One angry old man against the world
I was in a small quiet café, having a snack and a coffee, when they entered noisily. Half a dozen kids and a wizened old woman, the children were arguing fiercely. After they ordered, they sat at the table opposite me. I gathered from the argument, that they had just come from a cinema showing one of the Harry Potter films, the first one I think from the various references.
The argument was basically about the existence or not of magic. The two youngest believing firmly and absolutely in it’s reality, and the two oldest, just as obstinately, the opposite. The old woman was quietly drinking her coffee, calmly ignoring the raging battle around her. The two other kids seem to be torn between the the sides, agreeing with one, then switching sides as the shouting match progressed.
Finally, one of the younger one’s turned to the old woman and stated, with the logic and conviction of one so young, “Magic is real, isn’t it Grandma!” The old woman slowly put down her cup, wiped her lips on a napkin and said, “Most adults have had, or will have in their lives, one or more experiences that can only be described as magical.” It put a complete end to the argument, the youngest pair grinning from ear to ear with the satisfaction of their win, although it was obvious that the older two weren’t happy with the answer, they didn’t continue the conflict.
The old woman’s words have stayed with me for many years, and I’ve often thought of the ‘magical events’ that I have witnessed in my 75 years, so I will put them on here, as much for my own satisfaction, as for your entertainment.
My first ‘event’ happened when I was only about 9 or 10 years old, I won the school prize for science and was presented with a ‘dictionary of science’ as my award at morning assembly. I remember the Headmaster saying, “this will help you in your studies, but you should join a library to really learn about science.” This I did that very day after school. Our local library was situated in the old Victorian town hall, it was old, even smelt old, but it was very large and well stocked.
I remember on a table next to the counter, where you ‘signed’ books in or out, were three large wooden cabinets with lots of small draws in each that were the ‘card indexes’ for the whole library collection, one was by Author, one by Title, and my favourite, by Subject.
I have always loved to learn, not just about science, but almost anything, if it looked or sounded interesting. I was never into fictional subjects (apart from Science Fiction), being a strictly ‘practical’ type, I wanted to learn ‘useful’ things, new skills I could learn about and ‘master’ were far more important to me.
I had a simple system for searching that old ‘subject’ card index; more cards meant more importance to my young logical mind, so when I came across a subject that occupied several inches of cards, I knew I had to learn about this one, even though it mentioned the word fiction in the title.
That subject was science fiction, there were so many choices that looked very interesting, (each index card included a small summery of the book) that I had to ask the librarian on duty for a recommendation. Luckily for me, the young guy was a Sci-Fi fan, and when he asked what I had read so far, I told him honestly, nothing. He said that as an introduction to Sci-Fi, I should start with ‘I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.’
That book was a revelation to me, a true ‘magic moment’ in my life that changed my whole outlook and view of the world. I could not ‘put it down’ and finished reading it by torch light in bed, much to the annoyance of my younger Brother. After that, I was hooked. I read everything the library had on Sci-Fi and even started reading Science Fantasy, not as good in my opinion, but when done with humour, (Terry Pratchett for example) is very entertaining.
I still read Sci-Fi today, when I can find the time, and prefer Sci-Fi type films, not so much the ‘Hack & Slay’ bloodbath type, although I did enjoy the ‘Terminator’ series, my preference is for the type that make you ‘think’. For example; The Man from Earth, Demon Seed, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Her, Lucy and Transcendence, just a few of my favourites.
I got my first car when I was just 14, it was a 1932 Austin 10-4 that I paid 10 shillings for and did not run properly, but I brought it to repair, not drive. Sold it a couple of months later for £7, having spent about a £1 on gaskets and oil. I did this a number of times over the next few years with skills I’d learned from books and magazines and made a tidy profit.
When I was 17, I was with a friend when we stopped at a garage to fill up and I saw it for the first time. A 1939 Hudson Terraplane, I’d always had a ‘thing’ for American cars, but this thing was a monster. Those of you who know what a V8 Pilot looks like, will have some idea when I say it was that style, but bigger, much bigger. The damn thing was 18foot 6inches long, 7foot wide and 6feet high. It was love at first sight; (men will understand that statement, women probably won’t).
