Why the world doesn’t need Superman (but misses him like hell)

Having male genetalia has its benefits, we can piss up against any upright architecture for a start. But it also has its drawbacks. The complete lack of any ability to express human emotion is probably pretty high on the list.

I have never claimed to be a tough person. I cry at films (always at the happy bits) and I am fast becoming a charities wet dream due to the heartstrings they are pulling with their graphic TV adverts! But, and it is an important but, I NEVER let my emotions out with my family. I can tell a mate I love them and actually mean it, but I don’t remember ever saying those few words to my mum and dad. So here it is in black and white – you two aint half bad!
Losing a family member is hard and it hits us all differently. I am probably the least ‘close’ person to my brother Eric in his immediate family. It upsets me to think that it is at least 3 and maybe 5 years since we even saw each other. But that doesn’t lessen the sadness of his passing or the depth of the love I feel for him. You see we have never fallen out, I don’t even ever remember a crossed word. I just put it down to my inability to grasp the concept of a ‘family’.

I can be as flippant as I like about wanting to escape the humdrum suburbia of what was once Europe’s biggest council estate, but there was more to it than that. I was seeking an escape from life as I knew it. From the people and places that I knew too well. This wasn’t any view that I was better than my upbringing, just that there was life beyond the family tree. I was excited, happy even when I was able to leave Manchester (so much to answer for) behind me. Though I am not sure I really knew or expected how deep I was cutting the umbilical cord.

Finding a girl, moving to the big city and living the middle class dream was what I wanted back then and the first opportunity to leave behind the backward estate life and limiting small town family mentality made me feel like an adventurer exploring uncharted territory. But it isn’t until later in life that you actually stop to think about your choices, the people and actions that you took and how they reflected on the people who meant the most to you.

A few days ago I was enjoying one of the worst cups of tea of my life with a friend and we got talking about memory. During the course of this conversation I mentioned that there was a sequence of numbers from my childhood that had stayed with me for the last 25 years. I found it quite amazing that I could remember these exact number (24546757 Sir!), despite the fact that if you asked me for my home phone number I would have to look it up in my mobile before telling you. The number in question belongs to my very recently deceased oldest brother Eric and was in fact his Army serial number (I am not sure they actually call it a serial number, but it plays to my inner geek that he may actually have been a cyborg!). I was confused as to why I would remember this particular number. I don’t for instance remember the telephone number for the house we lived in at the time, or even the postcode (no wait… BL4 9RQ, apparently I do!) , but this number has and I assume always will stay with me. My friend’s response to this was that maybe it had something to do with how I felt about this person and that the significance of this number implied the importance of the person to me. The only thing that surprised me about that statement was that I had never contemplated it myself before.

I started writing (typing) this as a way to let the people who I have never told know how much they mean to me, but I am a geek and I will tell my tale my way.

Being a geek, everyone who knows me knows and embraces and/or accepts that, therefor my bringing this back to my inherent geekiness should not shock or embarrass anyone reading this. So if you are sitting comfortably I will begin my thesis on why the world does not need Superman, but my word the world is not the same without him…

My big brother Eric was 8 years older than me. To all intents and purposes that is a full generation. When I started primary school, Eric had moved to Secondary. When I started Secondary, Eric was already joining the Army. So to say we were close wouldn’t be an exaggeration, it would be an outright lie! But, like any impressionable young thing, I looked to Eric as the guide to what would some day in the future be my life. At this point it is important, especially if you have never had an older brother, to understand the spectacular importance of Eric’s role in developing an impressionable young child growing up in the 80s. We are talking about the era of comic book super heroes. This is the time when Christopher Reeve was god. This was well before people like George Clooney had mercilessly destroyed our childhood dreams by turning the ultimate vigilante into a pantomime dame. This was when heroes really were ’super’.

There is a moment in one of the Superman films (I forget which), where after saving some unfortunate soul, our hero swoops over the head of a little boy and lands nearby. The boy, eyes wide and mouth aghast cannot believe what he has seen. This is the moment that his hero becomes a reality and he truly understands that there are people amongst us who are not an average Joe. Watching the film you know at that moment that little Jimmy (or whatever he is called) will one day become the next incarnation of Superman, or Batman, or Lex Luther. Whether he uses this amazing revelation for the powers of good or evil is irrelevant, what matters is that he knows that men are not equal. The day you realise that heroes are real is a day that we should all savour. I remember that day better than any other.

In the early eighties all I cared about was football and Adam and the Ants. I gave both equal pedestals and I would never have even entertained the possibility that Kenny Dalglish or Adam Ant were the same as the general public of you and I. Even then I believed in heroes. But what I didn’t understand was that heroes lived amongst us. That was until some time around 1982/83 when Eric came back from some exciting Army trip to Norway or Switzerland or Swindon.

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I can vividly remember the day that the biggest of big brothers, who had been away for what felt like a life time, walked through the front door in full uniform and looking like a real life action man. I can remember standing in awe and wonder just like the child who had seen Superman nonchalantly save the dame and still make it home for tea. Eric was perfect. He had the biggest biceps I had ever seen, close cropped hair (which was all the rage at the time) and stories of exotic places that even my teachers hadn’t been. After very little time to reacclimatise himself to civvy life he grabbed a football and I chased him to the field near our house, running as fast as my slippers would carry me, to witness what I swear was a human man kicking a football into orbit and it returning a full 5 minutes later with space dust attached! That was the day that I realized Eric wasn’t like me and you. Eric was ‘super’ human!

I wish I could regale dozens more tales of this nature, but I am not a family man and I have either forgotten or just flat out avoided other occasions like this. I was talking to a good friend today, who caringly hoped that I remember the good times and do not focus on any of the bad times. But the funny thing is that I do not have any memories of bad times with Eric. Every memory is a happy or proud time. My biggest regret however is that there are so few.

So back to the point of this waffle. If you have seen the movie Superman Returns you will know that when Supes left Earth to scour the galaxy for information on what happened to his home planet and his parents, Lois Lane wrote what must have been for her a heart breaking story that explained why the world no longer needed Superman and how we all need to look inside ourselves and be the hero that we all can be. This may be a trite sentiment in an over-sentimental movie, but it struck a cord with me. Eric was my hero, he was my Superman. But the Earth still turns without him and however hard the lesson is, we must turn with it. It would be easy to take this as a sign of the immortal becoming mortal or that heroes are just men in tights, but I don’t believe that. Heroes are amongst us and I am excited to see who my next hero will be. Eric was my hero, but what if… what if the next hero is me? Or you?

What do you think?