Ian McMillan: She said: ‘Who does he think he is, Stirling Moss?’

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History is full of big events, of huge earth-shaking moments that changed lives forever and put the earth on a different course; these are the kinds of historical instants that are taught in school and discussed in seminars in universities, but I’d like to raise a glass to those more intimate moments in people’s lives that shape them and the world around them in profound ways and help them to learn lessons about who they are and their place in the world. Real history, I reckon. We’ve all had these times: the moment of profound embarrassment, the moment of unexpected hilarity when you made the loud noise in the quiet place, the moment when you dropped the house keys down a grate. I’ve got loads of them, and I’ll detail two for you.

My first such moment is The Moment The Milk Crate Fell Off Mr Coward’s Milk Float. I would have been about seven years old and I was walking down Barnsley Road with my Auntie to buy a comic. My life was happy and secure, and would be even more happy and secure once I’d got my hands on a Beezer. Mr. Coward’s milk float hummed and clinked down the road behind us, making minimalist music. My Auntie made a profound statement: ‘He’s going fast’ she said. ‘Who does he think he is, Stirling Moss?’ Maybe he did, in his milkman dreams. He took the corner into Nanny Marr Road far too quickly and, in a few seconds of history tattooed on my mind forever, half a dozen milk crates fell off the back and sides of the float and bottles chattered everywhere, spilling and spouting milk. Mr Coward looked at the milk-lake. ‘Does tha want any milk?’ he asked, chuckling. And the lesson from that moment in history: don’t go too fast in a milk float.

He’s going fast, she said. Who does he think he is, Stirling Moss?

My second moment is The Moment Just Before My Dad Came In From The Garden And The Encyclopaedia Fell On His Head. I wish this moment had never happened, to be honest, but it did. I’d be about ten years old this time, and I’d seen Dennis the Menace do this trick in The Beano. Climb up on a chair with a heavy book and balance the book on top of a door slightly ajar. When the unsuspecting adult comes in from outside the book will fall on their head and they’ll go ‘Ow!’ and laughter will ensue. At least that was the theory. My dad was in the garden pottering and chatting to Mr Page over the fence. I got a chair and Volume One of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, and with a lot of effort placed it carefully on the edge of the door. It teetered on its own fulcrum, it almost swayed in the still room. My dad came in to watch the news and as he opened the door I changed my mind. I didn’t want my dad to have a book crashing onto his head; it felt stupid, not funny. I ran to the door to try and stop my dad coming through and the book falling and I succeeded in neither. He did say ‘Ow’, but there was no laughter. He just looked sad.

And the lesson from this moment in history? Don’t buy improving books for your children. Especially hardback ones.

I think I’ll write a history book. ‘Small Moments That Didn’t Quite Change The World.’ I’d buy it!