A few weeks ago my wife and I were planning our annual summer holiday. We are only planning a trip down to Looe in Cornwall, a trip from where I live here in the West Midlands of some four hours leisurely driving, traffic conditions permitting. For some reason I began to think back to the very early sixties when my brother and I undertook the same trip with our parents, during the last week in July and the first week in August 1960.
My Dad at that time was the proud owner of a 1957 Morris Oxford. It was British racing green, was fitted with a 1500c.c. engine and had bench seats front and rear. The gear stick was on the steering column and the car was capable of around 85 mph, downhill with a prevailing wind. To say the equipment fitted as standard was basic would be an understatement. It had a heater, an interior light and although the car had an electric ignition it did come with a starting handle just in case. Radios were not fitted as standard back then so we didn’t have one.
The road networks of Britain at that time were also pretty basic to say the least. Back in those days there were no motorways as such, and certainly no M5 from the Midlands to the south west. Instead the most direct route to the West Country was by means of the ‘A’ roads which were far from direct. They meandered across the countryside and passed through many towns and villages, presenting numerous ‘bottle necks’ and therefore obvious delays.
The trip which had sprung into my mind took place in 1960. We were all off to Looe for a two week holiday. My Dad had serviced the Morris and checked oil and water levels again and again to ensure that the old girl was up to the epic trip it was about to undertake. Travelling in the Morris there would be my Mom and Dad, my brother (aged 2 years), my two Grandads, my Grandmother and of course me (aged 7 years). All the luggage that would be required for two weeks away from home was stowed in the boot and any other nook, cranny or crevice that would accommodate it. On the Friday evening Dad left work early and set about loading the car and once again checked all the vital fluid levels prior to setting off. It would have been about 6.00pm on that Friday evening when we set off. I can’t remember the route we took or which roads we travelled along as I was too young. I do remember however that at about 10.00pm that evening we pulled into a lay-by to stop for the night somewhere in the Bristol area. We had no overnight accommodation booked, we were going to spend the night in the car, as Dad had pointed out money was tight. I remember thinking that it was very lucky that the lay-by we had stopped in, happened to have a little pub nearby and Dad was able to go off for a quick pint whilst we tucked into sandwiches and fizzy pop. I have to say that was not the most comfortable night I have ever spent but I think we did all get a few hours sleep.
The next morning when I woke everyone was already up and about except for my brother who was still sound asleep. As I got out of the car to stretch and get my circulation going again I could see Dad boiling a kettle for morning tea using nothing less than a blow lamp. We ate breakfast and started off on the second leg of our adventure.
It was now Saturday morning and as I have already pointed out there was no radio in the car so the only form of entertainment were games dreamt up by my parents. These consisted mainly of counting cows and sheep or looking out for various items as we travelled ever southward. I recall a few traffic jams that Saturday morning as we drove through small villages. I now know that it was the start of the industrial holidays and hoards of people from the North and the Midlands were making their way south for their annual holidays. During that Saturday we stopped on several occasions so Dad could check the oil and water levels. We arrived in Looe safely at around 4.00pm in the afternoon. After unloading the car Dad went for a lie down as he said he was shattered from the drive.
I shall never forget that particular holiday in Cornwall. I suppose it was the fact that I was just a lad, but it seemed magical to me. How things have changed. Now it’s a few hours drive, in air conditioned cars with stereo radios and DVD players for the kids. You arrive reasonably fresh having driven down the motorway without a hint of an adventure. As an adult I would choose the way it is today, but looking at it through the eyes of a small boy I think I would pick the old Morris Oxford and the blow lamp every time.
