Monday, 29 January 2018

SECOND STAR TO THE RIGHT...


Illustration by MICHAEL FOREMAN

All children, except one, grow up.  They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this.  One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother.  I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, "Oh, why can't you remain like this forever!" This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up.  You always know after you are two.  Two is the beginning of the end.

So wrote author J. M. BARRIE in the opening paragraph of PETER PAN.  And it's true;  I know because I had a similar experience when I was three or four years old.  My mother had been outlining my future to me one day, probably preparing me for when I'd be starting primary school.  "And what happens then?" I asked, curious about what lay before me.  There then followed a description of the different stages of my life to which I could 'look forward', interspersed at each pause with "And what happens then?" from myself.  Eventually, having worked through my life from primary school to adulthood, she rested from her labours, thinking her duty done.

"And what happens then?" I again enquired, tenacious infant that I was.  She thought for a moment before replying  "Then you grow old."  The inevitable "And what happens then?" from me.  "Then you die," she said, simply.  I had no con-cept of death, so persisted.  "And what happens then?"  I was like a broken record, but probably more grating.  "Nothing happens then.  When you're dead, you're dead," she said, matter-of-factly.

(I should perhaps here mention that my mother's response was a surprising one, given her own beliefs.  She went to church and sent me and my brother to Sunday school, and did, in fact, subscribe to the concept of the afterlife, though probably more from a superstitious point of view than from an informed one.  I can only assume that she regarded such an idea beyond my young powers of compre-hension, and was speaking merely from the physical perspective.)

This greatly disturbed me, and when I was put to bed that evening, I couldn't sleep.  I eventually made my way downstairs, repeating "I don't want to die, I don't want to die!" over and over again.  It's no exaggeration to say that the notion of total oblivion had traumatised me.  My parents did their best to console me, saying that death was a long way off and that I shouldn't be concerned with it.  I eventually calmed down, but could never quite escape the dark shadow of the fate that loomed ahead of me.  I decided there and then that if growing up meant growing old, and growing old meant dying, then I would simply never grow up! I'd be a child forever.  I stated aloud my determination and was then put back to bed, where sleep eventually claimed me.

Henceforth, whenever any friends of my parents would ask me (as friends of parents inevitably will) what I was going to be when I grew up, before I could even answer, my parents would respond with "He's not going to grow up, he's going to be just like Peter Pan!"  (This happened on more than one occasion.)  It was therefore surprising when I picked up J. M. Barrie's book in my thirties to find a similar experience to my own recounted in its opening pages.  How amazing is that?  A story about a boy with whom I'd been compared from an early age, and the very first paragraph resonates immediately.  Curiously, like WALT DISNEY's version of the character (though it's not in the book), I've never been able to click my fingers.

It's rather apt, then, that in my teenage years, my nickname became 'Kid', which I've been called ever since.  (The story behind that can be found here.)  Not everyone who knew me was aware of the appellation though, only a particular group of friends and acquaintances (and their families) who lived in my neighbourhood.  When I started freelancing for IPC's 2000 A.D. in 1985, I used it in the credit boxes because it was easier to fit in the allocated space.

"Two is the beginning of the end."  However, I refuse to grow old.  I'm going to be a "boy eternal" (as SHAKESPEARE put it) and try my best to retain what KENNETH GRAHAME calls "the spirit of youth" within me.  In the end, of course, it may not stave off expiration, but life is a hell of a lot more fun along the way.
  

CHILDHOOD CAPERS - CHAPTER FOUR: CHEEKY & JOEY...



Have you ever met someone and become friends, only to learn much later that, when younger, they lived near to you or even attended the same school in a previous neighbourhood?  If you're anything like me (I'd imagine that not many people are), you can't help but wonder if your paths might've crossed before without either of you knowing or remembering.  Y'know, like standing in the same queue in a local shop, or in the same bus shelter or whatever.  So, with that in mind, "I wanna tell you a story."

(Cue wavy lines as we indulge in a flashback.) My father once had a pair of budgies, Cheeky and Joey.  For some unstated reason, he eventually decided to part with them, though I suspect it may've been because he'd read an article saying that budgies carry diseases and so decided it was better to be safe than sorry.  I remember as I was leaving for primary school one day, my parents say-ing:  "You'd better say goodbye to the budgies - they won't be here when you get back."

I simply shrugged, but on reaching the back gate I was overwhelmed by a sudden wave of sadness and hurried back in to bid Cheeky and Joey au revoir.  Cut to many, many years later, and me and my pal Moonmando (whom you've seen comment on my other blog) were in that former neighbourhood and I pointed out my old house to him.  You can imagine my astonishment when he informed me that he and one of his brothers had once collected a pair of budgies in a cage from that very house.

