Thursday 16 May 2024

The GHOST Who 'TALKS'...


Actual drawing size 57mm high

I've just spent the last 20 minutes or so 'conversing' with an old friend.  He died 11 years ago (which I only found out about in September of last year), but between the end of 1977 and 1980, we kept in touch by letter after he joined the Navy.  So did I employ a happy medium?  (Guffaw!)  No, I recently rediscovered his letters in a box and had a read through them, and it was good to 'reconnect' with the friend I'd liked and found amusing, before he became almost another person (at least in regard to me) and I eventually cut all ties with him.  (Regular readers of my other blog will perhaps remember me recounting the events.)

As I read his letters and cards, his 'voice' ran through them, and it was as if time had rolled back and his missives were recent communications, not nearly 50 years old.  To read references that only I would know was a poignant reminder of our youth, and I found myself dwelling on events and circumstances that I hadn't thought of in a long time.

For example, he mentions 'cows passing over' (raining) when he was on a training exercise, and my mind returned to the time a passing car drove through a muddy puddle and thoroughly drenched us with its contents.  I remarked that we looked as though a herd of cows had passed over us and 'dropped their load' (though the latter part wasn't the precise phrase used).  Over the years, whenever we recalled the event (which happened when we were primary school kids), we always referred to it as 'The Day The Cows Passed Over'.

He also humorously calls himself 'a bear of very little brain', adding 'Tiddely Pom', which was a direct reference to the time I'd bought a Winnie The Pooh book and brought a poem containing the phrase to his attention.  When we were out that night, we kept repeating the full poem (short as it was) and couldn't help laughing at the sheer silliness of it.  (Ah, the exuberance of youth.)  This had happened only around a couple or so years before he joined the Navy, and with that curious paradox of time, seemed fairly recent and also ages ago at the same moment.

He also scribbles the phrase 'Biffo The Bear Is An Easter Egg With Legs' in the top margin of a letter, which recalls the time we were on our way home after visiting a friend* and saw a father write the phrase (backwards from our point of view) in the condensation on his kid's bedroom window.  I assumed he remembered the circumstances, but was surprised when he asked me on one of his visits back to Scotland just where it came from.  I explained its origin, but he had no memory of the event.  "Then why did you write it in your letter?" I asked.  "Because you did in yours, and I found it funny" was his reply.

Another random thing he wrote on one letter, unconnected to its contents, was 'Rubber Buttons'.  This referred back to a conversation we'd had as young teens, about the so-called 'short trousers' we wore as kids.  Back then, short trousers ended just above (or touching) the knees and were higher-waisted.  Their flies had far too many buttons (seemingly made of a dense rubber) which were difficult and time-consuming to undo, resulting in having to hoist up a trouser leg to have a wee, as it took too long to open the fly.  When you were desperate, trying to undo the buttons was like moving in slow-motion, so long did it take (or appear to).

What's more, short trousers were thicker back then (as well as longer), and when you rolled up a leg, it resulted in something resembling a concertina that was spring-loaded, threatening to unfold over the 'little chap' and getting soaked in pee in the process (both trousers and said 'little chap').  Oh, the hardships, trials and tribulations we had to suffer in the '60s.    

There was so much more; references to people we knew, jobs I'd had, places we'd frequented, etc.  I'm glad I never threw his letters out as they allowed me a brief return into the past, and my demised youth that yet calls to me on occasion, but tauntingly teases me by remaining just beyond my firm and tangible grasp.  The rough pencil sketch at the top of this post is a quick drawing I did of him one night (I think) in the flat of a mutual friend (*same one as alluded to above), which said friend had in his possession for a good while until I reclaimed it from him.  It's been back in my ownership for decades now, from before I eventually realised my childhood pal had 'grown up' into a person I no longer liked or found amusing and let him follow his own path.

It was good to revisit him from a time before this though, even if it was all-too-brief.  As is life, sadly.  It's a shame I never made copies of my own letters before I sent them, just so I could read his correspondence in context, but it simply never occurred to me to do so way back then.

Any similar stories, fellow Mellows?  If so, let's hear them.

Sunday 7 April 2024

THIS SURE TAKES SOME LICKIN'...



It was back in the late '60s, in Room 7 of my primary school one day, that I espied the magnifying glass.  It was in the hands of one of my classmates who was using it for the purpose for which it was designed.  (No surprise there, really - what else is a magnifying glass for?)  I was fascinated - it was such a small magnifying glass, and I immediately wanted one for myself.  "Where did you get it?" I enquired of him.  "I got it as part of a free stamp collecting kit I sent away for" was his response.  That was the magic word for me - "free".  I had seen the ad for such stamp kits in the comics I bought, but had never paid them too much attention before.  I decided there and then that I would send away for such a kit the first chance I got.  Nothing would deter me, my mind was made up.  I wanted a mini-magnifying glass of my very own and, by thunder, I'd have one.


Close to 30 odd years later, when I eventually got around to sending for it (quite a few years ago now), it could well have been from the very same stamp dealer as my long-ago classmate had acquired his - D. J. Hanson Ltd., Eastrington, Goole, East Yorks, England, DN14 7QG - who advertised extensively in British comics of the time (and was still going strong until he passed away in 2015).

The much-coveted magnifying glass wasn't exactly the same as the one I remembered, but it was good enough for me.  I felt the satisfaction that comes from finally fulfilling some long-held purpose or ambition that should have been accomplished years before.  In fact, I wish I could sit in that classroom now, at my old desk, and employ my magnifying glass in the way I would've done back when I was a kid.  No, not to read tiny print in one of my school books, but to capture an errant sunbeam and direct it towards a patch of skin on someone's bare thigh (short trousers in my day, remember) and wait to see them jump.

Sadistic little bleeder, eh?

I do sort of collect stamps actually, but on an extremely limited scale: Christmas stamps, TV, movie, and comic characters, etc.  I couldn't fill a whole album, but I've got enough to keep me occupied for an hour or so, on cold, rainy nights when the wind is howling outside my window, bearing aloft familiar childhood voices and visions from so very long ago.
  
