Knowledge is Power

Usually when I think of a person I know, there are a handful of abiding memories that I recall in connection to them.

For example my friend Neb, one thing that really sticks in my mind about him is a rant he once had about how annoying he finds it when people leave the washing up sponge in the sink, still wet! He was furious. When I reminded him of this funny rampage, he didn’t remember it at all.

The same thing happened when I told another friend about how much I used to enjoy it when he sang hymns in the style of Jimi Hendrix. He had no memory of it.

How many things have you done / said / sung that you have no memory of? Loads, I think. How many times have you popped into the mind of your acquaintances doing / saying / singing something that you have no control over and no memory of!? Loads, I think.

Sometimes it can work in your favour though. I caught up with an old school friend a while ago, and he told me that the funniest thing I ever said was during a playtime football game. Apparently I ran headlong towards a boy that everyone was scared to tackle and tackled him (just that is cool enough).

Then he says, incredulously “Where did you come from?”

And my corker of a reply is, “Wales”.

Brilliant.

But I have no memory of it at all.

No one likes it

A week or two of discovering academia anew. Recalling how to read. Wrestling with theories. Singing the word phenomenology to the tune of Mah Nà Mah Nà. Waking up every weekday at 6:55 to get up the hill for early morning practice. That’s easier than expected. Having to go to bed earlier has not been fun though.

There was rain this morning, Sibyl doesn’t like having wet feet, no one likes having wet feet but Sibyl really doesn’t like it. I have assimilated this p.o.v. and get more grumpy than I did at previous occasions in my life when my toes become damp.

We were in a tent once and it was raining and I was having a nap and Sibyl woke me up saying “YOUR TOES IS WET!” I groaned. “YOUR TOES IS WET!” Why is she telling me my toes are wet, and why is she using the third person singular present of be when are would suffice? “YOUR TOES IS WET!” I’m angry now, my feet are not even moist and what are you ON about!? “YOUR A.W. TOZER BOOK! IT GOT WET IN THE RAIN! YOUR TOZER’S WET.” True story.

In 2009 I made a YouTube video where I had a white plastic carrier bag covering my hair. I had just been in the rain and I told the world that I had officially grown up, because I no longer liked rain. There’s another YouTube video of me dancing in the rain, but that was taken before the grumpy vlog, so maybe I was a child at that point. This morning I really liked standing in my doorway waiting for my Danish buddy and watching the rain and feeling like I was watching the roof of the church opposite our house in HD. The sky was white. I liked rain then, so maybe I was a child for ten seconds, but then I walked up the hill and got wet and became an adult once more.

“I didn’t ask for your life story.” #9 – Nursery

Early memories of what they apparently now call ‘pre-school’ are few and far between. However, as is often the case, the traumatic memories stay in there, many of which revolve around me not wanting to go to nursery.

“I wanna stay with Muuuuum!”

I remember dreading it when Mum left me there, and begging her to stay. She’d take me over to Mrs. R and she would tell me all about the exciting activities that were taking place today. Then, at my highest point of vulnerability, my Mother would stealthily make her exit.

One weekday morning, I recall that we were doing the story of the three pigs. The teacher had somehow got it into her head that kids liked being scared, so naturally she role played it with me as a pig and her as a wolf. She put on this gargantuan, black, hairball-esque, smelly wig. Then she would, at regular intervals shove it into my face. To this day, I still hate any form of external hair touching my face, it freaks me out.

Story time took place, as it often does, on a seven by seven-foot square of blue carpet. However, it sucked to sit on the floor. There were two bright red cushions, with gleaming white letters of the alphabet written all over them, which two lucky members of the class were allowed to sit on.

We were having a nice ordinary morning, I seem to remember I was playing with a shoe-lace and story time was called. Of course, being stuck in my own world, I could not drag myself away from the marvelous shoe-lace right away, and this was to be my downfall. My best friend had already sat on the red cushion, the cushion next to him was still free, there was still time to get comfort as well as some some peer-to-peer infant solidarity. But, before I knew it, the class ruffian and son of the teacher no less, had placed his backside right where I wanted to be.

