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Letter From America: Matt's Cloak Of Invisibility

Ronnie Bray tells how his son Matt, then aged 11, invented a Cloak of Invisibility to magic away the objects in his littered bedroom.

For more of Ronnie's good-humoured columns click on Letter From America in the menu on this page. Read also chapters of his autobiography, A Shout From The Attic.

Long before JK Rowling invented a Cloak of Invisibility for her eponymous hero, Harry Potter, my son, Matt Bray, had one of his own. It was nothing special and in no way resembled the loose academic gown used as a barrier between their small clothes and the vast clouds of chalk dust generated by eccentric board-scribbling academics.

Matt’s Cloak of Invisibility was made of an archaic woollen blanket. Oh well, I might as well come clean. It ’was’ an archaic woollen blanket, unmodified in any way except as to its use, and that employment was hatched in the desperate shark-infested waters of my son’s need for a swift solution to a pressing problem that did not involve any real work and took only the merest amount of physical activity.

It came about as most inventions do out of necessity, it being said to be inventions maternal parent. Matt and I, together with Inky the cat, were living at Roundway in Honley, and ancient textile village built on an eminence that rises up from the River Holme in Yorkshire in a pleasing two-bedroom house that we rented from the corporation.

My bedroom was hardly what could accurately be described as tidy, but a casual glance could tell that there was an effort to keep it mostly under control and in some semblance of good order. Mat’s bedroom was another kettle of fish. However, if he changed his socks regularly and as regularly washed his feet, the fishy smell did not disturb the tranquillity of unsuspecting visitors.

I tried to set a good example, and tutor Matt in tidiness, but something in his genes made that difficult for him, as it had for me for the greater part of my life. For it to apply to the lesser part of my life I figure I will have to live to be at least ninety-five. Matt suffered little in the way of normal childhood illnesses, which is, I believe, due in no small part to the antibiotic effect of his early foot odour, and so it was with a little reluctance that I invested in a pair of Odour-Eaters for his long-suffering shoes, and my long-suffering nose. The Odour-Eaters brought immediate and permanent relief which is a tribute to the inventor of the shoe-borne miracle and must surely put him in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize.

One Saturday morning I felt it was time for Matt, then aged eleven, to tackle his bedroom and tidy up all his stuff. Not only did Matt have a lot of stuff, but, like his father, he was unable to let go of anything or throw out what was obviously of no further interest. He was an avid collector, but not out of volition. Rather he collected and hoarded instinctually, having a powerful emotional investment in his objets d’musée.

“Time to tidy, Matt,” I said in a paternal tone, adding, “I’ll inspect it in an hour’s time.”

“OK, Dad,” said Matt somewhat resignedly, being faced with a task he found not only unpleasant but also life-interrupting. He disappeared upstairs and I switched on the amplifier, strapped on my guitar, opened the window, and introduced Honey in general and the top end of Roundway in particular to the joys of Country Music sung by a Yorkshireman in an assumed Texan twang. “Everybody’s going out and having fun … “

Three songs later, a face thrust itself in the window. It was my neighbour from five doors down. That the face was smiling I took as a good sign. He was the Concert Secretary of Honley Workingmen’s Club, and he signed me up on the spot for a poorly paid but welcome performance that very night. The ‘turn’ – we called ourselves ‘artistes’ - they had booked had given backword, and they were in a bind. It wasn’t my first paid performance, but it was among the first few and was very welcome, as was the twenty pounds cash it paid.

When he had gone, I sang on, not noticing the passage of time but knowing that it was a long way from the end of Matt’s prescripted hour, so I was in no hurry to switch off and dash upstairs to see the Elysian Field he would surely forge from Stig’s normative habitat. I was less than halfway through either Handel’s ‘Messiah’ or else Don Gibson’s ‘Sea of Heartache,’ when the room door opened and a smiling Matt informed me that his room was ready. “This is a good day,” I mused. ‘I have been smiled at from the doorway and from the window!” Little things please … never mind!

Unhitching myself from my Gibson SG2000 Taiwanese copy, I glanced at my watch. Less than fifteen minutes had elapsed since he ascended to his errand, and I was nonplussed. Had he really effected the transmogrification of his sleeping quarters in such a short time? He was an avid Dr Who fan and so perhaps he had invoked the talents of the Time Lord to do something with the warp factor of the second storey of number 144 Roundway without the lower storey being affected! “One should,” I muttered to myself as I took the stairs two at a time, “Never underestimate the power of a genuine Time Lord.”

Matt was ahead of me, and standing in the corridor he swung his bedroom door open wide to show his handiwork. I stepped inside and was amazed to actually see his bedside rug and the linoleum, that only minutes before had been a foot deep in comics and other arcane possessions that illuminate, inform, and fashion boyhood. My amazement was short lived.

Matt had single-handedly and without the aid of either science of alchemy invented the Cloak of Darkness, and this was his ‘Wand o’ Majik,’ so to speak, in the transformation of his room from the dump it had been into a place fit for the most fastidious and finicky bacteriophobe since the long thin one played by Tony Randall in the Odd Couple. But – his invention didn’t work!

True to his long and sincerely held principle that if a thing is worth doing, then someone else ought to do it, Matt had shovelled the content of his floor into the corner between his wardrobe and the window and thrown the Cloke over it, hoping, no doubt, that the ancient and time-honoured principle of ‘If you can’t see it, then it isn’t there’ would become effective and that somehow the blanket-covered heap would escape detection by his ‘miss-nowt’ Dad. It didn’t.

Although his Majik Cloak did not achieve its intended effect, it did reduce me to a helpless heap of laughter in the floor, and anything that can transform a stern disciplinarian into a totally diverted shaking jelly must have some kind of innate power as yet unknown to the scientific community. I forgot the chore, Matt marked up a triumph, and we went arms-around-shoulders together to celebrate with fish and chips.

Copyright © 2006 Ronnie Bray


I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.
~Albert Einstein


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