Saturday, April 26, 2008

wyverns, dryads, some clowns, and a trio of war vets

At first I had the clear idea that this blog was a record of 'past and future memories'. It would be a passive dip-in-dip-out cache of my musings. Imperceptibly at the time, things gradually began to change. The blog has taken on an existence of its own, demanding to be fed, and, weirdly, almost creating its own content. This may sound far-fetched, and it is too early on a wet Sunday morning as I first write this, but the rock-fall of childhood brief encounters that follows here was palpably encouraged by the blog...

a wyvern on a Leicester roofWyverns were common in the Leicester of my childhood - they were all over the place, from the city's omnipresent coat of arms, on buildings, the names of businesses, cars, a pub, a school even. It still seems odd to be so celebratory about a creature so associated with war and pestilence (both rather significant for large parts of the last few thousand years) should have been re-invented apparently to symbolise power. As a child, they were just dragons. I was uncaring whether they had two or four legs, or whether they came from Rome, Wessex or Lancaster. All dragons are dragons.

Leicester's fantasies continued with The Dryad, which was a wonderful crafts company not a demure wood nymph secreted in an oak in nearby Charnwood. The Dryad prevails even though I wasn't involved in the crafts as it supplied all the schools with all their art and crafts needs. And while I hated going shopping, except for food and at Christmas, I positively loved The Beehive - a Silver Street fabrics and millinery store that had a wonderful overhead cash railway system.

a screen-shot of BBC's testcard FI have a nagging feeling that I may have been introduced to Nicolai Poliakoff (aka Coco the Clown). Least I am certain that I was once in enforced close proximity to him. No, it was nothing against the man behind the mask, or in his case, the feet inside the size 58 shoes, it was just that I had a slight fear of clowns. While I suppose I thought that Coco was funny as he was the butt of all the jokes, it was the Whiteface straight-man he worked with that disturbed me most. The haughty demeanour, the white face and neck, the extraordinary hermaphroditic costume, the dreadful white leggings and shoes, the saxaphone and the white cone-shaped hat were just too much for the young me. Children are supposed to like clowns, aren't they? Well, no. It seems that coulrophobia is quite common - many children were disturbed by Bubbles the Clown who featured on this BBC's testcard for 30 years...

Whereas much to the concern of whoever was walking me through town on an unrewarding shopping expedition, I was fascinated by a trio of old men who 'performed' in most weathers by the side entrance to Lewis’s, Leicester's largest department store. I have a feeling that they may have been war veterans as their performance was so, well, unimpressive, and society wasn’t given to tolerate ‘begging’ at the time. Indeed, many houses had signs on their gates, ‘no hawkers, circulars or fakirs’ though we always seemed to buy onions from the man with the stripy shirt and beret who came all the way from France on a bicycle each autumn... Whatever, one very scrawny man wearing a white vest would occasionally lift a dumbbell; another, who may have been an amputee, would simply move up and down by flexing his knees; while the third, seated and wearing a suit, played snatches on a glistening ornate accordion. I so wanted to hear a complete tune. They all worked out of sync and had an other-worldly look of circusness about them.

Then there was Brucciani's ice cream sodas... Meraviglioso!

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