Saturday, 5 December 2015

PAST, PRESENT OR FUTURE?



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

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

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

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

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

What would your choice be?

Friday, 30 October 2015

JOURNEYS - BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS...



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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE...



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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

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

(Harvest Gate by Iain Osborne.)
   

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

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



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

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


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

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


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

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

******

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

******

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

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

OF MICE AND BLIND MEN...



Once upon a time, in a far away land called 'The Past', I had a friend called ADAM COWIE (not quite his real name, but close enough).  From the age of around 7 years old until I was about 22, I considered him one of my closest pals.  I'm not quite sure why, as he was a liar, a fantasist and a thief, who, as a child, was always getting into trouble.  (This is the same boy who stole the moon-suit, as related in the previous post.)  His parents, who were both blind, were members of the local Baptist Church, and had an annoying tendency (as do many parents) to attribute their son's constant bad behaviour (at school and outside of it) to others, rather than to his own natural propensity for landing himself in the soft and smelly brown stuff.

One Saturday, in 1970 or '71, myself and my pal were wandering around the town centre and called in to the Pet Shop to have a look-see.  (Incidentally, the shop only relatively recently relocated to new premises after being in the same place for well over 40 years.)  Our eyes spotted a white mouse, which was inexpensive enough for me to purchase if I so wished.  I was half-inclined to, and Adam encouraged me, saying that he would give me half the cost at a later date, and that we could take turns looking after it.

And so it came to pass that we became the proud owners of a new pet.  We went back to his house first, whereupon his parents said he wasn't allowed to have it, not even on a part-time basis.  He threw a strop, and his father, fetching a cane from the outside garden cellar, marched his son into the house for a whipping.  He turned in my direction as he went through the door, saying "See the trouble you've brought to this house?!"  It goes without saying that I considered it unfair of him to place the blame for his son's reaction on me.  (It wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't be the last.)

Anyway, I became the sole owner of QUICKSILVER, as he came to be known, and looked after him until I had to find him a new home when we went on a fortnight's holiday to Largs in 1971.  (I didn't really want to part with him, but couldn't let him starve.)  Many, many years later, someone pointed out the fellow to whom I'd given him, and said that he was well-known for maltreating (if not outright torturing) pets he'd owned when younger.  As I type this,  I'm overcome with horror and guilt at the fate to which I'd unwittingly delivered poor Quicksilver, and can only hope that he didn't suffer too much.  If there's one thing I could go back and change in my life, it would be to not hand my mouse over to the sicko who I  thought he'd be safe with.

(I have a nagging memory of running into him months later, in '71 or '72, and asking him how my former pet was.  "It's deid!" he muttered as he passed.  I was slightly stunned at the news, but it wasn't until I learned of his disturbing proclivities long after the fact that the sinister significance of his words dawned on me.)

But I digress.  Earlier I'd said that Adam's parents were blind, which was true, but though his father had one glass eye, the blindness in his other eye was caused by a cataract, which, in 1976, was operated on, resulting in him having some partial-but-restricted sight.  Adam's mother had died in 1975, and he and his father moved into a flat not far away from me several months later.  It was while living in this flat that a female neighbour would sometimes chap their door and hand in a pot of home-made soup for the pair of them, purely out of the goodness of her heart.

One day, while handing in some soup, she mentioned that her radio had expired.  "Bring it over and I'll take a look at it," said my pal's pater, and she duly trotted across the landing to fetch it.  It turned out to be a simple matter of a blown fuse, but rather than replace it, Mr. Cowie just affixed another plug and retained the original.  (It may even have been the complete power cord.)  Once it was working again and handed back, I heard him crowing to his son at what a far better plug it was, and what an inferior, cheaper, age-worn plug he'd supplied in its place.  He was positively gloating at having put one over on the neighbour who'd never been any-thing but kind to him.  I almost felt like saying "That'll be why Adam's such a lying, diddling, scheming b*st*rd who's always getting himself into trouble - it's the example you've set him!"  I didn't, of course.

While still at primary school years before, Adam and a classmate came into school one morning with two diecast toy cars.  I can no longer recall if they were CORGIs or DINKYs, but Adam claimed that they were both presents from an aunt of either him or the other boy.  (I still remember the second lad's name, but I'll spare his blushes as what I'm about to relate was uncharacteristic of him.)  Turned out they'd stolen them from a young boy playing outside his house on their way to school, as we all discovered when the boy's mother descended on the school to complain.  If they'd kept the cars in their schoolbags and not shown them off, they might have got away with it, but having flaunted their ill-gotten goods, it was easy to track down the culprits.