I didn't meet Moony 'til around 2nd or 3rd year in secondary school, so to discover he'd actually been in my (by then) former house without me knowing was quite a surprise.  What's more, his brother had been in my class at primary school at some stage, though I never knew him then, or even remembered him.  In fact, it wasn't until I was looking at an old school photo (which you can see here) in adulthood that I recognised his brother - as, by this time, I had known them both for quite a number of years.  (Though learning they'd both once been in my old residence to collect our budgies came later.)

What's more, the realisation that I'd later visited their house many times without ever knowing it was the very domicile to which Cheeky and Joey had 'retired', was likewise a source of amazement to me.  This was a connection of which we'd all been previously unaware.  It goes without saying that Moony isn't anywhere near as impressed with this incident as I am (or at all in fact), but to me, it's one of those 'Astounding Tales' that makes life so interesting. (Then again, I always was easily impressed.)

So, anything like that ever happen to you?  Do tell!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

PART FOURTEEN OF SCHOOLTIME SCANDALS: OVER THE HILL, BUT NOT QUITE OVER 'THE DALE'...


Nah, she wasn't this hot - almost

Her name was Miss Dale, and she was seriously sexy.  Small, blonde (update: nope - redhead actually, the ol' memory was playing tricks), early 20s, she usually wore a blue denim mini-skirt and also indulged in some serious sadism that too many teachers of the period were prone to.  She had a nasty habit of punching your arm several times to emphasise whatever point she was making, and I certainly wasn't the only kid who suffered from a bruised upper limb in her class. Where did such rage come from?

One day, she decided to test our spelling by reading out words to the class, so that we could then write them in our jotters to be marked by her diminutive, angry self.  One of the words she uttered was 'yawn', which, due to my familiarity with the Shakespearean-style of speech in MARVEL's THOR, I took to be 'yon' and thus wrote it in my jotter accordingly.  She then collected our efforts and sat at her desk to evaluate them, while we busied ourselves with something else.

After a while, she called me out to her desk and berated me for seemingly misspelling the word, then belted me with the tawse - solely for what she considered my lack of spelling ability, not because I was cheeky or anything.  50-odd years later, I now know just what an utterly inept teacher she was not to have considered the possibility that I'd been thinking of another, perfectly legitimate, phonetically similar word to the one she'd had in mind.

Her response should surely have been: "There are two words pronounced that way, define the one you mean."  Then it would've been a simple case of me explaining exactly what word I'd had in mind, and her then asking me to spell the other, the one she was looking for.  The fact was, I'd spelt the word properly, it was just a different word to the one she'd been thinking of.  And yet that glaringly obvious possibility never occurred to her.  What a thicko.

I did learn a few valuable lessons that day though.  Firstly, that teachers weren't always right; secondly, that Miss Dale, though sexy, was a bitch - and thirdly, there's no way clearly hormonal people should ever be tasked with imparting knowledge to any group of children, when their main method of teaching seems to consist of punching and belting them until they 'learn' things.

This was primary school, mind, so we're not talking about teachers having to deal with surly and unruly teenagers - we're talking children of only 8 or 9 years old. What the hell were educationalists thinking of back then?  As I've said before, kids today don't have a clue about just how lucky they are compared to ourselves.

As for Miss Dale?  I have absolutely no recollection of ever seeing her again after I left primary.  Maybe she left before I did.  However, it would be nice if she learned how to manage her anger issues and went on to become, at the very least, a competent (and kinder) teacher. The alternative simply doesn't bear thinking about.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

TWO, FOUR, SIX, EIGHT - WITH WHAT DO YOU ASSOCIATE...?



'Association' is a subject I often ponder, on account of being fascinated with what it is that causes us to associate one thing with another.  Surely that's simple to understand, you say.  Our initial impressions are usually the strongest, so when we experience something for the very first time - a place or product for example - we'll associate it with who we were with on the day (and vice versa) or/and some other element relating to it.

That's broadly true, but perhaps there can be exceptions.  For example, my father once owned a NOBEL 200 car.  We lived in one house when he got it, but moved to another house not too long after, and he owned the car for far longer in the latter house than the former.  I therefore have more memories associated with the second, but my initial memories of the car are from the first, so perhaps they should be more prominent - and sometimes they are. 

However, that could be because the only photos of the car are from the former house, so I simply associate it with there in a sort of 'default' way.  Until, that is, the memories from the subsequent house reassert themselves and I'm reminded that I associate the Nobel with there at least as much (if not even more so) than its predecessor.  However, because of those two photos (one taken on the road outside the first abode, the other taken on holiday that same year), I suspect that my earlier memories may have been reinforced down through the years in a way that my later ones haven't.

