Yesterday, I went back to Narrogin where I spent a lot of my early years, and as I was looking about the town and thinking how little it had actually changed, it occurred to me the place damn well should have changed a little more than it has. It was 50 years ago that we lived there after all. 50 years, my God! How had that happened? We left in at the end of 1964, and it often still feels like it was a few weeks ago.
What has changed, however, was the Narrogin Drive In Theatre, my most special place in the entire town. It has been totally devastated. As a ten year old boy this was my most sacred site, and is still one of the fondest places in my memory.
As I was leaving town I saw it off to take right and for some reason, probably nostalgia, decided to pull in and have a look about. It had been the Melody, I think it was called, but there was no faded sign to remind me, and, in fact, there was now a whole lot of nothing. The entire place looked like Osama had Bin there. The sloped parking spaces, like a sheet of enormous corrugated iron, were completely pot-holed and overgrown with grass, while the white posts, that once held the sound speakers, stuck up just like so many grave markers.
The brick projection box and kiosk looked like they had been just missed by a 747, and there was no evidence of the swings and slide that were once located in front of the screen. Even the huge white screen had been toppled over and now lay forlornly on the ground like a twisted metal blanket. In the booth three solid stands that once held the projectors, and painted in 1960s green paint ,but obviously too heavy to shift, stood empty, waiting , as if by some miracle , for the huge 35 mm Bell and Howells to return with their flickering magic. Huge holes had been kicked in every panel of the building and I noted, with a touch of karma, these were asbestos, so any kick-happy vandals; I’d start watching out for the breathing in a few years. Wouldn’t that be so ironic? And while wearing an oxygen mask on your face, you can’t smell the delicious scent of deep frying Chico Rolls. Or much of anything else, and it will be all your own fault, I’m happy to say.
It was perfect weather, like all of my golden childhood, and as I walked about taking photos, I wondered why it was all so much better then. The scratchy old speakers that you hung on the glass of the car window in reality, probably sounded like a $19.95 K-Mart baby monitor, but I remember the sound of the movies being far, far sweeter than any of that put out by my modern expensive computer sound system, or my stereo CD player with ultra-base.
And the films were better too, to say nothing of the full-blown show that you got at the Melody. As soon as it grew dark it started with advertisements for local businesses like Jeff’s Tyres, the national Anthem ( the British one), than several Loonytoons or Mighty Mouse cartoons, then a serial like The Shadow or the Adventures of Kit Carson, followed a Movietone Newsreel , with that followed by a full-length black n’ white B Grade film noir. After this marathon was Intermission, with ice-creams, then came the Technicolour feature. It being 1964 it could have easily been any of these made that year:
A Fistful of Dollars
Zorba the Greek
My Fair Lady
A Hard Day’s Night
Pink.Panther – Shot on the Dark
or Father Goose with Cary Grant
No wonder I was more often than not mesmerized out of my tiny mind with happiness. I ached to go to the movies every night, but we only went every second Thursday, on pay days.
I stood there feeling just a touch sad (sobbing like a baby, actually) at seeing a favourite part of my childhood laid to waste and looking like the desert in Lawrence of Arabia, but the memories soon came flooding back; of peering over the plastic front seat of my parents’ Morris Major, and not caring that the windscreen wipers could be going full bore, the car misting up, my mother telling me to go to sleep, because, above all, over the baby monitor speaker came a wonderfully cynical Scottish accent:
Q: Now this one I’m particularly keen about. You see the gear lever here? Now, if you take the top off, you will find a little red button. Whatever you do, don’t touch it.
James Bond: Yeah, why not?
Q: Because you’ll release this section of the roof, and engage and then fire the passenger ejector seat. Whish!
James Bond: Ejector seat? You’re joking!
Q: I never joke about my work, 007.
Now, until I find me a script writer with that sense of humour, or such a well developed feeling for adventure, I think I might be destined to stay back in 1964, aged ten. And why the hell not, Miss Moneypenny? Back then people didn’t smash up other folks dream factories and leave them standing out in the sun on perfect days feeling like they had just faced an onslaught of 3,000 Zulu warriors, or an hour and half with Mary Poppins, or had just been fired through the roof of an Aston Martin DB5.