Thursday, 14 January 2021

EVERYBODY NEEDS GOOD NEIGHBOURS...

Robert Baird - R.I.P.

We called him 'Bimbo' when he was a kid.  Whether he was nicknamed after the Jim Reeves song or the nursery comic for children, well - if anyone ever asked him its origin, I never got to hear about it.  He was in my primary school class (though not secondary as I went a year ahead of him), and was also my next door neighbour from 1965 until 1972 when I moved to another part of town.  I occasionally saw him around our secondary school (which I yet attended even after vacating the area), but couldn't say with any precision when sight of him ceased.  It was many years later that I learned he and his family had moved to England not long after* we'd flitted, and I'm told he eventually did very well for himself in a high-level position at BP.

(*Update: A friend of his says that he moved to Essex in 1976, though I'm unsure whether that was straight from Scotland or from somewhere else down south.  I'll have to check.)

A few months back, he joined a Facebook group for our old school and we exchanged a few friendly messages.  I was surprised that he remembered me to be honest, and he even recalled my brother's name.  He didn't remain a member for long (couple of days maybe), due to some others complaining about photographs of our old primary school building being posted, though the group's founder didn't mind as it as it increased participation among the members.  What was their gripe?  That it was a site for former pupils of that particular secondary school, not a primary one, even though many of the pupils had come from the same primary.  Robert didn't like the pettiness, so he quit.

So it had been at least 44 or 45 years since I'd last seen Robert before we exchanged comments on that FB group, and because I was informed yesterday by a former mutual neighbour that Robert died on January 2nd from Covid-19 after being diagnosed in early December, I'm so glad we were able to reconnect - even if it was only for a handful of messages and for such a short time.  My memories of when I lived next to him are uppermost in my mind at the moment, and as I last saw him when he was yet a young teenager, that's how I remember him.  He did return on visits from time-to-time as he had relatives and friends here, but if I ever saw him as an adult - possibly while walking past one another in the local shopping centre - I never recognised him.

And now I want to tell you a story.  I can no longer say with certainty whether it was at the tail-end of my primary school years or at the beginning of my secondary ones (I suspect the latter), but Robert and his sister Elaine had a Santa Claus cake-topper, which I instantly coveted on sight when I was in their house one night on the run-up to Christmas.  They were resistant to the idea of parting with it, but I said I'd give them a selection box in exchange and they said they'd think it over.  About 10 minutes later, said Santa was pushed through my letterbox wrapped in a bit of Christmas paper.  Unfortunately, not being hopeful of them accepting my offer, my brother and myself had already started work on the selection box's contents.

Oo-er, what was I to do?  I chapped their door and gave them a surviving Bounty bar (and possibly another choccy bar, a Milky Way maybe), explaining what had happened and promising to make it up to them later.  What's that they say about good intentions?  Somehow I never managed to get around to it before we flitted, but for years now, I've been planning to find out his address and post a selection box to him with a little note saying 'debt paid'.  Alas, now I never will, as that damned Covid-19 has taken him from his family and friends (and former neighbours) much too soon.

Y'know, for years after flitting from our old neighbourhood, I assumed he was still living there, because, as I said earlier, I didn't know he'd moved until many years later.  Below is a photo of him as he looked when I last saw him, taken from a school 'wallet' of classmates given to me by a friend to copy a good number of years ago.  The photo which heads the post is from Robert's own Facebook page (hope his family won't mind me borrowing it), and I note with interest that his last entry to it was made on the 14th June 2020.  I find that strangely significant in some indefinable way, because we moved from our old neighbourhood on 14th June 1972, exactly 48 years before his final FB contribution.

It would've been good to see and speak to him again at some point, and, if there's an afterlife, maybe it'll happen when I depart this mortal vale of tears.  In the meantime, Robert, hope you're at peace, and don't forget - I still owe you a Christmas selection box.  Hard to believe you're no longer around, except in my memories and a couple of photographs in my possession.  Rest in peace, wee Bimbo, and condolences to all those you loved and who loved you back.

******

Isn't it strange how people from so far back in your childhood who you haven't seen or spoken to in decades still resonate down through the years and can affect you when you learn they're gone? 

 

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

THESE BOOKS WERE MADE FOR STOCKIN'...

 
All images copyright relevant owners

Recently, I dug out a few books from my bedroom cupboard and started 'tarting up' the dust-jackets in a bid to make them more cosmetically presentable.  This involved the application of a special 'repair' tape on the inside of rips and tears, then a bit of colour-touching on the outside to disguise the 'seams'.  Some of these books I've had since I was a child (though they started off as my brother's), and they'd been in their less-than-perfect condition for decades, having been acquired when I lived in another house in a different neighbourhood.  (And in one case, even earlier.)

Consequently, it should come as no surprise to anyone to learn that I mainly associated them with that previous house, even though they 'inhabited' it for only a handful of years at the most and have spent far longer in my current residence.  Having a tendency towards introspection of the trivial, I assumed that I connected them more with my former abode (and that particular period of my life) because they were in essentially the same condition as back then, and perhaps also because I'd mainly overlooked them in subsequent years.

Funny thing is, working on the dust-jackets has 'updated' them in my mind and they no longer seem like mere remnants or reminders of the past, but a relevant part of the present as well.  They belong to 'now' as well as 'then', and halcyon days of childhood seem far closer than you'd think they had a right to.  It's a bit like if I were to look into a mirror today and found that my current reflection was the same as it had been many years ago, if that makes any sense to you.  (As opposed to looking at an old photo of yourself showing how you used to be.)  An imperfect analogy I know, but you're smart enough to get my drift.

In short, what I'm trying to say is that the books are no longer isolated in (or restricted to) an ill-lit 'museum' storage compartment at the back of my mind, but now also inhabit (figuratively-speaking of course) the new front 'extension' which is bright, airy, and thoroughly modern in every way.  But will that impression last?  Who knows, but even if it's short-lived, it's nice to know and enjoy the books as a current experience and not just a long-ago one.

This one's a recent replacement for my original

No dust-jacket - tidied up the boards

Sunday, 12 July 2020

COME ON IN AND PULL UP A CHAIR...



"You wanna get nuts? Let's get nuts!" said MICHAEL KEATON to JACK NICHOLSON in the 1989 BATMAN movie, and ADAM WEST said it again in the 2016 BATMAN: The RETURN Of The CAPED CRUSADERS dvd animated film. Guess what? I'm saying it again now. Why? Basically, because some of the subjects I write about are a bit 'nutty', in the sense that nobody else, it seems to me, would ever think of putting digits to keyboard in order to warble on about anything resembling some of the things that so fascinate me from time-to-time.

