writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Tag Archives: Zanzibar

The Tank in the Attic: letting go of a literary career (and the stamps from Zanzibar)

It being a warmish, but not outstandingly sunny, day off yesterday, I decided to do a bit more de-cluttering of our loft. Main target was this Scorpion Tank, although collateral damage included several cardboard boxes I’d thrown up there ‘just in case,’ and my childhood stamp collection.

Before I get onto the tank and its occupants, a word on the stamp collection, which I plan to take to a shop in Edinburgh and, in all likelihood, sell for sweeties. I don’t ever recall being that interested in philately – it was just a thing you did as a kid back then, in those distant late Sixties/early Seventies days, and parents, their friends, and older siblings, all sent or gave you stamps because it was a thing you gave a kid back then. For example, I have a total of three first day covers of the Forth Road Bridge opening in 1964 (I was precisely two years old at the time).

Of course, it’s not the tattered and inexpertly steamed-off stamps themselves which are of interest. One of the FRB envelopes contains the invite to my Mum and Dad to attend the opening ceremony: it even has a plan of which stand they were to sit in to view (no doubt with appropriate decorum) Her Maj driving over the newly-opened Bridge. A couple of years ago, I was at the closing dinner of the Bridge Board, which was the first time I realised that Mum and Dad had been at the opening ceremony, fifty years before.

It was my sister who told me that, and she also features amongst the givers of stamps, with a postcard from Salzburg dated 1972, when I would’ve been 9 and she 17. Neither of these are going to any stamp shop!

Anyway, that tank. Why the hell had I kept it, and its two occupants? I originally had four Action Men, but the other two seem to have disappeared. Maybe they hooked up with a couple of Barbie Dolls and headed down the highway: or maybe they’ll crawl out from behind some other stuff up there when I’m trying to clear it properly in preparation for moving house.

Well, I’m not completely infantile – the rest of my childhood toys disappeared long ago: but the tank, and at least one of the surviving Action Men, held special significance for me. It was my first, and, possibly, greatest value literary prize.

Around the same time I got that postcard from my sister on her trip to Salzburg, there was a competition run by Smiths crisps for a story about Action Men. I wrote something (long lost) which, to my surprise, won first prize: the tank, two Action Men, a bunch of clothes and weapons: you can imagine the effect on an impressionable kid! I always cite a trip to a writing course at Hebden Bridge when I was 16 as the start of my desire to write: but actually, winning that damn tank was probably the moment when I realised that putting words in the right order could bring you stuff you wanted.

Well, many years later, towards the close of a (reasonably) lucrative career putting lawyerly words in the right order, and a much less lucrative one as fiction, non-fiction, poetry and now song writer, it was time to let go. The tank, the ice boots, sten guns, grenades, dynamite, and other accessories of war that came with it, are in the plastic and metal recycling bin, awaiting melting down. It would be nice to think they’ll get made into a plastic and metal ploughshare, but that’s probably not going to happen.

And the Action Men? Okay, okay, I didn’t have the heart to stick them, butt naked and alone, into the green bin. I mean, these soldiers have been through a lot for me back in the day, as the paraplegic nature of the bearded one testifies.

Those damn parachutes never did open.

































Adverts right down here please. Or I’ll set my Action Men on you.