Archive for the ‘Nostalgia’ category

The Key

July 18, 2007

xray.jpgDid I mention that I wanted to become a magician? Apologies if I over-egged it a little bit. I think it would be closer to the truth to say that I wish to learn a few tricks with which I might amuse people when I run out of conversation. And to that end, it’s going quite well, thank you. None of my ‘key texts’ have arrived yet. Although, it gives me a thrill to buy things from Amazon for which they charge you a sourcing fee. They probably need to travel to far-away places to obtain them from ancient men in little shops down dark alleys. Or maybe they’re just tucked away at the very back of the store-room.

Either way, even without the literature, I’m cracking on apace. Wee Gorbals was kind enough to equip me with my first trick, which is a good start. I’ve also been trying a bit of coin magic, which I’ve been testing on Mrs H. She is a very obliging audience, and is never too shy to cry out ‘I can see it in your other hand’.

I’ve been thinking about where all this enthusiasm came from, and have concluded that it probably goes back much earlier than the last couple of years. Several incidents have come to mind, only one of which I’ll talk about today, if you don’t mind. I’ve got a thesis to submit in a couple of weeks, and should probably be getting on with it.

But let me tell you about the first magic trick I was ever witness to. My family were entertaining (?) another family with whom they were quite friendly, and their son said he wanted to show me something. I was probably about six, he was probably about 16, but to my eye might as well have been as ancient as Yoda. He produced a front door key, which he placed in his palm and pressed against my chest. Then he took his hand away, and it was gone.

Put yourself in my shoes, if you’d be so gracious. The possibility (now obvious) that he had surreptitiously transferred the key into his other hand did not occur to me. I was left with the perception (not to mention a slowly-dawning horror) that the key was inside my chest. I asked if this was indeed so, and he confirmed it (perhaps underestimating the extent of my aforementioned horror). And then, to cap it all, he said ‘here, feel it’.

And I touched the place where it had seemingly gone in. There are ribs there, I know, but I was certain that I could feel the key as well. There was no question (in my mind) that it was well and truly there.

Perhaps sensing my alarm, he executed an additional bit of flim-flam and appeared to produce the key from my back. It had gone right through.

I was still horrified, but my mind was reeling for another reason. As I’d grown up, I’d been working hard to put together some coherent opinions about how the world works. One of the maxims I had hitherto settled on was that a physical object (e.g. a key) could not pass through another physical object (e.g. me). At least, not without leaving some trace of its passage. And yet, it had happened. Although my thoughts were not articulated as such (c’mon, I was only six), I had the distinct feeling that I was going to have to rethink things.

And then there were the possibilities. Was this something I could learn to do as well? Imagine what you could do with a power like that. You could, well, pass things through other things till you were blue in the face. This was going to turn the world upside down.

Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed when I found out how it was done. I think my mother coerced him into revealing the secret, perhaps so that I would go back to sleeping at night. But I’ll probably never forget that feeling that this was something incredibly out of the ordinary, and that I was somehow witness to something that would make me re-evaluate everything that’d gone before.

And now and again, I’ve wondered what it might be like to be able to treat others to a similar experience. I might even try to perfect ‘key through the body’ for old time’s sake.


Such Memories of Oxford

July 15, 2007

gargoyle.jpgI really liked being in Oxford last week. It was nice to see the family again, and to savour the sights, sounds and smells of my home city. I love it.

And I’m not the only one, apparently. According to the Oxford Mail (a paper I never read, but which I assume to be the final word on all things Oxford) some 700,000 tourists from Mainland Europe visit Oxford each year. What the Mail neglected to mention was that they all wear identical yellow rucksacks and walk down the street linking arms six abreast, the continental scamps.

There is something about hearing a familiar accent which is also quite comforting. Incidently, this doesn’t happen very often in the city centre, because the Continentals (see above) are the only ones there, or at least tend to gabble loudly enough to drown out the natives. But when you do happen to overhear a conversation in your childhood dialect, it’s sublime. It’s quite difficult to convey the working class Oxford accent in text. I think it sounds a bit like how Ricky Gervais might talk if he chose only to speak in the present tense.

