Saturday, 31 January 2015

"HEAVEN IS A VERY SMALL PLACE..."


The Town Centre in the 1960s

Ah, where do the years go?  Y'know, it sometimes galls me that
there are places I can no longer visit because they simply don't exist
anymore.  Once upon a time, I would drag myself from bed, get dressed,
washed, brushed, have breakfast, and set off for school in the mornings,
subliminally absorbing the details of my surroundings as I did so.  When
I wake up nowadays, I do so in the same room as I did when I was 13,
but my school no longer exists and the route along to where it once
stood has changed in quite a number of ways as well.

Even the shopping centre I once explored in wide-eyed wonder
has changed beyond all recognition, having quadrupled (at least) in
size and been roofed over to protect shoppers from inclement weather.
Ironically, although it's now larger, many of the best and biggest shops
have moved to an out-of-town retail park where the rents are apparently
cheaper, leaving the original centre with numerous empty premises.
Indeed, many of the newer units built in the last few years have
never been occupied since completion.

Outside W. & R. Holmes.  (Out of shot to the right -
you can just see part of the shop sign)

I miss certain shops, havens of my youth, where I'd idle away
the minutes looking at books, toys, comics or annuals.  I still have
quite a few items (or replacements) from my childhood, with which I
associate the places I first purchased them.  SUPERMAN From The
'30s To The '70sThe MIGHTY WORLD Of MARVEL Annual 1973,
EL TEMPO marker pensPRITT glue sticks, and a whole host of
other items instantly transport me back to W. & R. HOLMES, a book-
shop, stationers, toyshop, tobacconist, art department, etc., which
has never been equalled by any subsequent would-be replace-
ments since it closed its doors in the late '70s.

And what about that old standby that everyone of a certain age
must surely miss as much as I do?  WOOLWORTH'S, where every
child of the '60s and '70s obtained some of the best toys ever released
at that time, to say nothing of two ounces of PIC'N'MIX whenever one
wanted some jelly babies, dolly mixtures or jap desserts.  'Woolies' was
usually the place my elasticated black plimsolls were purchased for gym
classes in primary school.  No such thing as designer trainers for kids
back then - Woolworth's was a great 'equalizer' when it came to
blurring the distinctions between better-off families and the
not so prosperous ones.

W. & R. Holmes - now that's what I call a shop!

R.S. McCOLL's was another haunt of mine in bygone days.
'Twas in McColl's I obtained my first MARX friction-drive DALEK
(1967), my CORGI TOYS diecast orange bubble-car (1969 or '70),
The INCREDIBLE HULK Annual #2 (1973), a TITCH stapler that sits
to the side of me as I type (1978 or '79), and a COCA-COLA sign which
still adorns my wall to this very day (again, '78 or '79, I think).  In the early
or mid-'80s, it moved from the premises it had inhabited since I was a lad
to another unit further up the street, and 'though I still frequented it for
years afterwards, it was never quite the same.  (Although I did buy
my very first brand-new ACTION MAN there in 1984.)

Well, I could go on and on, and perhaps some of you think I'm
going to, but I'll call it quits with this last little thought.  If someone
were to ask me what my idea of Heaven is, I'd have to say that my
home town exactly as it was in 1969 or '70 would come pretty close.
To be able to walk the streets and run through the green fields I knew
as a child, to visit the shops I liked from my earliest days and which
could always be relied upon to supply the simplest and the best of
pleasures - well, that sounds pretty heavenly to me.

R.S. McColl's is under the awning to the left of the
pillars.  Further up the street is Woolworth's

Sometimes, in dreams, I once again wander the familiar haunts
of my youth, where long-vanished people and places welcome me
warmly and invite me to spend some time with them.  However, such
moments are fleeting, and the harsh reality of the here-and-now lies
in wait to disappoint me when I awaken to a new day.

******

We thought there was no more behind
But such a day tomorrow as today
And to be a boy eternal.

William Shakespeare

******

So, any places from your childhood or teenage years that you
wish still existed, or do you prefer things the way they are now?
 Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Friday, 30 January 2015

REMEMBERING RUSHING RUSSELL - PART SIX OF SCHOOLTIME SCANDALS...


The blue door on the far right of the picture was one of a double-door
entrance leading to a staircase with direct access to the upper floors.
The doors referred to in the following tale were located a few feet with-
  in the alcove beyond the railing.  None of these buildings exist today  

WILLIE RUSSELL was how we referred to him at school.  A head
teacher, if I recall correctly, who had an emaciated, hawk-like appearance.
He was also a Justice of the Peace, and I suspect that the experience of having
people 'at his mercy' in court rather appealed to him.  He was possessed of a
severe, dour demeanour, and 'though I don't remember ever being in his
class, he struck me as rather an unpleasant person.

He confirmed it for me one day in the following manner, which is,
I think, the only time I ever had any direct experience of him in my entire
time at secondary school.  I was approaching the doors of 'New Block' and
caught sight of him coming up swiftly behind me in the refelection in one of
the door's glass panels.  I opened the door and stepped aside, showing
due deference to my elders as I had been taught by my parents.