What was I to do? I couldn’t sit on the floor with the peasant children, I had to sit next to my best friend and I had to sit on a comfy red cushion! There was no option but to… but to… to use a bit of old-fashioned violence.

I limbered up and charged towards the bully, heading straight for the jugular I pounced. My attack didn’t quite make the impact I first expected it would and I was left grabbing hold of a pair of more hefty arms than I’d ever expect a three and a half year-old to possess. Using my shoulder I eventually managed to shove him off, and the cushion was mine.

But not for long. The rascall leaped up from his vanquished heap and in turn grabbed my arm. He promptly rolled up my sleeve and dug his fangs rather deeply into my left arm. I screamed in pain. Mrs R (his Mother) prized us apart and marched us outside the classroom.

Of course him being her son and all, she was soft on him. I remember being disgusted at the fact she gave us both exactly the same telling of, even though I’d only partaken in a gentle push and shove, but he had made the journey from child to vampire in the space of thirty-three seconds.

Justice must me had! The court case commences next Thursday.

“I didn’t ask for your life story.” #8 – Back Garden Trees

I grew up as one of those blessed children who had a back garden. A modest thirty or forty feet of land which holds of three trees.

Right at the back lay some sort of fir/yew tree which I have memories of standing under and feeling it’s darkness cover me. Friends would come over and claim that they could climb it, but no one ever did. I remember being told numerous times not to eat the leaves of that tree as it was poisonous, I even made an effort to wash my hands after I had touched it, just to be safe. Next to it was a small wooden swing which I could fit into until I was four or five. Neither of these things remains in the garden today. The tree was cut down when I was nine so that we could bring more sunlight into the garden and I climbed into the swing one bonfire night, trying to show off to some friends and put my foot through it.

The second was an apple tree, my parents received it as a wedding gift (1988) and it had been growing ever since then (yes it really was a tree that grew). We always wished that apples would grow on it, but they never seemed to. Someone told us that if one year was bad for fruit then the next year would be great, but they just seemed to be getting worse and worse. We’d get a couple of apples every now and then, but birds would usually peck at them anyway. I believe that by now the tree produces a good crop, and I’m sure my Mum makes a good apple pudding or two out of them.

The third tree, and the best tree is the Elderberry Tree. I’m told it’s extremely rare to have one grow in a garden like ours and this was the main tree, the headline act so to speak, the big cheese, the tree to end all trees. As I mentioned, the little swing at the back of the garden was not serving us much use, so one day seemingly out of the blue, Mum took me to Toys ‘R’ Us and just bought a tree rope swing. I loved that adults could do that, and on those wonderful occasions when I would receive something spontaneously, it was always brilliant. Once she bought me and my brother two cowboy costumes, with guns and everything, out of nowhere! Amazing! However, I don’t think I would have felt such excitement on these instances had they been regular. My Mum would always talk about this concept of ‘spoilt children’ but I really did not understand how giving a child lots of treats could somehow spoil them? Surely it would make them happier!?

The rope swing was assembled by Dad on a ladder and I was promptly instructed not to spin on it, and to share it, because that’s what it said on the instructions. That swing was probably one of the best buys my parents ever made. The accumulated hours that all of us boys must have spent on it, as well as all the friends that came round and played on it are phenomenal. The rope was bright yellow and the base was a friendly green.

I used to enjoy just swinging on it and seeing how high I could go. Then when I got bored of that, I’d get up and spin round on it (even though we weren’t meant to) and feel extremely dizzy afterwards. I also spent many hours with my (then) tiny little brother, he would position himself on my lap, and we’d both swing around for (what seemed like) hours. We invented this thing we called ‘ceremony’ which basically involved us imagining we had an audience in front of us and doing tricks in front of them. No tricks developed much further than him standing on my knees.