Case in point: Over 30 years ago, I had a friend who lived in a top floor flat about 5 minutes around the corner from me.  He had a three piece suite, but he considered one armchair surplus to requirements, so exchanged it with me (along with some cash) for a video player/recorder I had.  The armchair moved into my back room, and I'm sometimes astounded to think that I've now had it for far longer than the family three-piece suite I grew up with for what seems like an eternity in memory.

I had another pal who often sat on that chair when he visited, and last year, he actually bought the flat that the armchair had originally come from.  Not from the other guy I knew, as he'd sold it on long before that, but isn't that weird?  Pal #2 had gone from sitting on the chair to living in the flat that the chair had come from, without ever thinking of how 'Twilight Zone'-ish the situation is - in my mind anyway. It even took me a while to realise how bizarre a 'coincidence' it happens to be.  It's weird how seemingly random events connect up in a way that we would never imagine unless or until they actually happen.

Can you think of a similarly odd situation that's happened to you, or is it just me who reads too much significance into ordinary, everyday, pedestrian events?  You can let me know in the comments section.  Incidentally, that's a generic armchair in the above pic, as mine is covered in stuff and I can't take a good photo of it at the moment.  (I will when I can.)

Monday, 6 July 2020

A LAD UNIQUE (YES, IT'S A PUN)...



In all seven family homes (counting the one we inhabited twice four years apart as two separate ones) in which I've lived over the decades, on the upstairs landing has stood the above ALADDINIQUE paraffin heater.  A good many years back, I discovered the envelope with the pamphlet and paraphernalia inside that had been sent to our tenement apartment in the West End of Glasgow, but I don't think I ever paid any particular attention to the postmark on the envelope - September 19th 1957.


That means it predates me as I hadn't yet been born, and when I was, I was too young to remember our Glasgow abode when I eventually became aware of my surroundings.  That didn't happen until we were ensconced in our first house in a New Town, and I remember the heater from that point on.  The last time I recall it being used was during the power cuts of the 1970s, along with a couple of paraffin lamps (which I also still have), but it's served merely as an ornament of sorts since then.  Obviously it could be pressed into service again were there ever to be another power cut.


There's something reassuringly familiar about seeing it parked next to the bathroom door (its spot in all our New Town houses) when I trot, barefooted, along the landing on my way to perform the hallowed 'ceremony of evacuation' of bladder or/and bowels.  I'd miss it if it wasn't there - it's like a silent sentinel that stands guard in the night.  Anyway, I thought I'd share some of the images from the contents of the envelope as they speak so eloquently of a vanished age.  The instructions show a bit of wear and tear, but the rest of the contents look almost new (though dated).



Thursday, 25 June 2020

SEVEN SPADES...



Here's a curious-but-true tale.  First, though, you may remember me telling you all about my father's lockup in an earlier post (here).  It now seems that I was previously misinformed as to who was storing their car there, as I recently discovered that it wasn't someone in another row of terraces (as I'd been told), but the present tenant of my former house.  As I understand it, he rents my father's old lockup from either his neighbour or the current owner of my family's old abode, so I'll have to double-check what the situation actually is - purely to satisfy my own curiosity as I hate being bewildered.

However, forget all that - it's not really what this post is about.  No, it's about the 7 of spades.  Eh?  Well, you see, while along in my former neighbourhood a few weeks back, quite by chance I got to talking to the guy who now lives in my old house, without knowing he lived there until he chanced to mention it.  Naturally I was astounded by the coincidence.  I happened to mention that I harboured the suspicion that my brother may have left something in a space under the boards of one of the cupboards in what used to be my parents' room, and the guy said he'd take a look.  Anyway, he did, and though he didn't find what I was hoping for, he did find something.

And that something was the 7 of spades playing card you see in the above pic.  I can't say with absolute certainty whether my brother left it there, or one of the subsequent tenants after we flitted, but I prefer to think it comes from my family's time in the house (or maybe even before).  What I find significant, however, is that the house number is 77, and the face of the playing card sports a 7 in two corners - which is 77 if you have an imagination like mine.  Now, you may consider such things inconsequential, but little things like that make a great impression on me.

So that's me got one more souvenir of a childhood home I was happy in for nearly 7 years.  In fact, we moved out on the 14th day (which the more astute of you will immediately spot is two 7s.) of the 7th month of the 7th year, so the playing card continues the tradition of 7s connected to my former residence.

Anyone else find that interesting, or am I on my own (again)?


Since first publishing this post, I've been unable to shake the feeling that this card is familiar to me.  I now seem to have a vague memory of seeing it in the space under the cupboard boards when I lived in the house all those years ago.  Memory or imagination?  What do you think? 

Sunday, 21 June 2020

A BEDTIME STORY...



I was lying on top of my bed earlier, dozing (something I do a lot of these days), and it's surprising what one's mind can turn to in a semi-somnambulistic state. My thoughts turned to a bed that I owned from around the mid to the late '80s, one which one of my friends had put a deposit on, but then decided he didn't need (or want).  He'd seen it in a local shop, and it was going for a silly price because one of the support slats was broken, so he put down a deposit on it and intended to pay the balance when he could afford it - then changed his mind.

The broken slat didn't bother me, because I knew I could replace it with not much bother, so I gave my pal his deposit amount (£5 I think) and paid the outstanding tenner (told you it was cheap) to the shop.  That's how my second bedroom of the house my family was living in at the time became a bedroom in fact and not just in name.  A couple or so years later, my family returned to our previous house, and the spare bed took up residence in the room I used as a studio.  However, space was tight because of all the stuff I'd acquired over that couple of years, and the larger of the two rooms was slightly smaller than in the other house.

Meanwhile, my friend had moved into a flat with his girlfriend and their baby boy. They had a cot (if I remember rightly), but thinking ahead, they decided it would be nice to get a bed for their son that he could grow into.  I said he could have the bed I'd bought in his stead, and thus it passed into the possession of its original intended owner.  Fate, or what?  I no longer recall whether I gave it to him gratis or he reimbursed my initial outlay, but it was satisfying to see the bed united with the very person who'd originally planned to buy it.  (I kept the headboard I'd chosen and paid for separately, and it's on standby just in case I ever need it.)

Sometimes, though, my mind returns to when it resided in my second bedroom of the house I lived in when I first bought it, and I recall lying in it at night as the wind blew through the trees at the side of an adjacent field, and the rain lashed the window of my cozy, comfortable little room as I huddled under the blankets, impervious to the external elements that raged beyond.  Who doesn't love nights like that when they're snuggled up safe in bed, eh?