Typical stamp ad from the 1960s

Sunday 17 December 2023

SANTA CLAUS IS BACK IN TOWN...


Hail, the returning hero

                                           And now a timely tale to tell
                                           from childhood days of long ago,
                                           with echoes deep, peal mem'ry's bell
                                           to fill hearts with a joyous glow.

******

Raymond Bennie was his name - and still is, I presume.  He was one of my classmates in primary school, whose family emigrated to Australia around 1968 or '69.  Ironic then that our school's name was Canberra, and it struck me years later when I saw him in an old class photo that he 'looked' Australian.  That's to say, he looked just like what I assumed a typical Australian boy would look like as I've always felt that many Australians have a distinct physiognomy.  I wonder if either his father or mother might've been an Ozzie who decided to return to the place of his or her birth, hence Raymond's immigration way back then.  Not that any of that's important, but you're not being charged for any extraneous detail so no need to panic.

However, just before I get to the point, I also sometimes wonder whether Raymond ever returned to Scotland for a visit over the years, as surely he and his parents would've had friends and (assuming they were of UK origin) relatives with whom they'd want to keep in touch?  All I know is that last time I saw him was around 55 years ago when we were still primary school pupils, and 55 years is a long, long time.  To think that he may have returned on occasion yet I never ran into him is a bit sad, as he was part of my youth - and you all know how important my youth is to me.  As yours is to you also, I'm sure.

Raymond in September 1967

So what's the deal with Raymond to warrant a mention here?  Simple.  We weren't particular pals who hung about together, but one day he invited me back to his house after school.  I've no idea why; perhaps he was just at a loose end and wanting someone to talk to, or maybe he was simply trying to expand his circle of friends, but I accepted his invitation and accompanied him home at four o'clock.  All I remember of that visit is me expressing a liking for a small stuffed cloth Santa Claus lying on his room floor.  "Take it" he said, generously, so I did, and Santa returned home with me for the rest of his existence.  I assumed him to be a cat's play-toy, a notion reinforced a few short years later when I saw his double in a garden across the back lane from a friend of my mother's we were visiting that day.  I was sorely tempted to nick him, but resisted.

Poor Santa took a bit of a drubbing over the coming weeks and months (maybe even a year or two), due to the fact that my brother and me played 'dodgeball' with him.  My sibling's bed ran along one side of our shared room and my bed ran along the opposite side, so we'd hurl Santa at one another while we each tried to evade being hit by him - not that it was painful when Santa found his target as as had no weight to him.  Eventually, Santa was in a sorry state due to the rough-handling he'd received and started to come apart, so I carefully undid the stitching holding him together and separated the cloth segments into their individual pieces, intending to sew him back up more securely to better withstand his 'dodgeball' adventures.

Alas, it just wasn't to be as, due mainly to the dawning enormity of my ambitions, I repeatedly procrastinated from remedial administrations until, eventually, at least one of the six cloth pieces was mislaid and never seen again.  I kept what remained for a few years, but eventually disposed of them after flitting to a new house and deciding to rid myself of childish things in an attempt to be more 'mature'.  (That never quite happened, eh?)

Seller's photo of cloth Santa

Still, I never quite forgot Santa, and while keeping an eye out for a doppelganger replacement over the years (and decades), I bought other Santas to act as 'stand-ins' until such time as I could locate one.  Not that any of the others were ever used for dodgeball, but I liked to dig them out at Christmas to brighten up the living-room in a festive fashion.  Recently, however, I saw what looked to be the same Santa I had as a kid on eBay, though with one significant difference.  My Santa had been manufactured 'ready-to-go' as a complete item, whereas the eBay one had clearly been a 'do-it-yourself' kit version that hadn't been sewn together too well.  As you can see from the seller's photo, the edges were all frayed, and it needed a bit of a clean.

No problem for the big man.  (Yes, that's me - why are you laughing?)  I carefully removed the stitching, applied a thin coating of PVC glue to the frayed ends, and then stitched Santa back together again, all the while being fully aware that I was finally completing the task I'd set for myself over 50 years earlier, but had left undone.  It felt almost like I'd simply dug out the pieces of my original Santa given to me by Raymond and picked up where I'd left off all those years before, making my feelings of accomplishment even greater than I'm probably entitled to.

He still needs a bit of a clean, but it's good to see yet another once-familiar face from my childhood back in the fold, along with all the other replacement items I've managed to secure over the years.  Honest, hard as it may be for you to believe (or appreciate), it's almost feels like they've never been away.  And, take it from me, that's a good feeling.  So here's to Raymond for being the source of happy memories of days gone by.  Hope he's doing okay for himself over in the land of Oz, though I'd be surprised if he even remembers me - or Santa.

Another snap of Santa after a little work by yours truly

Okay, this post has been a little off the wall, but feel free to comment if you so desire, even if it's only to tell me I'm bonkers.  And if any of you have ever managed to replace a cherished item you once had after so long a time, tell us all about that as well.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

51 YEARS AND COUNTING (DOWN?)...



There was a moment back in the 1970s when I believed it would last forever - and me along with it.  However, that moment eventually passed, and any illusions I had of immortality faded like the dying rays of the sun - as perish most of our hopes and dreams before life's fleeting journey has run its course.  I'm reminded of this every time I see yet another part of my past vanish from my life, suddenly and without warning.

A few months back (June 14th to be precise) it was 51 years since I first moved into the house in which I currently reside.  However, I've lived here for only 47 years, because 11 years after moving in, we flitted to another home in a different neighbourhood.  Just over 4 years later we returned - and I've been back here for precisely 36 years since last August 1st.  (The official tenancy commencement date is Tuesday 4th, but we moved in 3 days early on the Saturday.)

