It all started with the Daleks. You know what a Dalek is, don't you? The amazingly long-lived British T.V. show DOCTOR WHO never quite conquered America, but I think even Americans will be familiar with the Daleks, because they're without doubt one of the scariest monsters ever invented. Hell, they're scarier than quite a few of the real ones.
According to legend, their creator, the late TERRY NATION, was in his local library when he happened to glance at the volume of The Encyclopedia Britannica labeled "DAL – LEK" and the proverbial cartoon light bulb appeared over his head. His next problem was figuring out what something as alien-sounding as a "Dalek" could possibly look like. But when he saw the pepperpots in the BBC canteen, cartoon light bulb #2 clicked on, and the rest is history and staggeringly lucrative toy-sales.
I was a nervous child. Pretty much anything concerning ghosts, monsters, or Very Bad Things generally would disturb my sleep-patterns for weeks. I even had recurring nightmares which nowadays would be identified by those excitable types with the tinfoil beanies as alien abductions, but fortunately this was back in those innocent days before Whitley Streiber explained to us that made-up space-aliens are real after all, so at least I didn't have that to worry about as well. But of course I was scared of Daleks. Every child in Britain was scared of Daleks. Well, we are talking about Nazi dustbins with voices that could grate cheese going around killing people for no particular reason, despite being armed only with an egg-whisk and a toilet-plunger, and anyone aware of this website knows that kids take that sort of stuff very seriously indeed.
And, being an imaginative sort of child, it got me thinking. So: you're four years old, and you know that a completely non-human, inorganic thing about five feet tall that looks like an everyday household object can suddenly come to life and kill you for no reason at all. Having established that your immediate environment is mercifully Dalek-free, what else do you need to worry about?
Well, for starters, there are those horrific charity-collecting boxes that you hardly ever see any more (I can't imagine why.) You know, the ones consisting of a life-size fiberglass replica of a disabled child with a disturbingly blank stare that your average zombie could take a master-class from. Of course, being made entirely from fiberglass, they're obviously rigidly immobile.
But the trouble is, they've got that cylindrical base just like a Dalek.
And we've all seen how well Daleks cope with extreme disability. Wait a minute – those boxes are thrusting a box in your face on behalf of the disabled… Do you see a connection forming here? When you're four years old and political correctness hasn't been invented yet, by God you see a connection forming…
I had nightmares about those things! I really did! They only came out at night (of course), but when they did, they invaded my house (of course.) Shiny, rigid, melancholy polio boys gliding around in absolute silence, holding out their collecting boxes for – who knew what? At that age my grasp of economics was at best vague, but even I knew that a horror of this magnitude was unlikely to be kept at bay by a four-year-old's pocket money. Luckily they had one screamingly obvious design-fault – a total inability to climb stairs. If my bedroom had been moved downstairs, or if the BBC had decided 20 years sooner that Daleks could fly, I think I might have been in a certain amount of psychiatric peril. But it wasn't and they didn't, so I had that magic staircase to protect me from those glossy lads.