Sometimes when I visit a school, the gym is festooned with Scrimgeriana, but not this time. What I did see was an old-style multi-bar apparatus folded back against the wall. We'd had one at my school too. When you pulled it out from the wall it became a mini climbing gym, about twenty feet high, with ladders to race up down and swing yourself across, ropes to wriggle on, bars to chin yourself. Did you see The Silence Of The Lambs? The climbing gym looks a bit like Hannibal Lecter's secure cell in the middle of the big room. Anyway, like I said, it was folded away, but I couldn't resist climbing up one of the ladders anyway. My muscles sang with energy. Yup, I still had it. I freed one of the ropes, and overhanded myself down to the gym floor as the kids were filing in.
They were amazed. Look what he can do, they said. From the dust on the bars, I was obviously the first person to use the apparatus in a generation. After my introduction a dozen hands shot up. How did you make that thing work? they asked, over and over.
I explained the gym to them it to them, and they nodded enthusiastically and peppered me with questions. This was obviously more interesting than novels about ravines or noses or blind guys. They must have wondered about the climbing gym for years, sitting there like a dinosaur skeleton in their back yard. I was reminded of the scene in the post-apocalytic Riddley Walker where our hero finds the giant machines and wonders about humankind's past. What they were, he says in wonder, and then, sadly, and what we are. On a more prosaic note I recalled the awe I felt when, as a small boy, I went with my grandpa to a store that sold phonographs, and he, without hesitation, opened the lid, found the crank, wound it up, and placed the needle on the record. How did you make that thing work, grandad? I'd asked.