This is a poem from my youth, read to us as very young children by a teacher in our 1960s classroom. I recall the collection of AA Milne poems ‘When We Were Very Young’ with a blue border in the hands of my teacher as she read to us.
Lines and Squares
Whenever I walk in a London street,
I’m ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, “Bears,
Just look how I’m walking in all the squares!”
And the little bears growl to each other, “He’s mine,
As soon as he’s silly and steps on a line.”
And some of the bigger bears try to pretend
That they came round the corner to look for a friend;
And they try to pretend that nobody cares
Whether you walk on the lines or squares.
But only the sillies believe their talk;
It’s ever so portant how you walk.
And it’s ever so jolly to call out, “Bears,
Just watch me walking in all the squares!”
A A Milne
This poem by Emily Dickinson reminds me of those days in English lessons as a teenager reading things that did not speak to my condition, only to lodge in my brain and come back to me at a time (and an age) when I made sense of it.
That Love Is All There Is
That Love is all there is,
Is all we know of Love;
It is enough, the freight should be
Proportioned to the groove.
The announcement at the weekend of the death of Barry Norman was another sad passing of someone from my early years who played a significant part in building the person I am today; my interests were formed in my teenage years and have strengthened over the years. Barry Norman was on one of the first experts I came across who talked to me about film.
As I remember it, Film 74 was a fortnightly programme broadcast by BBC television on a Sunday night. Each other week, the book programme ‘Read All About It’ was screened. I liked both!
The format was simple but effective. Norman sat in a studio and talked to the camera about the releases of the week and clips were shown. This was enough for me. His comments were cogent and his tastes were mainstream but the idea of someone, who knew more than I did, telling me about something I wanted to know more about was just the sort of thing I needed.
I read in his obituaries that Barry Norman presented the programme from 1972 until 1998. The title of the series made the small adjustment with each new year. I first became aware of it in 1974 and watched until the late 70s when I left for university. The programme became weekly at some stage and, although I still watched occasionally, my time in front of a television diminished and I found other experts on film to turn to.
However, Film… was part of my growing up. It was one of the first places I realised that ‘foreign films’ were worth finding out and, each New Year, his programme of his favourite films of the year was a must see. In essence, this is what made him the very best of critics: he talked about what he liked and why and was unapologetic about the idea that the list was personal. One person, talking to camera- amazing television. They should do that again.
The death this week of Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear, marks another part of my childhood passing away. I loved the books about the bear from Peru who comes to London, where I lived as a boy, as a refugee and who learns how to fit in with the British. The first book was published in 1958 and I read many of them in the 60s. Yet, it was an animated version broadcast by the BBC in the 70s that seared an image of the bear in my mind. With the late great Michael Hordern as the voice of Paddington, the series of short programmes was the definitive interpretation of the stories.
The greatest animation of all time must surely be ‘Paddington Bear Goes to the Movies’ when the young bear performed a version of ‘Singing in the Rain’. Sublime! Thank you Michael Bond.
Paddington swaps Marmalade for Marmite.EMBARGOED TO 0001 THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 13, 2007. Undated Handout of Paddington Bear who swaps his trademark marmalade for a pot of Marmite in a new campaign launched today. Issue date: Wednesday September 12, 2007. He appears in a new TV commercial to publicise the savoury spread following a deal between food giant Unilever, which owns the Marmite brand, and owners of the Paddington copyright. See PA story: CONSUMER Paddington. Photo credit should read: Ben Phillips/PA Wire URN:5129193
This children’s novel by Jill Paton Walsh from 1988 is a wonderful evocation of what it is like to be dislocated as a child. James is new to the Fens, having moved with his parents because of their jobs. He finds himself as the outsider in a village where the children divide themselves neatly into ‘estate’ and ‘village’. As he belongs to neither group, James feels even more alone. It is a good job, then, that the old man next door is so interesting.
Mr Samson, the ‘gaffer’ of the title, is a widower who befriends the young boy providing him with someone to talk to. Such inter-generational friendships may now be threatened but in times past the wisdom of an older person could be passed on. Jill Paton Walsh captures well this friendship across the age gap.
James gets thrown together with Angey, another school outsider. The situation doesn’t help his case for being accepted but, when he goes on a mission for the gaffer, she is a useful ally.
Things come to a head when the gang mentality threatens James and Angey and he finds himself trying to help an ailing Mr Samson while standing up to bullies.
The novel explores themes of belonging, bullying, age and facing death all within a story of a boy in a village in the East of England. The book won the prestigious Smarties Prize and should, by now, qualify for classic status. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
Reading about the recent death of Adam West who played the Batman of my childhood made me reflect on the fact that the images of our formative years remain with us, despite later re-boots. Therefore, whenever anyone mentions Batman it is the image of the television series from the mid- 60s that comes to mind.
I was of an age that took these things very seriously so I did not, at the time, recognise any of the features that were later described as ‘camp’. I did not realise that the series was from another country, they spoke English after all. To me, it was all worth my attention and belief. I identified more with Robin than Batman, possibly because he was younger and I was a child.
I gave all the later films a miss. I grew away from Batman and superheroes generally but the truth is that the mid-60s television version remained with me and, when I heard the sad news about Adam West, there were all the images and references from childhood just waiting to return. Batman, Robin, the Joker, the Riddler and the Penguin were all there (but in black and white- this was British television, 60s style!)
This novel by Stephen Kelman is told in the engaging voice of Harrison, a boy from Ghana, in London to start a new life with his mother and sister (another sister and his father are still in Africa but hoping to come to Britain). The world as seen by an eleven year old in a new country is fascinating, especially as he tries to negotiate social conventions and the pecking order of school boys.
This is London, though, where knife crime is a big problem; already a teenage boy has been killed and Harri sees himself as the detective who can solve the crime. This makes him watchful and alert to those around him. His older sister’s choice of friends is not wise and this brings her and Harri closer to some unsavoury characters.
The world of children trying to be both tougher than they should be and more worldly wise is effectively evoked. Harri’s voice carries us through the story, observing the world and making sense of it. His optimism is infectious, especially his hope that his younger sister and father will soon arrive and they will all be united. This is the background for a further, dramatic event that non-plussed me and left me feeling sad about all the Harris in the world.