Written very late with gravel eyes and tired fingers and mind, expect crazed errors.
Staring upwards on the up escalator into Euston station, I caught sight of something that almost broke my heart. An escaped helium Santa Claus, now trapped on the station ceiling, beyond a giant’s reach. I was tired enough to experience a pang of melancholy, that tiredness that can make cheap ballads potent, where even the most clearly factory made lyric can somehow become personal, when Another Level become Auden (I have no idea what that means really).
I have an annoying emotional recall for childhood traumas. I am slapped by empathy when I think of the child whose day had been topped by being given a Santa Claus balloon and, in the rush for the train, a momentary loss of grip and concentration, had meant it would be lost forever. Perhaps I should have been more moved by the pointless waste of helium, an element becoming increasingly sparse on this planet with our desire to use up all our resources for cheap novelty and hasty gratification, but that’s not what first came to mind.
I thought of that horror of childhood where any mislaid toy or broken figurine seems to mean that life will never be the same again. Our emotional range is limited then, the joy is gigantic, the misery is eternal (I say ‘then’). It is soon forgotten, but in those moments of pain, it is everything and your life becomes nothing. It is the speed that giddy happiness can switch to despair. Running along with my son, on the way back from a fireworks display, he is excited by his imagined double light sabre. The glee as he charges ahead, miming his battle with Darth Maul or some Boba I’ve never heard of, the camaraderie of playing games with your dad, then the sudden fall and slide on your knees, the viciousness of the pavement, the shock and the tears. It is all so fast. The tears seem so round. How terrible are the knees? A bump to the head too. The hug and the carrying into the light. The grazes revealed, the rationalising begins, and soon, all is happy.
“it’s alright isn’t it”
“yes, it’s alright”
“we were silly weren’t we”
“yes, of course we were, we nearly always are”
“Can I watch the hairy biker on Strictly?”
“Okay, just for ten minutes. To help the healing process”
We recently recorded an episode of the Infinite Monkey cage about time, and I think of the slowest that time can pass. I can think of few loner seconds than when you can see an imminent accident with your child. The slowness of your heart when you think they have not noticed the road ahead of them as they scoot down the pavement.
The worst one I recall was waving through the letterbox after a few days away at my excited son, and seeing him dancing backwards to the top of the stairs. The crashing sound, my fingers going into a pointless overdrive of clumsiness attempting to turn the lock, the boy no longer dancing, but screaming at the bottom of the stairs. I was surplus to requirement as my wife took over and gave me that look that said, “did you never see all those 1970s public information films warning you of the melodramatic consequences of waving at a toddler through a letterbox?”
I did all I could, walked to the garage to pick up an ice cream to do the confectionery test. Will something cold, sugary and delicious be a cure for the shock, if the pain persists even when a Fab is present, then medical assistance would be required. Fortunately, he was still at that malleable age.
Ice cream placebo effective.
I think of my childhood days when all was lost. That cocksure confidence and failure of foresight that goes with the adventuresome mind of children.
“don’t take your new toy pistol on the walk, you’ll lose it”
“no I won’t. No such thing could happen. I have wracked my imagination and that scenario does not even exist”
An hour later, scouring the thick clods of a ploughed field for lost toy parts, the sadness of a new toy ruined, the fury of father, the stomach pain of failure because you were told this would happened but your stupid brain had failed to offer you all the possibilities.
The relief to be older now, to know the consequences, to never make such mistakes again or feel such sharp pain and frustration when things go awry or flap about pointlessly looking for someone or something else to blame, if only.
Ross Noble, Billy Bragg, Ben Goldacre are just 3 of the 25 acts joining Brian Cox and I on 12th December at our Compendium of Reason. Tickets HERE (tip top secret guests will be there)
Plus final year of Nine Lessons and carols for Godless people, great big heap of guests there too HERE
New show on the human brain comes to Bristol, Sheffield, Norwich, Nottingham and plenty more HERE