The guy wanted £20 for it, which I didn’t have. We settled for £5 plus a large (20inches long) unfinished radio controlled model boat I was building. Business people weren’t so mercenary in those days, and would often settle for a compromise.
When I drove it home, that was a ‘magic’ moment for me, it weighted 3 tons and floated over the bumps in the road like they didn’t exist. To me it was like riding on a magic carpet, and always gave me the same ‘buzz’ of excitement every time I drove it, no other car I’ve owned and driven ever gave me that feeling, before or since. It was a straight 6 side valve, almost 4 litre engine (Essex power dome), and I could get 18 MPG if I drove gently, 12 MPG if I was ‘heavy’ footed, but then this was the days of 9 pence a gallon petrol.
I have never been what many call a ‘touchy feely’ type, but the birth of my daughter caused me to re-evaluate myself. She was born in a hospital in North London in the middle of the night. I was in the waiting room surrounded by chain smoking, pacing expectant fathers, where I fell asleep in a chair. Awoken by a nurse at around 3 am, I was led to a viewing window, where half a dozen screaming, red faced noise makers were. Another nurse entered carrying my daughter and placed her in a cot in the centre of the howling throng.
She had a full head of jet black hair and large jet black eyes that stared back at me with a look of intense curiosity. Even though I consider myself free of any strong emotions, I discovered large tears rolling down my face. That for me was definitely a ‘magic’ moment.
In the early 70’s, I moved my little family out of London and up to the Midlands for a number of reasons, but mainly to escape from the ‘shit hole’ of a council estate that we were living on at that time. Another major reason was that we wanted to buy our own house and prices at that time in London were crazy, a 2 up 2 down terrace was fetching between £10,000 and £15,000, while a large Victorian in the Midlands was £1,000 to £2,000.
We got a council exchange and were so happy there that we forgot about buying until some bright spark on the council thought it would be a good idea to move some of the ‘scum’ off the bad estates and mix them in with good one’s. We had the family from hell moved in next-door to us and again began looking for somewhere to buy. Those same Victorians were now fetching £15,000 to £20,000, but mortgages were much easier to get. We found a place that wasn’t even on a road, it was at the bottom of an alleyway, overlooking a park. When we went inside, we both got goosebumps, it had an ‘odd’ atmosphere, like someone had just wrapped a ‘comfort’ blanket around you.
When I looked out of an upstairs window, the view over the park was incredible. It was late Spring and the place was a riot of colour, I got that ‘magic’ feeling, and I knew I was ‘home’, my wife felt the same way. They were asking £15,500, so I put in a bid of £14,000 and we got it, I think because we weren’t involved in any ‘chain’. When our daughter first saw the place, she kept running around and coming back to us for conformation that it was really ours.
The place required a fair amount of work doing on it, but as I had studied all the building trades, it was just the cost of the materials to ‘fix it up’.
I studied classical guitar in my late teens, learnt to read music, and got reasonably proficient at various etudes. Like quite a lot of the things I studied, because I didn’t ‘need’ it and failed to practice regularly, it became a ‘lost’ skill.
Many years later, when I was in my late 50’s, I met this drummer who had just lost his bass player (he’d moved to London). When he found out that I had once played guitar, he wanted me to join his ‘band’, even though I assured him that I could no longer play. He said he would teach me to play bass, and that it was ‘easy’. He kept at it and was very persuasive until I finally agreed. This guy was what I would call a real musician, he could play almost any instrument and had a great personality.
I practised hard and every day, then one day I discovered I was really enjoying it, it was no longer a chore, but a joy. From then on I looked forward to practice sessions, and on days when we really ‘clicked’, I had a number of those ‘magic’ moments. I’m just sorry that I didn’t keep up my music practice all those years ago. Music, when it all ‘comes together’ has a special magic all of it’s own. Listening to music, especially music you enjoy is great, but it does not compare to making that same music with friends, that’s truly magical…