Monday, 10 September 2012

Seeing By Wireless


As a boy, Stan thought he could remember seeing a clown being fired from a cannon at a circus in Hove. He couldn’t recollect, however, witnessing a man flying through the air. At least not one who flew straight through a pair of heavy wooden doors knocking Stan over and causing him to end up in the middle of a busy street. That sort of just didn’t happen in Hastings

Stan lived off this story for years, and he told and retold it so often that people stopped listening.
“That was how I met Logie” Stan would say to everyone and no one in particular.

On the morning we speak of, he had set out intending to go for a constitutional stroll along the older part of town. This was his sanctuary; down here he could scupper and hide by the little fishing boats and let the wind wash away his mother’s ‘inspirational talks’. 

Stan was twenty four years of age, for goodness sake, and since leaving the army had never held down a decent job. The war had been long over and for a man born on the first day of 1900 he was not making a wonderful example of the new dawn. What was going through that stupid head of his? I ask you?
In life, all the best things appear to come when you least expect them, usually followed by the best things hitting you straight in the face - or making you roll out into the street - just the way Stan met Logie, as if you didn’t know. 

Now here’s a question, would Stan have ever known he could be an engineer if he hadn’t met Logie? Just like there must have been another Einstein or Shakespeare out there who, for whatever reason, never got a chance to find out about their own genius. Not that I’m saying Stan was a genius but certainly Logie was one and he knew Stan had his uses. 

After the ‘flying man’ episode and as a way of an apology, Logie took Stan for a drink. As so often happens in these circumstances, they found they actually liked each other’s company. So much so, that when Logie’s landlord stormed into the public house later that day “to find the mad Scottish scientist who had blown up his rented rooms” Stan lied for Logie and told the landlord that his friend “had been taken to hospital that very afternoon and could be at death’s door even as we speak” whereas Logie was actually hiding in the toilet.  Needless to say, the two of them became the greatest of pals.Here was Stan, a man in need of a job and Logie in need of an assistant he could trust. Stanley Addlington was born and bred a Sussex man and proud of it, his friend John Logie Baird, or Logie as he preferred, was from Helensburgh in the West of Scotland.

Now it wouldn’t be so far from the truth to say that Logie was run out of Hastings. Logie and his landlord had an altercation in the street when he demanded recompense for the damage caused by the explosions. Logie reluctantly paid the swine and decided enough was enough, taking his inventions to a set of rooms in London’s Soho.And it was in these modest rooms that John Logie Baird demonstrated the first electro mechanical television.  

Stan would tell you that he was the first face ever to appear on a television screen. He had done it to amuse himself one night when Logie was out. The problem was that since he was the only person in the room at the time, he couldn’t actually see himself on the screen but he did remember burning himself on the lights needed for the camera. When Logie came in the next day and spotted the burns on Stan’s face, he smiled to himself having guessed what his friend had been up to. Unfortunately for Stan, history chose another as the first televised face.

Those London years were the busiest of Stan’s life, forever working on Logie’s latest inventions, sometimes fourteen to sixteen hours a day. Too much work for him to realise how lonely he actually was.

In the spring of 1936, Logie decided to take a trip home to Helensburgh to see the family but due to his deteriorating health Logie asked Stan to drive him up there. This meant that Stan could take the car north and return to collect Logie at the end of the stay. Stan had only been to Scotland once before and that was when Logie transmitted television pictures to the Central Hotel in Glasgow via a telephone line from London. So yes, he would drive him to Helensburgh and then take the car on into the Highlands. 

Whatever made Stan take the Coldharbour road at Inveraray is between him and his maker but turn he did and before long he was staring at a rusty welcoming sign:
‘Coldharbour: The B nniest Place in the West’. 

Coming in from that direction, the village hall was the first real building you would pass. Outside Stan saw a rather pretty girl taking down a notice telling that the library was now open. She disappeared inside the hall and Stan saw this as a reason to stop. 
When he entered, she was packing up the makeshift library into boxes and was apparently doing so without anyone to help her.
“Excuse me” said Stan.
The girl spoke without lifting her head. “If you’re going to tell me there’s a letter ‘O’ missing from our village sign, then I already know. It fell off last week. If you’re here to borrow books, you’re too late and anyway judging by your accent you’re not from these parts.” And on she worked. 
“I just wondered.....I was wondering if you would like to come out with me this evening...for a drink or something, young lady?”
“Did you just call me young lady?” enquired the girl.
“Depends - did you want me to call you ‘young lady’?”
And the beautiful young girl thought about it and decided, yes, she did like it. So that was how Stanley Addlington met Agnes Lily Sorensen, daughter of Peter; the man who sat quietly in rooms. 