I was only half watching some obscure children’s history programme on some channel or other the other week when I happened to hear the presenter say, “But things were very different in the middle of the last century...” At first the remark had no relevance, but then, suddenly it hit me, like a sucker punch to the stomach. I felt a sudden urge to sit down as it occurred to me I was alive back then, on the planet, drawing breath, and this man on the TV is talking about 'the middle of the last century’ as though it was only a few months down the road from the last Great Ice Age. I turned the TV off before the so called informed person presenting the programme started to explain to his young audience, that back in the 1950’s one would not have been surprised to look out of your window and see a Woolly Mammoth sauntering by. In the quiet afforded by the now silent TV I started to recall the days back in my very early boyhood when I lived in a council house at number 28 Connell Road, West Bromwich with my Mom, Dad and Grandad.
The house was of post war construction, around about 1948, and would be classed in today’s market as a terrace as it was in a block of five. Ours was the centre house of the five and access to the rear was gained via an arched passageway which we just called ‘the entry’ between us and the next door neighbour. The ground floor consisted of three main rooms. These being the living room, which lead via a doorway directly into the kitchen, and a bathroom which in turn was accessed via the kitchen. Also leading off the kitchen was what I can only describe as a small walk in cubby-hole which was in fact under the stairs, and was originally intended as a place to store coal for heating. I can never remember the storage of coal in there however. Dad had painted the walls white and the space under the stairs was used as a pantry. The only other room on the ground floor was the smallest room in the house. Although in was incorporated in the main structure of the house it could only be reached by walking out of the back door, into the rear garden, turning left where the toilet door was exposed to the elements. I have often heard the toilet referred to as the reading room, but I can assure anyone reading this that in the winter there was very little reading done in that particular room, unless it had an article in it describing the best methods available to combat hypothermia or how to separate bare skin from a painted wooden seat which had chilled to a temperature where mercury freezes.
The upstairs is simple to explain as there were only three bedrooms. The main bedroom, Mom and Dads, faced the front whilst the second bedroom and a small box room faced the rear. I had the smaller room and Grandad the other.
Whilst I was recalling the layout of the rooms and the manner in which they were decorated and furnished my thoughts returned once again to the Woolly Mammoth. Back then the only form of heating was a coal fire in the living room. This coal fire also served as the only means of heating the domestic water which incorporated a series of water pipes at the rear of the fire place which were in turn, linked to a storage tank in the bathroom. Although there were two more fireplaces in the two larger bedrooms upstairs, these were never lit unless someone was ailing in the extreme. My Mother would then weigh up the seriousness of the illness and decided if the lighting of a fire in an upstairs bedroom was prudent. Mom would only consider it prudent however, if it was minus 20 degrees outside and, the person who was ill had seen an apparition of a black avian like creature sitting on the wardrobe with wings set to descent capability and eyes that clearly indicated the thing hadn’t eaten for a fortnight. Even then she would probably seek collaboration of the sighting from a third party before declaring that a fire was to be lit upstairs. As Mom would succinctly put it, ”Coal doesn’t come cheap our Robert. It doesn’t grow on trees you know”.
So, having recalled the fact there was only heating in one room in the entire house back then, my thoughts went back to the year 1963 when I was of the ripe old age of ten. That is the coldest winter I can remember. The wind howled, driving the snow to blizzard conditions for what to me back then seemed like days on end. Dad tended that living room fire as though he were a stoker on The Queen Mary, which was attempting to win ‘The Blue Ribbon’ and, being paid at double time with a large bonus for his monumental efforts. The result of Dad’s labours were that the living room, in which we all sat, attained a temperature somewhere around tepid, whilst the rest of the house continued to plummet to Arctic extremes. All that is for the bathroom, which you will remember was on the ground floor.
When entering the bathroom one was confronted with its dominating feature. A five foot high brass coloured hot water tank which was some three feet in diameter and shone brighter than Polaris itself, due to the amount of elbow grease and ‘Brasso’ my Mother had lavished on it. The heat given off by this leviathan was wonderful and could well have been the forerunner to modern central heating, had it served the entire house and not just the bathroom which was only ten feet square.
