Monday, April 28, 2014

Yellow Box

It sits there in the hallway, daring me to throw it in the bin. But even so split, so withered with damp, so ruddy useless, I know that I can't quite bring myself to do it. It's been in the background of my life for the best part of 45 years, and even with every reason to just chuck it out, there's no way that's going to happen. All this for a cardboard box.

I put it in the recycling bin.

Then next to the recycling bin.

Then leave it lurking in the hall for a day or two.

Then hide it under my bed, but not before writing about a yellow cardboard box and the act of clinging onto one's childhood, at any price, no matter how trivial the cause.

My dad used to bring things home from work. He worked in a hospital and once brought home a large bottle full of (he said) pig's blood, which he poured over strategic parts of the garden. Whether as fertiliser, or some sort of hideous cabalistic rite was never made clear, but it has only just struck me that he carried a gallon of blood down the Fulham Palace Road, seven stops up the Metropolitan line, then onto a stopper train from Paddington at the height of the evening rush hour, and nobody thought it unusual.

I've heard of the concept of "bunce", meaning that anything you can get out of the front gates of your place of work becoming your personal property, but come on...

He brought me a load of empty boxes from the X-Ray department. Big, yellow, with Kodak's unmistakable trademark on the front, they contained film for the hospitals X-Ray machines, and they got through an awful lot. Written in my father's hand on the side of the boxes was a date "31/12/69", which makes them 45 years old now. One of the five boxes – the one that sulks in my hallway - is almost comically large, and once held film for chest X-Rays. It's always been the awkward teenager of the bunch.

They have their own smell.

I used then to store my train set, because they were just the right size for the engines, carriages and track to fit just nicely. I had a Hornby 35-Class loco* and freight cars (which always, and still does, reside in its original box), along with several "best" cars, and a jumble of old engines, coaches and other trucks. A metric shedload of track filled two of the five boxes, along with parts of a bridge, a station and other ephemera of the schoolboy rail enthusiast. An elderly relative, a veteran of the railways, gave me a pukka British Rail hat to top the whole thing off, but that's been lost somewhere along the way, and may well be in a wardrobe somewhere in Cornwall.

The "best" cars are lovely – a set of Hornby-Triang freight cars still in their original boxes. Played with, put back, stored lovingly. Also: Looked up on eBay, worth bugger all, so they were spared in the rampant clear-out that marked my worst days of self-inflicted debt.

I'll admit that the train set hasn't been played with for the best part of thirty-five years. It would be impossible at the moment without further purchases, as the transformer and controller went walkabout in my mid-to-late teens during our experiments with round-the-pole flying – an interesting and potentially painful diversion in electric model-making, where we found that the sum total of all the fun to be derived from flying electric planes round a pole revolved around games of dare that resulted in bruised shins and arses.

The yellow boxes of railway stuff have followed me at a distance for most of my life, along with my Panini Football 78 album (completed thirty-something years later thanks to the magic and expense of eBay), my tin money box (a present from my Northern Ireland-based grandparents after the IRA were kind enough to blow up my annual postal order) and a biscuit tin containing a 1:72 scale Airfix kit of a Russian Mi-24 helicopter (still nowhere nearer completion than it was in 1982 when I abandoned it for computer games).

For the last few years, they've been sulking in my old garage at my old address in Weymouth, before the former Mrs Coleman reminded me that they were now technically her property, and would I mind collecting them the next time I was in the area.

The damp had got to them.

Thankfully, the worst of the damage was to the double-walled PC box into which I had shoved them when we moved to Weymouth in 2002, and I'd never quite got round to unpacking them.

The Best Cars are still in good nick, though the box around one of them is looking a little worse for wear. And I daren't plug anything in, just in case there's a loud pop followed by darkness. But that would mean actually paying for a new controller, and that's not likely to happen.
So, the yellow boxes of my childhood. Four of them fit – along with all the track – inside a shiny new storage chest from B&Q, and the whole thing sits, rather threateningly, on top of a box case in our bedroom. That slightest tremor in the night could bring an avalanche of Hornby 00-Scale train parts raining down on my head, and I can think of no more apt way to go.

But the big Yellow Chest X-Ray box is too big, too damp-eaten and not enough of a box any more to go in the new railway chest. It's split up one side, the lid was lost somewhen in the early seventies, and anything that goes in is pretty likely to fall straight out of the ragged hole in the bottom. It sits on its own, beaten up, glowering and useless, awaiting its inevitable fate at the hands of the bin men next Friday like some ultimately obvious allegory on the fragility of life and the inevitable victory of death.

But, then. But then... Not while I still draw breath.

"Why don't you keep - you know - railway track in it?" Jane suggests.

 I might just do that. Plenty of space under the bed.

* Edited. All these years I thought it was a Class 47. Thanks, Rich


Jill Coleman said...

I haven't seen that for years

I still have the big blue trunk that went to Vancouver and back. It's in my shed full of camping gear

isolator42 said...

Someone get SD a controller & transformer... :)

TRT said...

I have a rather nice collection of H&M controllers stashed under my bed.

TRT said...

And Hi, Jill! *waves*

Rik said...

TRT and Jill, sitting in a tree...

TRT said...

Hi, Rik! *waves*

Anonymous said...

".....It sits on its own, beaten up, glowering and useless, awaiting its inevitable fate at the hands of the bin men next Friday like some ultimately obvious allegory on the fragility of life and the inevitable victory of death....."

I will ensure this is the epitaph that I inscribe on The Tutor's monument.
Together with, 'He died with a startled look on his face as those who embrace the ignorance is bliss construct are wont to appear when they die.'

Jill Coleman?
A trunk that has spent time in Vancouver? The Vancouver on the west coast of the Canadas?
Oh dear!
Burn it!
You're sure to catch B.C. West Coast Obesity!

Rich said...

OCD train-spotter moment - D7063 is a Class 35 'Hymek' Diesel Hydraulic locomotive

Someone is currently try to flog that set on eBay for £119.00 see

WrathofDawn said...

There were lots of boxes that looked like that in our house growing up, too. My dad used to bring home the Kodak X-ray film boxes from the hospital he worked in from the 9 x 10-ish sized films, filled with the sheets of yellow paper that used to be between the film sheets for us to use as drawing paper.

Alistair Coleman said...

Rich: 120 quid? Mine is worth substantially less because its been played with. A lot.

Rich said...

Same problem with all my old toys and stuff - they would be worth a fortune if I'd been a grumpy little sod and not played with them!