Saturday Matinees Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Saturday Matinees

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When I was a boy, the patterns of life were less complex. The orbits of everyday life were more easily charted. It could be said, for example, that on Saturday grownups went shopping. It could also be said that their kids - all of them - went to the Saturday Matinée.

It is a fact (or so it seemed) that every child in our neighbourhood was herded to the cinema every Saturday morning, there to be kept safe and entertained until mum and dad got back from the shops. The cinema, far from resembling a nursery school or daycare centre, was actually a dimly lit concentration camp with a movie screen at one end.

We all loved the Matinées, not so much for the films we saw (I can hardly remember them), than for the sheer bloody bedlam caused by crowding a thousand snotty urchins into a room and turning the lights off.

The films were an odd assortment of cartoons, cowboys, and spacemen serials. We saw Superman, The Lone Ranger, and a host of others that, in retrospect, all seem the same. They were shown at such a desperate pace that, even if we were interested, it would have been difficult to tell when one ended and the next began. The projectionists, all retired riflemen from the Zulu Wars, staked their reputations, if not their lives, on keeping us pinned to our seats.

I can, perhaps, just recall the odd chase or gunfight, Red Indian or Spaceman. Woody Woodpecker? Who knows? What really stands out, as clear as yesterday, is children flying through the air, fighting, screaming, running around like wild things. Sweets (Maltesers were best) ripping the air like tracer bullets. The ushers sweeping their torches back and forth over our heads, shouting threats like prison guards, desperately trying to restore order and hauling bodily the occasional child to who knew where.

How long it lasted, I have no idea: an hour, two, six? Time seemed to work to different rules. But eventually we were restored to our parents or the streets, normal kids again, some tired, some torn, seven days from the next Matinée.

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