Tuesday, May 12, 2020

It’s a Classic

One day, while I was still in single-digits, somewhere around 6 or 7, I went exploring in my parent’s bedroom closet. This was because I was young, unsupervised, and very bored (there was no Netflix back then; explain it to the youngsters). At any rate, I dug through the shoes and boots, and crawled beyond the bags of cast-off clothes, into the far, darkest reaches, and discovered an old cardboard box filled with what looked like magazines.

Now, in a normal house, this would have been my dad’s porn stash, which would have solved the boredom problem until my mom caught me. Instead, it was a treasure trove of old Classics Illustrated Comics, which held my fascination for many years.

This was one of my favorites!
There were dozens in the box, and from them I gleaned a knowledge of literature I otherwise could never have attained, even if my mom had had the original books.

First of all, I wouldn’t have voluntarily picked up a volume of Great Expectations, other than to use it as a weight for pressing leaves. (Explain it to the youngsters.) Secondly, the vividly colored panels, and the actions and dialog they conveyed, brought the stories to life in a way the stilted prose of the past couldn’t hope to.

What a story! And, even now, I'm not sure
I could conquer the actual book
They were old and dogeared when I found them, and by the time I lost track of them—somewhere in my late teens—the covers were falling off, the pages were cello-taped together and every volume was worn from having been read time and time again. It is because of this serendipitous find that I am able to hold my own in a conversation about Moby Dick or Lorna Doone or King Solomon’s Mines. And even when I am not trying to fool my fellow, ersatz literary snobs (they didn’t read the books either; they just read the Cliff Notes) the knowledge they conveyed remains.

Another favorite!
In addition to classic novels, there were also comics about science and nature. I recall one that purported to show how atomic power was our friend but was, in retrospect, little more than laughably ham-fisted propaganda. Others, however, contained things like dinosaurs and information about space, the universe and everything.

Yes, I even read Gothe (pronounced Go' theee)
They also proved useful as I progressed through school, enabling me to write reports on notable books I hadn’t actually read. (This is not really an impressive feat; who among us hasn’t turned in a book report based solely on the blurb printed on the dust jacket?)

How and when I allowed these comics to slip from my grasp I cannot say, all I can say is I have regretted not keeping them, repairing them, and cherishing them. I supposed it was due to an error in my thinking (which I still suffer from) that everything remains the same. I just thought, if I wanted them again, I could find them somewhere.

Nothing like a bit of Shakespeare when you're eight and a half.
Alas, one cannot. (Unless you are prepared to source expensive collector's items, but that’s another issue.)

Desiring to give my own children a taste of this literary magic, I ordered a full set of Classics Illustrated comics for them, but they were a shadow of their former selves. Gone were the glossy covers and lively interior artwork. The ‘New’ Classics Illustrated were booklets of uninspiring line drawings. My children gave them no more than a passing glance, and I didn’t blame them. In researching this article, I found that you cannot buy them at all anymore, not in any meaningful form. More’s the pity.

This is what they looked like inside.
If I had the chance to turn back time, I would visit my eleven-year-old self and tell him to treat the comics with care. I would urge him to protect them, and to keep them in a more secure container than my dad’s old cardboard box so that, in future years, his own children might benefit, and that he also might retain some cherished memories of his youth.

Scary stuff!
Then I’d tell him to not buy a Betamax. (Explain it to the youngsters.)

Monday, May 4, 2020

Quarantine Quandaries

To start off, I have to say that,  if someone put a gun to my head and forced me to pick a period in my life where I had to suffer through a global pandemic, this would be the perfect time to choose.

Neither my wife nor I have jobs, so we don’t have to worry about losing them, yet we’re still young enough to escape being put on the “Vulnerable” list. We don’t have anyone depending on us, we’re not dependent on anyone else and we’re not stuck in a one-bedroom, inner-city flat with three kids we need to home-school while worrying about how we’re going to pay the rent. Quite the contrary; our days consist of a refreshing walk around our lovely town park followed by a range of indoor interests to keep us occupied (now, now, I’m talking about arts and crafts), and very few worries.

The sudden halt of social interaction, retail activity and travel plans was a bit of a shock, but on the upside, we’re saving a lot of money and, incredibly, losing weight. So, swings and roundabouts, as they say here.

(To explain the previous paragraph: Pre-COVID, our walk in the park always ended at a café and generally included a nose around the shops. Tea in the café wasn’t a problem, but, gee, those triple-chocolate muffins look good and, bingo…there goes the diet. Likewise, forays into shops—even when we didn’t go in to buy anything—rarely saw us emerge empty-handed. I hasten to add that none of this was a problem: treating oneself is what makes life worth living, and we were content knowing that we were helping the UK economy chug along. Now, however, when we go for our daily walk, I have to wonder about all the stuff we used to buy, and what we did with it.)

In short, quarantine isn’t as much of a hardship for us as it is for many, many others, and we are pretty much okay with it.

Pretty much.

Contented we may be, but we are now starting week seven of our Lockdown (Your Lockdown May Vary), and things are beginning to pinch around the edges. Consequently, an issue arose. The problem was our hobbies or, more specifically, my wife’s hobbies.

Unlike me and my writing, my wife’s hobbies take up room. Early on, she did a lot of knitting while seated on the sofa watching telly. This worked until she ran out of wool, so she has recently attempted to do some sewing, which has reminded her why the sewing machine she got some years ago has since been collecting dust: there is no place to use it.

Sewing requires space, and the ability to leave a project as it is and come back to it later, which takes the dining table out of the running. With nowhere else to put it, the sewing machine continued to collect dust. Likewise, art, which, in addition to being messy, requires a permanent and more spacious area than one end of the coffee table.

And this brought us back to the unassailable fact that we live in a tiny flat.

Now, we have, in the past, been able to “find” space using a variety of clever methods, but this was a big ask, and we had already wrung as much hidden space out of this rabbit hutch as was humanly possible. More, in fact. But, undaunted, we put our minds to it, hoping, once again, for a triumph of will over physics.

And we found some. Quite a lot, as it turns out.

The second bedroom, which is too small to raise veal in, is where I have my office. We tried to shoehorn a second desk in here when we moved in but abandoned the idea and, instead, I built a storage unit, so my wife at least had a place for her stuff. Most of it, anyway.

Wife's side of the Office

My Side
 But now she wanted a place to call her own. Fortunately, when I built the storage unit, I made it modular, so we were able to dismantle it and re-stack it, like a set of Tetris blocks, into a storage unit that contained a two-foot by three and a half-foot, flat, and pleasingly desk-like, area.

Same amount of storage space, but with a desk.
It looks the perfect solution, and makes me wonder what other bits of space I’ve overlooked. I’m in no hurry to search for any, though. I just hope we get released before my wife decides she needs a walk-in wardrobe.