His parents were obviously in denial over their inabilty to control their unruly offspring, and often blamed me for his wayward exploits, as we sometimes got into bother for trivial misbehaviour together.  However, the fact that I was seldom ever in any trouble myself, while he was often in trouble either by himself or with others, was lost on them.  It was always "that [insert my name here] fault", whether I was even present at the time of an incident or not.  Years later, he admitted to me that he sometimes told his parents that I was the cause of several of his various misdemeanours, simply to shift the blame and assuage his parents' anger - even if we hadn't been together at the time of his transgressions.

If you're interested in what eventually became of this fellow and our friendship, further details can be found here.  Thinking things over now, if my former friend and a mouse were hanging over a cliff, I'd be sure to rescue the rodent first (the furry one, that is).  In fact, I'd be tempted to call it quits after saving the mouse.

This has been another completely self-indulgent, non-comics related 'Rambling Reminiscence' - in case you hadn't already noticed.  Comments, anyone?

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

PERCEPTIONS AND PROJECTIONS DEPT - HOW THINGS ARE, OR HOW THINGS SEEM TO BE?



This is going to be a difficult one to express because it's kind of a nebulous con-cept, but I'm willing to give it a go if you are.  Ready?  Do houses, neighbourhoods and places have a particular 'ambiance' all their own, or does it all depend on the 'eye of the beholder'?

Oh dear, lost your interest already?  I'll persevere.  When I was about 13, the area I lived in had a particular 'feel' about it.  When I moved house in 1972, aged 13 and a half, that 'atmosphere', 'feeling', 'mood' - call it what you will - continued in my new home and street, and I've wondered over the years whether that was something to do with both houses sitting atop a hill.

You see, when I'd come out of either of those houses, I'd stand at the top of a hill and view the horizon in the distance, giving me a feeling of being 'master of all I surveyed'.  As I walked down (literally) either of those streets, the horizon became less visible on the descent, and it's only natural to wonder if my similar experiences of both places is what resulted in my parallel perceptions of them.

Or was it nothing to do with that?  Was it just where I was 'at' in my head at that particular time in my life, and was it me projecting my own subjective perceptions onto both neighbourhoods that accounts for how I regarded them at the time, rather than how they objectively were?  In short, was it how I imagined them rather than how they really were that determined my perceptions?

Had I lived in either of those houses at different times in my life than when I did, perhaps I'd have 'sensed' and responded to those surroundings in another way;  perhaps the ambiance, as it appeared to me, would have been different at 19 than it was at 13, who knows?

Perhaps we just 'see', 'sense', 'feel', 'experience', etc., things in particular ways at different times in our lives, irrespective of how things happen to be.  Could it be that we project our own sense of a place onto it, rather than respond to how that place actually is?  All I know is that, these days, whenever I walk down either of the two streets mentioned, although I can remember how things 'used to be', I'm all too painfully aware that they seem different somehow, in ways that I can't fully articulate.

Of course, other contributory factors must be considered, one being that at the foot of the first hill was a school I attended as a boy in the 1960s.  At that time, WHAM! comic was reprinting the adventures of The FANTASTIC FOUR, and on winter after- noons after school I would see the building interiors lit up in the darkness as the cleaners set about their business.

From the top of the second hill (but farther away) I could see another school of a similar design, which, when viewed in the same wintry conditions, reminded me of the school in my previous neighbourhood.  At the time (early '70s), The MIGHTY WORLD Of MARVEL was reprinting those same FF tales, so perhaps the 'deja-vu' type sensation created in my subconscious can hardly be considered surprising.  Then again, maybe not.
   
When we look back on our childhoods much later in life, summers always seem to have been longer, skies bluer, winters whiter, Christmases snowier, etc. - but were they?  Or is it simply the case that's how we viewed things at the time (or imagine them later), rather they actually were?  Time changes all things, alas, but oft-times far too quickly.

Anyone got any thoughts on the matter?  (Presuming, of course, that I managed to express my thoughts in any way resembling a coherent one.)

Sunday, 5 July 2015

THE DAY 'BATMAN' FAILED...



You'll perhaps recall me relating the tale of how myself and one of my pals used to play at BATMAN & ROBIN back in the 1960s.  (You're no doubt relieved to hear that it wasn't just a few months ago - I'm not that sad.)  For my utility belt, I utilised part of the accompanying paraphernalia from my father's wartime portable morse code apparatus, which, to my young eyes, looked vaguely similar to ADAM WEST's equipment-laden waistline accessory on TV.

Now, usually I came in for a fair bit of mockery from my peers for my costumed exploits 'round the neighbourhood, as did my companion in crime-fighting, JOHN FIDLER (lucky his nickname wasn't 'KID', eh?), who assumed the role of ROBIN, The BOY WONDER.  However, one evening, three local girls, who'd never previously paid the slightest bit of attention to me, seemed impressed by the striking appearance of my makeshift 'utility belt' and enthusiastically asked for a demonstration of its capabilities.