However, because the doors were set in an alcove, I could only
stand back as far as the side wall allowed, which meant he would have
to detour around me by a couple of inches.  Instead, he grabbed me by the
shoulders and contemptuously flung me aside.  I stood, literally stunned by
the man's rudeness and aggression, as I watched him stride down the short
corridor beyond the doors and, as he turned the corner, glare back at
me through the thick-rimmed spectacles perched on his beak-like
nose as if I were a bad smell.

It was probably my experience of similar bad attitudes during the
impressionable years of my life, both in and out of school, that eventually
made me determined to stand up and confront behaviour of this kind when-
ever and wherever I encountered it.  Once upon a time, I was bewildered by
such misanthropic manifestations and didn't quite know how to deal with
them.  Nowadays, at the first sign of them, I tackle them head-on.  I
sometimes ponder whether that's a good or bad thing 'though.

THOMAS MORELL once said that "The first great gift we can
bestow on others is a good example."  I sometimes wonder what kind
of impression it would have left on my young psyche had some of my
teachers (and other adults) practised such a philosophy in their
day-to-day dealings with me.

I'm probably not the only one, eh?

Mr. Willie Russell, I believe

Thursday, 29 January 2015

WHEN BATMAN WORE WELLINGTON BOOTS...



What a difference
four or five years can
make.  I'd just turned 8
when JOHN FIDLER,
who lived a couple of
doors along from me,
got one of the top toys
of 1966 for Christmas
- a 1st edition, diecast,
CORGI TOYS TV
BATMOBILE, the
lucky little blighter.

 I coveted it greatly, but for some curious reason (probably related to
cash-flow), never got around to actually buying one until my 12th or 13th
birthday in 1970 or '71.  (Although, now that I remember, I had the chance
of getting one while on holiday in Largs in 1968, but passed in favour of
a bendy CAPTAIN SCARLET figure.)


Nowadays, 12 or 13 would doubtless be considered far too old
to be buying diecast toy cars, but back then, boys of that age were a
totally different bag of spiders to what they are now.  More innocent, not
quite so eager to grow up, etc.  Well, at least, that's the way it seems to me
through the mist-enshrouded maze of memory whenever I revisit my past.
And yes, Summers were longer and it snowed every Christmas.  (You
can dispute it as much as you like - I prefer my version.)

John Fidler was a couple of years
younger than me and, consequently,
smaller.  When we played at BATMAN
& ROBIN, I naturally took the lead
while John was relegated to the role
of 'teenage' sidekick (even 'though
he was only about 5 or 6).

In my homemade Batman costume
(a pair of purple swimming trunks
over corduroy trousers, brown gloves,
black raincoat with sleeves pulled out-
side in, a Batman badge on my jumper,
a Batman mask bought from a shop - oh,
and a pair of wellies) I cut an impressive
figure.  (In my mind anyway.)  For my
utility belt, I tied some dangly, strappy
portion of my father's war-time morse-code apparatus around my waist
 I was nothing if not resourceful.  (Trust me - it looked the part.)


John sported a black domino
mask with his mother's lemony silk
headscarf tied 'round his shoulders.
He cut a less impressive dash in my
opinion, but he was only the side-
kick, remember.  Sidekicks aren't
permitted to upstage the main hero,
and that was me - by dint of being
older and bigger and more oblivious
to making a t*t of myself running
around in a homemade Batsuit.

My "official" mask was like a
black plastic bag with half of one
side cut away to reveal the lower
face, and eyeholes to allow anyone
daft enough to wear it to see all those
who were laughing at them.  The idea was that, when you pulled it over your
head, the corners would stick up like the bat-ears on ADAM WEST's cowl,
enabling you to strike fear and dread into the hearts of criminals, who, as
we all know, are "a superstitious, cowardly lot".

Unfortunately, the corners
stuck out rather than up,
somewhat negating the desired
effect and managing merely to
strike mirth and merriment into
the hearts of amused observers
as they fell about in hysterics.
Undeterred, however, me and
John both soldiered on, and we
must've milked being the caped-
crusaders of our neighbourhood
for almost as long as the show
was on telly to inspire us in our
dashing deeds of derring-do.

Then, alas, as is the way of
things, we eventually grew up.  I
moved to another area in 1972 and saw John only in passing and from
afar over the next few years.  Imagine my surprise (and annoyance) when
I ran into John in adulthood, only to find that he'd grown at least half-a-head
taller than me.  I realized, sadly, that if we ever decided to reprise our Batman
& Robin roles (unlikely as it was), he'd be the "main man" and I'd have to
wear his mother's poofy silk lemon headscarf.  Life can  be so cruel.

Anyway, John and I
reminisced and laughed
about our childhood
exploits for a while and
then went our separate
ways.  It must be close
to 30 years since I last
saw him, although, in
truth, it seems like only
yesterday, cliched as that
may sound.  Where does
the time go?  In fact,
where did John go, for
me not to have seen
him since?  I hope he's
well, wherever he is.

Sometime back in 1991, in a fit of nostalgia, I re-acquired (at immense
expense) a boxed, pristine condition, 1966 Corgi Toys Batmobile from
a shop in Edinburgh.  Whenever I look at it, I'm once again running around
my old neighbourhood with my boyhood chum by my side, with no thought
for the morrow and unmindful of what the passing years may bring. 

"To the Batpoles, Robin!"


