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Today we have a reflection on ‘waiting’ from Iain, titled “The Hope of He-Man”…

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There’s a scene in The Rock where Nicolas Cage’s nerdy FBI scientist, about to embark on an unlikely rescue mission, asks his boss for a gun.

“What do you need a gun for? You’re a chemical freak.”

“I’m a chemical super-freak actually, but I still need a gun.”

I was reminded of that today when I was trying to describe just how much of a fan of He-Man I was between 1984 and 1985. A fan? Not just a fan. A freak. A super-freak.

My He-Man action figure was my most prized possession. 4.20pm on a Monday was the highlight of my week. As I recall, the comic book came out once a fortnight, and since it cost more than one week’s pocket money, I had to make sure I kept some in reserve to afford it.

I only had the one action figure, so He-Man ended up getting into adventures with my other toys. He-Man and the Endor Speeder Bike. He-Man and the LEGO Blob of Doom. As long as He-Man was at the centre of the story, I didn’t really care.

The back page of each comic book was an advert for the He-Man Fan Club, and as a special promotion, if you cut out the barcode from six copies of the comic book, then sent them in with your application, you would receive a free Masters of the Universe action figure. He-Man would have a friend, or maybe an enemy. Perfect either way.

I collected my six barcodes, and carefully wrote out my Fan Club application. I talked my parents into writing a cheque. An early birthday present may have been involved. I put all of this into a carefully-addressed envelope, stuck on a stamp, put it in the post box round the corner, and waited.

For months.

The first one wasn’t too bad. I realised they would have received a lot of applications from kids like me, keen to get their hands on the smooth plastic merchandise. These things take time. You don’t want to rush it, make a mistake, lose the paperwork. You have to put the money in the bank. Grown-up stuff like that. 

I pictured the fan club nerve centre; a NASA-like control room where forms were shuttled from one desk to another. Barcodes were checked over here. Cheques were cashed over there. Presumably someone was agonising over which action figure to send to which child. I didn’t really know how it worked, but I was sure the process would set standards for quality and efficiency. These were the guys who made He-Man. 

The second month was more exciting. I started getting up early to wait by the letterbox. I wasn’t sure that you could fit an action figure – plus associated packaging – safely through, and I wanted to be on the scene in case the postman needed any help.

I kept this up for weeks.

About four months in, my confidence started to falter. Had I posted the letter to the right place? Had I put the correct postage on the envelope? I was still watching the cartoon – 4.20 on a Monday was still worth rushing home for – and I was still buying the comic every fortnight. But I was skipping the back page. Too painful.

Four months to a seven-year-old is two years to a 42-year-old. 

By month five, fatalism had set in. I was openly expressing the view that I might die before the package arrived. We had a holiday coming up. For the first time ever, it involved a flight. I wasn’t scared of flying but I did think the universe was against me. Maybe we shouldn’t risk it.

The holiday was awesome. 

I had never been so hot. I swam in the sea. I rode a water slide as tall as a shopping centre. I spoke a foreign language. To this day, if you need someone to order a ham and cheese toastie and an orangeade in Greek, I’m your man.

When we got home, the house was familiar and also strange. I realised I hadn’t seen carpet in a fortnight. In the living room, the table was piled high with the post that had arrived during our absence, collated each day by Auntie Lesley, who wasn’t actually a blood relative but might as well have been.

Sat on its own was a brown padded envelope with my name on it. I was excited, but even the excitement felt strange. Second-hand, somehow. A muscle memory. 

At that moment, post-holiday Iain looked back on pre-holiday Iain with the indulgent, paternalistic affection a seven-year-old reserves for a six-year-old. “Ah yes, I remember when I used to be just like that.”

It’s not that I wasn’t excited. I was. Delighted, too, that the waiting had paid off. But also dimly aware that I didn’t have the imagination to hope for everything that was on its way.