Touched by their obvious interest and spurred on by the look of wonder and admiration in their eyes, I agreed, and as we were playing close to some nearby lock-ups, I headed over to the water tap used by car owners to wash their vehicles.  It was housed in a grey-painted, oblong wooden 'box' against a lock-up wall, and picking up a metal bar from the ground, I placed it atop the flat surface of the box.

Directing the girls to stand at a distance over to my right (on the faux grounds that "it might be dangerous") I pretended to take some imaginary 'plastic explosive' from my belt and apply it to the iron rod.  Then, standing beside the tap and preventing their uninterrupted view, I simulated the act of pressing a button on what passed for my buckle while simultaneously attempting (surreptitiously) to bring down my left elbow on the end of the bar and hopefully send it somersaulting high into the air as though propelled by the explosive.

Alas, my ability was not the equal of my ambition, and my ruse was rumbled right away.  Disillusioned cries rent the air, along with contemptuous looks and jeering tones from the trio as they stormed off in disgust at my barefaced attempt to defraud them.  Ah, how fickle were the affections of these three feisty females, the extent of whose eager expectations I had clearly underestimated and been found sadly lacking as a consequence.

Even today, I remember how deflating it was to see the look of awe and adoration fade from the eyes of the three former fawning fillies who, only a short time before, had regarded me as a figure worthy of respect and admiration, if not actual hero worship.  There have been several females down through the years whose unrealistic expectations I've probably been unable to live up to, but nothing fills me with such feelings of failure as the memory of the faces of those three fearsome frustrated furies from so very long ago.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

DO YOU BELIEVE IN GHOSTS, MR BLUNDEN?



Long ago and far away, in a time and place which now seem to have existed only in dreams, I read a book called The GHOSTS, by ANTONIA BARBER.  I was around eleven or twelve at the time, and I enjoyed it so much that, an hour or so later, after returning home from a trip to the shops with my family, I read it all over again.

Contrary to what the title suggests, the book isn't really about ghosts, it's about time travel.  Not in a science-fiction way though, but rather in a kind of mystical, magical fashion, which isn't explained in any detail.  A couple of years after reading it, a film version was released, called The AMAZING Mr. BLUNDEN, starring LAURENCE NAISMITH and LYNNE FREDERICK.  (To say nothing of the  usual complement of stalwarts from the British acting community, like JAMES VILLIERS, DIANA DORS and MADELINE SMITH, to name but a few.

The book was set in what was then present-day 1969, with two children travelling 100 years back in time to save two other children who had perished in a house fire.  However, for some reason, LIONEL JEFFRIES, the screenwriter and director, set it in 1918 instead.  It's not a bad little movie, and is well-worth watching for the delightful performances of James Villiers and other members of the cast, though I was slightly disappointed to find that some dialogue in the book which had made me laugh out loud was absent.

I find it interesting that the film was in production around the time I was reading the novel on which it was based, although I didn't get to see it 'til about thirteen or fourteen years later.  (About half my life away at the time.)  However, I remember seeing the trailer on television back at the end of 1972 and instantly recognising, despite the different name, the source of this new cinematic production.  Also, the book had only been written about two years before filming began, so full marks to Lionel Jeffries for recognising its potential straight off the mark.


There's a passage in the book where one of the children, in the present day, is exploring the burnt-out country house that she experienced 100 years in the past (when it was still in its glory), and she recognises some of the items lying around the now deserted and dilapidated rooms.  Here is what it says:

Old clothes, old clocks, old toys, old books, which had once been swept along on the strong current of everyday life, now lay in corners like the tide-wrack along the beach, serving only to show where life had been.

All these things had been cherished once for their beauty or their usefulness, or just for the warm familiarity of their presence.  Now they were cast aside and forgotten.

As someone who has spent over half his life in re-acquiring once-cherished treasures that had fallen victim to time, there's something about the phrase "the warm familiarity of their presence" that really resonates with me.  Its an extremely comforting feeling being surrounded by the familiar, because then the past doesn't seem so very far away and, consequently, the illusion can be maintained for a little longer that the end of life's journey isn't quite so near as is actually the case.

So, if you haven't already done so, read the book and see the movie - and may all your 'ghosts' be familiar ones.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

TOO MANY LINKS, TOO LONG A CHAIN...