Anyway, on a previous anniversary a few years ago of having first moved into this abode, I took a trip along to my former neighbourhood, the one from which we moved in 1972.  On the way there, I noticed that 14 trees had been cut down, and when I arrived at my destination, I saw that another couple at the bottom of the street where I'd lived had also been removed.  To my mind, it was like discovering that 16 childhood friends had suddenly expired, and been disposed of before I'd had a chance to pay my respects.

I resent change.  Sometimes I feel as if I no longer live in the town I grew up in, but rather one that bears a bit of a resemblance to it.  It's almost like living in an alternate universe, wherein I spend my time wondering if I'll ever be able to figure out a way to return to my own.  I wish I had magical power over the very atoms, because then I could revert everything back to how it all used to be.  Once more I'd be able to visit vanished buildings and places I knew as a youth, and feel as if I belonged again, instead of (just like MEL TORME) a stranger in my own home town.

There's a time in life when we feel 'in-sync' with the world, that it's there for us and dances to the same beat that we do.  Then, one day, we suddenly realise that we no longer recognise the tune and that it's best to 'sit this one out'.  It's then we know that 'our' moment has come and gone, and that we've now become spectators, as opposed to the participants we once were.  Other dancers have taken to the floor, and we can only observe and wonder what happened to the melody and lyrics.  For us the dance is over, and willingly or not, we must accept our relegation.

There was a time when I felt at home in this neighbourhood.  It was mine (or, at least, as much mine as anyone's), and I was one of its younger inhabitants, and an inheritor of what the future would bring.  Now, however, I'm one of the rapidly diminishing 'old guard', and a brash, new, fresh contingent of youngsters overrun the place, treating it as their own.  I often find myself feeling like an intruder who's invading their space (much as I feel like they're intruders invading mine), and I realise the gossamer nature of the sense of 'belonging' we humans feel in relation to our surroundings, and just how transient it can be.

Anyway, to be honest, I never really had a clear idea of where I was going with this when I started, and it's now become a bit meandering so I'll draw it to a close.  If it's prompted any thoughts or observations of your own, feel free to record them for posterity in our contemplative comments section.  We may get something worth reading out of this post yet, so don't be shy now.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

WHERE WERE YOU IN SEPTEMBER 1967?


"Looking back to those days of old ere the gate shut to behind me..."
 From 'The Golden Age' by Kenneth Grahame.

******

The above photo was taken in September 1967 by departing teacher Mrs. Tighe (not sure about the spelling, to be honest), in front of the annexed huts in the grounds of my primary school.  I can actually recall the photo being taken, and can only assume that Mrs. Tighe wanted a memento of her 'angelic' pupils to look back on in later years.  Maybe she was just trying out for a career as a photographer though, as she made copies available (can't recall whether she charged us or not) to those of us who wanted one.

The image is off-centre, as you can see, but I decided to leave it uncropped in order to make an ego-feeding speculation.  The exact middle of the photo lies between myself (I'm wearing my blue jumper, but that wasn't the day I was at the zoo with Dougal and Father Ted) and David Drummond (on my left, but your right), and I can't help but think that Mrs. Tighe naturally gravitated towards me as the most obvious centre of attention.  (I know what you're thinking, but I prefer my version.)

The blond boy on crutches further along in the same row is Gavin Reid, alas now sadly deceased.  He had his right leg strapped up behind him all through primary school (due to some medical condition), and it came as a surprise when I later saw him in secondary school walking normally without the crutches.  He started secondary the year after me, so he may have discarded the crutches in his last year at primary, or in the school holidays between changing schools.  He was killed in a motorbike accident, aged only about 18 or 19, I think, in the late '70s.  (Robert Baird, next to him on the left of the picture, died of Covid in January of 2021, and Alan Bowie, far left, end row, died of cancer in January of 2013, though I didn't learn of his demise until over ten years later in September 2023.) 

Not long before Gavin died, my parents told me that someone had asked them if they were "Gordon Robson's mum and dad" as they waited at a bus stop, and when they confirmed that they were, asked them to pass on his regards.  "Gavin Reid was his name" they said, recounting the incident to me when they got home that night. Poor Gavin.  To endure a childhood infirmity for so long, and then be cut short in his prime.  He used to play football in the playground, using his crutches for support as he kicked the ball around, or sometimes using one of them to blooter the ball between the 'goalpost jumpers'.  I can still see him in my mind's eye to this day, hopping around as fast as any jackrabbit ever could.

Returning to David Drummond, he used to trot along to my house on November 5th for two (maybe three) years in a row, in order to partake in our 'Bonfire Night' celebrations.  Lest you think we indulged on a grand scale, let me disabuse you of any such notion by revealing that it consisted mainly of waving sparklers around and setting off a couple or so bangers, with a handful of rockets from the smallest box of fireworks available.  Nothing grand by any means, but David's parents didn't observe the 'Fawkes festivities', so he shared in our meagre show held within the perimeters of our back garden.

A 2023 replacement for the Santa Raymond gave me

Three along from me on my right is Raymond Bennie, who emigrated to Australia around '68 or '69.  I haven't seen him since and sometimes wonder what happened to him and whether he's ever been back to visit. On the only occasion I was ever in his house, he gave me a stuffed Santa (which may have been a cat's toy) and I have fond memories of me and my brother playing 'dodge it' as we tried to  hit each other with poor ol' Mr. Claus from opposite sides of our bedroom on Saturday or Sunday mornings.

At least two other people in the photo (Audrey Hamilton and Gordon Fairbairn) also emigrated Down Under in later years, Louise/Audrey around 1983, and Gordon in '88 or '89.  I know Australia's a big place, but I'd like to think that they run into each other on occasion and reminisce about happy days gone by.  Just imagine that, in the fullness of time, everyone in the photo (apart from myself) were to emigrate over there - I wonder if they'd even remember me?

Ah, so many familiar faces, so many meandering memories.  Funny how events from around 56 years ago can sometimes seem as fresh and as close as what happened only yesterday.