THE FINAL FRONTIER - NEIL ARMSTRONG: 1930 - 2012...



It's a curious paradox of time that past events can seem, at the
point of recollection, both recent and long ago at almost the same
moment.  I'm not quite sure how the process works, I only know that it
does.  Perhaps when remembering something, one's memory leaps right
back to the event, making it seem as fresh and immediate as when it first
happened.  Then the intervening years instantly resurface in the mind's
eye, shifting the focus and thereby placing events in their proper per-
spective, time-wise.  All this transpires in a split-second of course,
creating the illusion of experiencing two diametrically-opposing
sensations simultaneously.  Does that make any sense?

Regardless, New Year's Eve (Hogmanay), 1970, seems like
only a short time back (despite being a lifetime away) when I look
at my AIRFIX APOLLO LUNAR EXCURSION MODULE, which I
first acquired shortly before (or maybe even on) that December 31st of
42 years ago.  Of course, I no longer own my original one, but rather a
re-issue from the early '90s.  Fortunately, unlike more recent re-
releases, this one features the original box art from the '70s.

I recall, while my parents prepared for the unlikely arrival of any
'First Footers' on the stroke of midnight, putting the finishing touches
to my LEM and sitting it atop the sideboard behind the settee.  Let me
tell you something about that sideboard.  Not that I imagine you'll be
interested, but the past weighs heavily on my mind and I suddenly
feel compelled to unburden my soul.  (As Poe would put it.)

I had grown up with that sideboard;  it had been in every house I
remembered (I was then in my fourth house and had only just turned
12), and it was a main feature of our livingroom.  Several years and yet
another house later, either when I was out at work one day or living down
in Southsea for a few months, my parents acquired new display units for
either side of the fireplace and gave the sideboard to a relative.  When
I returned it was gone - without me ever getting to bid it farewell.


A few years on, we moved to yet another house, the first I'd ever
been in without the sideboard.  Four years later, we returned to the
house from which we'd flitted, and - six years after that - I bought the
sideboard back from the relative and installed it in my back room, where
it now sits just to the side of me as I type.  (That's why it's called a side-
board.)  At around the same time, I also acquired a replacement Airfix
Lunar Module, and you can be sure that, when I finally get around
to building and painting it, I'll display it on top of the afore-men-
tioned item of furniture - just as I did those many years ago.

However, believe it or not, I didn't start this post with the
intention of discussing sideboards, regardless of how enthralled by
the topic you may be.  (No?  What's wrong with you?)  It was astro-
naut NEIL ARMSTRONG's passing that prompted me to put digit to
keyboard.  In 1969, the year that Neil first set foot on the surface of the
moon, he was only a relatively young man of around 38 or so.  (That's
quite a bit younger than I am now.)  40-odd years later, the man is
gone and I find myself amazed at just how recent the events
of 1969 suddenly, for the moment, appear to me.

One day, when I finally build that LEM, I'll no doubt recall
three things.  Firstly, Neil's historic achievement back in 1969.
Secondly, that particular New Year's Eve of 1970 and my original
Lunar Module sitting atop the sideboard.  And, thirdly, just how fleet-
ing time is and how, nowadays, there never seems to be enough of
it.  I've still got quite a few unbuilt model kits to assemble before
I'm ready to take that "giant leap" into "the final frontier".

I suppose I'd better get started on them pretty darn soon.

******

In memory of NEIL ARMSTRONG.
August 5th, 1930 - August 25th, 2012.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

WHAT'S IN A BOOK?


Illustrated by ERNEST H. SHEPARD

You're looking at a book I bought back around 1977 or so.  "Big
deal!" a few of you may be thinking, but I've posted it here because
it reminds me of so many different moments in my life.  Of course, I've
wittered on before about the associations that items can conjure up,
but if I didn't return to a topic from time to time, I'd have little to write
about - and then some of you might be placed in the unfortunate
position of  having to find something a lot more worthwhile to
do with your time than read this humble blog of mine.

I first saw this version of one of the all-time classics of literature
in a magazine ad while awaiting my turn in a barber's shop one after-
noon, circa 1976 or '77.  (Actually, it was a ladies hairdressing salon by
the name of MARINA, which accommodated a traditional gents barber
in a partitioned section at the back of the shop.)  Several weeks later,  I
ordered a copy from a great place called MODATOYS in the local
shopping precinct of one of my old neighbourhoods, and patiently
waited to be informed of its arrival.


About a month or so later, myself and a friend decided to
visit our old primary schools.  He had gone to one just around the
corner from where I lived, and I had gone to another one not too far
away from it when I had resided in a different part of the area quite a
number of years previously.  After visiting those two schools and being
given guided tours around them by their respective secretaries, we then
called in upon the school we had both attended while living in another
neighbourhood, the same one in which was located the toy (and
book) shop referred to in the previous paragraph.

I should perhaps mention that we were only around 17 or 18,
and schools were much more welcoming to former pupils - and far
less security-conscious - than they are nowadays.  To once again walk
the corridors and view the classrooms of our childhood was a magical
thing, even 'though it had only been about six or seven years since we'd
left.  Of course, at that time, those years were almost a third of our lives
away, so, proportionately, it seemed like a much longer period than it
would seem to me today.  (These days, six or seven years appear
to be roughly equivalent to a fortnight back then.)