Being of an artistic bent (stop it), I've been useful over the years to quite a number of people.  "Gordon, my boss/manager/teacher/pastor has put me in charge of organising the advertising/posters/illustrations/publicity for our upcoming jumble sale/Christmas party/school reunion/rally and I thought of you.  Could you help me out by doing me a banner/cartoon/diagram/map to help raise people's awareness/interest/curiosity/attendance?"  Then they call up another poor schmuck to talk them into doing some other aspect of the task assigned to them, while they sit back and take the credit for the fruits of other people's labour.

This chain of events usually operates in descending order, with one person being assigned the task, who then asks someone else to arrange it all, who then asks someone else for help in some area of said task, who then asks various other people to do the actual work.  Too many middle-men in my opinion.  The person who initiates the process should earn their wage  by making themselves aware of exactly who can do the job required and contact them directly.  Then all the useless people whose only area of expertise is knowing someone else capable of doing their work for them could be eliminated from a needlessly long process.

Someone I know who works for a design/ad agency was once tasked with thinking up a name for an in-house magazine for one of their customers and asked me for ideas.  I thought for all of two minutes before coming up with one that the person was delighted with.  I was told later that the customer was also delighted, and no doubt lots of cash changed hands.  I never saw a penny and received nary a thanks, yet was given the distinct impression that I should regard my invitation to 'participate' as being accorded a great honour.

Local government seems to operate on this principle.  Just think of the dosh we would save taxpayers if we could eliminate all the pointless levels of bureaucracy whose only purpose in the overall scheme of things is to get other people to do the job that they can't do themselves.  It's the old, old story, I fear - 'too many Chiefs and not enough Indians'.  Got any examples of such instances that you'd care to share?  The comments section awaits.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE VANISHING HA'PENNY...



When we lived in a neighbourhood called WESTWOOD in the 1960s, the bridge over the main road across from our house had a 1939 ha'penny (pronounced 'hayp'nie' - in my neck of the woods anyway) embedded in the concrete of the far-side ramp.  Whenever we crossed the bridge en route to the bus stop, I would gaze at that ha'penny and wonder who'd 'planted' it.  One of the workies who built the bridge, perhaps, or some kid who'd managed to set foot on the ramp before the concrete bed from which the railings protruded was completely set?

Later, when crossing the bridge on my way to secondary school on the other side of the road, I couldn't pass that ha'penny without looking at it and sometimes even touching it for luck.  Believe it or not, that coin was a well-known local icon for 30-plus years, and I don't think there's anyone I know from the area at that time who wasn't aware of it.  Even today, I hear folk reminiscing about "the ha'penny on the bridge".

Then, around 17 years ago, the ha'penny suddenly vanished from its accustomed spot.  The indentation where it had once been remained visible for years afterwards until fairly recently, when a cosmetic repair job was done on the bridge due to having fallen into a state of disrepair over time.  In fact, I'm not entirely sure that the circular impression isn't still visible - I'll have to check the next time I'm in the area.

I should add, in case I've given you the wrong idea, that the bridge wasn't anywhere near as old as the coin.  (It had either been completed just shortly before we moved to the area in '65, or was erected not long after.)  Old currency was still in circulation up until Decimalisation in 1971, and even then, a few coins were in use alongside their decimal equivalents for many years afterwards.

So what happened to that 1939 ha'penny?  (Just think - SUPERMAN had not long made his debut when the coin was minted, and BATMAN was just about to take his first bow.)  Well, as it happens, I'm in a position to tell you.  Here, for the first time anywhere, is the scoop on the fate of that renowned coin, whose disappearance has puzzled and disappointed old-time local worthies in equal measure for close to two decades.


NOW IT CAN BE TOLD!



Exposure to the elements for over 30 years had left the coin - and the concrete setting which housed it - in a sorry state.  I knew at some stage the bridge would have to be patched up in places, and it occurred to me that the coin would then probably disappear under a new concrete skin, never to be seen again.  And there was also the risk that, with the ongoing erosion of its concrete surround, it may well become detached from its moorings and cast into oblivion by the winds and rain.

So, on June 5th, 1996 (for the historians amongst you), at half-past midnight, I was driven to the bridge, whereupon I liberated the captive ha'penny by careful application of hammer and chisel - with a single blow - and took it home with me, where it yet resides to this day.

So, there you have it!  Any long-term locals reading this who may have wondered what had happened to that iconic ha'penny need wonder no more.  It's safe and sound in a secret hideaway, where I can take it out every now and again and remember it in its heyday as a neighbourhood landmark - whose presence everybody and their granny acknowledged whenever they passed it in its home on the Westwood bridge.

However, in the spirit of unselfish generosity for which I'm justly famous, I herewith share some pictures of it with you now.  Not just the side which countless locals observed in their daily perambulations across the bridge, but also the face which kissed concrete for more than three decades before I rescued it from an impending and inglorious fate.

