Friday 22 August 2014

More memories

I remember conditions on London Transport buses and underground trains when smoking was permitted, and that the interior upper decks of open platform buses were painted a nicotine yellow, and that sitting in the smoking carriage of a tube train was like being in a diseased lung.

I remember the first time I heard the irritating and preposterous mutton-chopp’d Education Minister, Rhodes Boyson, use without irony the archaic phrase “school mastering” like some latter-day Gradgrind.

I remember Tommy Cooper saying: “I’m so unlucky. I am. (pause) I’ve got a lighter that won’t go out.”

I remember admiring 'Adlestrop', and wondering where in the world the country station giving the poem its title could be, yet never making any real effort to find out. It turns out to have been in Oxford, despite the tyrolean sound of it.

I remember as a child collecting small embossed medallions commemorating significant moments in the history of aviation, which were given away with every purchase at filling stations. I recall begging my father to buy small amounts of petrol very often to ensure that I could get the entire set before the promotion came to an end.

I remember at the age of nine or ten reading several books about a time-travelling medieval wizard named Catweazle, and vividly recall the eccentric actor Geoffrey Bayldon, who played him in a fairly popular television version. I’m unsure, in fact, whether the series was based on the books or vice versa. The stories exploited seemingly endless permutations of a single theme – Catweazle’s complete misreading of modern day commonplaces such as aeroplanes or telephones, and the predictable chaos that resulted from his attempts to use alchemy and spells to “control” them. Unusually for a modest British production of the time there was an animated title sequence. This consisted of little more than an all but static cartoon version of the wizard crossing and uncrossing his eyes as the credits rolled, but served to set this programme apart from others. It was also, come to think of it, made entirely on location, a fact which I somehow registered and approved.

I remember the popular chant on anti-racist marches of the late 1970s:

     Unemployment and inflation
     Are not caused by immigration.
     Bullshit! Come off it!
     The enemy is profit!

I remember the automatic electric eye door in the basement of the Science Museum, and queuing up for long minutes to test what seemed to us children then a representative marvel of the impending modern age.

I remember the Canadian Mormon woman Joyce McKinley, who “kidnapped” her boyfriend and appeared in all the popular Sunday newspapers dressed only in the one-piece undergarment worn by members of her church.

I remember that Anna Karina, the luminously beautiful Danish actress who appeared in several early Godard films was also - inexplicably -  the “continental” star of a humdrum British farce (“She’ll Have to Go!”) appearing opposite a less-than-luminous cast including Bob Monkhouse, Alfred Marks and Peggy Mount.

I remember that the actresses Peggy Mount and Gemma Craven both hailed from Westcliffe-on-Sea in Essex, and the furore that surrounded the brief appearance of Ms Craven’s lipsticked nipples in Pennies from Heaven. I also recall with great affection Mount’s definitive “battle-axe” (Ma Hornet) in the lowbrow farce Sailor Beware.

I remember Jamboree Bags, quite accurately described by grown ups as “thruppenny bags of rubbish” and which invariably contained, along with a single toffee and a handful of chalky sweets, a cheap toy such as a ring, plastic spider or some such novelty. The real joy was feeling the contents of the paper bag (which bore an image of scouts around a camp fire by an open tent) and trying to imagine what marvellous treasures could reside within.

I remember that eating sugar puffs made my urine smell of sugar puffs.

I remember first expressing my blimpish annoyance at the unnecessary archaism of 'whilst'.

I remember Plutarch’s Triumphs, showing the relation of Man to the rest of Ptolemeic cosmology, on the analogy of Roman Triumphal Entries – that of Love over Man, Chastity over Love, Death over Chastity, Fame over Death, Time over Fame and Eternity or Divinity over Time. I remember drunkenly discussing how this structure could be worked up into a film script or, more modestly, a version of the playground game scissors/paper/stone.

I remember a sickly cologne for men, distributed exclusively in the UK and advertised in a much-heralded campaign by Brigitte Bardot with the huskily-accented slogan “I know my man … and 'e wears Zendiq”. Her appearance in a British commercial was considered newsworthy at the time (i.e. the mid 1970s, about the time BB retired from the ‘silver screen’).