I daresay that if I had photos of the car outside the second house, that would probably be my primary association of it, or at least, it would depend on which photo from which house I was looking at at any given time.  Same with comics I remember reading in the car.  Namely, an issue or two of TV CENTURY 21 from when I lived in the previous house, and at least one issue of FANTASTIC from when I lived in the next one.  My associations are different depending on just what comic I'm focussing on.

Anyway, no great insight here, I'm afraid.  I just wanted to throw that out there and see what 'echoes' come back.  Strike any cords with you?

    

Thursday, 25 January 2018

JUST ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL...



When my old primary school was demolished in 2014, I'd known it was due to happen quite a few years before it actually did.  Not the precise date or year, but its fate had been determined and announced well in advance, in line with a policy of building new schools, then demolishing the old ones.  The building was structur-ally sound, as were most (if not all) of the other schools, but this way, land could be freed up for new housing.  It seems to me that the land used for building the new schools could've been utilised for housing, but what do I know?  I'm not a politician in pursuit of an agenda (or career).

I can't help but think that the neighbourhood is poorer for the original school's absence.  It added character and colour to the area, and was designed and built at the same time as the surrounding housing, back around 1963.  Now (from some angles) the place looks crowded and claustrophobic, and lacks the aesthetic charm it possessed when first completed.  I moved into the area in 1965, and I can still recall the early impressions it made on me as regards mood and atmosphere. That's now gone and hasn't existed for many a year, and I sometimes wonder how new residents perceive the place as far as 'character' goes.  My old neighbours from next door have lived there since their house was first built - maybe I should ask them for their perceptions on how the area has changed?

The school had a low wall around three sides of it, with railings on top, and I remember sometimes on my way home, if I had a toy car in my pocket, I'd run it along the flat top of the wall with my hand, or, holding on to the railings, walk along the wall as if I were balancing on a tightrope.  When the school was obliterated, I managed to rescue one of the bricks from the wall, near to where the main front gate was situated, and it now resides in my back porch until I decide exactly what I'm going to do with it.  At the moment it serves as a reminder of younger and happier times, and one glance at it returns me to my schooldays, when I had no sense of the future, or any idea that the neighbourhood wouldn't always be the same as it then was.

So many memories, so many years - all contained in just another brick in the wall.


Tuesday, 23 January 2018

LIVING IN A BUBBLE...



It was when we were on holiday in Ayr (I think), around 1963, that I acquired my first Bubble Car.  I've recounted this story before (on my other blog), but there's a reason for me repeating myself, which will become clear in a moment.  We were in an amusement arcade, and one of those 'grappling-hook' machines had a deep red Bubble Car on view.  My father had a go or two at securing it for me, but was unsuccessful.  The manager of the place, hearing my expression of disappoint-ment, invited me to follow him (with my family in tow) and made his way to the back of the arcade.  Pulling aside a curtain to a back storeroom, he opened a box and withdrew something, then presented me with my very own red Bubble Car.  I, of course, was ecstatic at my new acquisition.  To this day though, I can't recall if this was the start of my love affair with Bubble Cars, or it pre-existed before that particular presentation.  (I suspect the latter.)


Anyway, what's all that got to do with the price of cheese?  Simply this.  I just took possession of the above HEINKEL Bubble Car by OXFORD Diecast (1:18 scale), and though my 1963 version wasn't a Heinkel, it reminds me of the one I had in my infancy (which was a plastic, friction-drive, four-wheeled toy). I could've got a right-hand drive version, but not in red (only 'Roman Blue'), so I plumped for the left-hand drive model.  Great, innit?  Takes me right back to Ayr in 1963. Hey, that's some distance, so the 'miles-to-the-gallon' count is quite impressive.


Incidentally, the colour above is described as 'Spartan Red', but looks a bit orangey in these photos from ebay (probably the lighting or the flash).  The one below (also described as 'Spartan Red') better reflects what the actual colour looks like. So, while I gaze in rapt fascination at my new Bubble Car, I muse in a mildly melancholy manner on the one I owned 55 years ago.  Maybe one day I'll be able to track down a replacement, but in the meantime this one is very welcome.


SCHOOLTIME SCANDALS - PART THIRTEEN: PUSHED IN A PUDDLE...


The scene of the 'crime':  The foot of the grassy slope, several feet along
from the stairs.  The puddle was at the edge of the grass in the fore-
ground.  The school is just out of view on the left side of the photo

Me and Euan Sheperd weren't exactly what you'd call pals.  However, between classmates, there existed a kind of unwritten rule that it was acceptable, in the absence of one's usual friends, to pass the time in the company of whichever fellow pupil was available when required.  A sort of 'surrogate' pal in effect.

Such was the case on this particular day.  School had finished and Euan and I found ourselves in each other's company as we exited from the school gates.  We made our way to his house, a mere two minutes (if) away from my own, to dump his schoolbag, but he met with an objection from his mother at going back out again.  He pleaded, begged, cried, and implored until his poor mother relented.  "15 minutes - no more!"