At about 10.00pm one evening we were all seated in the living room watching a late night TV show. The fire was burning like the very furnaces of Hades and we were all recumbent in blankets and eiderdowns. The wind outside rattled the window frame beyond the heavy, heat insulating living room curtains which were drawn tight shut to conserve the meagre warmth. A sound emerged from the rear of the house that, as a child I had never heard before…Bloo Bloop! I can remember like it was yesterday, Mom turning and looking at Dad. Dad looked at Grandad…Bloo Bloop, Bloo Bloop. Dad looked again at Mom, Mom at Grandad, Grandad at Dad. The look on their faces informed me even at that young age that something was not all as it should have been. At that there was a great deal of Bloo Blooping emanating from the bathroom at the rear of the house. At this point the three adults I was sitting with, leapt from their seats like scalded cats and ran into the kitchen. As a boy of ten I was somewhat bemused and eager to see what was taking place. On entering the kitchen Mom was turning on the hot water tap, whilst in the bathroom Dad had taken control of the hot water bath tap whilst Grandad had assumed control of its opposite number at the wash basin. All the hot water taps were turned on to their full extent which made the ground floor of number 28, Connell Road like a Turkish bath.
When the apparent emergency was over my Mother explained to me that heat generated from the excessively hot fire had caused the water to boil in the domestic hot water system. She went on to say that if the hot water taps had not been turned on to relieve the pressure, the tank in the bathroom would have exploded.
I was just thinking, they don’t build houses like that any more when the telephone rang and I was back in the year 2006. However as I picked up the cordless handset I recalled the first phone Mom and Dad had. It was a heavy black thing, made out of ‘Bakalite’ and it had a…Oh, but that’s another story.
Before I start my reminiscences I would like to state that I have no need to live in warden controlled accommodation, I can’t remember the second world war because at that time I had not been born and although I couldn’t be described as being in the flush of youth I have not yet began to take cursory glances over my shoulder looking for a guy in a long dark robe carrying a large scythe. In short, I am not prehistoric but 53 years of age with all my own teeth. Having said all that, boy has television technology changed since I was a lad.
My Grandad had a TV set made by the company Bush. It was a rectangular box which stood three foot six inches high and had two controls, volume and brightness. The picture was of course black and white with a screen size of 14 inches. My Grandad’s viewing was some what restricted as the only channel the set received was the BBC. This was not due to the fact that the TV was in anyway faulty, it was merely due to the fact that when he bought the set that was the only channel transmitting and there was no knob on the thing to change channel. My Grandad watched that TV every night for years and years until…well, I’ll get to that later.
My Dad on the other hand was at the cutting edge of this now expanding media. Our set, although still black and white, had a 21 inch screen but was still only capable of receiving BBC. That was until my Dad came home one night with a gizmo made out of a plastic like substance called Bakelite. By attaching wires to the TV from the Bakelite box and merely turning a dial the size of a manhole cover we had instant ITV. Two channels; who said our choices were limited back then? This system worked well for many months until the manhole cover dial snapped off the front of the gizmo. Bakelite wasn’t known for its durable properties and so, for ages afterwards we changed channels with a pair of pliers which were kept strategically placed on top of the set.
BBC2 had been transmitting for some number of years before Dad got a set that was capable of receiving it. Before we finally did manage to wear him down he would just say, "It's a waste of money. And what are you going to possibly do with all those channels anyway"? Anyway, to change channel on this new TV you pressed a button for the corresponding station you wished to view, where upon the previous selected button popped back out. I can’t recall how we discovered that if we pulled out the button tuned to ITV and turned it clockwise we could pick up Gas Board trucks radio transmissions. That was an added bonus because if there was nothing on the telly we could just sit and listen to the gasmen. I suppose we were among the first to experience ‘live’ reality TV!
Dad finally decided that as the Americans had gone to the moon we should get a colour TV. He rented the set from Granada TV Rentals as Dad said that if the technology that ran a spaceship could go wrong (referring to Apollo 13) then he wasn’t going to be landed with a whacking great bill to repair a colour telly. My Dads logic remains to this day impeccable.