******

36 years ago, I returned to the playground with a framed copy of the photo from 20 years before, and snapped myself beside it on the same spot.  The annexed wooden huts had been gone for some years by then.  The school followed them into oblivion at the beginning of 2014 after a replacement building had been erected in the football fields nearby.

Me, with photo to my right, in front of the former site of the huts in September 1987

Sunday 27 August 2023

CHILDHOOD'S END...


My 14th birthday was the first birthday I ever spent in my present home, and earlier birthdays in my previous house still seemed so recent that I didn't yet miss the years they represented.  It's only when the recent past has 'matured' (like an old wine) and is no longer so close that we begin to pine for it, and such was the case with me.  (It's not only absence that makes the heart grow fonder, but distance too.)  The last couple of years in my former domicile were not the same as the years that preceded them.  I'd already progressed beyond the stage of viewing the surrounding environs of my neighbourhood as my playground, and was venturing further afield in search of adventure. My taste for toys (in the main) was diminishing, and the occasional item aside, comics had become my primary interest instead of being just one of them.

The 'fabric' of my life had changed and was continuing to do so, but it was doing so while escaping my attention, so when my family flitted to my current residence in June 1972, my life continued for the first couple of years or so in much the same way as the last couple of years in my prior abode.  And it was this sense of continuity in the pattern of my life over the transitional period between one house and the other that dulled my awareness of an incontrovertible fact - namely, that my childhood had already ended in my former home and I had progressed from one stage of my life to another without being fully aware of the 'metamorphosis'.

It was only with the passage of time and many years after the fact that I realised my actual childhood 'belonged' to a previous house (and other houses before it), and that I'd left that blissful state unawares, as cognizance of the process of one's early life unfolding in stages doesn't consciously register until some way down the track.  As I've said before in other posts, life as it happens segues from one 'scene' to another in a subtle cross-fade, but when we look back years later, it seems to jump-cut between them.  That's because we recognise, categorise, and compartmentalise retroactively, not during the actual process of everyday life itself.

I think that's why I sometimes make little 'pilgrimages' back to old houses and neighbourhoods, to pay my respects to my demised childhood, even though, as I said, I wasn't aware it had passed away at the time.  And hey, perhaps it hadn't, and I'm assigning an arbitrary time of expiry as it subjectively seems to me today, not as it appeared back then.  Whatever the case, it makes me wonder how others regard this subject, which in turn leads me to ask the following question to those who feel inclined to answer:

Were you aware of when you ceased to be a child and moved on to the next level of your biological, emotional, and psychological evolution, or - like myself - was it not until many years later while trying to assemble the jigsaw of your life to view the full picture (up 'til now), that you realised you had transformed from a caterpillar to a butterfly without being aware of the fact?  Thoughts, theories, and observations will be made very welcome in the comments section.

Saturday 26 August 2023

MELANCHOLY MUSINGS...


Childhood.  An age of innocence where time seems to hold no sway, and awareness of the future only extends as far as looking forward to school holidays, birthday and Christmas presents, and the latest issue of your favourite comic going on sale.  That apart, there only seems to exist one big 'now', and whatever state you find yourself in feels like it will never end.  The house you're living in will be your home forever, you'll always be a schoolboy (or girl), and your parents and siblings will be around for as long as you are - which feels like it will be for eternity.  Childhood - the best days of our lives we're told, and unless you lived in a third world country beset by war and poverty or were the victim of abuse or cruelty, they are.

It's all downhill from there I'm sad to say.  Age, illness, deaths of loved ones, financial and family worries, uncertainty about a future you never even realised lay ahead of you, so accustomed were you to the eternal present you once thought you had.  Sure, there are good moments too as the years pass and your youth recedes, but they're always bittersweet once you reach that age where you're painfully aware there are more years behind you than lie ahead.  Do policemen, teachers, shop assistants, workmen, etc., all look younger than you recall them being in your day?  They're not, it's just that you're getting older and at the stage where you're beginning to 'fret to find your bedtime near'.  The final bedtime that is.

So now that I've cheered everyone up with my positive and optimistic assessment, let me ask you all a question.  Are you fulfilled in your life; do you have a goodly store of pleasant memories while yet adding to them each and every day, or do you feel that you never achieved your potential and still have so much more you want to do, while being all too well aware that you really don't have enough time ahead of you in which to do it?  Linger a moment  in the darker recesses of your mind, consider your life up to now, and then share your regrets (if any) and sadness of how quickly life seems to pass without us being aware of it until we near journey's end.

(There's no doubt about it - I'll need to stop taking those happiness pills.)

Thursday 27 July 2023

REFLECTING ON A REFLECTION...


Regular readers may remember me mentioning the house I and my family lived in between 1983 and '87, before moving back to our previous abode, the one in which I now reside today.  A friend of my brother stayed in the spare room of that other house for around 9 months or so before getting a place of his own, and my brother moved into a flat after around 3 years, leaving just myself, my parents and the dog in a house that was far too big for us.  Then, by a fortuitous quirk of fate, our former home became available so we returned to it after 4 years and 3 months away.

It had been madness to move to that other house from the start, as I was 24, going on 25, and my brother was 28, going on 29; did our parents think we were going to live with them forever?  Interestingly, a few years ago, I found a letter from the council, which revealed that my parents had already started looking for another house only a year after moving into the new one.  Anyway, while still in that other house, I eventually 'inherited' both rooms that had once been occupied by my brother and his pal, meaning I had 3 rooms to myself on the upper floor.

In the middle room, the open doorway looked out onto a vertically-long mirror on the hall wall opposite, reflecting part of the interior of the room, which looked remarkably similar to the layout of my bedroom in our previous (and now my present) home when I was in the hallway and looking through the open door.  In our new home I'd lie on my spare bed (my main one was in one of the adjoining rooms), gazing at the reflection, and pretend that I was looking into my old room as it afforded me some pleasing feelings of nostalgia.

However, before I continue, let me first explain something so that you can fully envision the picture I'm trying to paint in the paragraphs directly following the one below.

