I bumped into Slash in a room full of swords and close to a hobbit’s feet. This is not a dream, though it is very similar to the plotting of many of my night terrors. This is what happened in Wellington, New Zealand. The night of our show about black holes clashed with Slash’s band Guns N’ Roses playing the local stadium. The streets were filled with the middle-aged out for a good time and possibly a slipped disc in the mosh pit. Pupils were dilated long before the support band hit their first note. That afternoon, Brian Cox and I had been invited to Wētā Workshop, the remarkably inventive special effects creators whose career started when Peter Jackson made films where walruses copiously vomited (if you haven’t seen Meet the Feebles then give it a try – it is as if John Waters made The Great Muppet Caper). Later that day I would discover the hidden and very smelly dangers of using old food scraps, an air-conditioning unit and a man in a tusk suit to create the required speed of vomit. This sort of thing never happened when Wētā moved on to Middle-earth.
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This was my Charlie Bucket moment in Willy Wonka’s factory. Each room was occupied by people filled with love and fascination for the cultish and strange, creating all manner of claws, paws, animatronic heads and sabres. Since discovering my ADHD, it has given me the framework to understand myself and other people’s attitude to me. During this tour, I have often been called out for saying strange things – “God, you are weird!”
Now I know more. Now I know that I do not need to be ashamed of my odd trains of thought or my frequent inability to follow the route of normal, perhaps drab, social niceties. Looking at the people beavering around latex and anvils, I saw they were the same too. I think many of them would have been the odd child, but now they worked in an environment where there were so many odds that their world was even.
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Now the jocks and the alpha boys and girls of the schoolyard pay money to go to the movies and see the worlds created by the weirdos, and are fleeced for popcorn in the foyer.
The room that captivated me above all others was haunted by the faces of the living and the dead. On the walls were the white-as-snow life masks of Christopher Lee, Tor Johnson, David Bowie, Meryl Streep and Boris Karloff, as well as many more. In one row there were three Vincent Prices – each cast showed more wrinkles and a loosening of the skin where prosthetics would hang and jut. I was allowed to take the Peter Cushing off the wall, and I told the story of how his mother would punish him by pretending to be dead, until the day he shoved some jammy bread in her face. She never did it again. Revenge is a dish served best buttered and heavy with raspberry conserve.