And so it was at this point that my Dad offered to pay for a rental TV for my Grandad, who was still watching the one channel. After great persuasion and argument he was convinced to enter the latter part of the twentieth century. He refused flatly however to have a colour set and the reason he gave, I quote, ”When I watch the telly I don’t want to see it in colour. I want it to look real”!
Well, I have a vast choice now and far beyond my wildest dreams back then. But I would give them all up just to have my Grandad back for a week. And I’d have to say preferably in colour.
My daughter Joanne, was cleaning out Rogers cage this morning and so, as a result Roger was out and about. I think I should clarify that Roger is our Budgie. You see when we first had him about three years ago, he was constantly climbing all around his cage as though looking for an escape route. He seemed so intent in those early days to abscond that we called him Roger, after Roger Bartlett (Big X) in the movie The Great Escape. But I digress. It reminded me of the animals that were so much a part of my life when I was a small lad at 28 Connell Road, West Bromwich.
I suppose the animal I remember most is Bruce. Bruce was an Alsatian, with a pedigree kennel name of Comus of Heronfield. He was a big dog with the heart to match. Dad bought Bruce as a puppy with the intention of showing him, which in later years he did, and not without some success may I add. But Bruce was never anything other to me than my best mate. Dad joined a local dog training club and every Thursday night the two of them would troupe off for dog obedience lessons. Bruce was never a house dog and Dad converted the old Anderson Shelter in the rear garden and near to the back door for Bruce’s living quarters. He built a hardboard bed raised off the ground and surrounded it with more hardboard so that the dogs sleeping area was draft free. Dad’s modernisation of the redundant shelter resulted in it being warm and dry. I could have lived in there myself, in fact the amount of time I spent in there with the dog, you could say I almost did.
I recall that Bruce, whilst fully grown but still very young, developed a habit for chewing the wooden door to his lodgings. Dad tried everything to dissuade Bruce from this wanton vandalism by all means of non violent measures. He placed Colman's Mustard Powder on the door, and also used eucalyptus oil and a variety of other non toxic but foul tasting substances at one time or another. Nothing worked. One evening Dad returned home from work only to discover carnage had been inflicted on the Anderson shelter door. Dad lost it. He stormed into the kitchen where Mom was preparing the evening meal and declared, ”That’s it. I’ve stood all I’m going to stand. That bloody dog knows what he’s doing is wrong and I won’t stand it no more”. At that father stormed back out heading for a once and for all showdown with the dog.
What exactly happened outside I cannot say as I didn’t actually witness it. All I heard was a great deal of shouting, the odd yelp and whimper, and the clatter of dustbin lids on a concrete floor. A short time later Dad returned with his right hand covered in blood. Mom took one look at Dad, called him something I didn’t then understand, and which now I would not repeat, and headed at full speed to find the dog without giving Dad a chance to utter a single word. We found the dog lying outside on the concrete patio. He was clearly out of breath as well as hot and bothered, with his tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth, panting. We gave Bruce a very thorough examination, assisted in part by the dog rolling onto his back with his legs in the air. There was nothing. Not a cut, scratch or abrasion. The dog was pristine, in the best of health and totally unfazed. When we returned indoors the truth of the matter was revealed. It transpired Dad had taken an almighty swing at the dog, but the dog had ducked at the last minute causing Dad to miss his intended target and instead strike the Anderson shelter door. This was the very door remember that Bruce had spent the entire afternoon fashioning to resemble the gaping jaws of a Great White Shark. For some reason Bruce never chewed that door again and we ate our tea very late that night. Hospital casualty departments were slow even in those days.
I also remember my Grandad’s racing pigeons. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s it was a major sport in the Black Country. My Grandad had a pigeon pen at the top of the garden and must have had in the region of sixty birds. I recall standing in the garden with my Grandad, watching his pigeons circling in the sky above, together with other flocks from nearby neighbours. Even though there were very few telephone wires present at that time the birds did have a habit of flying into them. As a result Grandad applied to the Post Office who administered telephones at that time and a few weeks later workmen came to put corks on the phone wires so the pigeons could see them. I think Mom was very pleased with this development, as she no longer had to mend the birds wings using old lolly pop sticks, I on the other hand found it quite sad as we no longer had an pigeon accident and casualty ward in the house.