Don't you just love a happy ending?
    

Sunday, 31 May 2015

OVER THE HILL (AND FAR AWAY)...



One of the odd things I've noticed about myself as I get older is that my sense of distance is greater, and that places seem farther away from me than they once used to.  I don't mean visually, but geographically.  For example, the environs of my old neighbourhood once seemed, in my subconscious mind, to be so close that if I looked out of my window, there they would be for me to gaze upon as though I actually still lived there.

This feeling was no doubt made more acute by the fact that, when I first moved from my previous abode, I returned every weekday to attend the school across from my former home.  After school, once I'd had my tea, I would visit pals in the area and, truth to tell, I was along there so often that it probably never quite registered that I no longer lived there and was merely a visitor.

The distance between the two neighbourhoods seemed practically non-existent back then, and, to me, was no greater walk than the local shops at the end of my street.  It was the same with most locales I was familiar with - they seemed no farther away than the time it took me to think of them.  My house was like the TARDIS - outside its doors was any location I wanted to visit.  All I had to do was walk through them and I'd be there.

Nowadays my perceptions are strangely different.  My old neighbourhood seems as distant as MORDOR, and a lifetime away to reach.  What was once a brief walk now stretches before me like an arduous trek from which I may not return.  Whereas I never before felt far removed from any familiar childhood place, I now feel remote and isolated from them, and they seem to be as difficult to reach as the fabled BRIGADOON

I suppose that's as good a definition of 'over the hill' as it's possible to get.  Funny how I never before realized how literal a description of advancing years it actually is.  When you're over the hill, once-familiar 'places' on the other side are far more difficult to access - and it's an uphill struggle to even attempt the task.

******

"Ah, sweet boyhood, how eager are we as boys to be quit
of thee, with what regret do we look back on thee before our
man's race is half-way run!"

J. Meade Falkner.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

LETTER IN A SHOEBOX...



You know what it's like - things start to pile up and make the place look untidy.  If you're like me, you start stashing things away wherever you can find a space for them.  With yours truly, that space is usually an old shoebox, of which I have several.  Old letters (some unopened), bank statements, leaflets and the like.  I was going through one such repository of assorted items a little while back and discovered a letter from 1990 amongst the contents.  It was a nice 'thank you' letter from the woman who'd once lived in the very house in which I now reside, before swapping residences with us back in 1972. 

As related in an earlier post, we lived in her old house for eleven years before moving elsewhere, only to move back again just over four years later.  We'd been back only a few months when a friend  informed me that the field I'd played in as a boy (across the road from the house we'd vacated in 1972) was due to have amenity housing for pensioners built upon it, which, to me was very sad news indeed.  I always feel much the same when I hear of a childhood landmark about to bite the dust - there goes my past.

Anyway, one night I boldly chapped the door of my old abode and clued in Mrs. MAISIE MITCHELL (who remembered me from all those years before) about the upcoming fate of the field across the road.  Would it be all right to come along some day and capture it on film before it disappeared forever?  Mrs. Mitchell was agreeable to accommodating my over-developed sense of nostalgia, and, some months later, for the first time in sixteen years, I crossed the doorstep of my childhood home.  (Well, one of them.)


I got some good photos and made another couple of trips over the next few weeks, to grab a few more snaps of what I'd missed first time around (she'd kindly let me take some pictures all around the house) and, on the last occasion, to present her with a box of chocolates and a little ornament to thank her for her kind indulgence.  I also gave her a cassette tape of JIM REEVES and said I'd give her some other music the first chance I got.  Some time later, I duly posted them to her as I didn't want to wear out my welcome by turning up on her doorstep yet again like the proverbial bad penny.

Some weeks (if not months) later, on the 14th of June, 1990, I received a letter from Mrs. Mitchell, thanking me for the tapes and informing me that she'd now moved to another address.  (If I remember correctly, she told me in a subsequent conversation (either by 'phone or in person) that the tapes had been forwarded to her from the old address to which I'd sent them.)  She was only in her new flat for a few short years before she died, making the effort of moving seem more trouble than it was worth to my way of thinking, but obviously she had no way of knowing what the future held for her.  (Who does?)  Interestingly, her new home was quite close to ours, being only a few minutes away in the same neigh-bourhood.  It's a shame she never got to enjoy it for longer.

As I re-read her letter, it brought back memories of my old home and my visits back there.  (I returned in 1991 to shoot a video, by arrangement with the new tenants who'd swapped with Mrs. Mitchell only the year before.)  It struck me as being somehow oddly significant to be reading a letter from someone who'd once lived in this very house, addressed in her own hand to her previous residence - while probably being completely unaware of the profundity inherent in such a situation.  When I'd posted her the cassettes, I was only too well aware of how strange it seemed to be sending something to an address that was still all-too familiar to me - that still felt like 'my' address, not someone else's.  However, I realize that not many people think in quite the same way I do, which, on reflection, is probably a good thing.