(Incidentally, that's not the actual bed in the photo - just a generic stand-in.)

Saturday, 20 June 2020

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY...



Sunday was sort of an anniversary for me, in that it was 48 years ago that I first moved into the house in which I now reside.  (Not the one above, which is just for illustration purposes.)  June 14th 1972, which was a Wednesday, though we should actually have flitted on Monday 12th, which was when our official tenancy commencement date took effect.  I presume it was arranging removal vans for both properties (it was a mutual exchange) on the same day which accounts for the hold-up.  We lived here for 11 years before moving to another house in another neighbourhood, where we lived for just over 4 years, before moving back to this one. Regular, long-term readers of my other blog already know all this, of course, having read it (too) many times before in previous posts.

48 years, eh?  How can that be possible?  I don't even feel like I'm 48, so how can I have moved into this house that same length of time ago?  I've pondered before about how staying in the same place you've lived since you were 13 up into advanced adulthood can make your teenage years seem closer to you and not so far distant, but that can have its drawbacks as well as its advantages.  You see, when the gap between 13 and 60-plus seems like the blink of an eye through one end of Time's telescope, it likewise seems the same from the other - moreso when all those years have been lived in the same house.

Under normal circumstances, most people will have lived in a number of houses and neighbourhoods (even countries in some cases) between youth and their later years, so there have been regular interruptions in continuity to distinguish the different events over the course of their lives.  Add to that different jobs, relation-ships, marriage, kids and grandkids, and there are numerous signposts to measure how things have unfolded over the years.  That doesn't really apply in my case. With the exception of that 4 year blip, my life is pretty much the same as it's always been since I was a youth, making 48 years feel like one big 'now' as opposed to a collection of various little 'then's.

To someone else, 48 years ago may seem like an eternity away, due to the fact that they've crammed multiple and varied experiences into their life, whereas, to someone like me, who hasn't, 48 years doesn't feel like being very long ago at all. (Well, sometimes it does - depends on how I'm feeling I suppose.)  How does it feel for you, if you're old enough to encompass 48 years into your span thus far?  Was it a 'forever' ago, or does it appear much more recent than that?

I've always derived a certain measure of comfort from obtaining comics, books and toys (and houses?) I had as a kid, because then the time in which I originally owned them doesn't seem that far away.  However, perhaps things from our past belong in the past and should stay there so that we have a more realistic concept of the passage of time.  When too many items from the past also form our present, the span between them seems almost non-existent, resulting in the illusion that we've gone from child to pensioner faster than a fart from The Flash!  (Hey, I just had to squeeze that in somewhere.)  

Another 'anniversary' is looming, in that on August 1st I'll have been back in this house for 33 years.  The official tenancy commencement date was August 4th 1987, which was a Tuesday, so we moved in early this time, on the Saturday. Funnily enough, this August 1st will also be a Saturday, so I suppose things have come full circle. I've now been back for 33 years, but, despite being exactly 3 times the duration of my first term of 11 years in the '70s and early '80s, it seems nowhere near as long. I don't think I'll ever be able to get my head around paradoxes like that.

Anyway, I know this post has been another extremely self-indulgent wallow in personal nostalgia, but if you'd like to comment on my meandering musings, feel free to do so - you know where.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

STAPLES IN THE SANDS OF TIME...



I finally decorated my back room a few years back.  I say 'finally' because it actually took me about 29 years to start it, and then it was months of hanging a couple of strips of wallpaper every few weeks 'til it was finished.  Because of a medical condition, I tire easily, and I just didn't have the stamina to apply myself to the task with any energy or enthusiasm.  Therefore, it was a bit here and there when I could.  And I was absolutely knackered at the end of it, let me tell you.

The room used to be my brother's, mainly, when we stayed here the first time around.  I say 'mainly' because we shared it for quite a few months when my room suffered from damp during the winter months, and there was a period when we swapped for a while, so the room was 'officially' mine as well.  As regular readers of my other blog will know (and lost the will to live at my continual re-telling), we flitted to another house after eleven years, then moved back (sans brother) four-plus years later.  Along with my old room, I also commandeered my sibling's former sleeping quarters.

Yeah, big deal, you say, get to the point.  Well, while I was in the long, slow, arduous process of trying to hang a few strips of wallpaper, I found staples embedded in various spots in the walls, where my brother had affixed all his heavy metal posters back in the '70s.  I decided to leave them there (after flattening them into the wall with a hammer), as, having been there for more than 40 years, I didn't have the heart to remove them.  Long after I'm less than a memory, these old staples will likely still be there, a permanent testament to the fact of my family's presence in this house down through the decades.

I've touched on this subject before, but it amazes me to think that we always leave our mark on wherever we've lived, even if we don't realise it at the time.  When I revisted a former dwelling sixteen years after having moved out, I was surprised by just how many 'markers' of our time there yet remained.  Wallpaper, tiles, lowered ceilings, marks where fluorescent lights had been, etc., it was all comfortably familiar to me, as if we'd never been away.  And when we returned to the house in which I now reside, our departed doggie's scratches in the back door were there to welcome us and remind us of our prior occupation.

We all leave our mark behind us, however trivial, and regardless of whether we intend to or not.  What feature of any of your former homes will attest to you once having lived there long after you've gone?

Saturday, 8 February 2020

PLODDING AT RANDOM ACROSS THE PLOUGH (PLOW TO U.S. READERS)...



Anyone who's read The WIND In The WILLOWS by author KENNETH GRAHAME will surely be familiar with the chapter entitled DULCE DOMUM, in which MOLE and RATTY are returning home over the fields (after a day out with OTTER) one winter evening near Christmas.  Suddenly, Mole senses his own home which he'd 'abandoned' months before to stay with Ratty (come now, we won't be having any of that kind of innuendo - their relationship is purely platonic), and feels compelled to visit it again.  It's a very touching episode, and speaks about the importance of having one's own place to return to, and the comfort which can be derived from being able to reconnect with one's 'roots'.

I feel like that about every house I've ever lived in.  They call to me, plead with me to return for a visit and relive the memories associated with the times I stayed there during my childhood.  I've mentioned before that, whenever I'm in any of my former neighbourhoods, I almost feel that I could stroll up the pathway to whichever old home it happens to be, insert my key in the lock, and go inside to find everything as it was in 'my day'.  It's an instinct.  I recall that, late one dark night in '83 or '84, I was walking my dog TARA (not to be confused with her successor ZARA) along one of my old streets, when she turned in at the steps of the house we'd left several months before, glanced 'round to see if I'd caught up, and made to ascend the few steps to the pathway leading up to the door.  Instinct (and memory) y'see.  She seemed slightly confused when I walked past and called her to my side.