However, Grandad took the sport very seriously and entered into a strict breeding regime. He purchased a large ledger and assigned my Mom the task of keeping track of his breading programme. For twelve months he noted the results of cocks and hens he had entered in various races and as the breeding season came, he set into motion his master plan. The interior of the pen was divided into a series of well, pigeon holes, some of which had bars to keep the birds separated into individual pairs. He paired up the best males and females, according to race results, in separate areas so that if breeding took place he would know which two birds had sired the offspring. In each pigeon hole he placed a large brown platter bowl filled with straw for the egg laying process. After the practical process was well under way and laying was in full swing, Grandad would sit Mom down and dictate at length which male bird had carnal knowledge with which female. “The pied cock ring number 37856 with the red hen ring number 95726, the blue cock ring number 84624 with the white hen ring number 82643, and so on. Mom would list this information down in the ledger with precession and utmost care to ensure that the information logged was correct and accurate. The system was as far as he was concerned infallible and within a few years he was convinced he would have bred a flock of un-beatable racers.
It was during one of the school holidays and I was at home. My Dad and Grandad were at work and my brother Stephen, who was somewhere in his second year, was playing in the rear garden when it happened. I remember it was a Monday because Mom was preparing vegetables for tea and I was mincing the left over Sunday roast beef joint, onions and bread with a hand cranked mincer which was secured to the kitchen table. Mom was making faggots for tea (we always had faggots on a Monday to finish off the Sunday joint) and I had been detailed to help. It was then that Stephen entered the kitchen from the rear garden and uttered just four words. All activity in the kitchen came to an immediate DEAD STOP! “Me got eggs Mommy”. Mother's head very slowly turned 180 degrees, a fete I never saw repeated until I saw the 1973 film ‘The Exorcist’.
As I looked up, there in the doorway of the kitchen was Stephen, proudly holding a brown platter bowl full to the brim with pigeon eggs and sporting a satisfied toothy grin. I had heard the words Mother then used only once before, and that was during the dog and the Anderson shelter door incident. Horror was apparent on her face as she wiped her hands on a tea towel and then gently coaxed the bowl of eggs from my brother’s hands. She placed the bowl on the draining board and examined the eggs with care. They were intact, un-damaged and still warm. Now this is where my Mom showed a brilliance that impresses me to this day. She dispatched me to get ‘The Ledger’ and upon my return she started to study it avidly. I pointed out that there was no way that we could know which egg belonged to which breeding pair and she nodded knowingly as she continued to read from the book. What she said next was just inspired, “Listen our Robert. I can’t tell the difference, you can’t tell the difference and the birds can’t tell the difference. All we need to know is how many each pair had”. For the next half hour Mom and me, using the book as a reference, replaced every single egg. I was sworn to secrecy and Stephen wasn’t old enough to know what he had done. And so, with the panic over we returned to making faggots for tea.
Over the next few years Grandad had moderate success with his pigeons which he always put down to his regimented and systematic breeding programme. Mom and me on the other hand...
Only a few days ago I found myself walking around Toys-R-Us in Oldbury, looking for a suitable gift for Julie’s 10 year old cousin’s birthday. As we wandered the aisles and endless shelving stacked with all manner of children’s delights I noted that the construction of most, if not all of the items on sale were to say the least flimsy. I started to recall some of the toys I had been given as a child, and not only how they had been made, but also the materials they were made out of.