So we made our way to the swingpark beside a playing-field between our two houses.  On the way, we ran into his older sister, who enquired where he was going and why he wasn't already back home.  She took his hand and started to lead him back towards his house. Unsurprisingly, Euan burst into tears and protested that he had permission to be out, but she was having none of it. I timidly piped up at the back "His mum said he could stay out for 15 minutes", whereupon she turned and looked at me as if I were a bad smell.

Then she simply shoved me hard in the chest.  I fell backwards and landed in a large muddy puddle.  As I lay there, spreadeagled and stunned into silence in my surprise, Euan looked at me, ceased his crying, and burst into the irritating girlish giggle for which he was so renowned and ridiculed in equal measure.  Then he simply turned his back and accompanied his sister home.  Treacherous b*st*rd! This was my reward for my intercession on his behalf?

I would've thought, at the very least, in shame at his sister's behaviour, he'd have assisted me to my feet and apologised for her shocking act, but no, Euan found it highly amusing.  I was left on my own to extricate myself (with much squelching) from the sodden, muddy puddle and make my way home, there to explain my dufflecoat's soiled condition.

Needless to say, I took nothing to do with the wee pr*ck after that.  Even amongst 'fill-in' friends, a certain degree of loyalty was expected, and Euan had been found lacking and fallen at the first hurdle.  Perhaps to this day he looks back and wonders why he wasn't particularly popular at primary.  (Certainly not with me anyway.)

If so, guess what?  I could tell him!

Me & Euan in a class photo.  He's standing
on a kerb behind me, hence the seemingly
huge difference in our height

Monday, 22 January 2018

HONEST - I ONCE HAD A 'NOBEL PRIZE'...



I've shown these photos before (on my other blog), but there's a reason for their re-appearance.  I'm unsure as to which of the photos was taken first (possibly the colour one), but both of them were snapped in 1965.  The colour picture was taken outside the house I recently regained entry to for the first time in 50 years, and the b&w pic was captured in Port Bannatyne when we holidayed there in May/ June of '65.  (That's #19 of TV CENTURY 21 I'm holding in my grubby paws.)


Look at the car though.  We had this car from 1964 to around 1969 or '70, and I remember reading early issues of TV21 right up to middle issues of FAN-TASTIC while being driven home from the shops after buying them.  The car is a NOBEL 200, the British version of the German FULDAMOBIL, and had a fibreglass chassis.  I only ever saw one other (at a distance), and though I've a strong impression that I was in our Nobel at the time, I now wonder if it might actually have been from our new vehicle (a RELIANT ROBIN) - which, if so, means it's entirely possible that what I saw was our own, former car.


However, let's not get bogged down with uncertainty at this stage. The point is that it was a rare car, and even without the photos, the licence number (77 JJO) was lodged in my brain from an early age.  That's mainly because, another house later, it matched our house number - 77 - and the JJO has a rhythm about it which is hard to forget. Looking back, it's the only number plate of the several cars my parents owned that I remember. I'd like to think it's still out there some-where, owned by a collector, and wasn't consigned to oblivion many years ago.


I tend to regard it as a long-absent family member with whom I'd like to get reacquainted.  If, by some slim chance, any of you happen to know of its where-abouts, or how I could find out its fate, then let me know, eh?  It'd be nice to hear that it still exists.

******

Update: Managed to find and buy a limited edition, white metal model (1.43 scale) of the car on ebay. It was manufactured by a German company called BUDIG in around 2008.






Tuesday, 16 January 2018

ONCE THERE WERE GREEN FIELDS, PARCHED BY THE SUN - OR AT LEAST THERE USED TO BE - THEY'VE BEEN BUILT ON...


The fields were on the other side of the trees on the left of photo

How we first experience a place is usually how we imagine it's always going to be - how it always should be in fact.  That's how it is for me anyway.  Case in point, when my family moved into a new house in another area in 1983, on the other side of the path which ran by our house, was a huge field - then a road, and then another field.  And I believe there were even more fields beyond that.

That's how it was for the four years and three months we stayed there.  Several years after having moved away, I revisited the area and was surprised to see that a large housing estate had been built on the previously adjoining fields.  The sense of space was gone, and the neighbourhood now seemed over-developed, not to mention claustrophobic.  From my point of view, the absence of the fields ruined the area, and I was glad that when I lived there, I experienced it at its best.  In my memory, that's how the place should look - and still does whenever I think of it. (Just not when I revisit though.)

So do you feel the same about any place from your past where you lived or frequented when younger?  Do you lament any changes, or accept them with no qualms - or don't they matter to you one way or the other?  Should you feel the need to express yourselves, you know where the comments section is.

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