Wandering around Oxford was good for the spirits. We had a nice lunch at The Head of the River, and managed to get a look at some of the college buildings (admittedly, this usually happened only in passing, when on the way to more consumer-oriented pleasures). I had a wander through the Covered Market, and a quick five-minute amble (well, sprint) around the University Museum. I’d forgotten they had a Tyrannosaurus replica skeleton in there. It’s quite impressive. I’ll plan a bit longer next time.

For a large part, though, Oxford is much like any other city. Most of the larger shops are the same as you will find anywhere. A quick browse around HMV and Virgin even revealed exactly the same special offers as are to be found in Edinburgh. Dining choices in the city centre are also a tad familiar. It was brought home to me when we met one of Mrs H’s friends for a coffee. She suggested that we might go to the Starbucks on Cornmarket Street rather than the one on the High Street ‘for a change’.



July 14, 2007

 tintin.jpgI always prick up my ears when Tintin is mentioned in the press. When I was a nipper, I was rather keen on him. Or rather, on the stories in which he featured. In fact, I seem to remember that Tintin books were much adored amongst my school chums. It was largely thanks to Tintin books that I barely read continuous prose until I was about 13.

Such was my love (i.e. enthusiasm) for Tintin, that I once went along to a school fancy dress party in the guise of my favourite Belgian boy reporter. Some feat, I hear you cry, since Tintin is actually rather normal in appearance. For a cartoon, anyway. His jaunty tuft of hair is the only thing that distinguishes him from just any Belgian boy reporter. That and the way he wears his trousers at half-mast with his socks pulled right up. Suffice to say, I attended the party looking just a leetle bit gay. If I might be allowed to use a stereotype.

You see, stereotypes are what seem to have landed Tintin in trouble recently. Apparently, the Commission for Racial Equality received a tip-off from a Borders Bookshop customer in London, who had been innocently leafing through a copy of Tintin in the Congo. Now, I’ve not read it (it was quite hard to get hold of when I was younger) but apparently it portrays the Congolese as ‘savage natives’ who ‘look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles’. According to the CRE, Borders could not justify the peddling of such racist material, which should be pulled from the shelves and made available to the public only ‘in a museum, with a big sign saying “old-fashioned, racist claptrap”’. I think they were quite upset about it.

I quite understand that material like this will (or, at least, should) leave a nasty taste in the mouth now, but isn’t it an accurate depiction of attitudes and prejudices at the time (1920) in which it was written? OK, it’s probably not a good idea not to give it to children, but surely adults could make up their own mind? A blanket ban on everything that might cause offence to someone doesn’t seem like the way to go. And isn’t it more valuable to expose children to this type of propoganda, and explain to them why these views aren’t acceptable now?

In the meantime, we probably shouldn’t tell the CRE about Tintin’s sidekick, Chang Chong-Chen…

The Persistence of Memory

April 20, 2007


I love Salvador Dalí. He is probably in my top five, as artists go. This is probably his most well known painting, though not one of my personal favourites. I thought I’d pop it in anyway. Have a look at his other paintings here.

I was in St Andrews the other day. Mrs H’s father has just retired (read all about it) so it was decided that we all go to St Andrews to get a family photograph. The task was entrusted to Peter Adamson, and a more amiable gentleman you would be hard-pressed to find.

It was interesting to walk around in St Andrews. It’s the sort of place where progress happens slowly, if at all. For the most part, all the familiar shops and haunts are still in their respective places. But now, walking down Market Street, I see no one I recognise. There was a time, of course, when one could walk the same route and be sure to be greeted by friends and acquaintances. But now the faces are blank.

I walked past The Coach House, where I used to live. The landlady’s grandchildren were outside in the garden. They look quite big now. They didn’t look up as I passed.

Towards the end of the morning, we found ourselves down on the West Sands, and we had a few snaps taken by the Elephant Rock. While I was there, I recalled a lazy afternoon on said Rock, a good five or six years back. I sat on the Rock with a couple of friends, just talking. There was nothing that needed to be discussed, but there was no pressure to be elsewhere. It was one of the last days we spent together in St Andrews. Somehow, it was a day that seemed to represent all that was good about being a student there. So much so, we decided to immortalise it, and our existence in it, by adding our signatures to the Rock.

The front door key to my parents’ house in Oxford was pressed into service for the purpose. When I got home to Oxford a few days later, it didn’t work. I never told my parents why.

Anyway, when we were there having photographs taken, I looked for my signature again. It had vanished, scoured away by a few years of gritty wind, and with it the last piece of evidence that I had ever been there at all.