I remember that the three Js (on which the fortunes of Dundee were said to be founded) were jam, jute and journalism.

I remember singing along to “Three wheels on my wagon” and “Charlie Brown”.

I remember Matchbox toy cars, and the special “Models of Yesteryear” range, which included a London tram and a horse-drawn fire engine, and which cost more than the regular models in their appealing blue and yellow boxes. Their relative prestige reminded me of the higher value placed on Bourneville plain chocolate (as compared with the commonplace ‘milk’ variety)

I remember the Bond villain Scaramanga.

I remember reading of an Irishman who successfully committed to memory and then recited without error a sequence of over two thousand randomly shuffled playing cards.

I remember that the comedian Stan Laurel was born in Ulverstone, Cumbria, and that the local council appears in the national press from time to time due to their seemingly endless dithering about how best to commemorate their most famous son.

I remember that Peter Watson, the wealthy patron and backer of the literary magazine Horizon came to a mysterious end in his own bath. Furthermore his former lover and, by imputation, killer, himself came to a similar end a short time later.

I remember Caesar ad sum jam forte/Brutus aderat/Caesar sic in omnibus/Brutus sic inat

I remember the plaintive message burnt into rock by a lava-like alien during an episode of Star Trek - No Kill I. It transpired that this creature, despite its fearsome appearance and apparently murderous inclinations, was, in fact, and movingly, a mother defending her nest. 

I remember that television specials featuring the entertainer Stanley Baxter were always heralded by continuity announcers and showbiz writers as tremendously important events.

I remember Henry Gibson (surely not his real name) on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-in, transmitted from “Beautiful Downtown Burbank”, and especially his supercilious tin- hatted German officer peering down the barrel of a cigarette (held in a manner peculiar to screen Nazis) and intoning: “Verrrry inn-te-resting… but schtoopid!

I remember and relish performances by the American character actor Henry Jones, who played the sardonic coroner in Hitchcock’s Vertigo and the gangster’s bilious valet in The Girl Can’t Help It.

I remember using a dictionary to check the meaning of egregious and autochthonous.

I remember that the first audiences for the Lumiere Brothers’ earliest films were reportedly mesmerised and terrified by the appearance, for instance, of a train arriving at La Ciotat. I have occasionally wondered if the same reaction would be prompted in otherwise normal adults who had never once seen a TV or film, and indeed whether a few visits to the theatre would be enough to “desensitize” viewers to the impact of illusory space.

I remember searching in vain one hot August afternoon for the site of Samuel Beckett’s apartment in the rue des Favourites, Montparnasse.

I remember visiting the recently decommissioned Battersea Power Station and being completely staggered by the scale of the turbine halls and the circuit boards labelled Chelsea, Wandsworth, and Clerkenwell etc.

I remember learning about Aristotle’s five intellectual virtues – sophia, episteme, phronesis, techne and nous, but would now struggle to define any of them accurately.

I remember wondering what the word Tare could mean when seeing it for the first time – and on many subsequent occasions – painted on the bulkhead of railway carriages. Although I have never made the effort to find out I’ve always assumed it was connected with the vehicle’s unladen weight.

I remember the BBC radio presenter Hubert Gregg, who used to sign off with the engaging phrase “If you have been, thanks for listening”.

I remember Prime Minister John Major’s faintly ridiculous younger brother Terry, the incarnation of stolid suburban decency, and his short-lived career as a columnist and pundit.

I remember that it was the humorist Frank Muir who first described Joan Bakewell, the slightly highbrow television presenter, as “the thinking man’s crumpet”, and how often that phrase has been adapted by lazy journalists. Likewise the mildly annoying and relatively recent variations on “X is the new W” – coined no doubt by a fashion journalist to describe forthcoming trends (“red is the new black” - black being the soon-to-be-supplanted current season’s choice of colour) and thereafter eagerly taken up by hacks of every description – politics is the new rock ‘n’ roll, for example, suggesting a giddy progressive succession of fads in which all things have the same shallow transactional values. I recently heard the comedian Stewart Lee memorably describe a telly arts presenter called Lauren Laverne as "the crumpet man's thinker".

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