Though it’s easy and tempting to look back upon the innocence and simplicity of childhood, where every day was summer and spent climbing apple trees, with the fuzzy glasses of nostalgia, the reality is that at these unpolished and raw young years life could swing from the greatest of highs to the greatest of lows. The wild euphoria of running around with a ball was only matched by the crashing devastation when a fellow infant reduced you to tears by rudely taking the ball away from you. As years go on, it is easy to forget the extremes of emotion encountered daily, before the severity of adult existence crushed the spirit and reduced living to a finite middle ground of unwavering grey.
Fear is something that is still experienced in adulthood, like a headache ranging from a dull background throb to excruciating and immediate headsplitter. But it usually has some basis in reality, if perhaps not always entirely rational, such as the fear of the unknown (dark, future, death). As a child, though it’s easy to quickly forget, fear of the unknown can come at many different angles, since there is so much that is unknown.
Which is why, perhaps, as a young child I was afraid of a mouse with three heads.
Many years ago, when I was perhaps five or six, I watched some very odd cartoon which featured a mouse with three heads. My memory of a cartoon watched about 25 years ago is obviously pretty vague, though that I remember it at all is testament to its impact, but I seemed to recall it being somewhat of an evil mouse, and it appeared from a hole in the room and did evil stuff. It was magical, as three-headed mice surely are. There was also something about a king in there.
As a child, this three-headed mouse tormented my night-times. I would lie in bed, frozen in a mortal fear, looking at the corner of my room, convinced a three-headed magical mouse would appear at any moment and cause all sorts of horror. It was a particularly pointy-faced three-headed mouse, its cartoon roots making it no less sinister: it was no Mickey or Jerry. For a period of months (though surely not years) this awful mouse cast a bad spell upon the night, threatening to appear from a sudden mousehole at any moment. No wonder I often slept with the light on.
Years on and into adulthood, and no longer afraid of three-headed mice, it has occurred to me at time to wonder what the cartoon I saw actually was. How reliable is a 25-year-old memory? All I knew was there was an evil three-headed mouse, maybe a king, and the cartoon was definitely very weird and so therefore probably Eastern European. And so, what else to turn to but Google?
And there we have it. After a combination of searches for three-headed mice, kings, cartoons, and Eastern European animation, I found it: Schelkunchik, Щелкунчик , or The Nutcracker. With Wikipedia giving a nice little summary of this Russian gem, I found that it was also on Youtube, and so have been able to watch it again for the first time in two-and-a-half decades and relive my old nightmares. Animated to the sound of Tchaicovsky, it has definite shades of Fantasia, but in a freakish way that only Communist cartoons can manage. For those who can’t be bothered with 26-minutes of Soviet animation, here’s a little summary.
It’s Christmas and a fat royal boy gets a present, a nutcracker (in the form of a soldier). He quickly discards it for something else, and then a poor girl starts sweeping the room and dancing with her broom. She notices the Nutcracker. Then the scene is a big royal throne room with king, queen and baby prince, receiving presents in a ceremony. Suddenly, gnawing its way through the floor, a large evil three-headed mouse appears and starts to cause all sorts of trouble. It’s a queen mouse, and has a three-headed baby mouse son under her cloak. The queen mouse is about to kill everyone but the king pours poison on her, she explodes, and her tails lands on the baby prince, turning him into a nutcracker, and turning the rest of the room, people and entire palace into ice.
Then we’re back with the poor girl. The three-headed mouse (the son, grown up) appears from a mousehole in the corner of the room with lots of mice minions and attack the girl. But the nutcracker comes to life, summons all the Christmas tree baubles and they all have a big battle. Just as the three-headed mouse is about to kill the nutcracker, the girl throws her clog and hits the mouse, making him and all his minions explode. Then the nutcracker turns into a somewhat gay-looking prince, the poor girl turns into a beautiful princess, and they dance for ages as the ice kingdom comes back to life.
So there we have it, my childhood nightmare in a nutshell, nutcracked, and with having confronted my fears, my nightmares can fade. And with the Soviet Empire crumbled and our only threat coming from a ragtag bundle of warriors in the mountains of Afghanistan, perhaps all our fears can be eased: the Islamic militants don’t seem to go much in the way of cartoon making.
Bye Bye Belt
Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed in my last entry, about pole-dancing, something extra on the pole aside from erotic dancers. This was in fact my belt.
Just before pole dancing mania began, there was an incident. It had been waiting to happen for the week prior. My belt was on its last legs, as I first noticed when whipping it off for airport security. One of the notches, very worn, had ripped to the outside, thus leaving just a rather sickly, twisted belt in its place. Eventually, it could no longer take the strain, and broke. Bye bye belt.
This was no normal belt, you must be aware. I’ve worn this belt for likely ten years now, maybe more. This belt travelled and was part of my day during every trousered moment of travelling in 2001. It faithfully stuck by me during every respectable moment of two years in Korea. And the last four years, it has jet-setted around the globe in search of oil, and very patiently tolerating my expanding waist. It’s been with me since belt setting “2” all the way to the frightening belt setting “6” (but only after large meals, honestly). But finally, like a faithful old dog, over-service broke it in two. However, I feel that by tying it to a pole-dancing pole, where it has been left, it at least has the chance of a new life.
The sudden lack of belt also means that I am beltless for the remainder of this trip. Fortunately I am not dieting, and so my belly is successfully keeping my trousers in place.
Since I last left you, in the strip club guesthouse, there have been a few changes. Mostly, myself and the Mountie are no longer living in such questionable accommodation. Instead we have been dismissed from the secure compound and banished back to the badlands of Port Harcourt, and to French “Novotel”. No escape from the French, it seems. This, overall, is an unfortunate move, as the compound had a tennis court and many other delights, even that of space to walk, whereas the Novotel has merely a table tennis table and really nothing else to offer. Sure, it has a bar, but the beers cost three times that of the compound, and a whisky costs £7!
The upside, I think, is that for now all work is over. There’s been a bit, but mostly I’m done until going offshore, perhaps next week. For visa reasons, it is easier to keep me in the country until my whole two or three days offshore, even though I’m not doing anything.
The Mountie and I have done our best to keep ourselves entertained. Last Sunday, to celebrate cessation of hard work, we drank champagne and smoked cigars. We felt awfully sophisticated. We tried this again last night, except without the champagne and with some whisky instead. It would have gone fine, but it was a different type of cigar we tried – “Romeo & Juliet” – and the difference was significant. After finishing it, both of us (and the Mountie is a regular smoker), found ourselves in a state of utter weakness. Light-headed and exhausted, and with a good few drinks down us already, we agreed to call it a night. It was 9.30pm. I don’t recommend the Romeo & Juliet.
Table tennis, or “bippy-bap” as we call it, has otherwise occupied us. The table is in a tent in the small Novotel gardens, and as a result is stiflingly warm. After just a few games we are dripping with sweat, and whichever one of us has lost also in a furious huff. Fortunately, I am up in the (best of three) series 6-4.
And 6-4 it will end, for as I speak The Mountie is on his way back to the UK, back to cold weather, and back to freedom, for he has holidays booked. I am left to fend for myself in the Novotel. Until tomorrow, when another colleague, “The Yellow Bunny” makes an appearance. I don’t know if the Yellow Bunny smokes cigars, but I know he doesn’t drink much, so I sincerely hope his bippy-bap skills are honed.