At the age of about six I was given a pedal car, for Christmas I think. It had beige body work, red mud guards, running boards and was made of metal. In fact the only items on the thing not made of metal were the rubber tyres. That pedal car was of a comparable weight to a Scania articulated truck and getting the thing going was hard work to say the least, but stopping it was an option that had not been incorporated into the design. After about a fortnight pedalling that then state of the art contraption around the back garden, I had thigh muscles that would have been on par with an Olympic clean and jerk power lifter who was consuming steroids on an industrial scale. A few years later I had company, in the shape of a kid brother, Stephen. When he was about three he too had a pedal car in the style of a US Army Jeep, resplendent in stars and yellow jerry can on the rear. By this time now I had grown too big for my little beige jalopy and, although Mom and Dad never mentioned it to us boys, it was clear that money was tight. As a result Dad built me a go-cart out of electrical conduit. Apart from the four old pram wheels he used, every component was hand made and after it was painted it was 'the business'. A clever and skilful man, my Dad.
One Christmas when I was around ten and my brother Stephen was around two years old I had a punch ball off Santa. It was a red wooden board approximately four feet long, by one foot wide, with a black metal rod securely fixed into the wooden board base. Atop the black rod was a leather punch ball. Also firmly fixed to the wooden board at the base of the metal rod was a length of thick ‘bungee’ elastic similar to the type used to secure luggage to car roof racks, only a little thicker, and on the two ends of this ‘bungee’ were two solid wooden balls about 3 inches in diameter. One could either stand on the red plank and punch the punch ball or, whilst standing on the plank exercise your arms by holding the wooden balls and pulling the elastic taught. I will return to this piece of ‘fitness’ equipment in the fullness of time.
Sunday mornings at 28 Connell Road, were ruled by ritual. Mom would get my brother and me ready, install Stephen in his pushchair and then Dad would take the two of us and the dog Bruce, for a walk across what was then fields, now a housing estate, to The Malt Shovel Pub. Whilst Dad was having his customary two pints of mild and we drank lemonade and ate packets of crisps, back at home Mom would start to prepare Sunday lunch and vacuum the house. She also would take the opportunity whilst us kids were out from under her feet to polish the lino on the kitchen floor.
Please stay with me when I explain that you need to understand the basic geography and layout of number 28. The dominating piece of furniture in the living room was the sofa which was situated in the middle of the room. The rest of the furniture was to all intents and purposes against the four walls. It was therefore possible to circumnavigate the sofa unhindered. I also have to explain that there was a doorway that lead from the living room directly into the kitchen, and that as you entered the kitchen from the living room, immediately to one’s right was the gas cooker. I thank you for your patience, and so…
It would have been 1.30pm or so when the four of us, we had the dog with us remember, trooped back home from The Malt Shovel. My little brother was disengaged from his pushchair and the three of us went into the living room. By this time Dad had removed his shoes and he lay on the sofa with his hands behind his head resting on one sofa arm whilst his crossed feet rested on the other. I believe it was his intention to take a nap whilst lunch was served up. I can’t recall now exactly what I was doing, but I remember seeing my little brother toddle across to where the punch ball equipment was. I saw him take hold of one of the solid wooden balls, haul the elastic bungee over his shoulder and begin to walk with it. I also saw that the red wooden plank had wedged securely under one of the arm chairs and was as a result in a static position. As Stephen toddled across the room the bungee elastic began to stretch to its maximum length. It became suddenly clear to me that the exertion the now taught bungee was placing on my brother, was more than the 2 year old could handle. To him the solution was quite simple. Loose the ball.
The reader must now appreciate that what then took place, happened in a period of only thirty seconds or possibly less. The now unrestrained wooden ball began its short, but devastating journey across the sitting room air space, at a speed and velocity that would have put a World War II Howitzer, 30 calibre field gun to shame. At the height of its trajectory the only object impeding the flight path of the now airborne missile was Dad’s big toe which was standing proud, yet vulnerable on the arm of the sofa. The impact was nothing less than startling. The sound of a solid three inch diameter wooden ball, traveling at just below the speed of light, and striking flesh and bone was to say the least, sickening. Now once again my memory fails me, because I cannot say for sure whether my father was sleeping or not at the time of impact. There is no doubt at all in my mind however what then transpired. Dad exited the sofa vertically to a height of some three feet. Whilst still ascending into the upper regions of the living room he gave out a cry that sounded like a werewolf that had just experienced a severe attack of piles. As father reached the limit of his involuntary vertical lift off, he converted to horizontal flight, orbiting the sofa in an anti clockwise direction at a speed that was inconceivable to my then tender years.