Like I said, it feels like the most natural thing in the world to me to walk up the path to any of my former abodes as if I still inhabited them, presumably due to a similar 'instinct' to that which animals possess.  (At least, that was my defence in court when I was charged with several counts of attempted burglary.  Relax, I'm joking.  I just claimed it was a case of mistaken identity.)

Tonight, I again felt the 'summons' to revisit the house and area where I lived between 1965 and '72, and I was all ready to do so when I remembered how many changes had occurred in the last 30 years (which seems like only 3 or 4 to me). The alterations had taken place incrementally over a prolonged period, until they eventually overwhelmed some aspects of the street and the surrounding environs, to such an extent that revisiting is not entirely the happy experience it used to be. I want to see the place as it was in my day, not the place it's since become, and which sours things for me to an extent.

So I resisted the call, and instead entered the past via the portal of modern technology - namely my computer.  I have large folders of photos (and some video footage) of how the area used to be in younger and better days, the same as when I lived there, and I found my 'virtual' visit almost as satisfying as my actual ones before the face of the landscape had been altered, in many ways, almost beyond recognition.

Any fellow Mellows do this sort of thing, or am I the lone inmate in an asylum of my own construction?  ("Trapped... in a world he DID make!" would perhaps be the comicbook subtitle.)  Feel free to say I'm bonkers in the comments section - but be polite about it.  (You know what a sensitive soul I am.)

******

What's that - the title of this post?  It'a a line from the first paragraph of Dulce Domum.  Give it a read - you'll enjoy it.
      

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

DOES THE KING'S HORSE RING A BELL WITH ANYONE...?



One day back in the late '60s, my father brought home a book for me which contained various children's stories. The book wasn't new, so he'd most likely bought it in a jumble sale or 'The Barras'.  Amongst the tales within its pages were The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Little Red Hen, one about two kids looking after a hedgehog, and The King's Horse. (Or it may've been The King's Bell.)  There were others of course, but these are the ones I remember.

My favourite story was The King's Horse (or Bell), which was about a King who installed a bell in the town square, for any of his subjects to ring in order to obtain justice in matters where they had been wronged.  The way I remember it, the King had a horse who, when it was no longer of use to him, was turned out into the street to fend for itself.  One cold winter's night, the bell is heard ringing in the square, and when the King turns up to see who needs his help, is ashamed to see that he himself is the guilty party, is overcome with remorse, and the horse returns to its comfy stable to live happily ever after.

The tale is based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem The Bell Of Atri, which has been rewritten as a prose story more than once, I believe.  However, in the original version, the horse doesn't belong to the King, but a knight (or soldier), so I'm left to wonder if I might be mis-remembering the details, or a little artistic license had been taken with events in order to provide an ironic ending to the tale. (Y'know, King who wants justice for others is himself guilty of inflicting an injustice on another - in this case his horse.)

So fellow Mellows, the call goes out. Have any of you ever read the version I remember, or owned the book of which I speak?  If any of you actually have the book, I'd be prepared to purchase it for a more than reasonable price.  You know where the comments section is.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

A MOMENT IN TIME, NOT FAR REMOVED...



Chances are, dear readers, that you've moved house at least once in your life.  Do you remember the night before flitting, and the day you arrived at your new home?  I do - in all my houses but the second one.  I no longer recall actually leaving the house, but I do very much remember arriving at our new home, the third one.  Why do I ask?

For quite a while after moving into a new house, one's repertoire of memories is still very much anchored in the previous one.  On your first day in a new home, if you wish to recall anything that happened more than a day ago, your recollection of any event is set in the time of your former home, for however long you happened to be there.  Was it five years - ten?  Then, as I say, most of your accessible memories are rooted in your old house, not your new one.

What am I on about you may be wondering?  Well, I sort of feel that, until you can cast your mind back any significant amount of time and it's a memory of something that occurred in your current residence, then it's almost like you're still living in your old one and haven't yet fully 'acclimatised' to the change.  I'm maybe overstating things to make my point, but it's perhaps not 'til the balance of memories of both houses is at least equal that you've fully settled in.

What I'm trying to suggest is that, when the majority of your recollections are based in a different location, in an unconscious sort of way you're still living there. It's a bit like your partner dying (or you getting divorced) and you marrying someone new soon after.  The day after your wedding, you can't think of your spouse beyond that point without it being your previous one.  It takes a while to build up a new stock of memories so that when you think back any length of time, your new spouse is part of the picture.

Okay, I'm stating the obvious in order to prepare you for the ground along which we're headed, which is this.  Sometimes, when I wake in the morning, because it's the same room I slept in when I was 13, it's easy to imagine that it's my first day in that room.  Meaning it's only the day before that I was sleeping in my old room, making the time I resided in my former home feel much more immediate and recent than it is, which I find comforting.  It feels like my time in that former home, and therefore my childhood, is no further away than the day before.

That feeling is fleeting and only lasts 'til I see the old man in the mirror staring back at me, but for a brief instant, a cherished moment in time is resurrected and it feels like I'm not so far removed from it.  Trust me, that's mainly a good feeling - until it passes and reality once again reminds me of the cold, hard facts of life.

Friday, 18 October 2019

PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW...



Here's a strange story for you, one that I suddenly just remembered while looking at the photo in a previous post (click here).  I'll say why in a moment, but the tale I'm thinking of dates back to 1964 or '65, when I was going home for my dinner at noon one day, and saw a 'rag and bone' man parked outside the primary school gates.  No horse and cart like STEPTOE & SON, but a blue or grey van with the back doors swung open to display his wares.  I enquired how long he was going to be there and he replied that he'd be 'on site' for the whole dinner hour.  So I ran home, had my grub, and asked my mother whether she had anything she didn't want that I could give to the rag and bone man.  Usually, all you got was a balloon on a stick, so they were actually not so much rag and bone men as 'con the kids out of stuff that's worth money' men, but my mother gave me one of her old coats to swap for a balloon.

It was a blue coat if I recall rightly, and off I set to school with it, but a funny thing happened on the way to the cruel place of confinement that tortures children with enforced learning that they neither want or need.  (Am I showing a prejudice here?)  I started to feel sorry for the coat, and shame at my cold and callous attitude in being prepared to part with it.  I'd once felt like this before when a toy metal bus I owned suddenly separated in two because of a loose rivet.  I flung the bus on the grass and walked away, but was then overcome with a sudden remorse and rushed back and reclaimed it.  I felt like a parent abandoning a child, and the feeling was too much to bear.  It was the same with this coat - I simply couldn't give away a 'member of the family' to a stranger, so it sat under my desk until 3 o'clock and then I took it back home with me.