I’ve also pushed all four of my little brothers at different stages on the swing. My biggest swings I’d (for some really freaky reason) call “double jam, double peanut butter”. The name stuck, and that’s what my brothers enjoyed having. When my youngest brother came along, he was so tiny (and fearless) that I could swing him up to a ridiculously frightening height. He loved it, we loved watching it. He often ended up over our garden fence in terms of distance. We also did this thing called “baseball bat” when we’d grab the legs of whoever was on the swing and fling them (like a baseball bat) so they’d go spinning and probably fall off and probably cry.

We also invented a game involving a football, which I cunningly named ‘Post Ball’. The tree was called ‘the post’ and the aim was to hit the tree with the ball. I would sit on the swing and try to defend the tree, it was highly different to football. For some reason I loved the idea of this game being closely compared to football, because in football you didn’t want to hit the post, so in this game you did. This logic was somehow strangely translated into me saying “well done, you scored a goal!” when they missed and “oh dear, you hit the post” when they scored. I’m strange, I’m sure it was funny at the time.

Another huge passtime on the swing was getting the big climbing frame (which we awesomely owned, a birthday present I believe) dragging it to the tree, climbing up the ladder whilst holding the swing and jumping onto the swing from great height. Competitions were held for who could jump from the highest height, over time I became the most daring (being the oldest) and could jump from the top! As one gets older, one gets bigger and one day this was to be my (literal) downfall. I leaped onto the swing from the top of the climbing frame expectantly bracing myself for the ride to come, but what happened? The rope snapped. Yes. The rope… snapped. It is a uniquely child-esque feeling one gets when they fall on their bottom. Some sort of immense electric pain rushes right from your bum, up your back into your eyebrows. All you can do is scream and clench your buttocks. All I remember about this occasion was that it hurt too much to cry, I yelped and flailed about and laughed in a manic sort of way. To be fair, that is the equivalent of jumping from the height of about eight feet directly onto one’s backside. I’m surprised I didn’t do myself more damage.

We eventually replaced the now broken yellow rope with a thicker blue one and the swing was ready once again for action, it’s still used regularly, despite the tree having been cut back several times, it has never affected the infamous rope swing.

The elderberry tree was also responsible for various other childhood memories. Our great garden was often the spot for me and my friends from church to sit around thinking ambitiously about what wonderful plans and feats we could achieve. We had dreams of wires going from my house to their house (about a mile away) and making underground caverns or intricate burglar traps. We eventually formed a club which we entitled ‘T.D.S.’ we never told anyone what it stood for, instead, when people asked, we threw in countless red herrings. Did it stand for Traditional Devonshire Shortbread? Or did it stand for Terrible Dancing Soldiers? Or were we making our aims very clear by claiming that it stood for To Destroy Stefan (an older brother of our friends)!? In reality our little crew was entitled The Detective Society (we never actually did any detecting, but hey). We all had code names and were required to donate twenty pence every week for the club fund. We ended up buying a pair of walkie talkies from Argos, which was really cool!

Our most exciting achievement was the task assembling of a tree house. Initial plans in my mind were made and I imagined that we were to create a haven, high, in the clouds, with polished wood floors and at least three rooms where we could eat, watch television and play snooker. The reality was not similar, but no less cool. We started off by gathering a few breeze blocks from a forgotten section of my garden and began to saw them so they could fit into the tree, this was an ill advised task as sawing bricks is not the most child-friendly pursuit and bricks don’t really make the best tree house material. However, these bricks made a platform for us to stand on so we could make the tree house a bit higher up. My family were chucking out an old futon, so we used the planks of wood from that to make a level floor (quite) high up in the tree. Of course, the older and cleverer boys were the ring leaders in this whole task, and they were the ones who worked out the logistics and architectural dimensions. After weeks of labouring, we had a floor which was sit-on able and it was up in the tree! It was super cool! We made a rope ladder out of some rope (funny that) and an old broom handle. And there it was! Out very own tree ‘thing’. Not quite the mansion I was expecting, but something nevertheless. We used the T.D.S. monetary fund to pay for some posh varnish and we were convinced that this meant it could survive all weather. Many an afternoon was spent sitting up there, looking into other people’s gardens, feeling tall and almost falling out and breaking one’s leg. My Dad even started to use it as a quiet place where he would read.

