Book: Century 21 (1968) Project Sword. London: Century 21 Publishing and City Magazines Ltd.
Given to me by my Uncle and Aunt, Denham, Middlesex, Christmas Eve 1968.
- Hardback with slightly stubbed corners
- Spine still (surprisingly) intact
- A cover designed to captivate the heart of a small boy
- Thick, slightly rough cartridge-paper pages that make the sound of thunder when you turn them
- Smells of the future and bedtimes and hot water-bottles
- Original price marked on inside front page: 12/6d (or 62.5 New Pence)
- Filled with memories and excitement and snows of distant winters
Family Christmases had a European flavour to them. Each Christmas Eve my mother's brother and sister (with their families) would meet up and give out our gifts. In some ways, this was better even than Christmas; it was like having Christmas with the knowledge that Christmas was still to come. Best of all my uncle worked in publishing with Gerry Anderson's TV Century 21 and that meant, a brand new annual each Christmas filled with colour and energy and the mysteries that had something to do with television. We did not have a television and so there was an aura of mystique about the books we would be getting. The glossy hardboard covers and the lavish primary colour also gave them an air of extravagance - like a glass of pineapple juice or finding your very own box of chocolate fingers at the bottom of your Christmas pillowcase.
The white Christmas of 1968 is tattooed upon my memories as the archetype of all Christmases. It was how Christmas should be (and now never will be again). I can remember walking up our garden path in that muffled stillness of a snowy night, half asleep, clutching this book with my other presents (soaps and sweets and forgotten toys). Soft rolling drifts of snow glowed blue under a crystal night. It was to be the first year that I knew what was meant by the phrase, 'took your breath away.' It was how snow flared with tiny colours; a rainbow of pixie lamps in the wash of our kitchen light. It is the first year I recall my hands burning with cold from playing in the snow, of repeatedly falling on the hallway floorboards because of the impacted snow under my wellingtons, of being aware of the future... and being electrified by it.
It was the Christmas that Apollo 8 orbited the moon. I watched it on my aunt and uncle's (the same one who gave me this book) new colour television. It was before anyone had landed on the moon, but the impossible was reachable. I fell in love with science - the words, the beauty of formulae, the worlds it disclosed. I ached to be an astronaut.
I had not heard of 'Project Sword'(an attempt at a spin-off by Century 21), but was instantly captivated. Commander Bill Janson (a photo of my uncle was used in the annual for his 'data file') was my hero and I faced the playground walking in his shoes. I was fast thinking, I was compassionate and strong. I was a man to whom men looked in times of crisis.
It is only on re-reading them as an adult that I can identify a disturbingly dark subtext in the comic strip stories that is so utterly at odds with my philosophy on life. It seems strange and out of step with even the values of those times; a sinister conservatism that views all outside 'the system' with suspicion and violence. My eight year old eyes were totally unaware of it. The future of my universe was much bigger than that.
Perhaps, just as the world seemed to lose nerve while teetering on the edge of a future that held no barriers, it is fitting that I should find cracks and the shadows of adults' nightmares in the book that inspired me so much and made me look up in wonder at the moon on those lost snowy nights.
The stories may have lost their thrill, but the memories still fire in me an enthusiasm that goes beyond simple nostalgia. An awkward friend perhaps, but a friend nonetheless.