New man meets the X-files

13th June 1997 at 01:00
Few people really believe in the "new man" concept. When my wife broke her ankle two years ago, female relatives rallied round and did the housework for her. All of it. For a month I did not have to pick up an iron or duster, despite having proved that I could keep the place in order when morning, afternoon and evening sickness laid my better half low.

When Kathleen took our daughter Claire to London for a few days leaving two-year-old Andrew and me at home, offers of help came generously from both sets of grandparents. I thus found myself in the rare position of having a few hours absolutely free.

Having made my piece (sandwiches to you east of Scotland types), I took the back road to Biggar, cut cross country to Broughton and headed down the Moffat road. Try this yourself if you have a good car and reasonable nerves. On reaching Tweedsmuir, take a left along the "unsuitable for coaches and caravans" (it means it) road to Talla reservoir. The single-track road hugs the side of a steep, glaciated valley that has been dammed and flooded.

Wind down the window. Switch off the radio. Only your engine disturbs the peace. In some places the water is flat calm. At others it is rippled by a breeze that is not quite strong enough to shift the low cloud. As you reach the far end you notice a scar in the hillside as if an enormous hand wielding an enormous knife has scored it in one abrupt movement diagonally from top to bottom. This is the road you are about to take. Don't, unless you are prepared to reverse down a twisty one-in-five gradient. Passing places are few. It is worth it, especially when you drop down by the Megget Water en route to St Mary's Loch.

I did not meet anything head-on when I made the trip but I passed a car in a lay-by. It was a 1962 Morris Minor in flat green. Perhaps it was the mist or maybe I watch too many episodes of the X-Files, but I began to fantasise. What if I was in a time warp?

There were no signs that it was still 1997. Supposing I descended to discover that it was still the age of leaving school at 15, of selection at secondary age, of the belt. Would I be able to handle calling pupils "boy"? (There would be no girls in my physics classes.) Where would I get a gown? I pictured row upon row of fresh-faced teenagers, each looking like the lad on the Tunnock's Caramel Wafer box, respectfully copying notes from the board.

On a good day I would haul out some brass and polished wood apparatus to demonstrate unconvincingly that capacitance varied with area of overlap. Come Friday afternoon, in the last 10 minutes, I would astonish them with science fiction-like speculation on pocket computers, flights to the moon and microwave chips. If the pupils were largely non-certificate, I might astonish my fellow members of staff with science fiction-like speculation on non-addictive anti-depressants.

As I descended from the saddle that separates the Talla and Megget valleys, I spotted a Y-registered Volvo. At least the time warp was partially reversed. I was now in the era of Munn and Dunning (hey guys, remember them?). No belt, pilot Standard grade courses and intimations of the landing of the first Scotvec module in schools.

I pulled into a car park beside the Megget and flicked on Radio Scotland. The programme was about the Internet. A 1996 Rover 400 drove past. I can't say I was sorry to find myself back in the present. What place was there for a new man in 1962?

Gregor Steele laments the passing of the Banda machine.

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