Anyway, being in the neighbourhood, we dropped in to the
shop to enquire about my book.  Imagine my surprise to discover
that they had 'phoned my house a couple of weeks earlier to let me
know that the book was now in stock.  I had been out, but they had
left a message with my father to pass on to me, which he hadn't.
Thanks, dad!  I didn't have enough on me, but I returned to the
shop a few days later and paid for my new acquisition.

(Funnily enough, a few years later, another friend of mine
relocated to England, and would 'phone me from work from time
to time.  If I wasn't in, he would ask my father to let me know he had
called, which he never did.  A case of parents regarding the affairs of
their offspring as being too insignificant to worry about, much less
remember, I guess, but it was annoying.  I only found out about
them when my friend mentioned it in a 'cassette-a-letter'
some time later.)


Anyway, back to the book.  Sometime back around 1985
or '86, having moved to yet another house, I bought a second
copy of the same edition from a book club, and placed it alongside
its predecessor on my shelf.  The later edition was slightly thinner,
and had an orange cloth cover as opposed to red, but I got it in
an introductory offer for about 50 pence (or less) so it was a
welcome addition/spare to my collection.

So, whenever, I look at this particular edition of The
WIND In The WILLOWS, there are many different things I
associate with it:  The barber shop (which only recently relocated,
but the separate section for gents was phased out long ago), the toy
and book shop (now long-gone, alas, but it was there a good number
of years and is sadly missed), the three primary schools of me and my
friend (the one we both attended demolished last year, the previous two
having fallen to the same fate not long before), the two houses in which
I lived when I obtained each copy of  that particular edition - and last,
but  not least, my long-vanished youth, when I was young, strong
and fit, with more years ahead of me than behind me -
no longer the case, alas.


It also reminds me of my father's annoying inability to ever
pass on a message.  All that history - and so much more besides -
contained within the pages of one book.  Amazing when you think
about it, eh?  If there are any particular books which conjure up dis-
tinct recollections of your own past, please feel free to share
them with the rest of us in the comments section.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

COME - TAKE A WALK WITH ME...



One of the things about my home town (as I'm sure it is with yours)
is that certain aspects have changed so much over the last twenty-
five years or thereabouts, that some areas are almost unrecognizable to
what they once were.  To anyone who moved away in the early '80s and
has never been back since, the town remains preserved as it was in the
amber of their memories.  If ever they were to return on a visit, I'm sure
they'd be in equal parts amazed and horrified at some of the changes
which have taken place.

Truth to tell, I'm almost envious of them.  To gad about on the other
side of the world somewhere, thinking, in a blissful state of ignorance,
that one's home town remains as it once was seems a reassuring notion
to me.  In that way, the playing fields of your childhood remain forever in-
violate.  Same goes for people;  if you don't know someone has expired
since you last saw them, they're still alive to you and will be for as long
as you are.  What does it profit you to learn that their life's race
ended halfway through your own?

I remember being in a camera shop a number of years ago and
running into a schoolpal who once sat beside me in technical drawing
class (and probably other classes also).  ALAN PARKER was (and is)
his name, a fact which won't make this tale one whit more interesting, but
which I feel compelled to mention for no other reason than that it happens
to be the case.  The conversation ran something like this.  Me:  "Hi, Alan -
what're you up to these days?"  Him:  "I'm on holiday at the moment."
Me:  "Not going anywhere?"  Him: " Yes - here!"  Me:  "Eh?"  Him:
"I emigrated to Australia a couple of years back, and I'm over
visiting my folks."

To be honest, I can't actually recall whether it was Australia,
New Zealand or Canada he had gone to, but Australia will suffice
for the purpose of our tale.  I was actually quite surprised by the news,
mainly because it didn't seem like anywhere near two years since I'd last
seen him - five or six months at the most, I would've thought.  The realiza-
tion that he'd been living in another country and pursuing a new and dif-
ferent life for that period, while I subconsciously imagined him to be still
tripping merrily around the streets of my town, ready to run into at any
moment, was a sobering reminder that things aren't always as we per-
ceive them to be.  In my life, nothing much had changed;  in Alan's,
a whole new horizon lay before him - and he was already several
steps on in the journey which had taken him beyond the narrow
(if comforting) confines of my own world.

A few weeks back, myself and a friend I've known since I was
seven years old, took a wander around the new housing scheme
which now sits upon the sizeable area of land where once resided my
old secondary school.  It was a strange experience because, inside its
boundaries, there were no visible 'landmarks' to indicate our location.
We could've been in any new-built housing scheme in Britain;  it was as
if we'd walked through a dimensional portal and found ourselves some-
where else entirely.  Beyond and out of sight, lay the familiar environs
we'd known since childhood, but within these strange new streets we
were in an unknown place in an unknown land.  It was with a sense
of relief that we returned to our own world some minutes later,
back through whence we had come.