It is crucial that I now explain that a millisecond prior to the impact in the living room, my Mother had removed the Sunday roast from the oven and placed the roasting tin containing the joint of beef, roasted potatoes and scalding hot meat juices on top of the unlit gas hob, whilst she went to fetch the carving plate on which to place it.
Back in the living room Dad was still engaged on an elliptical orbit of the sofa, and appeared to be trying to imitate the sound effects of a Saturn Five rocket on full thrust capability. My brother and I watched in saucer eyed fascination as Dad abandoned the orbital path he had adopted and in doing so made his second big mistake that day. He decided to tell Mom of the grievous injury he had sustained and the errant sibling that had caused it. He ceased orbit of the sofa and headed for the kitchen. Now if you recall, whilst we were out Mom had polished the kitchen floor to the shimmer and surface consistency of an ice rink. Now Dad was in stocking feet remember, which provided the adhesion properties of WD40 on a wet metal surface and, he had reduced the friction co-efficient by 50 percent by hopping on one foot. I heard Dad say,” That little…… .” There was no more dialogue. Just a noise of crashing pans and sheer agony. Upon reaching the hallowed ground of my Mother, which was the kitchen, he had hopped one footed onto the linoleum. The result was his left foot shot skyward leaving Dad at the mercy of gravity. In a reflex action Dad thrust out his right hand in a vain attempt to thwart his now gravity assisted downward trend. In doing so he struck the meat tin, which you will remember was resting on the gas hob of the cooker immediately to the right of the door when entering the kitchen, containing the still scalding hot contents propelling it high into the air. Gravity prevailed. Dad landed with yet another sickening thud, this time at the base of his spine. Whilst now laid spread eagle on the floor, the dreaded science of gravity intervened for the final time. The contents of the once airborne meat tin returned to earth, or rather I should say my Dad’s chest.
Well, he had to drive himself to hospital, back then Moms just didn’t drive. He suffered a fractured toe, a fractured Coccyx and serious burns to the chest, which the Doctor said wasn’t helped at all, by the bri-nylon shirt he was wearing at the time. Well I was just thinking how hospital casualty departments had changed over the years when Julie nudged me to show me a ‘Star Wars’ weapon that emits a lethal laser discharge. Lethal? No. What we had back then was the real lethal stuff…. Just ask my Dad.
I had to venture into the loft a couple of weeks back. The quest was two fold. We had heard noises in the upper regions of the house and I wanted to be sure we didn’t have a Squirrel invasion. I also needed to locate some overnight bags for a weekend trip to Milton Keynes, Julie and I had planned. The outcome was that the noises we had heard were down to a nesting Blackbird family and the overnight bags were never up there in the first place. Anyway whilst stepping gingerly from one joist to another in an attempt to prevent me careening through the ceiling of Richard's bedroom, I knocked over a cardboard box. The contents that spilled out were old Christmas decorations and tree ornaments. Amongst the stuff that fell out was an old chocolate Father Christmas. It was one that my Mom had bought at least 46 years ago as a Christmas tree decoration. As I sat there next to the cold water tank looking at Santa, my mind went back to the Christmases past at 28 Connell Road.