So cut to a few years later and another house or two down the line.  I heard a rag and bone man blowing his horn and rushed to ask if my mother had anything she didn't want.  I think it was another coat (maybe even the same one), so I ran out of the house just in time to see the van driving away.  I followed it on foot as best as I could - for quite a length in fact, but it got away from me.  If you look at the photo in the post at the link above, you'll see a bus stop in the distance, and it was around there or just past it that I gave up the chase.  (Bear in mind that the photo was taken from my bedroom window and you'll realise just how far it was I trekked.) As I trudged back along the road, I felt a sudden sense of relief, as I realised that, once again, I wouldn't have been able to part with the item of clothing my mother had given me anyway, so I wasn't too downhearted.

Even today, I find it extremely difficult to part with things because it's almost like I'm rejecting them, and that's not something I want to be responsible for inflicting even on inanimate objects.  Who knows what deep-rooted psychological reasons are responsible for me being this way.  Maybe the time my dad took me for a run in the car miles out of town, gave me money and asked me to go buy a newspaper, and then drove off as I entered the shop - well, maybe that has something to do with it, who knows?  (Pick your jaw up off the floor, you gullible ninny - I'm only kidding of course.)  Being a collector, I sometimes replace comics with better-condition ones, but it's extremely difficult passing on (or selling) the lesser-condition items to someone else, and I can only do it (and even then reluctantly) if I haven't had it too long.

So readers - do you have any strange peccadilloes that you don't quite understand, but feel yourself in thrall to and are unable to resist?  If you'd care to share, you know where the comments section is.
   

Thursday, 15 August 2019

THE SADDEST WORDS...



         Three friends were sitting at the bar, by late hour undeterred,
         "Pray tell me, lads," says I, "what are, the saddest words you've heard?"
         "Could they be 'bar's now closed'," says one, "when ordering the drinks?"
         "Or how about 'we're dry', my son,"  the other says, then winks.

         "But no," says I, "the saddest sound that you will ever hear,
         is two words very often bound with thoughts of one held dear.
         See, once I loved a gal so fair - (in fact I love her yet),
         with love that was beyond compare, though seasoned with regret."

          "She loved a better man than I, saw me as 'just a friend',
          and never knew for her I'd die, so I had to pretend.
          Aye, pretend that she meant nothing and didn't hold my heart,
          ah, but lads, the strain of bluffing almost tore me apart."

          "We've all been down that road I'm sure, that well-worn travelled track,
          where we've no choice but to endure someone not loving back.
          Ah, if only she had loved me, if only she had dared;
          if only she had wanted me - if only she had cared."

          "If only she had needed me, as living things need air.
          If only she had longed for me, I wouldn't know despair.
          Another time, another place, who knows what might've been?
          The look of love upon her face is what I might've seen."

           "Despite my heartache I'll be brave, though no fate's worse than this -
           to trudge through life towards my grave and never know her kiss.
           The saddest words you'll ever hear (the anthem of the lonely),
           come with a sigh and oft a tear - two whispered words... 'if only'."

Friday, 9 August 2019

TALKING OF LOCKUPS MAY GET ME LOCKED UP...


The corner lockup was ours, but all the doors were grey back then

A couple of months or so back, I was along at one of my former neighbourhoods and decided to check out the lockups where my father once housed his NOBEL 200, and later, his first RELIANT ROBIN (well, someone had to have one).  Far too many of the lockups were in a dilapidated state, with doors hanging off or simply missing.  My local council are in the habit of demolishing lockups, which doesn't make sense to me.  After all, what with the lack of parking spaces outside houses nowadays, you'd think there's be a huge demand for lockups where people can keep their cars.

Over 30 years ago, when we first moved back to my current house (regular readers know the story), my father tried to re-rent his former lockup (not the one mentioned in the above paragraph - different house, different lockup), and was told that the council were no longer renting them out.  He persisted though, and was eventually given his old lockup back.  He had it for around six years before several of them (including his) were demolished to make way for new houses, but at least the council got six years of rent out of him, instead of the nothing they'd have got for leaving the lockup empty.

Back of the lockups - the far away end is where ours was located

Perhaps the council thought that the cost of maintaining them was too prohibitive, but that cost should have been covered by the rent, and it seems daft to dispense with a means of raising revenue when pedestrians can hardly walk on the pavements these days because of two-and-three car families parking their vehicles up off the road.  (Talk about inconsiderate?)  But that's not the point of this post, which I shall now try and get to.

When I was along at the lockups in my previous neighbourhood (as mentioned several years back in the first paragraph), I saw a guy working on his car and commented to him about the condition of some of the other lockups and how I considered the situation to be a disgrace.  He told me that the council were going to renovate them, so if true, maybe they're finally learning sense, and realise that it will help alleviate parking problems while generating income at the same time. I pointed out my father's old lockup a few doors along, mentioning that my family had once lived in the area.  He informed me that it was Mr. Campbell's lockup, but was now being used by someone else.

I was slightly amazed by this, because the Campbells had been our next-door-neighbours when we lived there from 1965 to '72, which means that Mr. Campbell had most likely taken over the lockup right after my father had relinquished it when we flitted. The Campbells were living there when we moved in, having inhabited their house from around the early '60s when it was first built.  In fact, amazingly, they still live there today, all these many years later.  (Their kids have grown up and moved out, of course, but Mr. & Mrs. C still reside there.)

Taken from across and down the street a bit.  The end one was ours

And so to the point (such as it is) of this post.  I just find it strangely significant (in a way that I'm not able to competently convey) that my father's lockup had been taken over by our former neighbour, thereby maintaining some sort of (admittedly nebulous) connection (in my mind anyway) between us and them.  It somehow seemed fitting that the next 'tenant' of 'our' lockup had been the next door neighbour, and was therefore not too far removed from ourselves.  (In a figurative way of course, as we no longer lived in the area.)

The guy who currently uses the lockup rents it from the Campbells and lives in my old house next door to them, so house and lockup are again reunited, which seems to me suitably appropriate.  Although it's nice to know that Mr. Campbell had it for all these years after us, I still tend to regard it to this very day as my father's lockup. And you know what?  I probably always will.  (Incidentally, the first three photos were taken around 30 years ago.)

And in case you're wondering what a Nobel 200 looks like, here's
pic of a limited edition model which I own.  I've since added
copies of my father's original number plates  

Sunday, 30 June 2019

GOING HOME...



