Thursday, 24 February 2011

I, Spy?

There was brief time in my life when I flirted with the idea of being either a private detective or a spy. This would have been way back in the mid-80s, between the ages of about seven and nine. OK, so maybe it wasn't a serious career choice but it seemed like it might be fun at the time. The reasons for this desire? They were twofold - the Usbourne Detective's Guidebook and The Spy's Handbook.

These weren't just books - they were guides for living. Each had step by step guides on how to be sneaky and spy-like. Cool tips like how to invent your own code and plan out "dead drops" to leave your messages for other agents like the rubbish bin in the local park. How to read tracking signs in footprints and broken flora. How to use mirrors to look round corners. You know, all the standard spy and detective type stuff. Plus the Usbourne book had lots of cool diagrams of exactly how to deploy your various devices for snoopery - showing where to place the mirror over your office door so you could see who was lurking outside and so on and so forth. The pictured detective in the Usbourne book also had the traditional trenchcoat and fedora combination thus making him look shifty and suspicious and therefore cool.

The only problem with this was a problem faced by many seven to nine year olds - there aren't many top secret governmental plans or scandalous illicit affairs knocking about within your circle of friends. the most exciting information that could be imparted via dead drop method would be the arrival of a new consignment of fizzy cola bottles or the acquisition of a new computer game for the Amstrad. None of which particularly made for the promised life of intrigue and espionage that these books were offering.

The closest my friends and I ever came was making secret maps of the playground (cunningly marked out "SECRET MAP" and "TOP SECRET" and "DO NOT OPEN" in large letters to thus ensure that no one would ever have any interest in them). They marked out secret areas we could gather in - although once the maps had been secretly distributed in class and we'd all met up in the designated area, we were kind of at a loss as to what to do next. I'm guessing that we selected another area on the map, arranged to meet up there and then made our individual ways to said area (to begin the whole process again).

This period of clandestine yet mundane activity soon came to end when our teacher discovered me making one of the maps in class instead of paying attention and the secret suddenly became very public. Once revealed, the joy of the secret map was spent and they were created no more.

Still, for a brief time there, a life of subterfuge beckoned. It's probably not a likely option for me now that I've posted about myself on a public blog for the last five years. Ah well, just have to fall back on the other childhood aspiration - hoping science finds a way to turn me into a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It's good to have a plan.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A Budgie Called Dick - Part The Second

It was Nannie that started the whole drinking thing off. She liked a drop of brandy most nights, did Nannie (purely for medicinal purposes, naturally*). Of course, being a bird of a curious nature, Dickie flew over and perched on the arm of her chair to see what goodies might be on offer. Nannie decided that it really could do no harm to gibe the feathered fella a wee nip of the hard stuff. She tilted the glass towards him. He tilted his head quizzically at it (as budgies are wont to do). She murmured some encouragement. He needed very little. In went the head, down came the beak and swiftly flowed the brandy.

The transformation was startling in its Jekyll-and-Hyde-like intensity. The bird was transmogrified into a fluttering dervish, chirping and tweeting his way around the room before landing on the back of Nannie's chair and arguing loudly with the wall for quite some time. It was on a par with the stereotype drunk in a film tripping over a chair and then leaping up with fists held out in a Queensbury-rules-style boxing pose, ready for a fight.

From then onwards, Uncle Dickie was a slave to the demon drink. He would know what time of day it was and pester and clamour at Nannie until his little nip of boozy goodness was provided. OK, it probably wasn't the healthiest way to look after a budgie but he lived to a ripe old age, too, so maybe there's something to this brandy after all. Mind you, we didn't perform an autopsy on him (mainly because only serial killers perform autopsies on their pets) so it;s entirely possible that, at the end, he went of cirrhosis of his tiny budgie liver. Who can say?

After the avian Uncle Dick passed away, Grandad decided not to get another one. I think for him that was the last time he wanted to go through the loss of a pet. Although I am , as previously stated, not one for birds as pets, I have to admit that when i pop round to visit Grandad, the sitting room does tend to seem that little bit too big without the open bird cage in the corner and that frenzied blue presence flapping its way through the air in attempt to steal your crisps.

