“There's no limit to what he can do. He could destroy the earth... If anything should happen to me you must go to Gort, you must say these words, "Klaatu barada nikto", please repeat that.”
I was going to write tonight about my boyhood obsession with robots, particularly with Gort - “Klaatu barada nikto” - it’s a phrase originating from the 1951 science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Klaatu is the name of the humanoid alien in the film - Gort is his robot. The line above is spoken by Klaatu in the film as a warning. I was going to use it to introduce the three wind-up toy robots I have on my shelf in the cellar and how I’m thinking of getting more - searching boot sales, scouring e-bay - until I have another of my collections.
I’ve mentioned before that I like to collect. You know I do, I’m currently making you endure snow globes, but I haven’t started a new collection for years and clockwork robots (of which I used to have many) seem like the right thing at this time – a link to my past, back to my childhood, back to when my world was still.
I spent tonight in the town of my birth with my parents and my uncle Bob and auntie Mu. Muriel, the youngest of my mum’s sisters and Bob her soldier husband, have lived and remained in Thame their whole lives whilst my immediate family have scattered to the winds like so much sand blown out-and-away from a badly made sandcastle. Thame is the place where I was born. It’s a nice town, pretty, changing but not changed at all. It’s the place where I learnt about growing and (I realise now too late) feel at my most comfortable. It has a feeling of home, familiarity, almost like it’s been standing still for me.
I haven’t returned much over the years, no more than a half a dozen times – a school reunion, a party, a few fleeting visits often ‘under cover’ without announcement - simply returning to my old memories on my own, a fleeting, incognito, drive through my past, looking for who I was or might have been.
"Klaatu barada nikto." There is no limit to what I might have done I tell myself. Yes, but you’ve reached your limit my other self replies – if only I could make my world stand still again.
Last night the memories flowed and fell from me, the laughter, shared recollection, misremembered disagreement, fun and follies - all welcome as I remembered my ‘back thens’. And as I sat in the Falcon, a pleasant pub and the only one that I’d not been in before, drinking beer in front of the open fire it struck me - how did I get so far from home?
Sometimes I think I’ve travelled far, come a long way, progressed, even reached for some stars and almost touched them. But most of the time I don’t. How did I get so far from home?
I have a robot upon my shelf. He has a key and if you wind him he moves robotically forward a step at a time. He clumps along with a whir, forwards, forwards, forwards, mechanically plodding on. There is no limit to what he might do - at least until his key winds down and he stops.
Perhaps he should go home.
Klaatu barada nicto…