Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Friday, 14 October 2011

To Put Away Childish Things #30

I received an email recently from a friend who asked in passing if I
remember Coterill's. Now if you were brought up in the same,
relatively small town, that I was brought up in and if you are of a
similar age to me, then you certainly do remember this small toy shop
that was on the left as you head up the high street.
Nostalgia always colours our memories and when it's nostalgia for such
a long time ago the memories are likely to be almost completely wrong
but this is how I recall the shop. To begin with it was small and
anything that you remember from your childhood as being small probably
was, because most things look bigger when you are six. It was also
filled with toys which included all the ones that I have mentioned
before in this series. Football games, Mechano, Lego, Airfix kits –
everything. I recall particularly that when I started making Airfix
models I would build them, then study the colour chart and hurry off
to Coterill's to check if he had the required enamels in those tiny
metal pots (it was never as much fun when they started to replace them
with larger plastic pots). Then I would go home and paint the airplane
or tank or car – or, more likely, as I mentioned in an earlier piece
– historical figure. There was a vast range of colours to choose from
and at one time or another I probably went through most of them.

None of which is what really gave me a sense of dewy-eyed
reminiscence. No, what I really remember is balsa wood. In addition to
making Airfix models, where all the hard work is done before you get
your hands on them and all you do is glue and paint, I also went
through a phase of making balsa wood models. Mostly they were
buildings for my model railway but there were other things – vehicles,
spaceships : that kind of thing. Of course the thing about making that
kind of model is that you do all the work yourself with craft knives
(balsa is very soft and easy to cut), miniature saws and so on and to
do that you need the raw material, the wood. Coterill's sold packs of
balsa. They were assorted packs in random sizes. There were flat
sheets, lumpy blocks, pieces a foot long and a quarter inch square in
cross section, dowelling rods: a full range of mixed off-cuts and you
never knew what you would get. Of course you could pay the extra and
get exactly what you were looking for but I always went for the packs.
Then I cut them up and made them into models which were probably
terrible. The same paint used for the Airfix was used for these more
hand-crafted models.

It was a brief phase, I'm not an especially practical adult and I
wasn't a very practical child, and, until I was reminded of it by the
mention of Coterill's, I had forgotten it completely. Even now that
it's all come flooding back I can't accurately recall what the models
were of, or what they were like but I remember going into the shop and
buying that balsa. I remember the feel of it and the smell of it. I
remember cutting into it with a very sharp craft knife. I remember
prising the lids from those tiny paint tins – and how much harder it
was once they had been opened and resealed, stuck together with dried
enamel. I remember the white wood glue that dried into lumpy runs
around the joins and had to be scraped away with a blade. I remember
the smell of the paint and how I would keep on touching it to find out
if it was dry yet, leaving sticky fingerprints that needed to be
painted over.

If I don't remember the actual models then it really doesn't matter.
Nostalgia isn't about truth or even about normal memory. It's about
sense memory and I have remembered all of the sensations of doing it.
That's more than enough.