Grahame stood in the doorway of his new bedroom on the first day of the flit and surveyed the interior without much enthusiasm.  He'd not wanted to move from the house he'd known since the age of two to the freshly turned teenager he was now and hadn't been shy about letting his parents know how he felt.  His mother had dismissed his reservations.  "You'll like it when you get there," she'd said.  "It's a much bigger room, with a cupboard, so you'll have plenty space to put all your stuff."

Grahame had been unimpressed at the prospect.  He was a solitary child who preferred the familiar around him, and the coming move had upped his anxiety to unprecedented levels.  He liked where he lived - the house, his room, the neighbourhood, and was reluctant to relinquish it for the unknown.  He had a commanding view over a playfield across the road and knew he'd miss climbing the trees and running over the patchy grass while pretending to be a superhero.

His new room was nearly twice the size of his former one and he felt dwarfed by its seeming vastness.  The view was a disappointment, overlooking a parking area for neighbours' cars; grey, colourless, and uninspiring, he knew it was unlikely that he'd ever get used to it.  Anyway, with any luck he'd probably spend much of his time sleeping.  He'd suddenly found himself feeling inordinately tired over the last few weeks, so perhaps he'd just avoid looking out of the window.  Shame, because he loved doing that in his old room, watching to see who was playing in the field, or gazing at the birds hopping about in the branches of the trees that ran alongside it.

Why did things have to change?  He resented change, resisted it, promised himself that he'd be a child forever, but knew from the way his body was developing that he'd eventually have to bury that particular dream.  His idea of paradise was for everything to stay as he knew it for eternity, with him being a perpetual schoolboy and his parents never growing old or dying.  For things to stay as they are, where death and decay had no dominion, and 'change' was an unknown concept that held no sway.

It was with great reluctance that he snuggled between the sheets that first night, but he was tired.  Perhaps he's wake up in the morning to find that the flit had all been a bad dream, merely a psychological manifestation of his fear of change and losing the comfort of everything he held dear.  He had a doctor's appointment in a couple of days to determine why he'd been so tired and fatigued of late, so that was yet another unwelcome intrusion that he'd much rather do without.  Sleep claimed him with unusual alacrity, and when his parents looked in on him later, they found the scene heartwarming, in the way that only parents can.

The next morning, much to his mother and father's concern, Grahame couldn't be roused, so the family doctor was summoned, who pronounced that the lad had passed away in his sleep.  His parents were understandably devastated - he'd been their only child.  A few weeks later they were informed of the results of the post-mortem.  "Leukemia, I'm afraid," said the doctor.  "There was nothing that could've been done, even had you brought him in months ago.  Sometimes it just pops up out of nowhere and does its damage before we even know it's there.  At least he's in a better place now."

Grahame's mother looked into her husband's tearful eyes as she replied to the doctor. "Yes, somehow I feel in my heart that you're right.  If I know Grahame, he's just where he wanted to be."

******

When Grahame awoke, he was surprised to find that he was no longer in his new room, but his old one.  What a relief!  It had felt so real, but was obviously only the dream he'd hoped it was.  It never even occurred to him to run next door to his mum and dad's room to express his joy at the discovery.  Grahame would never think of his parents again, nor would he be perturbed to find himself the sole occupant of the house.  In time, his parents would join him, but until then he'd be completely unaware of their absence.  For now, it was enough that he was in his old room in his former house, and that was all he really wanted or needed.  He was happy.
    

Thursday, 27 June 2019

CARESSING THE KEYS OF MEMORY...



This is another of those tales that I know I intended to relate a while back, but can't remember if I ever actually did so or not.  Anyway, back in 1972 when my family first took up residence in my present abode, the family with whom we swapped houses left a piano behind.  I can no longer recall how long we kept it, whether it was a year, two years - maybe even going on three, but my parents, at some stage, decided to dispense with its seldom-used services.

None of my family played the piano, and apart from a rare visitor occasionally tickling its ivories, the poor 'box in the corner' lay neglected for the most part.  So my father donated it to the town's hospital, and a contingent of youths in the charge of an adult (I have a vague memory they may have been Scouts, but I'm not certain) came to our home one day and wheeled away our unwanted house-guest.  I wonder how it felt being so unceremoniously evicted?

I've long been afflicted with a tendency to imbue inanimate objects with sentience, feelings, emotions - even personality.  What can I say?  I'm off my head!  But did you know that, apparently, when plants and trees are pruned, they scream?  (It's far beyond the ability of human ears to detect, but scientists have registered the 'sound' on audio machines attuned to a certain wavelength.)  True, plants and trees are 'alive' in a sort of way;  they grow - not something that a piano (or any other inanimate item) in the corner of the living-room does.  (As far as anyone knows anyway.)

However, if you cut a leaf in half, and then subject it to a certain kind of infra-red spectrum analysis, the image shows the outline of the full leaf.  So, imagine if a tree, even after being chopped up and made into furniture, yet retains a part of whatever measure of 'awareness' it may have had when it was growing in a forest or field somewhere?  Too far-fetched?  Perhaps, but who can say for sure?

Anyway, where am I going with this you may be wondering.  Years after the fact, I learned that our old piano had been passed onto the church situated across the road from our former abode.  The fellow who told me was one of the boys who had helped remove the piano from our house.  It transpired that he was a friend of a friend, and what's more, coincidentally lived next door to another of our previous homes, though not when we'd lived there.  (Which is neither here nor there, but it's an interesting example of how 'fate' unfolds.)

The woman who now lived in our former residence would undoubtedly have been in that church on occasion, even if only for a jumble sale or a coffee morning. Given my over-active imagination, I found myself wondering if she might ever have passed her/our old piano without recognising it, and whether it had called out to her in its inaudible voice, not understanding why someone it knew was now ignoring it.  "Hello, it's me - don't you remember me?  I lived with you once and then you went away one day and left me behind.  What did I do wrong?  Did I offend you by being out of tune perhaps?  Why won't you acknowledge me?"

Same goes for myself.  Although no longer living in the area, I was back in that church many a time over the years.  As was my mother in fact, as she attended its Sunday services every week.  I restricted myself to jumble sales and Christmas and Summer fayres, but I surely must have passed the piano, or even stood close to (or against) it on one of my many visits over a period of nearly 20 years.  Did that poor piano also call out to me (or, on separate occasions, my mother), unable to comprehend why we turned a deaf ear to its cries?

The church was demolished around '91 or '92 (due to structural flaws) and a new (and different) building was erected in its place.  I took numerous photos, both inside and out, before the old church (which had only been completed in 1965 or '66) was erased from the face of the planet, and our old piano - if it hadn't been replaced or dispensed with by that time - is surely in one of those pics.  It was a large church, with two or three pianos in different halls, but I think I got photos of all of them.  Trouble is, they're in a box in the loft at the moment, so I can't check - or illustrate this post with a piccie.  I'll add one later when I find them.