By now, the tree house is no more, the varnish was not as good as we thought it would be, and the planks soon rotted off (with some help from my vandalish little brothers).

The elderberry tree also produced much fun and joy for us in other ways. One of our other missions (not sure if it was pre or post T.D.S.) was to make and sell elderberry wine. The tree was full of berries, so all we needed to do was pick them, press them and earn millions! We spent a long afternoon picking and picking and picking. We filled a massive black bin bag full of elderberries. Before we could do anything with them, it was home time for my friends. I kept the bag outside the house, ready for the next day when we would sort out the planned wine making session. I woke up early the next day and I have this vivid memory of sticking my head into the bag, and thousands of flies swarming around my face. Our plan had soured rather, so our stint in the wine making business was short-lived.

I must not dismay, my life is far from over! I’m sure that one day, I will find time in my adult life to be a wine making, tree house building, rope-swinging detective. And twenty pence a week can buy a lot if you think about it!

“I didn’t ask for your life story.” #7 – Grandma

It surprises me really, that after doing this blog for almost a year now; looking back I can find no reference to a lady who despite not being around since 1999, had a great effect on my life.

  • Mornings

I’d wander down the green carpeted stairs, running my fingers along the textured wallpaper. It was early, and I would assume I was the only one awake. I’d push open the living room door only to find Grandma, sat on the sofa in her bright pink dressing gown, up before everyone; reading her Bible.

I’d watch her put on her makeup, the best bit was when she’d draw her eyebrows on, Dad said they’d disappeared in an operation and never grown back.

She had curlers in her light brown hair, which was always immaculate, once the curlers were out; I loved placing my hand softly on her head and bouncing it up and down gently, as if I was touching a cloud.

Time for breakfast. The only time we ever had those mini Kelloggs variety packs was round at Grandma’s . The first few days Coco Pops, Frosties and Ricicles would be eaten, then we were left with the strange ones like Corn Pops and those Loopy Loop things.

Sometimes I’d have honey on toast, Grandma would say, “Don’t tell Granfer you’ve eaten his honey!”

“Who’s been eating my honey?” Granfer would shout from the kitchen, to which I would giggle and grin cheekily.

  • Food

Food was always great in Cwmbran, and the best of all the food was jelly.

It was kept in their special fridge, which wasn’t a normal fridge because it was camouflaged. The fridge was with covered with a wooden door to match the drawers and cupboards. I’d never seen a wooden fridge before then, and never have since.

The jelly was strawberry red and was set in small silver bowls. Often, if I found a moment when no one was around, I’d sneak into the kitchen and open the fridge to see if Grandma had made us jelly this time, I never once remember finding a fridge bereft of wibbly wobbly delight.

  • Outdoors

One sunny afternoon me and Grandma went round the garden collecting snails. Every one we found we placed on the huge rock which sat on the left side, next to Granfer’s shed. Then we raced them and watched them make silvery trails all over the place.

I also loved the garden because of all the amazing ornaments and models scattered throughout; fisherman gnomes, frogs, squirrels and rabbits.

  • Indoors

If it was rainy outside we got to watch a video, the video. A wonderful recorded selection of cartoons from a lost age. Betty Boop, Felix the Cat and Popeye the Sailor.

The house was full of novelty toys which held an endless fascination for my young mind. I loved playing with a clockwork globe which played music as it slowly rotated.