In my more fanciful moments, I sometimes wonder if the 'dear
departed' (assuming they survive death in some form) are aware of
what goes on in the place they left behind;  or do they imagine (like the
distant wanderer) that everything remains the same as when they left it?
If granted a day's visit to their home town from whatever celestial realm
or dark netherworld they may inhabit, would they be surprised and dis-
mayed to learn of the changes which have taken place in their absence?
"What?  My old house has been demolished?  The old cinema has been
gone for twenty years?  My favourite toyshop is now a newsagents?
The Cairneys don't live at number thirty-three any more?"  Or would
such trivial concerns be beyond them in their joy at feeling the wind
blow through their hair once more, and again experience a sun-
kissed walk through green fields for however brief a period?

Try and let me know if you go before I do, will you?

Saturday, 24 January 2015

HECTOR'S HOUSE: SCHOOLTIME SCANDALS - PART FIVE...



'HECTOR' HILL we called him - mainly because of
his uncanny resemblance (in our eyes) to the dog in Hector's
House.  Not just in appearance, but also in voice, unlikely as that
may seem.  He was a decent bloke, a teacher at my secondary
school, and a man with a conscience - as this latest illuminating
episode in our 'Schooltime Scandals' series now illustrates.

Before each pupil sat a form, waiting to be filled in.  It asked
us about our home life, details about our parents, etc., no doubt
designed to determine whether we came from happy environ-
ments or were victims of poverty or abuse, or some such mis-
fortune. "The forms are confidential," we were told, "and
will be treated with the utmost respect and secrecy."

And so we applied ourselves to our task.  However, before
too long, the sound of adult laughter made me turn around to
find out the cause of such open merriment.  Mr. Hill and a female
teacher (whose name is lost to the mists of time) were standing
behind a girl named SHEILA CRAWFORD, reading what
she was writing and laughing and commenting on it.

I stopped writing and put down my pen.  Noticing this,
Mr. Hill asked if I was finished.  "No sir, but I'm not filling out
any more.  You told us that these forms would be in the strictest
confidence, but here you are, openly laughing at what someone is
writing, and remarking aloud for all to hear.  I'm not prepared to
supply any personal information, the confidential nature of which
could be abused in a similar manner."  (Of course, it's unlikely
that I expressed  myself in quite such an assured and articu-
late a fashion, but that was the gist of my statement.)

Oh, but they needed the information - it was important.  It
would help them build a personal profile of each pupil, assist
them in their quest to aid any student who might have a difficult
home life, etc., etc.  "I refuse to participate" was my steadfast
response.  "You openly laughed at what Sheila was writing, and
remarked upon it in front of the rest of us.  That's a betrayal
of confidence for a start."

(I should perhaps mention that this wasn't a case of me trying
to be difficult on some perverse whim, simply for the sake of it.
 It genuinely did bother me that I might inadvertently write some-
thing about my parents which could be a source of amusement
among the teachers in their staff room, and I therefore wasn't
about to 'play ball', no siree.  Familial loyalty held sway.)

No more was said, doubtless because the two teachers,
in their embarrassment, wished to minimise their injudicious
display, and I lost myself in idle thought until the bell rang and
we shuffled off to our next lesson in the New Block.  About 15
minutes later, there came a knock at the classroom door.  A
pupil entered, and politely informed the teacher that Mr. Hill
requested my presence back over in the Old Block.

I duly trotted over to the class I had not long left, to find a
contrite Mr. Hill waiting at the door, anxious to explain himself
and, essentially, seek my forgiveness.  Yes, he had been wrong,
it was a lapse in judgement, it wasn't a common occurrence, it
would never happen again, would I please fill out my form.  How-
ever, my heart was like flint.  No, I wouldn't be filling out the
form, nor any other form of a similar nature in the future.

Nothing was ever said again on the subject, but I must
confess that I was inwardly impressed that Mr. Hill was pre-
pared to reason with me, explain himself, treat me almost like
an equal, rather than attempt to browbeat or bully me into sub-
mission.  (He was also smart enough to know that such an ap-
proach wouldn't have worked.)  Here was a man of honour,
compassion, integrity - who realised he had made a mistake
(trivial as it probably was) and was eager to redeem himself
in the eyes of one lone pupil (no ocular pun intended).

So here's to Mr. Hill - to 'Hector' - a genuinely good man,
and a teacher who cared - perhaps even too much.  Of him
it can be truly said:  "He's a great, big, decent ol' Hector."

Friday, 23 January 2015

LIVE & LET PLAY - OVER HERE, ELSIE...



Blackpool, 1973.  I'm sat on a deckchair next to my parents in the
Sun Lounge of the famous North Pier, half-listening to the organist,
RAYMOND WALLBANK, and reading the above paperback, when all
of a sudden a high-pitched screech pierces the air:  "Elsie...ELSIE!  Over
here...OVER HERE!  Cooooo-eeeee...ELSIE!"  The voice belonged to
an elderly lady sat next to a companion, who was frantically flapping her
handkerchief in an attempt to attract the attention of the aforementioned
Elsie, who had just arrived.  Thankfully, Elsie heard her friend (as did
residents on the far side of Blackpool, I would imagine) and soon
took up the designated place beside her.

"I'm so glad you found Elsie!", quipped Raymond, good-naturedly,
at the end of his tune.  Even I, as an uncouth 14 year-old, recognized
the woman's bad manners in interrupting the performance to hail her
pal, but I soon re-immersed myself in my book.  True, technically, I was
perhaps likewise disrespectful in not paying full attention to Raymond,
but at least I was unlikely to disturb anyone else's enjoyment while
indulging in the object of my literary preoccupation.