Anyway, I cleared out quite a few things from that old shoebox, but I decided to hold on to Mrs. Mitchell's letter. It somehow seems right at home here.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

BEHOLD THE FAR HORIZONS - I WOULD IF I COULD...



You're looking at the view that could once be enjoyed from my bedroom window of the home I lived in from the mid-'60s until the early '70s.  The first picture was taken 16 years to the very day after my family had left the house, by arrangement with the then-current tenant with whom we'd exchanged residences so many years before.  Although not evident in the above pic, on a clear day one could see purple hills above the line of trees on the far horizon, but I captured them on film on a subsequent visit a few weeks later.


In the second scene, taken three years on (with the consent of new tenants), amenity housing for the elderly stands on the site of the field where the neigh-bourhood kids (and myself) once played in previous years.  A sign of the times I suppose, but I can't help lamenting the fact that our horizons are narrowing with every new building crammed into any space that once offered a welcome oasis of greenery amidst the concrete structures of our sprawling towns and cities.

Looks as if the living conditions of places like MEGA-CITY ONE might be a reality sooner than we thought.

Click to enlarge

******

And, just in case you're wondering, below is a close up of the view, taken a few weeks after the one at the top of the page.  See them thar hills.

 

The final photo is me three years later, with replacements of some of the toys I owned when I lived in the house.
    

Monday, 18 May 2015

'ERE NOW, I DON'T WANT NONE OF YOUR SAUCE!


Oo-er!  You saucy thing

I was foraging around in the back of one of my kitchen cupboards earlier tonight when I rediscovered this old sauce  bottle.  I can remember when we first got it, back in the late '60s or early '70s (or maybe I'm only recalling when I first noticed it, rather than when it was first purchased), and it was still in regular use up until a few years ago.

Regulars will be all too aware of how 'obsessed' I am with items and their associations, and this is a perfect example of my predilection for waxing lyrical and profound over the most trivial things.  One glance at this sauce bottle instantly transports me over 40 years into the past, and I'm once again sitting at our long-gone dining table - on the very chair (one of four, two surviving) that I'm perched on as I type this.

'My' old back garden in August 1988 -
over 16 years after we'd moved out

Through the window (replaced with double-glazing around 24 years ago) of my former home, I gaze upon my back garden, and I'm once more a callow youth, with no notion that I would ever live anywhere else but that house.  There is a  comfort that comes from the familiar, and long-owned objects (even a humble condiment container)  provide a gateway to earlier times that I experience with such clarity that it feels like the present rather than the past.

Is there something that you still possess from decades back which acts as a conduit to an earlier, fondly-recalled time in your life, before you got old and the shadows lengthened?  If so, I'm all ears (as Mister Spock would say) - and you know where the comments section is!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

CITY IN THE SKY...



Returning from the shops a week or two back, I stopped at a bench on the outskirts of the park near my home.  As I sat gazing into the distance and enjoying the rest, I was struck by the formation of the clouds on the horizon, which seemed to me like some vast Olympian city of the gods hovering in the sky.  In my imagination I could see tall, robed figures, their noble brows adorned with laurel wreaths, strolling leisurely amongst immense, marbled columns, untroubled by the cares and woes that so often beset we mere mortals.

The park greenery lay before me like Jack Kirby's NEW GENESIS, while 'SUPERTOWN' floated serenely overhead.  Were they, in some benign and bemused way, studying we finite beings who live our lives in the blink of an eye compared to the eons-long span which gods are heir to?  Did they observe me looking longingly at their heavenly haven?  Did kindness touch their hearts for one brief moment and cause them to call to me, inviting me to stride the streets of their celestial city, there to spend my days in idyllic pursuits, free from the ravages of time?

Then a dog barked and, alas, the fragile spell was broken.  Returned to reality, I bent and retrieved the shopping bags which lay at my feet.  With one last lingering look at the city in the sky, I turned and slowly made my way up the hill to where, at journey's end, a far more humble home awaited me than the one which had so recently seemed to beckon.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

"BIFFO THE BEAR IS AN EASTER EGG WITH LEGS..."


Biffo the Bear - he's a good egg

One wintry, snow-clouded night in the late '70s (I think), myself and a friend were heading home after visiting a mutual acquaintance.  As we were passing a block of flats, a motion at one of the windows on the first floor caught our attention and we stopped to observe what was happening. A parent, in the act of putting his child to bed for the night, was writing on the condensation on the inside of the glass pane as the infant bounced excitedly up and down in the background.  (We could just see the top of the head, popping into view every few seconds.)

