Hooray for Harold Lloyd

I couldn’t tell you how I know the Harold Lloyd theme tune (dodo-do-do-do-do-doo-do-do-do), but I do. There may have been old repeats on television when I was a child, because I have known the catchy tune since I was small, “A pair of glasses and a smile.” You’ll find lots of clips on the internet; try ‘Safety Last’, a film that’s one hundred years old, in which he climbs up the outside of a multi-storey building wearing a three-piece suit, watch chain hanging from the breast pocket of his waistcoat, collar and tie neatly done, fine leather shoes, a straw boater hat which never moves from his head (until the iconic moment when he hangs precariously from the hands of a clock, five floors up, at which point the hat falls off). His perfectly shaped dark eyebrows move a lot, they dance above his black-rimmed round Joycean spectacles as, time after time, he almost comes a cropper. Up the side of the building he goes, higher and higher, a precursor to Spiderman, wall crawling with almost the same agility but without the suction. Surely they had no trick camera work in 1923, how did they manage this? My toenails hurt to watch it. Anyone who is remotely afraid of heights, like me, should brace themselves before viewing (and the plinkedy-plonk piano soundtrack does nothing to ease the tension). Amazing how much can be communicated with movement and facial expression alone, which is why the memory of Harold Lloyd returned to me this week.

I am fully awake, but my body is sleep filled. It is day two of the clock change and the skipped hour has left me sluggish. My bones remain asleep, they are a dead weight. I am staring into space waiting for my stupification to clear, much like the grey clouds of morning. I have half an ear to the receptionist who is on the phone, booking someone in for an emergency appointment at midday. From eavesdropping on her side of the conversation, I understand that the person on the other end has been blighted by toothache all weekend. I’m feeling relieved for them to have found a slot. I’m staring at rather than through the window when a face appears there, it pops up like Punch in his booth. He is walking by and has stopped to stare in at me, I know it’s me he’s looking at, as I am the only one in the waiting room. Dishevelled, unshaven, but with the impish delight of a 1920s silent movie star, he has the most animated face, and that’s when I think of Harold Lloyd. Instead of a straw boater, my silent movie star wears a mustard-coloured skull cap pulled down tight over his ears. He smiles and waves, and I take a split second to register that I don’t know him, that he has taken it upon himself to brighten up my Monday morning. He waves again, determined to pull a response from me, and I wave back, and that’s when he grins a proper huge toothy grin, except he’s missing a few up front, and he points at me, and then he points at the gaps in his mouth, and then he points at the reception desk, and grimaces, puts his hands by his head like Klimt’s scream and mouths a mock yelp, as if to say, “Don’t go any further, look what they did to me!” Then he shakes his head and throws it back and laughs, gives me a final enthusiastic wave, and walks on to wherever he’s bound at nine in the morning, pavement performance complete. He has brought me to life, and I am wide awake as I follow (with a hint of reticence) the dental nurse to the treatment room with the sound of plinkedy-plonk piano music playing in my head.

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