Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Memories from a Box

I have been doing some spring cleaning this week and have been, in the words of Captain Kirk, boldly going where no man has gone before. Actually man (and woman) have gone before but not for a very significant length of time. I have been in the cupboard under the stairs.

Without boring you with the immense amount of swimming equipment we seem to have (snorkels, flippers, masks, wet suits etc) for children aged two to fourteen ie nothing that will fit the current crop, and other 'stuff' in the broadest sense of the word, I also found a wooden box which had, many years before my children turned this planet into a noisier but far more interesting place, been given to me as a wedding present by some lovely old bachelor friends of my parents. The box once contained a huge selection of dried herbs and spices and was a proud possession in my very first kitchen. The herbs and spices were obviously chucked years ago (be relieved if you've eaten here recently) and only the box remained, finding its place under the stairs.

A couple of years ago, I sent a Christmas card to one of these lovely old chaps who used to come on holiday with us, first when I was a child with my parents and brother, and later with my own family and mother. I sent Jack a card every year and he always reciprocated. On this occasion he didn't. And thinking about it sometime later, using the marvels of the internet, I found his obituary. It made me sad that he had passed away in April of the previous year and we had not known. He was a really lovely chap.

When we were very small, we ventured bravely (as this was the nineteen sixties) on holiday to Ibiza which was then an island with just two hotels and an airport which could only be reached by planes powered by very strong elastic bands which were pulled tight and then released from Palma airport on Majorca. We stayed in one of the two hotels in what is now the clubbing metropolis, San Antonio, and a group of rugby friends of my father's happened to be staying in the other. These friends were three charming bachelors - Hoppy, Jack and Tiny and my childhood holiday memories are littered with these three legends.

Hoppy was perhaps the most hilarious. To us, my brother and me, they seemed quite old - they were perhaps in their early forties! Hoppy had all sorts of inventions. He had a machine (which looked like a wooden box about the size of a cigar case) which made money. You put cigarette paper in one end and bank notes came out the other. Not only were we children transfixed by this but the rather less sophisticated locals could not believe that this Englishman could produce money out of a box. He also had performing fleas (which were, of course, invisible) and the star flea was called Alphonse. Alphonse would only perform after considerable amounts of alcohol had been consumed by Hoppy and the gang. He also sang (and whenever I hear it, he is singing it in my head) The Girl from Ipanema.

Tiny came (out, as it turned out) and disappeared and was only part of the first few holidays and was replaced by Harold or Ha'hold as we called him. He was the absolute king of the Nuttalls Mintoes and there were no occasions upon which Mintoes were not available. I swear he had a suitcase full of them on every trip.

But Jack was my favourite. He taught me to swim and we swam for miles every day (although he must have been swimming with some terrible hangovers) and we would swim out across the bay to the caves where the Dragontikas lived (like dragons but not as dangerous). He was also responsible for my first major drinking incident aged about eight when he was left in charge of me while the rest of the crew went for a walk and he introduced me to some local wine (bottled water not being available). When my parents returned I was sleeping it off under a tree.

Hoppy died and Ha'hold disappeared (but probably not for the same reason as Tiny) and Jack continued to holiday with us on Ibiza where he had a rather scruffy but endearing apartment with only one egg cup. Each year, he entertained my older girls when they were little as he had entertained my brother and me. He was rather follicly-challenged by then but that didn't stop number 2 daughter from tying what little hair he had into many multi-coloured hair bobbles. The sight of his rather rotund shape performing a perfect bomb into the swimming pool will be with me for ever. Not much water left in the pool after that!

So finding the box in the cupboard under the stairs brought all this back and Jack's picture is on our gallery on the kitchen wall so if you stop by, I'll show you.

By the way, if you are in need of wet suits for children, I seem to be the proud owner of a few and will happily part with them for a small contribution to the Vietnam World Challenge fund for a young man in our village.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Keeping it Real

I've been giving a lot of thought to the kindle versus book debate and I think - though I reserve the right to change my mind at a later date - that I have reached a conclusion. You see, I can see that there are lots of good reasons for the kindle - portability, instant availability of titles and not least that you can whack up the type size which, as an optically-challenged older person, is obviously a huge bonus. But I think it is important to keep things real and that means buying actual books.

Curiously, it wasn't thinking about books that made me come to this conclusion. It was actually thinking about records, the demise of the record store and particularly, about the disappearance of the album cover. Hundreds of years ago, shortly after dinosaurs stopped walking the earth, when I was growing up, buying your first album and the subsequent ones that made up your collection and defined your street credibility amongst your peers was such a big thing. You went to a record store and looked at the covers, and the whole choosing thing was an event. An album purchase was something you could hold in your hand. 

And here we are now with books and bookshops. It is a small, but real pleasure to browse in a bookshop. To look at the book covers, see the illustration on the front, read the comments from the critics and a summary of the story and the feel and size of the book is still important. Do you buy a book in hardback because it's a book you'll treasure - or more often in my case, because I simply can't wait for the paperback to come out? 

Anyway, the more I think about it, the more that I worry that we may live our lives watching things on a screen. Yes, I know, I'm writing my blog on a computer and winging it into the ether but I like seeing things for real because when it is for real it becomes something which addresses more than one sense. Like the atmosphere at any kind of live sporting event which is vastly superior to the brilliant view that watching it on the television gives you - even with a very knowledgeable commentary, although frequently I shout as much at the television as I do from the stands. But there is nothing like being there. 

Live music is the same. You might be squashed up in an arena surrounded by strangers but the sound and the craic that you get from being there is unforgettable. I can remember every band I've ever seen from sitting in the second row at the Coventry Theatre for David Bowie on his Aladdin Sane tour in my mid-teens with my friend Adrian to the Christmas Lindisfarne concerts at Leeds Uni, every one of the times we have seen Phil Collins (which is a lot because he is a big favourite of my beloved's) and some rather more up to date than that. 

The theatre and the cinema are the same. I would always rather go and see a film on the big screen for which films are rightly made, rather than wait for it to appear on the rather smaller screen in the comfort of our sitting room. I have just seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which is set in India and the colours and sounds had such intensity that you cannot possibly feel in your own home. A few weeks ago I took my mother to see the absolute god of comedy, James Cordon in One Man, Two Guvnors in the West End. We laughed almost till we cried and, as they say, you had to be there.

So of course you can buy everything through the internet, make all your choices through the screen - computer, television and so on. But there is nothing like feeling, tasting, touching and using all your senses to make your choices. I'm for keeping it real. Yes, definitely.