When I was small, I lived in a place where anything and everything was possible. There were no constraints on where I could travel, what I could be, how strong I was. I had the adulation and the adoration of the greatest racing driver, the most daring stuntman and the World’s best footballer. I was the best of spies and the worst of monsters. I led legions of soldiers to victory and saved countless lives with daring, self-sacrificing rescue missions; as a fireman risking life and limb aloft a towering inferno or an infantryman with nerves of steel, standing proud and bullet-proof on the front line. A super-hero! And God was always on ‘my’ side.
When I played with my toys, my imagination would cut me off completely from the real World, where I was happy to stay for the most part. Even trying to sleep, I would lead myself into a World of what would be uncontrollable happenings, by imagining somewhere, something or someone I wanted to be. I’m mindful of a poem I would read over and over sometimes before bed by one of my favourites, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘A Child Asleep’ – I’m sure there are lots of clever people out there with more than one interpretation of this poem, however, when I was small and read it, I had my own. Goodness knows why? My favourite verse, or stanza, for you clever folk – or maybe I should say, cinquain?; if you feel the urge, find the poem and read it…you won’t be disappointed.
‘As the moths around a taper,
As the bees around a rose,
So the spirits group and close
Round about a holy childhood, as if drinking its repose.’
Elizabeth was born in Coxhoe Hall, so, a relative local. And yes, I know the history behind her family’s wealth, but that’s exactly what it is, history. She died in Florence, in 1861. I have a certain dream of Florence, that one day I’d like to realise – though maybe not to expire there… I digress…
If by any chance you’re interested in more, I recommend, Aurora Leigh – might take you some time but try it…
My favourite toys to play with, despite the many different ones I had, were my action men. Although I had hundreds of toy soldiers, you know the ones, they stand on small bases, and they’re around an inch in height. Some of them green; the British/American/Japanese, the grey were Germans. The green ones could be told apart by their detail, well, not fine detail but enough to determine their nationality. They would take me forever to set up, perhaps two or three hundred on each side! Sometimes, though only sometimes, in fact quite rarely but nevertheless sometimes, I might just invite my brother to join me. We’d each have a bag of marbles, mostly glass, swirly-coloured ones, however, we did have a few ‘steelies’ in varying sizes – ball bearings for those that aren’t familiar with steelies. The marbles would be rolled in turn from each side, though after a time of restrained and near-accurate in-turn aiming and firing, a free-for-all would ensue until both armies were destroyed! The winner would have a few soldiers still standing as the other side were flattened; although every single soldier would eventually end up horizontal. There was a point where we used small, red, plastic guns to fire small bearings too – I don’t recall the name of the game where the guns came from but it came with a board. The red spring-loaded guns would be mounted, although detachable for storage (and firing the balls at one another), and they had a kind of gully underneath the trigger where the bearings shot from. They were quite handy for firing at your enemy as they rested on the floor – or your brother!
At the top of my list for adventure, for a while anyway, were my action men. With arms, legs and heads that could be positioned for effect, a pull-cord that made the figure speak a set amount of pre-recorded phrases, separately bought weapons and other accessories such as tanks, jeeps and parachutes.
My mum was quite the cook. And when it came to pots and pans, she’d always revel in a brand new set when money allowed. Not sure about non-stick frying pan technology or how quick it moved back then but, there was something special about owning a non-stick frying pan. Having said that, non-stick may have had its down-sides. Every Sunday, traditional dinner was prepared. Vegetables were boiled in great surplus for the sole intention of having ‘fry-up’ on a Sunday night for supper, and then again for dinner or tea on a Monday – I can’t begin to describe how much I looked forward to fry-up! The ideal was well, bottom-browned, bubbling-fried potato and vegetables. Potato, carrots, turnip and peas, all mashed together. Take one slice of heavily buttered, white bread, cover in a generous amount of fry-up, already smothered with tomato ketchup and more than an unhealthy pinch of salt. Fold the bread so that the contents are oozing from the sides then dip into more ketchup and salt on the plate! This was disgustingly simple but delightful! Alas, the down-side to a non-stick frying pan is that you can’t quite get the potato to ‘set-on’ well enough so that the bottom of the fry-up burns brown as I like it – without of course using no oil or fat; I don’t want to be shelling out for a new pan every week. I want a proper browning.
Anyway, mum was quite proud of her domestic set up, cautious and caring with her kitchen wares and utilities and she spent an awful lot of time around them. And so did I; although usually I would be hanging around her legs, waiting for odds and ends of any pudding she might be preparing – like a wanton puppy waiting for scraps – lick the spoon, run a finger ‘round the bowl, savour the sticky end from a Ginger cake, too small to compliment anyone’s pudding bowl… But the kitchen was a World where my imagination could run amok! There were mountains and valleys, and caves with nooks and crannies, lots of prominences for grip and leverage; weapons by the score. So many utensils and bits to explore and play with – how often I heard, “put that back, Robert!” Sometimes, were her oven gloves warm, she always knew I wanted a go on them – hands inside them, she’d place them around my cheeks, and oh, how soft and warm they were! There was nothing as satisfying as a cuddle with warmed oven gloves…or maybe there was.
I knew how the cooker worked and loved playing about with the button that made the spark to light the gas ring – click, click…woosh! On goes the gas – can you hear it? On that very cooker, in a scenario that I acted out with two action men, I took a frying pan, lit the gas ring and placed the pan atop. Following a brawl between the warring soldiers, their struggles ended on the grill above the hob – I could only just reach. As they fought, they held one another in a vice-like grip, teetering on the ledge of the overhang; certain doom awaited the loser below! A slip! A knowing release of a grasp and the fate of one was sealed! He fell without grace, in slow motion, down into the waiting mouth of a slumbering volcano, still, but intense with scorching heat! His struggles were few and he quickly became still as he was consumed and succumbed to the roasting heat! His enemy stood aloof and triumphant! I watched him melt into something indescribably misshapen! Blue and orange flames burst from the remains and in my panic I tried to pull the mass from the pan, burning me as searing hot plastic stuck to my hand! All at once I felt the wrench of an adult on a mission, pulling me back with might and vigour, and the excited shriek of a very angry mother! The frying pan was rendered useless. I had no pocket-money for what seemed an age – thus, I bought a frying pan, indirectly, nevertheless, I bought it…
If I’m in your kitchen, please restrain me…
For Smelly… x