Passing a petrol station yesterday morning, I was surprised to note that Nintendo Wii are using the Mona Lisa to advertise the game Pro Evolution Soccer 2009.
Closer inspection, however, revealed the enigmatic smile to belong to the Barcelona striker Lionel Messi, which I suppose makes more sense.
Mona and Messi do have much in common though, when you think about it: the iconic international status, the unmistakeable touch of genius, the ability to waltz through the Malaga defence and curl a left-footer into the top corner... Of course I’m being silly. If anything, the Mona Lisa is surely a no-nonsense defender in the Tony Adams/John Terry mould. Willing to put her head where others are afraid to put their feet, and if it’s bouncing around in the box, just put your boot through it, find Row Z, GET RID!
GET RID! Those two words echo around the nation’s parks and amateur league football pitches every Sunday morning, and illustrate why England never win anything. Children playing on large muddy pitches is not conducive to the development of passing skills and close control; it is conducive to GETTING RID! Big boys who can hoof the ball into the next field dominate. Personally I would make all kids play exclusively indoor football, with walls and no throw-ins, until the age of 15. Stevie Gerrard somehow managed to become Roy of the Rovers despite all this though, mind, so I could be wrong as usual.
Talking of which, they’re bringing Roy back. That was my favourite boyhood comic. I once had a letter published in the Hamish’s Hotshots page, which was quite a thrill. It was an odd comic though, with a mixture of ‘serious’ adventure strips (Roy himself, Goalkeeper, Billy’s Boots) and overtly silly ‘funny’ ones (Hotshot Hamish and Mighty Mouse). As a boy I drew no clear distinction between the two types, and took the silly ones pretty damn seriously.
A notable thing about all these sporting comics was the device of using members of the crowd to provide expository remarks while the action was taking place. So in the split second that Roy Race unleashes his famous Rocket shot and the ball is exactly halfway to the goal, a chap in the crowd would be speechbubbled saying “Roy’s gone for goal! He’s hit it hard, but will the keeper save it?”, and his mate would reply “It’s now or never, there’s only seconds left on the clock and if this goes in Melchester will win the cup, and that could be just the thing to rescue the club from financial ruin and also save Roy’s marriage!”
Time is meaningless in comics. My goodness, I must have absorbed absolutely tons of this nonsense. Pictures are what count to children, much more so than the words in books. When you pick up a long-forgotten childhood favourite, the illustrations hit you like Proust’s madeleine but it’s amazing how slight the stories turn out to be. This is because as a nipper you spend hours staring at the pictures until you know every detail, and you invest each one with a world of meaning and semi-conscious backstory. Much as adults do with the Mona Lisa, I suppose. For children, eight-page books are as vast as Biblical epics. So Scale must be something you grow into, or else a complete illusion, like Time.