I was five when I received the best present ever. Even though I was Jewish, Santa Claus himself handed it to me, on a P&O channel crossing from Calais to London, after the mandatory awkward knee sitting business as my parents looked on.
Thinking back on it now, I know that they gave the gifts to the boat’s so-called “Santa” but, back then, I was naively oblivious. I thanked him profusely and walked away with a reassuringly chunky box, covered in shiny red paper, tied with a gold ribbon. I shook it a little to figure out what it was before ripping the paper off.
In those days, though, I didn’t just like ripping the paper off my own presents, I ripped the paper off everyone elses presents too, and it’s more than likely that I attacked my sister’s package before I even got round to opening my own.
No matter, because both boxes contained the same, jaw dropping, magical gift.
A Sony Walkman.
It was red. And back then I think it probably measured the length of my elbow to my wrist. It had four buttons. Stop. Play. Rewind. Fast Forward. When you slid the catch on the side, the tape deck popped open just wide enough to slide in a cassette. And somehow, though I couldn’t figure out how, it could decode the cryptic code I imagined invisibly emblazoned on the brown tape reeling round and round. I remember thinking there could not possibly be a more wondrous present in the whole wide world.
The ear muff-like, ill-fitting earphones that came with it slotted neatly into the audio jack, the four large AA batteries sat snugly in their little pouch on the walkman’s underbelly. It was a feat of engineering beauty, and I spent many an hour poking my finger round inside it to try and figure it all out.
I can’t remember what the first tape I played in it was. Back then I was obsessed with “Storyteller” audio books, so it’s highly probable it was one of those, though I later graduated to an eclectic selection of home recorded ABBA/Jason Donovan/Grease mix tapes, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and every James Bond book ever set to audio.
Sometimes if I fast forwarded too impatiently, or rewound with too much vigor, the tape inside the cassette would get tangled and I’d have to pop the machine open, grab a pencil and –slowly, carefully—unravel. In extreme cases, there was nothing to be done and I’d have to snip the tape, salvage what I could, and cellotape it neatly back together before feeding it back into the mouth of my shiny red pet.
Click for next page >>