brother's outburst, I couldn't say with any
certainty.  Not that it matters much as, either way, I was
blamed for something I hadn't actually done.

Consequently, I always detected a certain amount of antip-
athy towards me from that set of relatives, who never seemed
to quite take to me.  They appeared to think the world of my bruv
'though, but then again, he always was an ingratiating little 'sook'
when it came to currying their favour, whereas I didn't actually
give a fig whether they liked me or not.



Still feel the same way actually - as do they.  25-odd years
later, two other aunts (not the one with the boots) 'phoned my
mother, but didn't immediately hang up at their end when the con-
versation finished.  The answerphone was on in case anybody from
IPC called me about work, as my parents found it hard to make out
English accents on the other end of the 'phone, and often forgot to
pass on messages anyway.  The answering machine continued to
record, and what followed was a vicious, vitriolic, slanderous
diatribe about me between the two aunts, which I still
have on tape to this day.

Remind me to tell you the details on a
 future occasion.  It really is a shocker.


Friday, 16 September 2016

THE 'GOOFY' LETTERS...


Mr. TOM TIERNEY and granddaughter STACEY

In November 1965, my family moved into a new neighbour-
hood - new to us, that is.  I can no longer state with any certainty
whether it was on the first or subsequent evening that my brother
and myself met the other local kids, but I do remember one of them
introducing the group to us.  "Hi, I'm Tony and this is my brother
Kenny," said one of them.  Tony was TONY TIERNEY, and it
should come as no surprise to you to learn that his wee brother
shared the same surname.  (This was the '60s remember,
when siblings tended to have the same parents.)

There were others there too, to whom Tony introduced us
in turn, but I no longer recollect the precise roll call.  Probably
ROBERT FORTUNE and GRAHAM BROWN, along with GUS
MARTIN and KENNY McLEOD maybe, but I do seem to recall
there being around four or five in total.  I ran into Gus in Glasgow
a few weeks back, and Kenny called in today to deliver the pics
you see in this post.  Which brings me to the point.

Daughter GERALDINE and her dad

Kenny's father, TOM (who I always called Mr. Tierney)
was a regular letter writer to the local newspaper (and others).
He wrote under the nom de plume of 'GOOFY' and his missives
offered an often whimsical view of life in general, and also opinions
on issues relating specifically to things happening within the town.
His alter-ego enjoyed a certain amount of celebrity status among
a loyal group of readers, whose daily lives were cheered by ex-
posure to his latest thoughts, theories and fancies.  If he were
alive today, he'd doubtless have a blog of his own.

Tom's wife, ALICE.  (Or Mrs. Tierney to me.)  Blackpool 1977

I mentioned him in a previous post a while back, and
Kenny was much touched by the fact, and, I believe, derived
a certain pleasure from seeing his father's literary contributions
receiving public recognition, even on such a low-key outlet as this
blog.  I asked him to provide a photograph or two of his dad so I
could add one to the other post (which I have), but I thought I'd
do another one specifically on Mr. Tierney, as he was such
a fixture of the neighbourhood for so many years.

I have extremely fond memories of living in that neigh-
bourhood -  for nearly seven of the most formative years of
my life.  Most of the friends I know today, I first met back then,
and it's been a source of some surprise to me over the years to
learn just how many of them thought I still lived there many years
after having moved away, so strongly did they associate me with
the place.  Of course, the fact that I was often back in the area
probably helped cement that idea in their minds.

A slightly blurred screen-grab of Mr. Tierney's 'scooter' in his
back garden, shot from my bedroom window in a video I made
of my old house in 1991 - 19 years after I'd moved

There are quite a few folk who remind me of the area,
but none moreso, I guess, than Mr. Tierney.  No doubt he's
putting about on his little scooter in a finer place than this one,
mentally composing his next letter to The Heavenly Times.
And I'll bet they're enjoyed up there every bit as much as they
were down here.  In fact, he's probably been made editor by
now.  So here's to 'Goofy' - he may be gone, but he'll
definitely never be forgotten.

Mr. Tierney, with KENNY & TONY

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN YESTERYEAR...



Once upon a time, in a faraway country called The
Past, there was a shop named MODATOYS.  I don't think
that was  its sole name during its entire lifespan, as a nagging
voice tells me it was also christened TOYTOWN at one stage
and maybe even something else at another.  However, as I
remember it as Modatoys, that's how I'll refer to it now.
(It also sold books, games, and other things.)

The shop opened in the early '70s (if not earlier) and
was around until the late '80s (if not later), and I still have
several items I bought from the place over the years.  A pair
of mini-binoculars (with compass and mirror), The WIND In
The WILLOWS (a hardback and a paperback), TOAD Of
TOAD HALLMOONFLEETTHREE LITTLE GREY
MEN (and its sequel, Three Little Grey Men GO
DOWN The BRIGHT STREAM).

I also have a TWIKI figure from BUCK ROGERS, a
couple of red paintbrushes, two chess sets & boards (differ-
ent sizes), and perhaps one or two other things.  Oh, and the
paperback book you can see at the top of this post - ALICE'S
ADVENTURES In WONDERLAND.  I bought it on a mag-
nificently hot summer's afternoon in 1973 or '74 (so I'd still
have been a schoolboy), and one glance takes me back
to that time quicker than Dr. WHO's TARDIS.

When I leaf through its pages, the shop still exists, my
demolished schools yet stand in their prime, and the 'new
town' in which I live is exactly as it was back then - smaller,
brighter, cleaner, newer.  Everything is as it was, even if only
for a few fleeting moments, but oh, what welcome moments
they are.  I wish I could show you the interior colour photo-
graphs in the book, but I can't open it wide enough to
scan without damaging, and that would never do.

Readers, do you have a book or item that serves the
purpose of a time machine and takes you right back to an
earlier era from which you're loath to depart?  Why not tell
your fellow Mellows about it in the comments section?  Go
on - it's good to share.  So here's to The Past - some-
times it's the only thing to look forward to!


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 dis-
appointing 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?

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