Nowadays I sometimes use my bathroom as a kind of 'workshop' whenever I'm repairing old comics or giving them a slight colour touch to restore their visual appearance.  I'll sit on the toilet seat (with the lid down) and with a board across my knees, and apply my restoration skills to whatever comic requires my attention.  The reason for this is because the bathroom window is on the left side of the seat, and the natural daylight which streams through usually compensates for my slight colour-blindness by enabling me to better match whatever colours need touching up (oo-er, missus) and/or applying Chinese archival repair tape.

Obviously, because I'm not in there using the facilities for their usual purpose, I don't bother closing the bathroom door, which means that I can look out across the hall landing at my room on the other side.  When my bedroom door is also open, it looks like the reflection in the mirror of my former room in the previous house, though in this instance I'm looking at the actual original view, not a reversed image of it.  Incidentally, the mirror nowadays hangs on the hall wall downstairs, where it was originally situated before we flitted in 1983 and then relocated it upstairs across from what became a spare room for me.

Anyway, I just thought it odd that what was previously a reflection of a former 'reality' is now once again the reality itself, and when I remember this, I'm reflecting on what was at one time a mere reflection.  In that other house I missed my old room, and now, in this house, I miss the reflection that resembled it - even though I'm reunited with the original.  Surely there's some kind of irony or significance inherent in the situation, though perhaps I should have spared you the tedious detail of my reminiscence?  I'm sure you'll tell me - either in a comment or by an all-pervading lack of any response at all.

Admit it - you don't get this kind of deep, psychological introspective nonsense pondering of such trivial matters on other blog sites, do you?  What do you mean, "Thank goodness for that!"?

Wednesday 24 May 2023

GUEST POST by CHRISTOPHER NEVELL: The RETURN Of ULYSSES - Or 'Away And Back Again'...

In May 1976, at the age of 10, my younger brother James and I climbed into the family car with our dearest belongings and said farewell to our childhood home.  As we drove across town to our new house we had a sense of excitement, but our parents were subdued.  Over the 12 years prior to that day, my parents' dream home on the seafront in Sussex had transformed into an unsustainable financial burden.  They had to sell and so we crossed to the other side of town.

Looking back now, the new house we moved to was nowhere near as good as the old one, but at that age I judged it by how close my friends were and, of course, the quality of the local newsagents.  By both counts, it was positive.  I also now had my own room and soon set about unpacking my comics.  My father had bundled them up with string, and so my fledging collection of BeanosTV ComicsMarvel UKs and more, quickly found space within reaching distance of my bed.  With a new radio next to me, this was my set-up for years ahead, and soon I was adding early issues of 2000 A.D. and Doctor Who to the weekly shop.

For me, these comics were not just reading material, they were more like souvenirs of past days.  If I picked up Avengers #1 then I was back in the Post Office around lunchtime on Friday 22nd September 1973.  The Look-In issue with the Bowie cover was a memorable walk to the shops a few months earlier.  Titans #1 in late October 1975 was the comic I was gifted on a beach walk to tell me I was going into hospital for an operation the following day.  The retained Pippin and Playlands reminded me of very early years when the Saturday morning paperboy's clatter of the letterbox sent us racing down the stairs.  James was the Pippin reader as he liked the glossy paper, I had the Playland with its matt finish as it had more of a grown-up newspaper feel.

My parents said the relocation was only a temporary situation, but after three years, the regularly-mentioned move back to the seafront 'next year' never came about.  The downgrade had stuck and my parents' own ambitions being thwarted took on a more personal meaning.  Nothing seemed quite so good now.  I'd gone to a different secondary school from my friends and the comics themselves seemed a poor pastiche of past glories, especially my favourite Marvel line.

The new home stayed in the family for decades, far longer than the first one, and in between university and jobs, I began to yearn for the old place.  We never really let go of it in our family dinner conversations and it stood there as testament to the family's own high tidemark of achievement.  Going to that part of town always saw a tweak in the journey - just to see how number 7 was.

In time I moved out, met and married Tracey, and then later we had our own family, though still living in the same town.  We created new memories and not only did my family grow, but so did my collection, up into the stratosphere.  The Pippin and Playlands were now relegated behind collectable original UK art and Silver Age Marvels, but that first house was still the 'golden age'.

Inevitably, my two children picked up on my indirect drives around town, and it became a bit of an in-joke between the four of us.

Sadly, just prior to the Covid lockdown, James passed away at short notice.  Due to a health condition his life was always going to be shorter than any of us wanted, but we never reckoned on 51.  I spent the last days sleeping over at the hospice.  It was a close time together, but he never complained and then he departed to join my already long-gone parents.  The one thing that struck me though, was he said his happiest days had been at number 7, which saddened me even further as surely he'd found more to enjoy in life after his first 8 years.  I couldn't disagree though, as I'd always known it.

Having no wife or children, James was very generous in what he left to me.  He wanted me to go and live back near the seafront and I inherited enough for Tracey and I to ponder that move.  Then one day my daughter came rushing downstairs, waving her IPad and shouting "Dad, isn't this the house you used to live in?"  Those little diverted drives had made their impression.  She was right, it was the very same house.

A viewing was arranged and, though brief, it confirmed what I'd always known - number 7's DNA was utterly etched in my mind.  I navigated the rooms at ease, even looking for and finding the chip on the banister I'd made and been scolded for, back in 1974.  I made a point of opening and standing in the larder, next to where the potato and onion stacker had been.  I leant on the small bedroom inner windowsill the way I used to.  I stood in the old nursery and breathed in the air.  The room sizes felt right, despite the fact that I'd grown.  However, it was a shock not to find the back garden as we'd left it.  I'd anticipated the trees would be more mature, but they were gone.  Everything was different - even alien.  It just wasn't the back garden I remembered.  Then I spotted the familiar immovable stone bench right at the end, an anchor all this time.  The change around it now seemed more plausible and palatable.  I sat down on it for the first time in decades.