Anyway, today I took possession of a replacement of the very
book I read 40 years ago, as a 14 year old youth on Blackpool Pier.
I obtained it from AMAZON for a mere penny - 39 pence short of what
the book cost brand-new four decades back.  True, I paid £2.80 for post
and packing, but I'd probably still have had to pay that if the book had
cost me a tenner, so let's not get bogged down in mere details.
(Even if I started it.)


If I recall rightly, I'd been to see LIVE LET DIE not too
long before our visit to the famous seaside resort, so the film was
still fresh in my mind.  Also, the day before our departure, I'd acquired
the 2nd edition CORGI TOYS ASTON MARTIN DB5 diecast spy-car,
which I took with me on holiday.  I'd purchased it in one of my local R.S.
McCOLL's, and although it was 1973, it was the original, '68 model in
the blister pack instead of a box.  (Must've been old stock, I guess.
And, yes - I managed to replace it some time back.)

The difference between the newer version of the car and the
original 1965 gold-coloured model was that, unlike its predecessor,
it was an actual DB5.  The previous incarnation had been rushed into
production at the last minute, so existing moulds of a DB4 were swiftly
modified and pressed into production.  In 1967/'68, Corgi Toys created
completely new tooling, and, as well as being a slightly larger scale, the
new car was the correct silver birch colour and sported revolving
number-plates and rear tyre-slashers, as well as all three of the
original features on the earlier release.

But I digress.  Returning to the book, there are still bits I recall
even after all these years:  Roger chipping a tooth and requiring root
canal work;  having to shoot the wedding/motorboat scene again due to
a steering mishap;  the sign 'TRESPASSERS WILL BE EATEN' being
the actual sign of the crocodile farm, and not an invention of the film-
makers.  I'm not sure if the book was ever republished, but the copy I
received today is a first-printing and in extremely good condition.
Not bad for one 'new' penny, eh?

So, here's to that long-ago holiday in Blackpool, and all the
comicbooks purchased back then;  the Aston Martin, Roger's book,
Elsie and her pals - and last but not least - the cool-as-a-cucumber Mr.
Raymond Wallbank, who sadly died in 2010.  He played on the North
Pier from 1965 to 1995, a period of 30 years in all.  When I eventually get
around to re-reading the book, you can bet your boots I'll have another
hearty chuckle at the memory of Raymond's humorous and gentle
'remonstrance' on that sunny July afternoon back in 1973.

******

Incidentally, prior to that day on the North Pier, I'd thought that
the cry of "Cooooo-eeeee!" was a word only ever used in films or
comics, not in real life.  After all, it wasn't actually a 'real' word used by
'real' people, was it?  Or so I'd thought until that June or July day in Black-
pool back in 1973.  As far as I can recall, that was the first, last and only
time I've ever heard it being used  - outside, that is, of someone
perhaps using it in an affected manner for humorous effect.

******

We returned to Blackpool on holiday the next year, 1974, and
that was the last holiday I ever had - never been away since.  My
parents returned several times over the decades, and may well have
sat on the North Pier listening to Raymond again on quite a few occa-
sions, but I did so only once.  Odd to think that the initial shared family
experience was likely repeated, but without my presence.  Strange
what passes through one's mind while reminiscing, eh?
  

In memory of Raymond Wallbank - born August 8th, 1932,
  died February 16th, 2010.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

SUBTLETIES, SHADOWS & SHADES...



I've lived in a lot of houses in my time.  By the age of
24 I was in our sixth house, which works out, on average,
as four years per house.  But forget averages - I've only ac-
tually lived in a house for four years on two occasions, the
other periods of tenancy ranging from as far apart as
one and a half years to eleven years.

Anyone who has read KENNETH GRAHAME's The
WIND In The WILLOWS will be familiar with the fifth
chapter, DULCE DOMUM, which (roughly) means 'home
sweet home'.  In this episode, MOLE, while out on a ramble
with RATTY one Winter's day, picks up the scent of his old
home, long forgotten and neglected since he unwittingly
abandoned it in pursuit of adventure one fine Spring
morning many months before.

The chapter
relates how Mole
re-aquaints himself
with many dear and
familiar possessions
and memories, and re-
minds him (and us) of
the value of having an
anchorage - a place to
return to - in life, no
matter how far one
may roam in the
meantime.

As Grahame says:  "...it was good to think he had this
to come back to, this place which was all his own, these
things which were so glad to see him again and could al-
ways be counted upon for the same simple welcome."

Funny thing is, I feel that way about every house I've
ever lived in.  If ever I'm walking along a street in which I
once resided, I almost find myself walking up the path to the
front door and unconsciously putting my key in the lock.  If I
were lost enough in thought, it's no stretch of the imagination
to envisage such a thing actually happening.  (Once, while out
walking our dog Tara, I was passing a previous home when
she turned in at the stairs as though we still lived there.  I
almost followed.  It's that kind of 'instinct' - or 'force
of habit' that seems to dwell within me also.)