* Which may well have worked as she lived to the ripe old age of 95.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A Budgie Called Dick - Part The First

Grandad (the retired truck-driving one) didn't always have a budgie. No, initially his relationship to the tiny blue bird of terror was relinquished into his care whenever its owner, Aunt Doll*, went away on holiday. As time marched on, the holidays became more and more frequent and the length of the bird's stay longer and longer. Eventually, the Grandad-based holiday became the norm and the budgie took up permanent residence.

Uncle Dickie (for such was the budgie's name, presumably in honour of the late, great, teeth-rattling braces-pinger) had quite the presence for such a small bird. Personally, I've never been a fan of birds as pets (don't really know why, just find them a bit boring, I guess) but he was a fairly entertaining and I think he helped Grandad to deal with a dark time in his life. My Nana died of cancer when I was about 14 and Grandad was living with my great nan, Nannie. Unfortunately for him, this was his mother-in-law - a woman he'd always hated but felt duty bound to look after for the sake of Nana's memory. One of the main reasons he had no real love for her was that she had lived with the pair of them for their entire married life and had not even allowed holidays on their own - their one concession to time as a couple was a night of ballroom dancing once a week.

So there he was, in a maisonette in Lewisham, living with a woman he couldn't bear. Small wonder then that a small blue flying thing became such a firm companion. To give the bird its due, Uncle Dickie was a fair old character. Allowed to roam free in the sitting room**, he asserted his dominance over the area at every turn.

Having something to eat? Well then, Dickie wanted some of that, thank you very much, going so far as to perch on your hand and attempt to peck at the morsel as you raised it to your mouth. He was particularly fond of salt and vinegar Chipsticks. Having a drink? Yep, he'd have some of that, too, especially if it was of a boozy nature. Unfortunately for all of us, he was an aggressive drunk...

To Be Continued...

* My great aunt Dorothy. She wasn't literally a doll. That would be daft and a little odd. What were you thinking?

** He never ventured out. Even if the sitting room door, he just wouldn't venture beyond the safe confines of his small domain.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Pinging The Braces And Rattling The Teeth - Part The Second

The other favoured game involved the aforementioned dentures. To pestering cries of "rattle your teeth, Uncle Dick, rattle your teeth", he would drop his lower jaw, shift loose those false teeth and let them click, clatter and clack together in his mouth. For a small boy, this was of equal entertainment value as the pinging of the braces and, like the braces game, was usually halted by Aunt Mag's exasperation.

Aunt Mag was definitely a talker. Most of her conversations seemed to be a continuation of previous efforts and the large majority of her opening pronouncements were prefaced by the phrase "Any old 'ow". Also, a talker she may well have been but pronunciation was not one of her strong points...

It was obvious that there were quite a few words which she read but didn't really
hear anyone else come out with on a day to day basis (or, if she did, she didn't connect the two). This would be a source of first bafflement before giving away to amusement for my mother.

For example, upon one of our standard visits (presumably while Bro and I were ensconced in front of the TV and busy shovelling Maltesers into our gobs), Aunt Mag informed Mum that the high street in beautiful downtown Lewisham* had been closed off when she popped in to do her shopping earlier. The reason for said closure?

"Well," said Aunt Mag, "they had one of those bommoxes."

"A what?" asked a perplexed Mother.

"You know, a bommox," reiterated Aunt Mag, obviously confused as to why Mum was failing to grasp and very simple concept.

It was only later on that Mum realised that the high street had been closed due to a bomb hoax. Mind you, at least that also explained why Aunt Mag found it to be "absolute choss"** while she was waiting for the bus.

Aunt Mag also had difficulty in finding the right word to describe exactly what she meant. She knew what she meant and she knew the word she was looking for - it just wasn't necessarily the same word that everyone else used. For example, if she'd bought a new cardie and the material was somewhat more itchy and coarse than she was expecting, it would be said to have been "hesitating" her.

Uncle Dick passed away when I was about seven or so and Aunt Mag a couple of years later. I still think of them whenever I go past the place where their flat used to be. In a slightly odd form of tribute, Uncle Dick was to live on years later in a very different form. The form he was commemorated in? That of a slightly drunken and aggressive blue budgie...

* Definite sarcasm.

