8. If I had, say, ten million pounds, I would go to Leeds and buy back the house in West Park that my grandparents used to own. They sold it in the mid ’90s to move to a much smaller property. It seemed like a mansion, though its grandeur was homely rather than intimidating. I’d never been in a house with a drawing room before. When we went up to visit during the holidays we would enter through the back door, opening on to the kitchen, adjacent to the pantry above which was one of those boards with little pink stars that would move side to side when you rang the bell in another room. I didn’t appreciate just how grand this was at the time; it was like coming home. There was an expansive lawn for playing football and running around, and in summer we would get out the paddling pool with that heady plasticky aroma. Nowadays, one sniff of the cover of any Oxford Medical Handbook and I’m back in Leeds. (We all think of smell as a sense we could manage without if pressed, but think of what we would miss.) There was also an attic with many treasures to explore, perhaps relics from my mother’s childhood, the blackboard and chalk, the child’s musical chair that played a tune when you sat down on it, my uncle’s unloved Yamaha PortaSound PSS-270 keyboard, which we appropriated (with his permission) and still use from time to time. I once found a pile of old copies of the Beano in the garage, which I spent the whole afternoon reading. I recall orange barley water in a tinted blue plastic cup, and by the back door the black metal box with the dial to say how many pints of milk you wanted. It sounds like a childhood from the 1950s, but it was only twenty years ago. I’ve never loved any place as much as I did that house. Somewhere there exists a video I made on Grandpa’s camcorder, a farewell tour of the house made shortly before they moved out. It would be foolish to go back, I dare say. I remember walking past another forsaken childhood home and being horrified that the new inhabitants had made changes to it.
9. At primary school I had problems concentrating. Nothing like ADHD, just occasional boredom and daydreaming. The teacher would be telling us what to do for the next hour or so, then I would suddenly become conscious of the bustle of the classroom, indicating that the task had begun, and would realise I hadn’t taken in a word of what had been said. Too embarrassed to ask my classmates what we were supposed to be doing, I would attempt to deduce the nature of the work from their actions without losing face.
10. A month or so ago I saw a respected academic walking in the street, someone I like and am always pleased to see. He was wearing a pair of shoes that still had a price sticker attached to one of the soles, visible as he walked. These people are human and fallible like the rest of us, their lives as pathetic.
11. In Cambridge, as, I presume, in the rest of the UK, new sets of traffic lights are being planted every week. These new models have red and green men pictured not up ahead but on the panel incorporating the push button (which apparently makes them puffin rather than pelican crossings). I don’t trust them, and neither do you. Firstly, the red and green men should be in the line of sight, not down there by the hand. Evidently the government is trying to breed a race of mutant stooping automatons (Govoids, I call them). But the real objection is the abruptness with which the red, amber and green traffic lights change. With the old lights, it took maybe a quarter of a second for an amber light to change to a green, with a small overlap. Now, the change is instantaneous. It betrays the robotic nature of the traffic light. We like an illusion of humanity to be maintained in the electronic devices we encounter each day. I think some of the new ones are being adapted in order to make them seem more human. One day, returning from work, I found myself waiting to cross the road with two small children who were arguing about which of them was the red man and which the green.
[to be continued]