Casting light on the past and losing the way in a Routemaster

Exploring my parent’s attic I found a number of old super-8 style cine films (or at any rate, some old film spools with square holes down the side) and it took me a while, but I finally got hold of the right type of projector and I had the chance to see what was locked up in these tin cans since an inch of dust had settled on them.

One night I took the phone off the hook, pulled the curtains tight, and fired up the old projector. The smell of something burning quickly filled the room as the projector reels started whirring, but I just banged a few windows open and decided to risk pressing on with the impromptu film screening. ‘At the first sign of flames I’ll just pull the plug, that should do it’, I muttered to myself. I mutter a lot when tinkering with machines. Pulling the plug when my computer has started burning has stood me in good stead over the years. Plug pulling is the computer nerd’s version of a fighter jet’s ejector seat.

As the projector’s light powered up from candle power to searchlight power the yellow beam revealed the pretty display of dancing dust that always hangs in the air, but usually invisible to the human eye.

Just a few small adjustments and the light was focussed on the living room wall, the film ready to premier. The wall became a bustling city centre scene. Judging from the car designs and clothes, it looked to be some time in the 19…well, I’ll just call it the year 19-when-I-were-young (the words ‘when I were young’ should be imagined with a Yorkshire accent, if you can).

At the centre of the wall I saw a double-decker Routemaster-style bus. The bus was stopped and passengers were getting on and off. Whoever was holding the camera was walking towards the bus (I don’t think the camera would have had a zoom function). The camera was then pointed upwards and I saw a boy looking down from an upstairs window of the bus. He looked down directly at the camera, looking at me from my living room wall.

I didn’t need to see any more of the film. The window was dirty and scratched and my shorts made of itchy material. We had just been to the London museum of big dinosaur skeletons and were on our way home. Or to meet up with my mother. Or was it my grandparents? I can’t remember.

The camera was held by an earnest looking man wearing a suit which must have been out of fashion at least a decade, even in 19-when-I-were-young. The wearer of the suit had not wanted to use the camera that day – no matter how big the dinosaurs had been - but now he had started shooting and pointed the lens firmly at me, as I sat, confused, there on the top deck of the bus.

‘You get on, I’ll get on in a moment,’ he had told me.

I had climbed aboard, hesitantly.

‘Upstairs!’ he snarled. I went up, my itchy shorts rubbing as I mounted each step.

Philip Larkin was right, they really do make you cross, your mum and dad.

And so it had come to be, that I was sitting there, looking at him filming me, down there.

The bus pulled off from the bus stop and drove off my wall. The camera nodded down to the pavement and the picture vanished.

A strange man started walking fast, having just recorded one of his bizarre attempts to get rid of his young son.

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