Or should I espy
a former home lit up
at night, I can 'see' (as
though with x-ray eyes)
my father, pipe in mouth,
sat beside the fire, watch-
ing the TV or reading his
paper;  I can also see my
mother, darning socks or
busy in the kitchen with
domestic chores, or my
brother in our bedroom
listening to records or
reading comics.

Furniture, ornaments, wallpaper - everything as it was.

Each house beckons to me, summons me to obey its
call to 'come on home', regardless of however many years
have elapsed since I actually lived there, almost as if I'd only
just popped out to the shops or to visit a pal mere moments
before - with such clarity that the intervening years since
we vacated whichever house seem like only a dream
that never really happened.

Even more bizarre is when I seem to see a younger
version of myself beyond the gleam which radiates from
behind the curtained windows, engrossed in some book,
or sat at the dining-room table, doodling or building an AIR-
FIX kit.  On occasions such as this, it can be disconcerting
to suddenly have the moment disrupted by the intrusion
of a stranger looking out of the window, or entering
or exiting through the front door.

Then, just like
Mole and his chum
Ratty as they stand
mesmerised by a lit-
up window, the bitter
winds of reality catch
the back of my neck
and return me to the
present - 'though usu-
ally unwillingly, and
not without a strange,
sad sense of loss
and longing.

The past continually calls to me, but never more so
than when I revisit the scenes of my youth, where shades
of my younger self and family, and friends long departed
to either the other side of the veil or the globe, yet inhab-
it these enchanted places from so many years ago.

If ghosts do exist, I wouldn't be surprised to find that
they aren't only ghosts of the dead, but also of the living
from an earlier time.  That would perhaps explain why
the shadows of yesterday dance forever before me.

A WOLFE IN PAST'S CLOTHING...?


"You can't go
home again" said
THOMAS WOLFE -
and in one sense he
was correct, but in
another sense, he
wasn't.  I've done it,
you see.  Allow me
to explain.

The house in
which I now reside,
I've lived in before.
My family moved
here in 1972 and
we were here for
11 years until we re-
located to another house in a different area in 1983.  Four year  later, we
   moved back - I'll spare you all the boring details as to why.  At first it was
   as if we'd never moved, but - ah, "but" - I'll get to the "but" shortly.

Being able to "go home again" depends on several diverse sets
of circumstances;  what age you are at the time, how long you've been
away, to what extent (if any) things have changed since you left and (if
not) whether they'll stay the same for the forseeable future, etc.

The memories and
associations of all my
previous abodes are
anchored in specific
periods of time, fixed
and immutable, from
which they can never be
sundered.  For instance,
when I remember one
particular house, it's
resolutely set within
the years 1965 to '72,
or when I call to mind
another, it's locked
between the period
of 1983 and '87.

Sometimes, when strolling through one former neighbourhood, I
think to myself how nice it would be to stay in my old house again.  On
one side are the same neighbours as when we moved into the area in the
mid-1960s - still there after all these years.  That sense of continuity is an
important aspect in considering whether it's possible (or even desirable)
to recapture the feeling and flavour of bygone days by such means.

When we're young,
our life seems to un-
fold before us like
an unravelling ball of
string;  however, when
looking back in later
years, we don't see the
string as the continuous
 uninterrupted strand it
seemed to be at the
time, but as separate,
severed segments,
each in its own little
compartment of the
mind.  Or perhaps a
chain would be a
far more accurate
comparison, with links missing at various intervals which would otherwise
connect every individual recollection (or set of them) with the ones before
and after, rather than leaving them in apparent isolation to one another.
(I'm overstating the case, perhaps, but I'm sure you get the idea.)

Consider the following hypothetical scenario:  You're 8 or 9 years
old and move to another house in another area.  Six months later, your
parents realise it was a mistake.  The house is a dump, the area is a slum,
the school is a disgrace and the neighbours are cold and unfriendly.  By a
fortuitous stroke of good fortune, you're able to return to your previous
house in your old neighbourhood - and do.  All of your former friends and
neighbours are still there, living their lives as before.  Under those happy
conditions, you would merely be resuming your old life after a brief
hiccup in continuity.  Truly, you would have gone home again.

If, on the other
hand, you didn't
return until many
years later, most of
the factors which
made living there so
memorable for you
would no longer exist,
chief amongst them
being your youth
and all its attendant
properties.  (A sense
of wonder, optimism,
enthusiasm, and a
whole host of other
qualities.)

The surrounding neighbourhood would no longer be your very own
adventure playground, merely the street where you live.  The friends with
whom you played in bygone days would by now have grown up and moved on,
once-familiar local faces flitted or expired.  True, you'd have your memories of
happy times past, but these would still be yours wherever you happened to live.
No doubt you'd derive some satisfaction from once again inhabiting your child-
hood home, but unfortunately that might not be enough of a comfort when
the realisation finally dawns of all the inevitable, irreversible changes
that have occurred in your absence.

(I dare say it's the same even if you've lived in only one place all
your life.  Changing circumstances over the years can conspire to make
the experience of living in a long-term home entirely different to what you
once knew.  If new people move in next door and are an absolute nightmare
to live beside, then you may suddenly find yourself consumed with a desire
to quit the place of your unforeseen and seemingly never-ending torment -
despite it being the only house you've ever known and in which you
were previously blissfully content.) 

