SUCH A SILLY THING FROM, ER...... 1879 text: Henc R.A. de Roo
A SILLY THING FROM, EH .... 1879 is a story for children and for
those who would like to feel like a child again for a while.
Any resemblance to living persons is not coincidental: Annet Duller en Wim Bos frequently give performances in the Goois Museum, Hilversum.
Miriam was displeased and anyone could see she was. Her brother Nicolas looked around a bit awkwardly and just left it at that. "Oh, what the heck if grandpa likes it" he thought. There they were, in a small dusky museum room. A dark curtain prevented the daylight from coming in. On the long wooden benches other spectators took their place. Lads and lassies and some older folks. Their parents or maybe grandpa and grandma?
There, standing right in the middle of the room, was this peculiar device. That was what all the fuss was about: a magic lantern. A ma-gic lan-tern, oh, a lot of good that will do me! "Terrific", grandpa cried when he read in the paper that there was going to be a magic lantern show. We really must go there! " Good grief! Just when you're staying at your grandparents', you're dragged to see a performance with a magic lantern. Such a silly thing from er...... "1879", the operator had just said. Apparently he didn't know that nowadays there was far more interesting stuff for sale. Like the VCR and colour TV they had at home. And what about all the virtual reality computer games in which you could even be your own star. Recently they had been to a movie and it felt like being in one of the giant roller coasters at a fair. You could even feel your stomach turn as if you were going down at top speed.
The lights were dimmed. The man behind the lantern - he really had a wild beard - pulled a handle of a musical box and there was a merry tune. A lady, who sat next to the magic lantern, gently slid a large glass slide into a slit. The first images appeared on the screen. A fat man rolling his eyes frightfully almost gave everybody a fit of laughter. Miriam had to burst out laughing too, but she immediately forced herself not to, pretending a severe cough.
Next there was the circus. Jugglers, elephants, clowns and dancers gave a performance. For a moment people even forgot that it wasn't really real and gave the performers a big applause. Then there was the sad story of a girl who was very poor and who fell ill as well. Miriam had long since forgotten her anger and listened in fascination to the stories told. The clear voice of the lady storyteller knew exactly how to render all the emotions related to the images on the slides. Fear, anger, joy and sorrow.
The lady slid a small wooden slide into the lantern and turned a handle on the side. Appearing on the screen there were some lovely figures, just like those in the pasteboard tubes with mirrors and coloured glass, er...... can't remember the name. Miriam leaned forward, resting her head on both arms. Amazing! She stared at the screen in pure fascination. Right before her eyes a large spiral-like image appeared, bursting into different colours and shapes. Just like the whirlpool appearing in the water that she once saw on television. She felt herself becoming very light. She glanced to one side and saw Nicolas floating above the wooden bench. How weird. "Sit down" she wanted to say "don't act so ridiculous", but at the same moment she realised she too was breaking loose of the bench. Nicolas was drifting away and she just managed to grab his hand. Together they drifted into the spiral, which became smaller and smaller and smaller. They were drawn in the direction of the white screen and it seemed that they were continuously shrinking. "Look out Mir", Nicolas yelled. "We'll crash into the screen..........." Miriam closed her eyes tight and braced herself against the impact that was surely to follow. But when she cautiously opened her eyes she saw that she was behind the screen and she hadn't even noticed going there. It was pitch black behind the screen but it became lighter gradually. They also started growing rapidly again.
The old inn looked quite different from the smart café restaurant where they had stopped for a drink with their grandma and granddad the day before. It was all a bit dirty. There were no tablecloths on the rough wooden tables and there were remains of food on the ground amongst filth and rags. And dogs were sniffing about in the dirt to see if there was anything they fancied there. There was a woman behind the bar who looked exactly like the lady with the magic lantern in the museum. She was pouring out beer in huge earthen bowl and taking it to the guests. The men at the table they were sitting at did not seem to notice them at all. They just continued with the game they were playing and kept throwing some dice on the table top.
The language they spoke sounded somewhat like English, but Miriam found it hard to understand them. They looked strange with clothes like rags. They obviously hadn't washed properly because they smelled terrible.
Then the door opened and in walked an old man. He had as savage a looking beard as that of the man in the hall of the museum and he was carrying a large package on his back. Miriam saw that it was a wooden chest with a square object tied on top. It had a pointed roof and a kind of tube at the front. It looked like..........., no it was a magic lantern, she was sure of that now. The guests at the inn had of course also noticed the man and they began talking excitedly with one another. They were obviously pleased to see him. A couple of men stood up and helped the old traveller to untie his luggage. The door kept on opening and groups of people, who had seen the man come in, entered. After consuming a large tankard of beer and a piece of meat, the old man started his performance.
So little light penetrated the tiny windows of the inn that it was unnecessary to darken the room any further. All those present had sought a place in the vicinity of the magic lantern and when the first picture appeared on the screen the audience cheered and clapped. "Shentlemans and Ladiezz", began the man behind the lantern, Nouw you wiell kom to see cette nice masjique lanterne, ferry curieus, o so nice and when I say somesing, thou shalt be silent and when I chant, thou shalt shoin me........." The buzzing stopped and the people watched with bated breath. It was very special what the itinerant lanternist had to offer them: images from distant countries, were none of them had ever been, strange and exciting adventures such as the story of two men who catch a tiger by throwing a tub over its back, but also things that had really happened: the lanternist showed them pictures of a huge fire that destroyed a major part of London. Miriam had to laugh when she discovered that the fire had taken place many years ago. Nowadays, on the television news you could witness a disaster taking place on the other side of the world within minutes. The people in the inn reacted in a shocked way to the terrible tidings as if it had all happened yesterday. After the lanternist had showed them that the fire brigade had succeeded in controlling the fire, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
The old man reached once more into his chest of slides and slid a wooden frame in the lantern. His hand went to a handle on the side and there appeared the same colourful images as they had seen earlier that afternoon. "Oh Miriam," Nicolas shouted, "I think we have to return. Come, give me your hand." Miriam knew he was right. She was already floating several inches above the wooden bench. They were spiralled again into the screen. They were no longer scared to collide and a little later they gently descended on their seat in the room of the museum.
Miriam looked around her. Apparently none of the other visitors had noticed they had been away. Granddad looked in their direction with a smile and there was nothing to indicate that they had been missed. The lady was showing a picture of a church. It was starting to snow and large snowflakes covered church and surroundings with a layer of white. Organ music was playing and behind the windows of the church a candle flickered. It was almost real. Miriam made herself comfortable. "Quite nice after all, a magic lantern." she thought.
"And now," she heard the lady say, "I'll show you pictures of a gigantic fire............., a fire that devastated a huge part of London. Long, long ago."
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Last update: 04-06-2021.