** Translation = chaos.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Pinging The Braces And Rattling The Teeth - Part The First

On Pa's side of the family, not only did we grow up with our great grandmother, Nannie (Nana's mum), we also spent a lot of time with our great-great uncle and great-great aunt, Uncle Dick and Aunt Mag. Spending time with family was always important in our house - every Thursday was Nana, Grandad and Nannie (Pa's ma, pa and gran), every Friday was Nana (Nurse Gladys) and, when we were little, Monday or Tuesday was the time to go and visit Aunt Mag and Uncle Dick.

We loved going there for two main reasons. Firstly, we got spoilt rotten (as we did at every other family household). Aunt Mag always had a box of Maltesers waiting for us and maybe of a box Animal Crackers, too. These would be happily consumed in front of episodes of Grandad with Clive Dunn or the dubbed masterpiece that is Monkey ("Aiieee, Tripitaka, it hurts, it hurts!"). The second reason was that Uncle Dick was one of us.
He was a short man to begin with, just a little over five feet tall. Whether this contributed to his affinity with kids, I don't know but it did mean that he was pretty much physically incapable of looking down on us. He wore braces and (as seems to be common on either side of our family) sported a pair of dentures. These two items were a source of endless entertainment not only to Bro and myself but also to Uncle Dick himself (and a source of mild but affectionate exasperation to Aunt Mag).

The braces, then. One or both of us would sit on his knee, making his lap a fairly crowded place being that, as I said earlier, he was not a tall man. The little nod or wink of encouragement would than come from Uncle Dick after a quick glance to check that Aunt Mag wasn't watching. One or both braces would then be grasped in both hands and extended to full elasticity. They would then be released to snap back against the rounded tum of little Uncle Dick to exaggerated cries of "Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!" This was always referred to as "pinging his braces" and always resulted in hilarity on our part. That is until the noise got too much and Aunt Mag would chastise him for encouraging us. Muttering "yes, dear, sorry, dear"s, Uncle Dick would quieten down. At least until he thought she'd forgotten and the little mischievous gleam in his eyes would return and he started nudging us and egging us on...

To Be Continued

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Hi There, You May Remember Me From...

...this very blog which used to be regularly updated in a sporadic fashion, if that isn't a contradiction in terms. You know what I mean, anyway - it went through occasional bursts of consistent updates punctuated by more and more frequent bursts of regular inactivity. Up until about three and a half ago months, that is, when it just kind of stopped completely. No spectacular or devastating life-changing news to reveal as the reason for this prolonged lack of blogginess. Nope, just the usual reasons why these things fall by the wayside - work and personal life become busy, writing inane witterings becomes a luxury. And, once you've stopped, it's very easy to stay stopped.

Procrastination sets up shop and becomes an easy life partner. Tomorrow becomes a temptation that is constantly given in to.
Well, no more. Procrastination is out on its ear and tomorrow begins now. Not actually, obviously, as, once you reach tomorrow, it becomes today and a brand new tomorrow then slots neatly in to take its place but you get the general idea of where I was going with that. Yes, you're right, the word that I'm looking for is "anyway...."

So, where were we when last we met? If I recall correctly (and I do because I've cheated and had a quick look at the last lot of posts - although to be fair I did write them too so that gave me an advantage), I'd been taking some time to tell some tales about my family. My Nana, Nurse Gladys, who took her teeth out on demand and swore at Dynasty; my grandad (Pop's Pop) who used to be a truck-driving man and pilfered pre-pulped books for his grandchildren; and my other grandad (Ma's Pa) who I never knew but has worked his genetic influence on my hairline (the original Baldy Fella).

What's next then? Well, in what TV producers like to call a "throw forward" because they're fond of making up jargon which makes them look both clever and important, here's a brief taste of some potential things to come*:-

- A budgie called Uncle Dick

- Bulgarian near-death experiences

- Braces pinging, false teeth rattling and bommoxes
- The day I nearly got a private screening of Episode III with George Lucas

- Danger! D.I.Y!

- The perils of no-budget film-making

- ...and more besides! **

So, why not pop back in next time? I make no guarantees about when you may receive these bits and bobs but the will is there and where there's a will, there's a beneficiary. Or something.

* The word "potential" is used there as an exercise in arse-covering in case I change my mind and decide to not to write any of these after all.

** Yep, that's all I can think of off the top of the old noggin.