In the meantime, I've used a stock photo of a piano, which will have to do the job for now.  I guess it's always possible that the piano yet survives in the new church building, and now that the thought has occurred to me, I'll make a point of visiting one day to see if it is.  If it's there, I'll be sure to say hello to it, and run my fingers over its keys, just for old times' sake.  If it isn't, I'll gaze upon it's image in one of my photos and bid it goodbye.  After all, it's a friend from the past, and doesn't deserve to be forgotten.

Whatever its fate, hopefully it had a happy life being played for the enjoyment of hospital patients and church groups.  Had we kept it, it's entirely probable that it would never have got to fulfill the purpose for which it was created, and merely been a surface on which to place framed photos or vases.  It was made to make music, and I like to think  that's what it got to do.  (And hopefully yet does.)

Feel free to tell me that I need 're-tuning'.

******

Update:  Below are three photos of two pianos (I think - could be the same one in two different halls).  I took them in the church sometime in the early 1990s, and I'm hoping that one is the piano we had temporary custody of at the beginning of the '70s.  There's no reason why one of them shouldn't be 'ours', so I prefer to believe that one of them is.




Monday, 3 June 2019

A RAMBLING REMINISCENCE...


Nah, this isn't it, but it's vaguely similar

Here's a true tale of something that happened around 34 or 35 years ago that I've suddenly just remembered.  I was walking home one evening, along a route that took me past a school, when I noticed that the bottom glass panel of a door had been kicked in.  I was all for passing on, when curiosity got the better of me. Perhaps someone had broken the pane to gain access, and maybe they were still inside.  If so, they'd be bound to be teenagers, and I was then strong, fit, and confident that I could look after myself - even against more than one person. (Maybe one day I'll relate a couple of events that demonstrate I'm not just confusing ambition with ability.  Hark - is that the John Williams SUPERMAN theme I hear?)

Anyway, I walked over to the door and crouched down at the aperture, listening to hear if I could detect any sounds of activity from within, but there was nothing.  I decided to call the police when I got home and alert them to the vandalism, assuming that they'd check to see if anyone was on the premises.  Thing is, by the time I got home, I was so lost in thought that I took the dog out for a walk and forgot all about it, and never did call the local constabulary.  When I eventually remembered a couple of days later, I figured it was too late to bother and that the door would have had at least a temporary repair effected by then anyway.

Cut to quite a while later.  I no longer recall whether it was weeks or months afterwards, but I know it wasn't in the immediate aftermath.  As I was again walking home one night, I heard one of two or three passing boys say to the other(s) "That's the guy who broke into the school!"  It was a mumble, and at first I had to think whether I'd heard right, but that's what it sounded like.  Of course, by then, I'd completely forgotten about the broken panel, and it took me a while to work out what the boy could've been referring to.  (Which is why I know it wasn't any time soon after the event.)  Then it hit me - the boy must have seen me (from some hidden vantage point) crouching beside the door, listening, and assumed I'd been the culprit.

I fully expected a chap at my door at some stage after that, but nothing ever came of it.  It bothered me though (and still does) that I was considered a 'suspect' in the very crime I'd intended to report, but didn't.  These boys will be all grown up by now with wives and kids of their own, and I can't help but wonder if they still remember me and consider me a vandal or a burglar.  The school seemed to be a target for neds, as some years later it fell victim to arson, necessitating it being demolished and a new building being erected in its place.  The new construct was more like a fortress than a school, but given its history, is it any wonder?

Anyway, this has been a rambling reminiscence - I hope you found it worth your while to read.

******

There's another possibility of course.  It now occurs to me that the boy might've said "That's the guy from when we broke into the school!", meaning that they were the perpetrators and had seen me crouched at the door, or had seen me through a window walking away.  I'd really only heard the key words... 'guy - broke into - school'... and filled in the blanks to make sense of it, so I could've got it wrong.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

THE TRUE-LIFE TALE OF BILLY LIAR...


Me in St. Andrew's Road in Southsea, Portsmouth, 1978

Reading about a tall tale-telling cartoon character reminded me of a real-life inveterate 'fantasist' (by which I mean liar) who used to pal about with me from 1965 until he joined the Navy shortly after his dad died in 1977.  We remained friends until 1981, when I concluded that he obviously had mental health issues and finally severed all ties with him.

I last saw him in Gosport near the end of April '81 when I was living nearby, and it was then I realized he was no longer the person I thought he was - if indeed he ever had been.  This man simply couldn't open his gob without a monumental, unbelievable 'porky-pie' popping out.  For example, even before he joined the Navy he used to wear an over-sized diver's watch, and when a friend (RONNIE ROSS, now sadly deceased) asked him what it was, he replied that it was an atomic power-pack for his bionic arm. (This was around '76/'77, when the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN was still on TV.)

Had it been an 'off-the-cuff' remark intended as a joke, that would've been fine. However, in between starting and finishing the sentence, he'd somehow managed to convince himself it was true and fully expected to be believed.  Another example (on a flying visit to our house in December of 1980) came when my father asked him if he had any kids yet.  (He'd got wed in Portsmouth Registry Office two years before, and I'd been best man.)  "No," he said, "I caught an infection from a toilet seat and they had to cut my tubes.  They operated through my back passage so as not to leave a scar."

To the best of my knowledge, those 'in-the-know' say that infections can't be caught from toilet seats (at least, not the kind which affect internal organs) so his claim couldn't be true.  However, why the bit about back-door surgery?  It's unlikely that anyone would ask to see his scar so why say that if it wasn't true? Then I realized - as a Navy man, he shared showers and quarters with others, so he'd need a 'cover-story' to explain his obvious scar-free condition when he first told his bizarre tale.  A normal person would simply have said that he didn't want kids until he left the Navy, not produced a fantastic fable that defied accepted medical facts.  Not so 'BILLY LIAR'.

His lying was no recent development, but stretched all the way back to childhood, as this 1966/'67 account illustrates.  One morning in the school playground, myself, 'Billy Liar' and a fellow called ROBERT (or ROBIN) GOLDIE were standing in line, waiting for the bell to ring to gain access to the building.  Robert was holding an ACTION MAN and opened the jacket to show us AM's dog-tag. Action Man (or GI JOE to U.S. readers) had a rather 'stylised' musculature with a bit of a gap between his pecs.  My brother owned a TOMMY GUNN action-figure with a more realistic physique, so I remarked on how odd Action Man's torso was by comparison.  "That was his sister who did that - she's got really sharp nails!" volunteered 'Billy', ignoring the fact that Robert's sister would've had to be SUPERGIRL to make a dent in such hard plastic.

