Monday, 24 August 2009

A lifetime of object relations..

The Science Museum and Natural History Museum sit side by side. Whichever you access first will eat your afternoon with no problem.

In the Science Museum I found the following evocations of my childhood. These objects are the ones that form a framework for my memory and to find them all within a day was spooky.

My first spade. A little more yellow in the mix as I recall, otherwise, as evocative for me as 'Rosebud' was for Charles Foster Kane. I return to the image of this small, useless artifact at least a dozen times a year. And can remember times between then and now when I have recalled it's smell and feel. It bounces from year to year.. keeping my recollections sequential at least.

Two cases further along, this early ancestor of Lego...

Bayko. Here is a link to the endless Bayko enthusiasts sites.. Don't miss Nerd's corner and its tireless descriptions of brick tile preference that identify the (now adult) builder as an 'Upper' or a 'Downer'... I guess the construction of accurate representations of post war semi detached housing kept them away from the alternatives..

I consider myself fortunate to have escaped Bayko with my life or, at very least, my sight. The construction of these frustratingly well engineered Terry and June's required an afternoon inserting steel rods with acupuncture like precision into small holes in a Bakelite base. These would provide the framework and foundation for walls and ceiling tiles. By the time the right spacing and depth of fixing had been achieved, it was teatime. TV beckoned. Best leave that there then, on the floor. I'll get back to it later. There it sat, thirty or so steel pins sticking up from a dark green base... my baby brother learning to walk... Yark!

A little later, I began my lifetime struggle with arithmetic. If only I could have taken this with me. The wooden rods that so logically illustrated the relationships between numbers made more sense to me than writing them down. Still do really..

I came to see numbers as colours and even formed a construct about the ways the Cuisenaire rods related to Monopoly money.

In the system, there are 10 rods measuring 1 cm to 10 cm. Rods of equal length are assigned the same colour. Most Cuisenaire rods follow this system:

This system, in tandem with small class and good teaching in a small school, enthused me. Topology started here. But it was effectively paused here when I failed to see eye to eye with the future Lord of Ardbrecknish in double maths. An apparent inability to convey the beauty of numbers without frustration and my failure to understand without illustration met head on. Thank goodness I wasn't spared the coloured rods at least. He went on to choose Black Rod I think.

At this time, I was required to remember one number only.

I remember it still. Along with the 'Write on wipe off' pull-out drawer you could scribble numbers on with fingernails. Available now for how much?

In 1960, the 'phone bill would be checked with something far more immediately mysterious than Cuisenaire..

Operated with a small rod, (is a pattern emerging here?) the numbers were assigned a hole in a perforated strip that nudged the next along when carrying forward. Very effective and neat. And as close to a pocket computer I could imagine at the time. It fitted in my father's inside pocket 'till they went out of fashion. It then went rearwards and was sat on frequently. I remember at least one calculation left undone due to the inability of operator to move the perforations on.

Nothing changes...

Because, outwith the cockpits of Supercar and Fireball XL5, computers were a far off dream. Cut away diagrams in the Eagle and the delicious fantasy of TV Century 21 magazine promised that we would all be carrying them in the future. Ferranti et al were trying their best I thought and were offering regular updates on their new business and technical difference engines. I was delighted to find that I recalled the shape and feeling of wonder that this evinced in me as a boy.

All Two Kilobytes of it! Astonishing then for it's sophisticated Deco lines and promise of brain challenging mathematical gymnastics. Astonishing now because of it's size in comparison to it's power. My analogue watch has a regulating processor that outstrips this leviathan by many powers and I am considering giving it away and buying a new one.

Turning the corner, I came upon this distant memory (in print) of a machine from 1937. The Children's Encyclopedia (by Arthur Mee) told of the 'Wonders of the atom' and it's use in healing the pale and loathe to thrive through Gamma, Beta, X and Theta rays. These had been singled out by smashing small round balls of electric force into eachother. The resultant grainy evidence garnered from the sputtering splash of force on smoky plates and reproduced for us by Mee.

Cern was a long way off indeed.

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