Moving house
when young is a bit
like breaking up with
a wife or girlfriend
when older.  You may
eventually meet some-
one else and just get
on with things, but
should that lost love
resurface in your life
and want you back,
you recall only the
good times you had
and may be tempted
to pick up where you
left off.  It's happened
- I've read of people
leaving their partners for former lovers or people they once knew (with whom
they've become re-acquainted through Friends Reunited), only to discover
that, once the first flush of reconnecting with a cherished part of their past
has passed, they really have nothing else in common.

It can be the same with houses - or anything, in fact.  Human nature
being what it is, we always miss what we don't have.  When we get it, we
then start to miss whatever we gave up to acquire it.  (Or something else
in which we imagine our happiness resides.)

Case in point:  In 1987, when the opportunity arose of returning
to the house we had left over four years before, I did so without a back-
ward glance as I'd never wanted to move to begin with.  27 years later how-
ever, I increasingly find myself, unbidden, recalling happy times associated
with the place we so heartlessly abandoned in favour of our once previous
and now current abode.  Don't misunderstand me - I'm still glad to be back
here, but, as I say, I also now think fondly of the house we left behind.
(As I do the other former homes my family have inhabited down
through the decades.)

The fact may be,
however, that it's
not actually child-
hood houses (and
other places) which
we miss per se, but
childhood itself -
that time of awe and
enchantment and epic
sense of eternity that
seemed to rest within
our grasp.  The houses
are merely symbols
of those times and
experiences - the
places with which
we associate our
feelings of wonder and joy, plus long sunny summers and frosty snow-
bound winters in a magical kingdom where time held no sway and
we thought we had forever.

When we visit the grave of someone deceased, we do so with the full
realisation that the person we knew is not actually there - only their shell,
not their spirit, or essence, or whatever you may care to call it - but we still
feel the need to go to that specific spot to 'reconnect' with them.  Recently,
I've begun to ponder whether revisiting an old house or neighbourhood is
like visiting the grave of my childhood - there it lies, dead and buried,
and I'm merely looking at a monument to its former existence.

Hopefully I'm wrong.  Hopefully, the spirit of childhood yet resides
in me as a living, breathing reality and will never forsake me.  Perhaps
that's the simple truth - it's not so much that childhood forsakes us,
but that we forsake childhood.

So, can one go home again?  They say that home is where the
heart is - but the heart is sometimes a fickle and indecisive organ,
and not always to be trusted.

What would your answer be?

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

GETTING THE 'BRUSH-OFF' - PART FOUR OF SCHOOLTIME SCANDALS...



It had been raining, and I could see through the classroom
windows that it was beginning to get dark outside.  The rain-lashed
footpaths reflected the yellow lights of the school building in their
shimmering, mirrored surface, and as the art lesson neared its end,
I started gathering my stuff together in preparation for the bell
which would signal our release.

One thing was wrong however;  my schoolbag was absent
from its accustomed place under my desk.  "Right, who's got
my schoolbag?" I challenged, standing up and addressing the line
of classmates to my side.  "Is this it?" came a murmer from the far
end.  "Yeah, pass it along to me!" I said, and the bag was handed
from one pupil to another until it reached me.

No fool was I!  First thing I did was check the contents to
ensure that nothing was missing.  In actual fact, the reverse was
true - at the bottom of my bag was a class paintbrush which didn't
belong there.  "Please Miss," I said to the teacher, "someone's put a
paintbrush in my schoolbag."  As it turned out, I'd have been better
placing the brush in its pot with the others and saying nothing,
but perhaps I was fueled by a subconscious desire to solicit
an acknowledgement of my 'virtuous' nature.

Mrs. BARCLAY (dubbed 'Screamer Barclay' by we
pupils) seemed unperturbed.  "Put it in its pot!" was all she
said - so I did.  However, at lesson's end, she took a count of the
brushes and discovered that some were missing.  She decided that
a search of the boys was in order, but not the girls.  (Obviously, in
much the same way that ol' QUEEN VICTORIA reputedly couldn't
imagine women ever indulging in 'unnatural desires', Mrs. Barclay
clearly considered females incapable of taking something that
didn't belong to them.  The settlements often arrived at in
today's divorce courts suggest otherwise.)

Mr. McLEAN, the head art teacher, was sent for, and
when he arrived, 'Screamer' explained the situation about
the missing brushes.  She concluded her summary of events by
saying - and these are her actual words - "A brush has already
been found in Gordon Robson's schoolbag."  I regarded this as
a gross misrepresentation of the facts, so I interjected and
said "Yeah, and it was me who found it!"

I wasn't the subject of any undue attention as a result
of Mrs. Barclay's less than stringent recounting of the facts,
and it may be that it hadn't been her intention to cast me in the
role of transgressor, but nevertheless it riled me at the time and
still does whenever I think of it today, more than 40 years after
the fact.  Reputations often rest on such gossamer threads that
I'm always prepared to stand up and defend mine at
the drop of the proverbial hat.

Now, I'm sure there's a moral in there somewhere,
but I'll leave you to figure it out for yourselves.

******

Why not take advantage of our free therapy session and
exorcise your demons of yesteryear by unloading them in the
  comments section?  Go on - you'll feel much better for it.

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