Saturday, 5 December 2015

PAST, PRESENT OR FUTURE?



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

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

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

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

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

What would your choice be?

Friday, 30 October 2015

JOURNEYS - BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS...



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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE...



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

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

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

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

******

Harvest Gate

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

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

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

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

(Harvest Gate by Iain Osborne.)
   

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

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



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

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


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

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


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

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

******

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

******

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

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 par-
ents) 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 wander-
ing 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 en-
couraged 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 blind-
ness 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 neigh-
bour who'd never been anything 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 class-
mate 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 way-
ward 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 Gordon Robson's 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 Robson 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 concept, 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 project-
ing 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 some-
how, 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.

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 apparat-
us, which, to my 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 com-
panion 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 play-
ing 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 fear-
  some 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,
The AMAZING Mr. BLUNDEN, starring LAURENCE NAISMITH and
LYNNE FREDERICK.  (To say nothing of the usual complement of
British stalwarts like JAMES VILLIERSDIANA 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 res-
onates 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 various 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 do 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 re-
quired 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 invita-
tion 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 over-
all 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 geo-
graphically.  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 neigh-
bourhood 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 door-
step 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 'phone conversation 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 neighbourhood.
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 cap-
tured 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), an old folks home stands on the site of the field where
the neighbourhood 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.

******

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

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 length-
ened?  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 GEN-
ESIS, while 'SUPERTOWN ' floated 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, 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 re-
member, and explained that he only used the phrase because I
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 signifi-
cance 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.  (Although 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, be-
cause 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, Halloween, 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 story-
book 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 neighbour-
hood 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.  Un-
til, 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 remin-
isce 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 ex-
plained 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 - the impression that I've lived five distinct child-
hoods 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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