The ornaments weren’t only in the garden, there were also plenty inside. There was a glass cabinet of crystal animals, which I loved staring at, but wasn’t allowed to touch.

There was a china model of a lady in a yellow dress dancing the flamenco, and my personal favourite; a model of an old grumpy Grandad, ironing his trousers.

She was the only person I’d ever known to have a musical doorbell, which played an assortment of nursery rhyme melodies when pressed.

At Christmas time, the house was sprinkled with cards and tinsel, but no tree. “Our house is too little for a Christmas tree.” She explained.

So they had a model of Father Christmas whose head would move from side to side as his arms flowed to the tune of carols played softly, he held a candle in his right hand that lit up and lit down continually.

  • Presents

December was always my favourite time of year, as it also held my birthday.

She’d plonk the bulky Argos catalogue in my lap and tell me to choose whatever I wanted. Limitless opportunities for imagination sat in those hours, in which I’d wonder what it would be like to have all the things I saw.

One Christmas, all the grandchildren got remote control cars. I being the oldest boy got the biggest and the best one of the bunch. A monster truck with flames painted on its side. It drove faster than anything and knocked down everything that got in its way.

remote control car control

  • Time to go home

When it was time to go home I could never quite believe it, I always had to stop myself from crying at the disbelief that time had gone so fast.

Before we left, Grandma would reach into her magic pot and pull out a packet of refreshers for me and my brother. This gesture always made the journey a lot easier.

She would give my Mum some pocket money for us. 50 pence a week for every grandchild, which adds up after a while. I just hoped we had enough to buy some more jelly.

“I didn’t ask for your life story.” #4 – Foil

(BTW I know I haven’t blogged for at least a week which is never a good thing. I have been keeping myself busy with an interview or two, an 80th birthday party, a concert and other things.)

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Today I’m going to write shortly about foil. Why? Because I can.

  • Often, but not always, school packed lunch sandwiches were wrapped in foil. I always had ham and ketchup in my sarnies, if you’re interested. I liked it when they were wrapped in that beautiful thin sheet of aluminium, because that meant after eating I could fashion a sword/dagger out of it. I would pretend I was Robin Hood or Peter Pan or just a cool guy with a shiny knife.

  • Foil is also good when you’re bored, especially if you’ve got a Kit Kat handy. Firstly take off the bright red paper cover, then you are left with a foil covered block of chocolate. I would press down the foil on the top so you can see the imprint of where it says “Have a break / Have a Kit Kat”. Sometimes I would press my fingernail into the middle groove and rip the foil down the middle and snap at this point, but that wasn’t really my scene. I usually tried not to rip the foil as I slowly undressed my chocolate, then laid the foil out flat. Now obviously the joy of a Kit Kat is in the eating:
  1. Snap it in half.
  2. Bite the chocolate off each end.
  3. Now the hard & messy bit. Nibble off the chocolate from the sides and the top, until you are left with two bits of wafer.
  4. Go round everyone in your class shouting “Look! Look what I done!”

  • Running your fingernail across the foil, until it becomes all flat and creaseless, is also very satisfying.
  • I remember the 1998 Blue Peter ‘New Future Appeal’ for Schools in Mozambique. One had to collect all sorts of aluminium, cans and foil and stuff; that was cool.

Talking of Blue Peter appeals, I remember back in 1996 when they did the ‘LEPRA Leprosy: Brazil & India Appeal’, I had a Bring & Buy Sale in my garden. I felt really important.

Check out that totaliser!

I really liked Stuart Miles, he was cool.

  • Has anyone had that thing when you put some foil in your mouth (for some stupid reason) and if you have fillings (for some stupid reason) you get the strangest tingling sensation in your jaw. Very strange.
  • Foil was introduced to Chocolate Advent Calenders about halfway through my childhood, it used to be a thing only the expensive ones had, like an extra gimmick which meant you had to pay an extra quid for it. They all have it now.

That’s about all I got. This is quite interesting: