Sunday, 23 January 2022


"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


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


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 Ports-mouth 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. 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.  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.)
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