Stan decided that this was as much of the Highlands as he wanted to see and found a room at Mrs Edith Huckerby’s bed and breakfast – five shillings and clean sheets.
Mrs Huckerby never told her lodger that she disapproved of Agnes and her demented father but it seemed to Stan that Mrs Huckerby disapproved of everyone. What she needed was a hard kiss on those lips, thought Stan, but decided he wasn’t the man for the job. Although her house smelt of the most delicious baking, Mrs Huckerby, herself, smelt of mothballs, probably one of the reasons why Stan did not feel he was the right man to deliver the kiss. 

Stan and Agnes spent the next Sunday afternoon walking the high hills overlooking Loch Awe – Agnes liked the way Stan called it ‘Lock ah’, in fact she liked many things about Stan. She was twenty two years of age and this was the first time she had ever had these feelings. 

On the following Tuesday ,as usual, Agnes set up the library in the hall but this time there were two differences: Stan was there helping and the rooms were full of the happy sound of laughter, even the sun turned up to shine through the windows.

They set up the books in an ordered fashion, crime was on the left and very popular in Coldharbour, the classics were on the right and the penny romances were in the centre; the latter proving very popular with the women and girls of the village who never stopped dreaming of their knights in shining armour. 

Stan, Agnes’ knight, lifted a small vase out of a tired old box and asked what it was for.
“Ah that’s the suggestions vase, at the end of every session I read what’s been placed in it. Some suggest particular books, some just want to leave a message, some to place some money or to say thanks” said Agnes. 
By the end of the afternoon Stan knew it was time to head back south to Helensburgh and pick up Logie. They intended to stay a night in Glasgow before driving to London and Stan wished with all his heart that Agnes could join him, but he knew about her father and him sitting in a room quietly.
So when Agnes’ back was turned, Stan scrawled a quick note and placed it in the jar, then he kissed her goodbye and promised lovely Agnes that he would return. 

As he was driving away from Loch Awe, he looked at his watch and knew that she would soon read the proposal of marriage he had placed in the vase.Stan was just about to whistle his favourite tune by way of celebration when the car skidded for several yards before tumbling off the road. He was sure he had felt the road shaking just before the accident. As he sat stunned in the automobile, he felt it again, the earth definitely moved. The machine was stuck good and proper and there was no way he could push it out. So Stan set out to walk up the old road that followed the Orchy River to the bridge.

Nothing passed by him that afternoon and it was early evening before he arrived at a small house in Inveronan on the shores of Loch Tulla.An old man answered the door, “There is nothing we can do this evening for your transport young man, but come away inside and we’ll feed and water you”.

In Coldharbour, Agnes was clearing up the mess in the hall. There had been small earthquakes before in the area but this was a bit stronger than usual. Still, she got to work picking up all the bookshelves and the scattered books but Agnes failed to notice the broken vase lying on its side and its contents having spilled out under a wooden desk. 

In the morning, Stan thanked the old couple who fed him well and who asked for nothing in return. He walked the military road across Ba Bridge and into Glencoe, finding a telephone at The Kingshouse and thereby allowing him to notify Logie that he would be delayed.

In the Autumn of 1936, Logie and his team were busier than ever supplying the BBC with their latest television technology to test against other competing systems. Logie’s group were based at The Crystal Palace, a structure moved from Hyde Park to Penge Common in 1851. 

Stan had bought a small house near-by in Sydenham, in the hope that he would hear from Agnes and that she would say yes. It was nearly the end of November and Stan had begun to give up on the idea of a life with Agnes. 

Several days before the Coldharbour hall was to be used for a Saint Andrew’s night party Miss McKelvie, the village hall cleaner, found the contents of the suggestion vase underneath the desk, including Stan’s proposal of marriage. 

So on the night of the 30th of November and instead of dancing in the village hall, Agnes found herself knocking on the door of a house in Sydenham, south east London. She had been reluctant to go as it would mean leaving her mother with a father who sat and said nothing, but her mother told her that sometimes happiness only comes once and that she should catch it before it was too late. 

Stan proposed properly to Agnes that night with the ring he had been keeping safe on a chain around his neck.  It was just as Agnes had accepted Stan’s hand in marriage, that she noticed the redness of the sky. She thought, at first, it was to do with the London lights being so much stronger than those in Coldharbour but when Stan went out into the garden he could smell the smoke, then he heard the clang...clang...clang of the fire engines. 

The Crystal Palace, and all ideas that he and Logie had worked so hard on over the years, was on fire. 

The BBC, in the end, chose another television system just as the country drifted into war. In Hastings, Agnes and Stan got married and had two wonderful years before Agnes moved back to Coldharbour to wait on her knight returning from battle.


bobby stevenson 2012

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