We stood transfixed, trying to decipher the reversed writing (accompanied by an oval-shaped figure) as, letter by letter, word by word, it took form before us - "Biffo... the... Bear... is... an... Easter... egg... with... legs!"  We fell about laughing at the silliness of the proposition, and, judging by the sound of muffled merriment emanating from within, the youngster was equally amused.  Then the snow and the wind caught us on the nape of our necks and propelled us, much cheered by our diversion, in the direction of home and the promise of our own warm beds awaiting us at journey's end.  (I was reminded at the time of a similar scene in The WIND In The WILLOWS.)

If memory serves, at the time of this incident my friend was home on leave from the Navy, having joined not long before.  (Or, if memory fails to serve, he joined not long after.)  We kept in touch by the occasional letter and it soon became almost a custom for each of us to finish our episodic epistles with the slogan "Biffo the Bear is an Easter egg with legs!"  I could neither read nor write the catchphrase without images of the night in question springing to mind, and having a hearty chuckle at the memory.  Naturally, I assumed that my friend viewed the occurrence through the same nostalgia-tinted spectacles as myself.  It was one of those shared moments that neither of us were likely to forget.

Or so I thought.  Imagine my surprise when, on a short visit back home with his new wife a year or two later, my friend enquired of me whence the slogan that we so freely bandied about between ourselves had originated.  "Don't you remember?" I asked, somewhat puzzled by his lack of recollection.  He didn't, so I gave him a recap of the events of that snow-swept night a Winter or two before.  He still couldn't remember, and explained that he only used the phrase because did, and because he found it funny.

Odd, isn't it?  Sometimes, moments (or things) that folk regard as having, in some indefinable way, bonded them together - whether it be with friends, brothers, sisters, or lovers - and which they imagine to be fondly-recalled points in their mutual histories and experiences, turn out to be entirely one-sided affairs, having far more significance to one of them than the other.

It reminds me of times when I'd hear my father recount to my mother an obviously cherished moment from their past, followed by the expectant words "Don't you remember, dear?" - only to be met by a blank stare, a bewildered shake of the head, and a disheartening "No!" I suddenly comprehend, with an insight and clarity that only time can bring, the disappointment etched on his face and no doubt in his heart.  (Such moments also happened in reverse, of course.)

I sometimes wonder how many friendships, relationships, or acquaintanceships survive only on the ghost of a memory of some past event that one of the parties involved has long-since forgotten - if, indeed, they ever remembered in the first place.  Kind of sad to consider, don't you think?

******

(Note to overseas readers:  BIFFO The BEAR was - and occasionally still is - a character in the famous U.K. comic, The BEANO - published weekly by D.C. THOMSON since 1938 and still going strong-ish.)

Sunday, 3 May 2015

LOOKING AT THE VIEW...



As we get older, it seems to me that colours appear less vivid, flavours and smells less potent, our surroundings less able to make an impression on our consciousness.  Maybe that's why, when we think back to childhood, summers seemed longer and brighter and bluer, and winters were whiter and crisper and colder.  (Though that last part may have been down to the absence of central heating when I was a boy.)

Our senses are keener when we're younger, and more susceptible to the 'moods' with which each season of the year enfolds us.  Also, because we're more optimistic, enthusiastic and eager to experience each brand-new day, we perceive everything around us in a particular way that is peculiar to the period of childhood and adolescence, but which does not continue with us on our journey through adulthood.

Sometimes I look at a comic or toy and get a flashback to an earlier time in my life - and for the briefest of moments re-experience a more colourful, sharper, keener, livelier, brighter and better world than the one I wake up to each day as a grown-up.  It's almost like, as children, we have a special enhancer fitted to our senses, through which every experience is routed to deliver optimum impact.  However, this enhancer has worn out by the time we reach the end our third decade, and the world never seems quite the same again.

That's why Christmas, Hallowe'en, Easter, etc., appear to be but pale shadows of their former selves as we get older.  In fact, it's only the dim and distant memory of how such times were to us as children which lends any faint hint of magic or enchantment to current celebrations.  Without the glow of past years to illuminate our present ones, Christmases and birthdays would mean little or nothing to those of a certain age.

I can remember, as a child, standing at the top of the hill on which my then-house was situated, and the horizon seemed an almost infinite distance away, the sky a vast expanse of drifting clouds against an azure backdrop a million miles high, and my surroundings were easily able to accommodate visions of fairytale kingdoms of the kind depicted in storybook illustrations.  (I remember when I first read The HOBBIT as a 10 or 11 year old - the remote mountain I could spy from my back garden was surely the same Lonely Mountain under which the wicked dragon SMAUG's stolen treasure resided.)

