Sunday, 22 January 2017


Images copyright DC COMICS

I was looking for some biographical information on a well-known
comics artist a couple of days back, and duly entered his name (or so
I thought) into the search box at the top of the screen.  Being the impa-
tient type, I picked the first one on the proffered list and hit the key -
only to discover that it wasn't the individual I was looking for.

My mistake, but - many
years ago - I had a friend whose
name was very similar to that of
the artist, and, in my haste, I'd un-
consciously typed his name - Bob
Billens - instead of the intended
Bob Billings.  (Names changed to
protect the guilty, but they really
are that similar.)  The face of what
appeared to be a complete stranger
stared out at me from the screen,
and I was about to backspace to
the previous page when some-
thing made me look again
more closely.

Wonder of wonders!
It was the actual former friend of nearly half my life ago, apparently
doing very well in the world - if his self-penned many fine words in tribute
to him and his achievements can be taken at face value.  Not that it matters
much - he was always his own biggest fan.  And anyway, what's a blog for
if not to blow one's own trumpet?  (And, in his case, try and generate
a few freelance employment opportunities.)

What struck me, however,
was just how old he looked,
which is why I hadn't recognised
him at first glance.  Being the nos-
talgic sort, I just couldn't stop my
mind from rewinding back through
the many years to when I first met
'Bob', sometime in 1979.  As I have
to fill this blog with something, I
may as well tell you about it now.
Hopefully, I'll contrive a way of
making it seem at least vaguely
interesting before we reach
the end of the story.

Starting in February 1979,
I worked in my local Central
Library for about six or seven months.  Quite a few of the 'head' librarians
were given to looking down their noses at those working 'under' them, and
boasting about the extent of their overdrafts.  (As banks only give money
to those who've got money, they considered it some sort of status sym-
bol to be accorded the 'honour' of owing loads of dosh.)  They really
were a tedious bunch of pretentious, insufferable poseurs.

I'd been there for per-
haps only a couple of months
when a female colleague one day
exclaimed:  "You sound just like
Bob Billens...", before explaining -
 in response to my predictable en-
quiry - that 'Bob Billens' was a uni-
versity student (just graduated)
 who worked in the library dur-
ing the Summer months.

Anyway, before long, I got
to meet Bob Billens, and - sure
enough - he did sound a little
like me.  Amazingly, he was also
a dyed-in-the-wool comicbook
geek like myself, and we soon hit
it off - talking comics and swapping opinions on what we thought of the new
SUPERMAN movie with CHRISTOPHER REEVE (which was then still
only a few months old).  We also indulged in a fair amount of secret snig-
gering at the pomposity and pretensions of our library 'masters'.

I soon grew discontented
and quit the job, but our friend-
ship continued.  However, shortly
afterwards, Bob and his wife (in a pre-
planned career move) 'upped-sticks'
and relocated to England.  We kept in
touch for a few years until, gradually,
 his new life claimed him completely
and his already steadily-waning
inclination to maintain contact
finally evaporated.

When shot-on-location
photos of Superman IV he'd
taken and promised to send never
arrived - with no word from him in
the weeks or months that followed -
it became clear he'd no intention of getting in touch again.  Not being
one to impose myself on people, I didn't pursue the matter, even
though I found it slightly puzzling given our common interest.

Perhaps he'd simply concluded that, being hundreds of miles distant,
I could serve no further possible practical purpose in his day-to-day life
(especially after I'd given him my highly collectable SUPERMAN The
MOVIE poster) and was therefore surplus to requirements.

Also, I probably just didn't
measure up to his 'sophisticated'
new circle of posh friends and col-
leagues down South.  He'd actually
once 'hinted' as much on a brief visit
home, when he gave me an odd look
and said, "I dread to think what the
folks at work would say if they saw
you."  He tried to say it in a 'jokey'
way, but was obviously embarrassed by what he considered my lack of
sartorial elegance and less than fashionable appearance.  (Judge for
yourselves from the photo.  I think I look rather saintly.)

The irony of him becoming
the same kind of status-seeking,
social-climbing snooty snob as
the former library colleagues he'd
so often claimed to despise and
regularly heaped scorn upon isn't
lost on me.  It would be on him
though, but that's usually the
way of such things.

That reminds me - I really must
track down a replacement for that
Superman movie poster one day.
One that doesn't look quite so old
and as tired as Bob Billens.

(And 'Bob' - if by some remote
chance you ever happen to read this - I'm sure you'd like to know that 'Big
Rosa' sends you her regards.  I can't speak for anyone else though.)


And no doubt you'll all be pleased to know that I've now
obtained a replacement poster of the one I originally bought
way back in January 1979 in the ABC Cinema in Glasgow.


Colin Jones said...

Gosh, who's that handsome fellow with the beard ? But on the subject of absurd "status symbols" - about 10 years ago I remember reading that bragging about how much debt you had was now a status symbol. What kind of moron brags about being up to his neck in debt ??? At that point I knew we had reached the nadir of neo-liberal economic insanity. Of course, a couple of years later we entered the biggest financial crisis and subsequent recession since the 1930's so I assume they weren't bragging anymore. But apparently the levels of personal debt are as bad now as they were before the 2008 crash so morons never learn.

Kid said...

Shucks, CJ, you're making me blush! Why, that handsome fellow is me. That's why I'm called Handsome Gordie! (NURSE!) I think (with some people) it's always been the same in regard to overdrafts, CJ, because the implication is that you must be earning a really good wage for the banks to even think about lending you money. It's a sly way of suggesting you're in the high earning bracket without ever saying how much you earn.

(Incidentally, did you notice the sign saying 'legend' in that photo? They must have known I was coming in that day.)

Colin Jones said...

Kid, I wasn't just talking about overdrafts - I meant loans from loan companies and credit card debt etc. People were bragging about all the debt they had. It's not that long ago we still had debtors prisons but since the '80s being deep in debt is a sign of how aspirational you are. Apparently British people own ONE THIRD of all the personal debt in the EU. And in Germany hardly anybody owns a credit card. But the financial crash showed how precarious everything really is so perhaps people don't brag about their debts any more. By the way, I also hate stuck-up, social climbing petty-bourgeois gits.

Kid said...

I get the impression, CJ, that, nowadays, many low or average wage earners only talk about their debt (if they do) in a self-conscious attempt to 'normalize' their situation, or because they're eager to make light of it (if that makes any sense). Or maybe even because it's actually a concern to them. Some, as you say, do so to advertise how aspirational they are. Those library 'bigwigs', 'though, seemed to do it because it was their way of saying "I get a big wage so that's why the bank gives me such a big overdraft." It surprised me when 'Bob Billens' turned out to be the same type of person. It shouldn't have 'though, because the signs were always there (I just didn't see them) that his resentment of our library 'masters' sprang from jealousy of their status - a status he coveted and thought he deserved more than they did. He wanted to be top of the heap, whereas I was always pretty content with my lot.

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