I stepped back out through the front door and then down the driveway to the pavement.  I whispered a goodbye for the moment, not yet knowing whether it would be forever or not.

However, a deal was done and four months later, on my birthday, we picked up the keys.  As I turned the key in the lock I momentarily pretended it was only the day after we'd left.  It had taken time, but my old family (no longer here) had returned.  I took something personal into the house for each of them as if they were with me.  My father's tin box with his name printed on it, my mother's Red Rum book, and my brother's box of early toys.  Each of these consciously and carefully carried over the threshold.

The four of us had decided that we wouldn't be living in a museum.  The house needed updating and expanding to properly and comfortably accommodate the four of us.  I took the view that, had my old family never moved out, alterations and additions would have occurred anyway over the years, so it would never have been preserved 'in amber'.  However, updating requires money, so I'll have to consider selling some of my comics collection to help raise the necessary funds.  

Letting go of comics does not come easily.  For every Donald And Mickey that was never going to make the full trip, there's a Mighty World Of Marvel that was meant to.  Also, which is more important - the last issue of a set or the first merger issue the following week?  Are graphic novels or single issues the ones to keep?  I type this and stare at the wall.  Yes, I've made the return home, but sadly, to meet the cost of improvements, not everything that's come home with me will be staying.

However, some will pick themselves to stay.  They're the memory ones.  Spider-Man Comics Weekly #55, bought in town where Boots is now.  That first TV Comic bought at Teleski's near my Gran's.  Dracula Lives #1 from Watson's, which I took to school at lunchtime, and so on.  And it's with those souvenirs that the house comes alive again, with my old family now mixing in with the new.  Moments that perhaps should be remembered with new souvenirs.

Interestingly, I'd considered what would've happened if the house on either side had been available instead.  If I’d moved into either Number 5 or 9, with new folk going in and out of Number 7, that would likely have created an imbalance within me, akin to one of those Star Trek episodes when everyone is carrying on normally, but there’s one who senses that something is 'off' - and it is.

Given everything I've said, you could be forgiven for thinking that I regard this absolutely as my forever home and that I’ll be carried out in a coffin.  The thing is, my legs have felt tired since childhood and I can foresee a day when the stairs might be just too much of a struggle for me.  

So I plan to be here for 20 years, but then move into a bungalow.  It would be tragic to move back and die at the foot of the stairs.  Imagine that - as a kid running over the spot where you later die, then getting yourself away from there, and then putting yourself right back there for it to happen.  So, getting back to the point, I intend to leave on my own terms when I know my time here is properly done.  There is one alternative of course - a stairlift.  I'll make the final decision when that moment comes.

Sometimes, as I sit on the old stone bench in the garden and listen to my wife and children chatting nearby, I also seem to hear the voices of my parents and brother, whose presence yet permeates the place of my boyhood.  The past and the present combined, to accompany me into the future.  In returning here, I feel that I've finally fulfilled my parents' wish, which fills me with a sense of achievement on their behalf, as well as my own and my brother's.

"Made it, ma (and pa) - top of the world!"  

Thursday 24 November 2022

GIT ALONG, LITTLE DOGGIES...



The above picture-frame hangs in my hall above the kitchen door and shows two photos each of the three dogs we had (at different times) from January 1973 to November 1998.  The first was PRINCE (1 & 2), the second was TARA (3 & 4), and the third was ZARA (5 & 6).  The interesting thing about these photos is that they were all taken within a few feet of each other in the same area of the same back garden over a period of 20-plus years.

Let's number the top pics 1-3 and the lower ones 4-6.  So going from left to right, pics 1 & 2 (Prince) are on the path seen behind Tara in pic 4, and pic 5 (Zara) is on the path to the right (our pov) of pic 4, which is in front of the doorway seen in pic 3 (Tara).  Pic 6 (Zara in her kennel) is on the left (our pov) of pic 3, and was a different kennel to Tara's, but in the same place that her's once occupied.  (Still with me?)  "So what?" you may be wondering.

Well, we moved to another house in a different neighbourhood in 1983, where Tara lived for the last three years of her life.  A month after she died, I bought Zara (who was born a month before Tara passed, so their lives overlapped), and a year after that, we moved back to our previous house.  That means there was a gap of just over four years between Tara and Zara living in the same house, so photos of them (and Prince) on the same few feet of pathway of the same garden is somehow very satisfying and significant to me.

The dogs never met one another, but they all knew and played in the same garden, and 'posed' for photos, each being captured for posterity within the same few feet of space.  How fitting, therefore, that their images are now housed in the same picture frame, almost as if they all shared the garden at one and the same time.  Perhaps their spirits romp about together out there, the best of pals, and greet me a with a ghostly bark of welcome whenever I go out to fill the birdfeeders every morning.

Anyway, do you have a similar pictorial reminder of any dogs or pets you may've once had, and does it make you smile fondly whenever your eyes fall upon it?  Tell all in the comments section.

Monday 29 August 2022

THE SINS OF THE SON...


I don't remember the precise year - or even the month, come to that.  June or July perhaps?  Whether I was yet a schoolboy or had left my educational environs is another thing beyond my ability to recall.  At a guess I'd say it might've been around the mid-'70s upwards, but I couldn't swear to it.  I do remember it was a sunny Saturday, maybe late morning or early afternoon, and I was making my way down to the local town centre, which took me past a church in between my house and the shops.

On the path leading from the church, I saw my father, coming in my direction and carrying a stool-type piece of furniture he'd just acquired from a jumble sale in the church hall.  He asked me if I'd carry it home for him, but I was eager to get to the shops and so resisted his invitation.  It would mean retracing my steps home and starting again from scratch, and as I was already at least halfway to my intended destination, it wasn't a delay I was prepared to undergo.

The stool wasn't heavy, but my father wasn't exactly what you'd call a healthy specimen, so had I been a good and dutiful son, I'd have obliged him.  But no, I was eager to be off on my adventures, so my father had to carry his burden home by himself.  Yes, I was a bit of a b@st@rd, wasn't I?  Anyway, my father survived his trek, and the stool ended up in my bedroom, though whether he'd bought it with that intention or had just succumbed to a whim with no thought as to where the item would go is lost to history.

