Category Archives: Memories

Small Things

Last week, the area around the Students Union at Sheffield University became littered once more with banners and posters, indicating that student elections were about to take place. It reminded me of something from my past. Something very small, but which changed my life. Something I had long forgotten, but am eternally grateful for.
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Learning Software Development with Microsoft Office

I was recently listening to a JavaScript Jabber podcast featuring Dan Abramov, where he stated that he got into software development because at school he was taught PowerPoint: he loved making animations, and one day discovered the macros that powered those animations. These macros were actually scripts: by changing values within them, Dan could programatically alter the animations.

This reminded me of my own route into the software industry: though WordBASIC (most of you under 40 probably won’t remember WordBASIC: it’s what Word macros were written in before we had Visual Basic for Applications).
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Havannah House

Havannah House garden

This is a photo of the back garden of our squat – Havannah House, on Grove Green Road, Leytonstone (I forget what number we were – 189, I think).

The time I spent here, from 1993 to 94, was probably the happiest of my life.

The garden was knocked together with the one next door – the next door house was "the party house", gutted inside, painted black with flourescent designs. Every other weekend, we would hold a massive party – hundreds of people would fill the party house and the garden. These parties were legendary, and passed into East London history.

At the back of the garden, you can see a rubbish tip. All sorts of stuff was buried in here, and it was quite fun to dig around in on an otherwise dull weekend. I once found an old car in there.

We had some sort of electricity feed, though I don’t think we ever paid for it. The party house had gas nicked from the mains – to have a bath, you had to go out through the garden, into the party house, light the pilot light (and hope that the wind didn’t blow it out), then climb up a ladder to the bathroom and start running your bath. You had to keep checking that the water coming out was hot, because that pilot light was forever blowing out. Sometimes you would have to go up and down that ladder several times while waiting for your bath to fill up.

Our only heating was a portable gas heater. Every few weeks you would have to trek over the road to the shop with your empty cannister, then somehow struggle back the couple-of-hundred yards with a full one.

The window panes were cracked and surrounded by gaps. Huge lorries thundered down the street all night and made the glass rattle. Throughout the winter, a cold breeze blew through the panes. Our room was above the garage/lockup, so it was even colder than the rest of the house. Luchie and Michelle were in the other front room, Marie and Laura in the two back rooms, and Brian lived in the darkened chaos of the downstairs room. The slightly feral Ben camped next door in the semi-derelict party house, where he made some sort of a living fixing old TVs.

One morning, I woke up with my bed shaking. The house directly on the other side of my bedroom wall was being pulled down. By the time I got dressed and went outside, all you could see on the other side of our bedroom wall was a bare wallpapered spot hanging out over empty space.

Havannah House was knocked down late in 1994 to make way for the M11 link road.

Naked Slave-Girls in Chains

One of my earliest memories.

I was watching an old film on TV, alone in the living-room of our old house in Sherland Road, Twickenham. I can have been no more than five years old, the age at which we moved house to Teddington. In which case, I must have been watching on a black-and-white TV: strange, I remember being very conscious of a difference between this film, so obviously black-and-white, and the colour programmes that I normally watched at that time (I vividly remember the Goodies and Banana Splits as having been in colour even though the TV was monochrome. Which probably says more about my memory than about my childhood television set, but perhaps not).

The film moved from 1930s America to ancient Rome: I forget the exact device but I think the heroes stumbled through some sort of time-portal. In Rome, many slave-girls attended their mistress while singing a song “Keep young and beautiful”. I remember the words and melody quite clearly, although I have never heard it again. The slaves were then stripped naked, chained together and sent to stand on a high ledge around a public arena, as human statues. On seeing this, I felt an unfamiliar ecstasy. I felt an urge to get closer to these naked, chained, completely submissive women with skin of warm, soft marble; to somehow become one with them. I had never felt anything like this before. Yet I also felt guilty, wary of anyone else entering the room. And I felt excluded – I yearned to reach inside the TV, to be transported to ancient Rome where the slave-girls would undress just as obligingly for me.

This very early memory has persisted in some kind of glass bubble – I am conscious of having carried it for almost all of my life, and it still seems more vivid than most subsequent memories. Almost every pertinent detail can still be seen and heard, as if it were before me now. And, for many years, I kept on looking for that secret gateway to ancient Rome (Uroconium?) Although I never found it, through the power of the Internet I did find the film’s name, Roman Scandals. A part of me is curious to see it again, but I know that it would be a huge disappointment.

From a little earlier, I have less distinct memories of keeping an imaginary Spanish girl inside an imaginary musical box, which I would only open when I was in bed and certain that Mummy and Daddy had gone downstairs. Then, in the dark, I would open the box carefully inside my head. This moment was the absolute highlight of my day, of my life. The box would light up, the music would play, and I would watch the dark-haired Spanish girl dance. I would get a warm feeling inside me. I was smitten with Spain, with flamenco, and head-over-heels for Spanish girls. I don’t know where this obsession came from, probably a book, or perhaps my Grandparents had recently been to Spain and sent me postcards of dancers. I was four, or perhaps three, at the time.

Drinking Budvar in Bratislava, 1992

I seem to be going through a period of reflection. What with all those little memories that came drifting in the other day… and I just went to the bar and got a bottle of Budvar. Now, I’m no beer connoisseur (gosh, that’s the second time I’ve used that word in 7 postings – I know because I remember it well, one of the few words that I have absolutely no idea how to spell – must resort to the spell-checker every time)… where was I? Oh yeah, I’m no beer connoisseur (3rd time!) and I find it hard enough telling one fizzy lager from another, but there was something about that first mouthful that I took. Suddenly, I was back there, standing on the patio of the Bratislava Economic University (or should that be Ekonomická univerzita v Bratislave)…
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