|Courtesy of Rawich at|
Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Sometimes I find I get to thinking of the past. Reflecting on my boyhood, it is astounding that I, or my sibling, survived into our teenage years, yet alone middle age.
My infancy was littered with stupid deeds, too numerous to list in their entirety. But a few remain at the forefront of my memory, not least because each could have led to a fatality. Like the time I nearly killed my brother.
“I wonder if I could fit inside that suitcase,” said Tony, as we both lay on the floor in our parents’ bedroom one rainy afternoon, wrestling with boredom.
Tony is my older brother, five years my senior, and (on the evidence of this story) just as dumb as me – perhaps stupidity is in the genes! The “can we fit in a suitcase” game seemed appealing to my five-year-old mind, so I squealed with enthusiasm at the prospect and instantly rose to my feet.
“No, I’ll go first,” said my commanding big brother; I knew from previous experience that there was no point in arguing with him. I watched, admiringly, as Tony climbed inside the suitcase, adopted an extra-coiled version of the foetal position, and asked me to shut the lid. “But whatever you do, don’t lock it.”
Perhaps a child psychiatrist would today label my behaviour as indicative of “oppositional defiant disorder,” but I often found that a request not to carry out a specific action immediately induced an urge to do so. I dutifully closed the suitcase.
“Told you I could do it.” The muffled sound of my brother’s voice, seeping through the lid, was almost inaudible.
“What would happen if I pressed this metal thingy on here?” I asked.
Fifty years on, I think my brother’s retort was, “Nooooooo…,” but I can’t be sure, as the sounds leaking from the case seemed distorted and breathy. Anyway, I pushed one of the two metal fasteners on the case and it clicked into place. I immediately tried to unlock it but by my five-year-old mind did not have the wherewithal to realize that, to achieve this aim, I would need to slide the catch outwards with my thumb. Instead, I tugged at the fastener, but to no avail.
The indistinct sounds from inside the case rose an octave, and were accompanied by repeated knocking noises. I think I recall hearing “I can’t breathe” and whimpers that seemed to originate from miles away but were, in retrospect, coming from the locked valise in front of me. I tried lifting the unlocked end of the lid, and wafting my hand under its lip while repeating, “Have some air,” but the panicky cries from inside suggested my actions were not having the desired effect.
When my brother could no longer be heard, I ran downstairs to find mum who was washing clothes in the kitchen.
“I think Tony’s dead,” I said, standing guiltily in the doorway. Mum sped upstairs, immediately recognized what had happened – as mum’s do – and flicked the suitcase catch to release my brother. As he gingerly got to his feet, I recall his ashen features. Copious amounts of sweat and tears rolled down his cheeks, and he was panting in a way that reminded me of how our dog behaved after a long walk on a sultry day.
But mum seemed unfazed, as if her heroics were all part of a typical day – perhaps they were. “Keep out of the suitcases,” she said, nonchalantly, as she returned to her dolly tub and mangle (wringer).
As for Tony, he continues to have a fear about confined spaces; strange that!
Wednesday, 15 October 2014
I recently celebrated my 56th birthday. Maybe “celebrate” is the wrong word; once you reach a certain age, the central function of birthdays is to act as a reminder that you are another year closer to oblivion.
Throughout my life, I’ve never attached much significance to birthday cards, sending or receiving. On the occasion of my 56th, three of them landed on my doormat and it later struck me how their content seemed to capture – albeit in an offbeat kind of way - the essence of my current situation.
|Courtesy of David|
Castillo Dominici at
Card number 1 was from my 20-year-old daughter. The envelope was addressed, “To the old man”. Emblazoned on the front of the card was, “Happy 60th birthday”. I suspect she has always viewed me as her “old” dad since she popped into this world two decades ago. And at least she spared me the “old git” jibe that has decorated some of her previous communications.
Card number 2 was from my parents, both now in their mid-80s. The picture consisted of a bright red racing car, the sort of card you might send to an 18-year-old boy-racer shortly after he’d passed his driving test. The age-inappropriateness of the birthday greeting indicated that they still view me as their youngest child, their baby, despite the fact that I’m not far away from drawing an old-age pension.
Card number 3 was from my wife. The verse within was beautiful, proclaiming her unstinting love for me over the 33 years we’ve been together. Reading it moistened my eyes. That was until I noticed that the front of the card read, “Happy anniversary to my wonderful husband”. She had purchased the card on the day we had been out together in Manchester city centre, wining and dining, leaving me in the pub while she nipped across the road to the card shop; a combination of moderate alcohol intoxication and long-sightedness had led to the error.
My 23-year old son didn’t send a card. When he (coincidentally) called round later in the day, he confessed that he had forgotten it was my birthday. “Happy birthday, paps”, he said, as way of atonement when I reminded him. “Are you going to treat me to a couple of pints?”
On the night of my birthday, just prior to switching off the lights, I gazed at my three cards on the shelf above the fireplace. In an inspirational instant it struck me how love can be expressed in a multitude of ways. I smiled, turned and went to bed. I slept well.