Over quarter of a century ago, I re-upholstered the 'lid' of the stool with a material that matched the original and restored its appearance to that which it had before it came into my possession.  It still sits in my bedroom and whenever I look at it, I feel a pang of guilt at my callous cold-heartedness in not being prepared to (slightly) inconvenience myself by carrying it home for my father.

Funny the effect time has, isn't it?  I'd like to think its passage has made we wiser and even kinder (though I doubt the latter), and that, were I to have that moment again, I would acquiesce to my father's request and spare him the effort of trudging home with the load on his own.  True, he could have stopped and rested whenever he felt the need to and taken the weight off his feet by sitting on the stool, but I take no comfort from that realisation and still feel like a bad 'un for being so selfish.

Decades later, the 'sins' of the past yet haunt me and hold me to account.  And perhaps that's just how it should be if there's to be any kind of justice in the world for missed opportunities of acts of kindness and decency.

Sunday 23 January 2022

FINALLY - THE FULFILMENT OF A FAR-AWAY PROMISE...


"A promise made is a debt unpaid" is an old but true saying, and I recently fulfilled a promise (and paid a debt) over a whopping 50-plus years after making it.  I told you in a previous post how my neighbours, Robert and Elaine, back around 1969-1970, gave me a Santa Claus cake-topper I'd coveted, for which I'd promised them a Christmas selection box in exchange.  That was the deal I'd proposed, but because they asked for time to consider, I thought they weren't going to go for it - until said Santa, wrapped in Christmas paper, was pushed through my letterbox five or ten minutes later.  In the meantime, me and my brother had scoffed most of the contents, leaving only a Bounty bar to complete my side of the bargain.  As I chapped their door and shamefacedly handed it across, I promised I'd give them a full selection box at the earliest opportunity.

There's another old saying - "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions", and I never did get around to fulfilling my promise and upholding my side of the deal before we flitted sometime after.  It always bothered me slightly, and I was determined, one day, to do the right thing, but the years came and went without me ever doing so.  Sadly, Robert died at the beginning of last year, but (on the run-up to Christmas) I got his widow's and sister's addresses from a mutual friend and sent each of them a small selection box (with an explanatory note) to finally fulfil my long-ago promise.  They were nothing fancy or expensive, merely a modest token to show I hadn't forgotten and, if I'm honest, to ease my conscience by doing what I should've done over 50 years ago.  I regard the two selection boxes as two halves of the same one, as obviously the original promised item would've been divided between Robert and Elaine.

So am I blowing my own trumpet here and seeking recognition for finally doing the right thing?  Not a bit of it, because taking over 50 years to do it puts me in a bad light more than a good one, but I do feel a bit of a weight has been lifted from my shoulders after several decades.  Hopefully, Robert's widow and his sister will appreciate the thought behind the gesture, and recognise it as my attempt to make good on a never-quite-forgotten promise that took far too long to complete.  And hopefully Robert is looking down and saying with a wink and a smile, "Good on ye, Gordie, I knew you wouldn't let us down in the end."  So here's to Robert - I was thinking of him at Christmas and fondly reminiscing about when we were kids with forever seemingly ahead of us. 

Do any of you have any unfulfilled promises you once made that nag at your conscience?  And do you still fully intend to make good on them one day?  Alleviate some of your guilt by sharing them with your fellow Mellows in the comments section.

Sunday 16 January 2022

FRYING TONIGHT - PONDERINGS ON WHAT MIGHT'VE BEEN...


The house with the lit-up windows and dark door was mine

I was in a local chip shop one night around a year or so ago, waiting on a fish being freshly fried, and the woman who served me lived in the very same neighbourhood that my family moved to from Glasgow back in 1960.  She'd been there since 1959 - 60 years, even though she's younger than me, and only just flitted to a nearby flat last November.  My family stayed in our house for about 4 years, before moving down the road to another street, and then we moved to another neighbourhood around 15 months later.  The assistant and me fell to mentioning a few names that used to live in 'our' street, and there's a couple who still inhabit the same house as they did back then, though their kids flew the nest years ago.

That set me thinking to what it must be like for grown up children to visit the family home where they grew up and from which their parents have never moved, and it made me a little envious.  It must surely be like revisiting the past, seeing familiar ornaments and pictures, etc.  My history in my current house only goes back 47 years (but seems nowhere near as long as that), and I began to wonder (as I've done before) what it would've been like had we never flitted in 1964 and I was yet living in that first house instead of my present one.  My pre-teenage childhood is spread over three houses, but what would it have been like if it had only ever been one?

Would my perceptions be different because every toy and comic I ever bought growing up would be associated with one house and neighbourhood as opposed to three?  (And same goes for TV programmes.)  As I've said before in another post, it somehow seems that I had three childhoods instead of just one, and though I'd be loath to have to relinquish that feeling (and the memories of the accompanying experiences, as well as friends I might never have met), the idea of one single childhood appeals to me in some indefinable way.

Is it because that, as a mere five year-old child, I thought I'd live in that first house forever (which, in my youthful ignorance, is what I unconsciously assumed) and resented being prematurely plucked from it?  Could it be a desire to finally fulfil a then-unfolding fate that was denied to me by moving, or is it something else entirely?  Is it because I want to again set my step upon 'the road not taken' due to detours in other directions cropping up along the way and leading me off-track? Did my life unfold the way it was intended to (for those who believe in predestination), or was it flung to the winds, to fall where it will?

Who can say?  Not me, as I have difficulty even articulating my nebulous thoughts in a precise way, but hopefully I've managed to convey at least a sense of what I was aiming at.  Got any thoughts on the matter, fellow Mellows?  Ever wonder how your life might've turned out had you never moved elsewhere as a kid, or changed schools, or this or that had never happened - or something else had?  Express yourselves in the comments section.

