The book of names
Once, in 1973, my father called me into his study. Such occasions were always momentous during my childhood. Not least because my father's study was located fifty seven miles away from our house, on the top of a mountain. It took me two days to get there on my space hopper. Of course, in those days, we could never afford a real space hopper, but we were always ready to improvise. Mine was made from a large beach ball, with the face painted on using Tippex. I did the glasses and the moustache myself and I was very proud of it. The handles were made from toilet rolls. People today, in our post-Calvinist instant-pizza society, forget what it was like to have to make do. But I don't. Having to bounce 57 miles to a mountain on a beach ball tends to make one remember things like that.
Of course, I couldn't make it all the way by space hopper. They're not very good for scaling ravines. And mountain climbing can be fun, as I repeatedly told myself, while hauling myself from precipice to precipice using nothing but common sense and a couple of toothpicks. George Mallory1 was once asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. He famously answered 'Because it's there'. And of course, the only sensible reply to that is ' Yes, but why do you want to climb it?'. But everyone seems to have been satisfied with his first answer. Which is odd, since all the other mountains hadn't disappeared or anything.
And, while we are on the subject2, it seems that Edmund Hillary's side kick, Sherpa Tensing, was so named because he was, in fact, really Tense. He was worried about everything, apparently. All the way up Everest, he kept asking ' Here, Ed, are you sure we didn't leave the gas on?' and 'Here, Ed, are we there yet?' and 'Here, Ed, what would happen if one of us slipped, you know? I mean, we would fall for ages and ages, and eventually turn into a huge snowball, and come thundering out of the foothills and maybe destroy a small village or something, and what would happen then? Do you think they would still accept our 50% off cards at the mountaineers society?'. Of course, Edmund found this behaviour unacceptable, and he warned Tensing that if he didn't shut up, he would take back his cape and mask.
So, I eventually made it to the study, and after entering in my security clearance codes, I presented myself before my father. He was seated at his desk, reading some papers. He wore a grave expression. Eventually, he motioned for me to sit, and stood up.
'Son', he said, ' I have some rather serious intelligence to report from the Isle of Cuba. It seems that American reconnaisance planes have discovered the presence of Russian missile bases on the Island, and that America is threatening war with her neighbouring superpower. This could affect all our lives son, all of them, and soon...'
I said nothing. I just sat and nodded. I had discovered that this was the best approach to take with my father's announcements. Especially since the Cuban missile crisis had happened in 19693 and it was now 1973. But he still said the same thing every time I came to the study. I assumed that it was some kind of test. After a while, he went to his bureau and produced a balloon from the drawer. He blew it up until it got as big as possible and then burst it. Then he asked me to imagine that multiplied by a billion billion balloons, and said that was what an atomic bomb was like. This was absurd, of course. It is impossible to imagine so many balloons all at once. Still, I felt I had to indulge him, as he might buy me a new space hopper one day.
After a while, he fell into a kind of silence, and read the newspaper for a bit. Then he said:
' Son, do you want to know why I called you here today?'
'No' I replied, truthfully.
'Well, I want to talk to you about names. Names are very important.'
' Yes, indeed, Dad. Well, can I go now? '
' I mean ', he went on, ' Take the fashion genius Tommy Hilfiger. Imagine he had been called Benny Hilfiger. Then everyone wearing his clothes would have been running around at twice their normal speed, being chased by scantily clad ladies, while inane saxaphone music wailed on in the background. Is this the kind of society we want for our children? Or our pets? '
' Good point Dad. Well, time is pushing on... '
' Or what about Herymonious Bosch4. Imagine he had been called George Bosch. Imagine, 'The Garden of Earthly Delights', except this time it is full of McDonalds restaurants and camels and donuts. Could anyone bare to live in such a world? I bet that Colin Powell would insist on adding a big smiley face too. And that would just ruin it, wouldn't it son? '
' Mmmmm, so anyway, burnt anything interesting on a huge fire recently, Dad? '
' Or what about Wolfman Amadeus Mozart, or Alfred Pitchfork, or Yehudi Bedhouin, or Spliff Richard or Cliff Pilchard or even Bobby Davro... '
I could see he was raving now. He seemed to be lost in his own little world. I waited patiently for a few moments until he finally waved me away and returned again to his beloved newspaper. Then I quietly let myself out of the study, and slipped away to my own little mountain named 'the future'.