Whenever I stand at the top of that hill on a visit to my old neighbourhood today, the sky seems far lower and the once distant horizon only a stone's throw away, encompassed by boundaries which, if they existed in the days of my youth, I never noticed.  Metaphorically speaking, once you start seeing the frame as well as the picture within, you know that you've run out of pixie dust.

Unfortunately, you only get provided with one portion in life - and it's not enough to last the journey.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

MY CUP RUNNETH UNDER...



Funny the memories that spring, unbidden, into one's mind upon a sudden glimpse of a half-forgotten object that, over time, has merged chameleon-like with its surroundings and become practically invisible.  Until, that is, it metaphorically leaps from its accustomed place in an attempt to remind one of its existence, and draw an acknowledgement that its importance is yet secure after all this time.  Such a thing happened to me earlier, so let me now relate a shamelessly sentimental tale.

In my kitchen is a cup that isn't a cup, which I've had for around 18 years.  I'm so used to seeing it that I don't even see it anymore.  That's to say, it no longer registers on my conscious mind.  It is, quite literally, half a cup, as if it's been set upon by a laser and vertically spliced down the middle.  (Except it has a 'back' to its imaginary splice and isn't quite so bereft in the dimensional stakes as I might make it sound.)

It bears the legend "You asked for half a cup of tea" and functions as an actual cup for when one wants to elicit a smile from a visitor.  Not that I've ever used it for such an effect, but it has actually been used for that purpose on me.  It must be over 20 years ago now, that I was visiting an old schoolmate and neighbour, GEORGE COOPER, who lived in an area in which I once stayed over four decades ago.

I was in the habit of taking a stroll in my old environs on a Saturday morning, and would occasionally drop in to visit George and his father, who could always be relied upon to provide a cup of tea and sometimes even a sausage sandwich.  On this particular day, I replied to George's enquiry as to whether I would like a cuppa by saying:  "I wouldn't say no to half cup, thanks very much."

He'd probably been waiting years for someone to say that.  In due course, in he trotted with a plate of biccies and proffered a cup into my outstretched hand.  Yup, you guessed it, 'twas the half cup I've just been wittering on about in my customary long-winded fashion.  Cue my obligatory and poorly-feigned 'enthusiastic' chuckle at the jest.

A handful or so years later, Mr. Cooper Senior sadly passed away, necessitating in George having to eventually vacate the premises as one of his brothers owned the house and wanted to sell it.  On one of my last visits after his dad's demise, George gave me the cup as a memento of my Saturday morning drop-ins, which, alas, were now drawing to a close due to him having to move from his childhood home.

And so the cup that isn't a cup (but is half a cup) sits on a shelf in my kitchen, bringing with it memories of another house and another time, when I'd revisit one of the neighbourhoods of my youth and reminisce with George and his father about events from so very long ago.  And now that time of reminiscing has itself become a memory;  has passed into history and is now a period which I fondly recollect today.

I still sometimes go for a stroll in that old neighbourhood and have other friends living there who I can drop in on if I want to, and, indeed, sometimes I do.  However, whenever I'm back there, I always walk past George's house (which, to me, will always be George's house regardless of whoever lives there) and recall with fond affection the day I asked for half a cup of tea and was given precisely that.

And I'm surprised to find my chuckle at the event is now somehow a genuine one.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS...?



As someone living in my seventh house by the time I was twenty-eight, I've often wondered what it must be like for those who've lived in the same abode for all of their remembered life.  You see, to me, the memories of each area I've lived in (especially growing up), each set of friends, neighbours, experiences, etc., is almost like having lived several alternate lives when I think back on them.  To someone who has always lived in the same house, I'd imagine it's an entirely different scenario.


This makes me wonder if their perception of time is the same as mine.  Having stayed in the same place all their life, does the period of their childhood seem to have passed quicker or slower to them, not having consisted of separate 'epochs' in the way that mine has?  As I once explained in a previous post, regardless of whether I lived somewhere for one year, four years, or eleven years, when I look back, it doesn't feel as if I spent longer in one place than I did another.  Consequently, having stayed in five different houses before I was fourteen - for what seems like equal duration in each one - the impression that I've lived five distinct childhoods is perhaps more understandable than would at first appear.


However, if you've lived in the same house all your life, you only have memories of growing up against the background of the same place to reflect on in later life, so - does your sense of time, uninterrupted as it was in comparison to mine, operate on the same level?  I don't suppose I'll ever really know, but the question fascinates me.  As I also said in another post, I have a tendency to imbue a sense of the profound into the most trivial of concepts - perhaps this is just one such occasion.


Anyone got any thoughts on the matter?

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