******

Incidentally, the assistant told me her family had moved into the house when she was only around 3 months old, the scheme having been only recently completed, so it's likely that my family were also the first tenants in our house.  It gives me a good feeling to know that we were the first family to live in what was our first house in a New Town, having lived in a tenement in Glasgow's West End prior to that, and I feel even more 'connected' to the house than previously.  Every other house - bar the one we lived in from 1983-'87, where we were also the first residents - we were the second family to live there.  (Not that I feel they were any less 'mine' for that.)

Wednesday 5 January 2022

FINE BY THE FIRESIDE...


Calendar illustration for January

And now it's time for a deeply depressing descent into the depths of the doldrums, as I regale you all with yet another anaemic anecdote that's sure to arouse your apathy (if that's not a contradiction in terms) and have you reaching for the Diazepam to dampen your despair at my rambling reminiscences.  (Don't you just love loads of awesome alliteration?  I know I do.)

On my wall hangs a 1985 calendar, which I purchased from a bookshop in Portsmouth back in the month of January or February of that very year.  It's a The Wind In The Willows calendar, featuring the iconic illustrations of Ernest H. Shepard, and for a month or three, it hung above the tiled fireplace of the bedsit room in which I was based at the time, travelling up to London twice a week whilst freelancing for IPC.

The calendar in March 1985

That tiled fireplace was a relic of another era, conjuring up images of the '50s or '60s when such a feature was commonplace in most houses in Britain.  I could just imagine families huddled around the roaring flames, trying to heat their cold bones on dark wintry nights, whilst listening to the radio and supping cups of Bovril or Horlicks.  (Yucchh!)  Not so in my case however; the fireplace was empty, and a sheet of hardboard covered the recess where the grate should've been.

That year ('85), it snowed in Portsmouth.  Nothing more than a light fall covering the streets for two or three days, before turning to slush and then disappearing, but you'd have thought it was a calamity of immense proportions.  "The worst snow we've had since 1963!" was the common cry of complaint from the locals.  I imagined the date to be a rough 'guesstimate', chosen merely because it was the closest approximation anyone could remember.  Imagine my surprise then, when, 20-odd years later, I heard a radio weather forecaster confirm the year of 1963 as indeed one of the worst on record for that particular part of the country (and the rest of Great Britain too, as it happens).

A scan of the calendar today

All I can say is that we Scots must be a hardy lot, as such a light snowfall for so short a period wouldn't have been a big deal to us.  If anything, we'd have been disappointed that it hadn't been heavier and longer-lasting.  However, let's not mock the English for being wimps - they can't help it.  (He said, in a deeply caring, affectionate and non-xenophobic way.)

Anyway, what has all this to do with anything?  Just this: As I type these words, it's snowing* outside, and glancing at that calendar reminds me of when it hung on the wall of a bedsit in Fratton on a similar kind of evening nearly 30 years ago. The fireplace gave forth no heat back then, but recalling that room today, with the selfsame calendar hanging on my present wall, the embers of memory cast a warm glow that envelops me in its radiant embrace. 

(*Or it was when I first wrote this.  It is frosty outside though.)

Sunday 5 December 2021

RAMBLING REFLECTIONS OF THE RATHER REMOTE KIND...


When you're in your early 20s, you feel as if you've been around forever and can't even conceive of a time when you didn't exist.  You know there was, of course, but it just doesn't feel like it.  (The same thing could probably be said whatever age you happen to be - at least in my own experience.)  I'd lived in five different houses by the time I was 20, and due to the furniture being the same from house-to-house, they all had pretty much the same ambience.  In memory, therefore, those houses (the four I remember anyway, as I was only one-and-a-half when we moved from the first one) are preserved in amber, as there were no significant changes in their furnishings during our time of residence in them.  (The occasional addition, but no deletions.)

When I first moved to my current home it was the same, but eventually (several years in) some furniture was disposed of and replaced, and the house now no longer preserves the 'vibe' it once had, the interiors having evolved a different look and feel to that of my earliest years here.  It now has a different 'personality' (while still retaining a few remnants of its old one), and its current ambiance no longer precisely matches that of any of our previous residences.  I therefore often find myself casting my mind back to earlier times, which isn't difficult considering the sheer volume of replacement toys, books, comics, and records I've managed to obtain that remind me of my early days.

When my gaze falls upon those doppelganger items from yesteryear, I find myself yearning to return to those times and places, and since the majority of my collection reminds me of one house in particular, I tend to find the notion of one day moving back there quite an attractive proposition, because they'd all be 'at home'.  The only trouble with that though, is that I'd be bound to miss the houses before and after whenever I looked at items that preceded and followed my residence in the home under discussion.  So while I'd feel I belonged there whenever I looked at a replacement comic or toy I originally owned at the time, I'd most likely feel out of place when I looked at a comic or toy from a later time in a subsequent house.

As I've said before somewhere, it's a case of missing what you don't have, but if you reacquire it, you then miss something else.  I miss my previous houses because I no longer live in them, but if I were to move back to one, I'd miss the others - including the one I currently inhabit.  That's why I moved back here 34 years ago after living elsewhere for over four years, having previously stayed here for 11 - I missed it and wanted to try and turn the clock back.  Now, strangely, I even miss the house I left to return here, though I didn't at the time - it took around 17 or 18 years for that feeling to finally kick in.

Anyway, I began this post several hours ago before getting distracted by other things, so I've now forgotten precisely where I intended to go with this.  All I know is that whenever I look at one group of toys or comics, the prospect of again living in the house I inhabited when I first got them seems extremely appealing to me, but having lived in a number of houses in my lifetime, I feel the same way about every former abode whenever I look at or handle other groups of items first acquired during my terms of residence in them.

I suppose posts like this aren't fair on you poor Mellows, due to the fact that if I don't quite know what I'm trying to say, then you can't be expected to either.  Hopefully you'll be able to make something out of it.

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