Michael Ende:  The brilliant author of “The Neverending Story” (which, if you read it as an adult or teenager, you understand is about the disappearance of childhood) wrote another book, one that my best friend at school urged me to read, but it had a silly title and a weird blurb, so I didn’t…

“Momo” is perhaps even more significant today than “The Neverending Story”.

"The Banshee" statue washing her long hair in the water

“The Banshee” statue washing her long hair in the water

My two Wind Thangs bullying the Hyppo, as the sign suggested - I think they were bullying each other, rather

Concerned parties:  Children were invited on a big sign to bully the hippo (but not to ride on the other statues)

Ray - pooped




After an afternoon outing to the Farm Inn (our other “favourite park”) we returned, like we try to do every Sunday, tanked up with sunlight, twilight and gorgeous impressions.

The kids invited me to watch a movie with them.  They know I don’t watch many movies; usually I’m too busy (hear the alarm bells).  But since Robbie’s Sweet 16 earlier this week and the connected video marathon, our screen has been standing downstairs right in my workspace; so we watched Harry Potter yesterday, and tonight – Momo.

Michael Ende was a visionary!

The “grey men” steal time from people’s lives.  Yesyes, I know that Sir Pratchett in “Thief of Time” took that exact concept and rehashed it… what, you thought that was his idea?  Pratchett is brilliant, but the grey men are from Michael Ende.  Or perhaps – not at all impossible – they both sensed the same character cast to the time thieves.

Momo is an orphan who lives in a cave under a medieval building in the central amphitheatre of a small Italian town.  Where she comes from, nobody knows.  Street sweeper Beppo discovers her, and eventually the inhabitants of the sleepy, relaxed village manage to coax her out.

Momo seems to have a very special effect on people; just telling her their worries or spending time with her makes them feel better.  And the children play much better when she’s part of it.

And then – the time thieves arrive in their grey cars, smoking their grey cigars, intimidating people into “saving time”.  Momo has her hands full saving her friends from them; she doesn’t fall for their tricks herself – because she can’t be lured with money.

The movie gets very scary, even nightmarish in parts.  The seduction of the time thieves, tricking people into selling their time for money, “saving” on the things that matter most to them (time spent with loved ones or just living)…

What chilled me is the parallel (or perpendicular, more accurately) to “FISH”.

“FISH” was written by a good person, under the deep influence of time thieves.  Concepts such as “you can’t always change where you work, or for how little” – that runs completely contrary to what Momo teaches us.  You always have a choice.

“FISH” encourages you to play at work, to at least gain back some life in those “dead” hours.

Momo teaches you to live.  Live first; and find the things that are most important to you.  Don’t let the glitz and glam of a well-paid job rob you of your soul.  Don’t let the men in grey turn your old-fashioned, haphazard little inn with the crack in the cheap flowerpot, into a soulless fast-food joint.

And today, people so very much need to hear this!

The Men in Grey have closed in on us.  Cheerful Germans have rebuilt a bombed Germany from scratch into an economic miracle in 60 years; now they are called on to pay everyone else’s bills (first and foremost those of corrupt banks and politicians).  Germans tend to work so hard, we make jokes about it.  “Schaffe, schaffe, Haeusle baue, Butterbrot statt Schnitzel kaue” sang the “Erste Deutsche Verunsicherung in the 80’s.  (Translation:  “Be busy, be busy, build a little house, chew bread and butter instead of schnitzel.”)  And as it turns out, they’ve been working for the Men in Grey all these years….

So have South Africans, who have seen their money shrink via inflation until it’s so small it slips through one’s fingers.   And Americans, and the Irish, and the Greek (yes, they are not the guilty party of “all that spending” – like everywhere else, the spending happened by their bankers and politicians – their Men in Grey).

Look at your bank account and work out how much proportion of your income you pay to the bank, to the tax man and to insurances (ok, and crime) every month?  Licenses?  Licenses you only had to do once, not renew every 5 years, one generation back?  Fuel levy?  Tax on bank charges?  Tax on interest (!)?  How much do you lose every time you have to replace a broken kettle because they are calculated to last exactly one year?  And a car battery – which used to last 5 years but now you’re lucky if it lasts one?  And, and, and?  Things that once were life-time investments (“If you marry a Kelvinator” – remember the lifetime guarantee?) – broken in a few years now? How much of your time is wasted down the drain of having to replace what should be permanent?

The answer of the sane adult:  Work harder, try to catch up with the leakages.  Extend your hours, sell more of your life to the Men in Grey.

You look up and years have flown by, your children are big, and you don’t really know them at all… your wife / husband has left you because there was no time to court each other… in 20 years…  and you still don’t have any of the money you worked so hard for, but your time is genuinely gone.

Listen to Momo!  Make time for fun, for living, for being.  Don’t let visions of tomorrow (that remain in many cases just out of reach) delete your today!

But I know…  telling high-powered corporate types to try not to be high-powered and corporate is like trying to teach bohemians like me to be high-powered and corporate.  It is not possible.  I fear for the power-people first and foremost – they’re the first to step into the time/money trap.

People, jealously guard the time that will turn into memories.

… and that’s all for now




3 thoughts on “Momo

    • …in fact, in the movie, when they run out of time stolen from humans, they evaporate. They really are only phantoms. What I find spooky now, back then working at Genetics most of our generated income at the lab went off into the pockets of invisible, anonymous “shareholders”. A freakish 90% of the income did. The rest was split between running the lab and underpaying the lab rats (us). Imagine if we had received 90% of what we generated? They’d have been able to expand the lab, hire a lot more qualified people, pay us all well and still make a good profit. But they elected to suck every bit of meat from the bones of the lab and run it so lean that people like myself replaced our entire genetics income with, wait for it, four full-hour violin students

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