I was just about to leave, when something caught my eye. The handiwork of one of my companions remained:


As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more (Psalm 103:15-16).

It seems, however, that you can leave a lasting legacy. You just need to press quite hard, and use the right implement.


March 5, 2007

I’m just back from another excellent trip to Inverness. Jamie was on good form, as were the ever-present Graham and Michael.

I find it’s great to have a break from routine from time to time. In the normal run of things, I live a fairly ordered life. I get up at the same time every day. I go to work. I eat meals at certain prescribed times. These events are like the teeth of some chronological ratchet, reminding me that time ticks irreversibly forwards.

It all comes apart in Inverness. Time doesn’t have any meaning there. Hardly anything changes, year in, year out. The empty pizza-box pressed into service as a mousemat during one of my visits remained in this new role for years. It was only discarded when Jamie’s room was redecorated, a startling change precipitated only by the collapse of his entire ceiling. Each new visit sees an extra layer of dust on his possessions, but little else.

The little daily milestones of time become fluid. One can follow one’s whims completely. It is most refreshing. Events are not compartmentalised, but blur into one another in a way that is quite soothing. Even sleeping and waking are quite hard to tell apart.

There were so many interesting things watched, listened to, discussed. I’ll probably share them at some point.

In closing, I thought I’d refer to the total lunar eclipse observed on Saturday night. By the time we managed to stumble outside, it was all over bar the shouting. Still, here’s a picture of what it might have been like. The moon in the picture is the actual moon involved in the eclipse, but on a different occasion.


Photos of Stunning Models

February 17, 2007

I need to introduce you to a couple of characters today. Here’s the first:


His name is Optimus Prime, and he is very pleased to meet you. Optimus is the one-time leader of the Heroic Autobots, who represent the morally righteous portion of the Transformers. For years, I was convinced his name was Octopus Five. He didn’t seem to mind, so we just went with it.

Now, his introduction was intended to serve as a necessary prologue to other things today. But while we’re here, allow me a moment to reflect on the Transformers. They are (we were assured) a race of robots who somehow crash-landed on Earth long before humankind ever showed up. However, once humankind was up and running, our robotic friends somehow came out of hibernation and started causing all manner of mayhem. You see, half of them (the Evil Decepticons) really, really hate the other half (the aforementioned Heroic Autobots), and have made it their raison d’etre to give them a good hiding.

Still with me? Excellent.

I know what you’re thinking. How on earth does all this inter-robotic argy-bargy carry on right under our noses without anyone noticing? Well, the Transformers happened to be blessed with the ability to (you guessed it) transform into objects one might reasonably expect to see lying around on Earth (tape-recorders, guns, tanks, etc).

All this made for some splendid adventures, marred only by a few logical howlers and blatant commerical pressures. I’ll let you infer them for yourselves, having already gone on for far too long about a subject of interest to very few.

I mentioned that there were two characters to introduce you to today. The second is a chap called Michael Floyd. Let me explain.

The other day, I wrote a post about making balloon animals, and for reasons I cannot fathom, the hit-rate on the Monologues went through the roof, smashing all previous records. The commenters also came out in force, which was nice. One commenter was the Balloon Artist, Mr Michael Floyd.

My own excursion into balloon modelling was no more than a little dabble. This guy, however, has opened my eyes to a whole new world of inflated, latex possibilities. I’ve had a quick word with him over email, and he was more than happy for me to publicise his blog and to steal pictures from it to put on my own. So, if you could all make your way over there, and encourage him in his ballooning ventures, that would be excellent.

Before you do, here’s a taste of what he gets up to. I hope, by now, it will ring a bell.



February 7, 2007

I thought that, having had a quick monologue about getting down to Bristol, I might record some of what went on there.


Tracy very kindly picked Andrew and I up at the airport. Andrew (whose plane had arrived slightly earlier than mine) found time to a make a sign with my name on, to aid my welcome to Bristol. Such is his sense of humour.

We barreled over to Chris and Annelie’s house in Lockleaze, where we all had a bit of a catch-up. Then it was back to Tracy’s mum’s house for some shut-eye. Francis thought he’d climb into my bed, much in the spirit of recreating the old days.

It was very nice to see people again. We had a particularly busy day on Saturday, so I wonder if I might recount it tomorrow.