Regular readers may recall a previous post in which I mentioned a pupil who came into school one morning with a tracing of RUMPELSTILTSKIN (from a class reading book) on a piece of IZAL toilet paper, claiming he'd drawn it the night before.   (Though when the sheet was placed over the book illustration and the fraud exposed, he then said it was the work of his sister.)  Yes, you've guessed it - it was the very same guy.

For almost as long as I'd known him he'd been plagued by cartilage problems in one of his knees.  This meant that not long after joining the Navy it was discovered that he wasn't fit for active duty.  So he was given a choice - either leave the Navy or take up a 'landlubber' position at Haslar Hospital in Gosport.  (He invented a tale which attributed his long-term problem to getting his knee caught between two practice mines while on a training exercise.)  According to him his new job was that of 'medical assistant' (nurse), but in all likelihood he was a hospital porter.  Not for long though, as two or three years later he was back in civvy-street.

In 1981 I'd returned to Portsmouth - at his invitation - only to find that he steered clear of me and never came to visit - apart from one time when I saw him on his moped coming from the direction of my bed-sit while I was returning from the shops.  I hailed him, but he stopped for only just long enough to tell me he'd no time to talk - then he was off again.  He was only about two minutes away from my place and two minutes away from his base (by bike), so I wondered why he'd gone out of his way if he'd no intention of stopping.  When I got back, my landlady revealed to me that he'd only been checking-up to see if I'd returned to Scotland yet.

Me in my room in Boulton Road, Southsea in 1981.
Yes, I know - it looks like a Crimewatch photo

Obviously he was worried that the longer I was around, the greater the chance I'd eventually meet some of his newer friends and perhaps inadvertently blow the gaff about some of the 'tall tales' he'd spun.  After all, this was a guy who, with crash helmet tucked under his arm, used to visit bars that bikers hung out in - even before he had a motorbike.  (No joking.)  

Months later, when I finally returned home, my father told me that while I was in Portsmouth, 'Billy' had 'phoned one night with a curious request.  "Mr. Robson, I was in a bar the other night having a drink, and I told a guy I was talking to that I'm a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Navy."  (This was when he was a porter in Gosport's Haslar Hospital.)  "He didn't believe me, so I gave him your number and told him to 'phone you and you'd confirm it.  If he does call, could you back me up?"  Naturally, my father told him not to be so daft.  "Go on - a favour for a favour," pleaded the deluded 'Billy'.  My father enquired what he meant.  "I visited Gordon the other day and it cost me money for petrol for my bike," quoth Mr. Mental, referring to his lightning-quick dash to check if I was still around.  When I heard this, I gave my parents strict instructions that, if 'Billy' ever 'phoned, I was out - even if I was in.

About six or seven years later, the 'phone (then in the hallway) rang and the answer-machine clicked on.  As I stood at the top of the stairs to hear who it was, an unfamiliar voice emanated from the speaker - a Detective Inspector someone (couldn't make out the name) wanting to talk to me.  I went downstairs and picked up the 'phone - "Hello?" I said.  "What's the matter, don't you recognize an old friend?"  The voice had changed, being that strange hybrid accent that many 'Jocks' acquire from spending years down south, so at first I didn't recognize it.  Then the penny dropped and I hung up without replying.  The 'phone rang again and his voice from the speaker said:  "I'll use my warrant card if that's what it takes to talk to you!"  Poor, deluded fool.  He was never in the police - I checked, even though it was a racing cert that he wasn't.

It seems that leopards can't change their spots.  Egged on by a pal who'd also known 'Billy' we both looked at his Facebook page about a year ago.  According to him he's a Falklands war veteran who was fast-tracked through the ranks of the Royal Navy, is thinking of taking a course in astro-physics (or something equally far-fetched), was taught to cook by both GORDON RAMSAY and JAMIE OLIVER (or two other equally famous TV chefs), has hacked into NASA satellites to take photographs of outer space (with a clearly-cribbed pic from the Internet), had a successful career as a world-class photographer (although his webpage is conspicuously absent of any evidence which would indicate it), and is a personal buddy of BILLY CONNOLLY and folk-singer RALPH McTELL, who he claims to have known since the age of twelve.  Oh, and he learned to scuba-dive at the age of nine.  (Which was all news to me - and I'd known him from when he was six.)

Right, altogether now - "JACKANORY, JACKANORYJACKANORY".  Needless to say, we both fell about laughing at this catalogue of absurdity. Unfortunately though, there was a sad side to his inabiltiy to grasp reality, and let me wind up this overlong reminiscence by revealing what that was.

As I previously said, I was best man at this fantasy merchant's wedding in 1978, but I had gone down to Portsmouth a few days in advance of the 'big day'.  The morning before the ceremony, while he was out somewhere, his fiancee broke down in tears and confessed to me that she was now having severe doubts about going through with it.  Her brother and her friends considered him a complete weirdo and had expressed concern over his alarming propensity to tell the most outrageous lies at the drop of a hat.  What was I to do?  What I should've done was tell her that I didn't think he was mature enough to get married and had been telling porkies for as long as I had known him so was therefore unlikely to change.

However, I was faced with a dilemma.  If she called off the wedding as a result of anything I said, I'd then be the bad guy.  I knew that he'd continue to pursue her and woo her after I'd gone home, and probably persuade her (against her better judgement) into marrying him, and I'd then be excluded from the celebrations and most likely be a pal short as a result.  So I chickened out, telling her that I'd have a very serious talk with him and explain that all his lies had to stop; that he was about to embark on a wonderful new chapter in his life which he should take extremely seriously and stop embarrassing both himself and his beloved with his absurd fabrications and fantasies.  So I did - at great length and in excruciating detail (as is my wont).  At the conclusion of my sonorous oration he soberly assured me that he was 'indeed an altered Toad'.

He was lying of course.

On the day of the wedding, when the registrar asked her if she took this man as her lawful wedded husband, there was a long, long pause.  Then, with tears streaming down her face, she hesitantly said "I do" and thereby made one of the worst decisions of her life.  A decision that I could probably have prevented - and to this day am filled with regret that I didn't at least try to.  The marriage lasted a couple of years or so and the poor woman went through hell.  I hope she's happy now and, should she ever get to read this, can forgive me for my inaction.  I last saw her around August or September 1980 when they were both up on a brief visit.

So there you have it.  Trust me, the cartoon character I alluded to at the start of this post is nowhere near as bad as the guy I've just been telling you about.  He's certainly a lot funnier though.

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