Prior to Christmas 1961 I was going to Charlemont Junior School. My teacher at that time was Mr. Mole. He was a large man, about 25 years old, quite slim and if my ailing memory serves me right he would have been in the region of 6’ 3” tall. I was eight back then and Mr. Mole was everything to me, the best teacher I ever had. The only man who I respected more than Mr. Mole was my Dad. Anyway I started to recall late November, early December and the lead up to Christmas of that year. I had been promised that I was to get a travelling clock and a steam engine as my two main presents off Santa. Yes, I was eight and yes, I did still believe. After all, Mom and Dad had said they had shared a glass of sherry with him on numerous previous Christmas Eve’s so who was I to argue. At school we made all manner of decorations for the classroom and on the last day before we ‘broke up’ for the holidays we had the Christmas party. Some of the kids bought sandwiches, some cakes and I think we all bought jelly. That year we had jelly coming out of our ears and every flavour I think you can imagine. Mr. Mole came into class that day with three crates of ‘Corona’ pop and that just set the party off. We all had a brilliant afternoon and then went home for the holidays oozing jelly from almost every pore.
Now Christmas Eve at Connell Road was nothing short of magical. Mom would have bought a real tree and it was always the size of Giant Sequoia. We would spend all evening, Mom and me decorating it, just the two of us. Dad would have gone out to the local social club or be waiting in line in the local casualty department for medical assistance for some injury or other. That year my brother Stephen was just a baby and as such took no real part in the festivities. As a child I never had to suffer the early to bed ritual many kids did, but Christmas Eve was the exception. On the eve of Christmas all my grandparents would arrive at around 6.00pm and then I knew Christmas had begun. My Grandad Jim (of black and white TV fame) would have two glasses of Babycham, his alcohol quota for the entire year, and the folks would talk about elves and sleighs and Reindeer till it was time for me to go to bed. And so it was about 8 o’clock that I was despatched up the 'Wooden Hills to Bedfordshire', a saying of my forbears, not me. I would be told that I had to go sleep as a matter of some urgency and that the consequences for failure to do so would be somewhat dire. I have to say that the warning my parents gave me every Christmas Eve when I went bed was hardly conducive to a good night sleep. But sleep I always did and I never did meet the big guy in the red suit, well not until many years later when I had children of my own and then Julie and I would share the Croft Original with the legendary old man.
So Christmas morning arrived that year, and as I entered the living room it was obvious that we had had an overnight visitor. On the hearth of the fireplace there was an empty glass of sherry and a half eaten mince pie. Even at the very tender age of eight I could well understand why the once-a-year celebrity was a tad over weight. If every household entertained the old fella in the same lavish way, well I think I need to say no more. On the sofa there in the living room was a massive array of presents. I think the guy with the beard had to make at least two trips, and the North Pole ain’t just around the corner you know from West Bromwich. Well I got all I had asked for. A steam engine, a travel clock and all sorts of other stuff I couldn’t remember sitting next to the cold water tank.
The rest of that Christmas day went just like all the others I can remember as a kid. The turkey was great, although Mom kept enquiring as to whether it was too dry or not. Mom was a great cook, but I have to say she was never confident about the poultry aspect of Christmas lunch. This was something I never understood as a boy, as it always seemed fine to me, and as we were still eating it up until just prior to Easter, I always assumed everyone else was of the same opinion. Then Christmas night came…
We always spent Christmas night at my Aunt Floss ( my Nan’s sister) and Uncle Harry’s. My Aunt and Uncle used to manage the West Bromwich office of the local newspaper, 'The Despatch.' This was situated on West Brom High Street and it was there that the late editions were updated with the late ‘Stop Press’ items. Over the shop however was a huge room and on this one day in the year family from miles apart would get together. Whilst Frank Sinatra and “Mary’s Boy Child” by Johnny Mathis was issuing from the then basic sound system - uncles, aunts and cousins would pick up the conversations they had exactly twelve months before. The grown-ups would talk and dance till 3 o’clock into Boxing Day morning and the beer kept coming (not my way I have to say, well I was only eight) from a keg in the back yard and courtesy of my Uncle Fred. He just roamed the room with a white half gallon enamel jug topping up glasses.
My Mom hasn’t been around now for twenty one years, and the vast majority of folks that used to fill that huge room over ‘The Despatch’ office have gone as well. I wouldn’t dream of eating the Christmas Santa, its over 45 years old after all. But I will treasure it all the same. My Mom bought it 45 years ago, for the Christmas tree, when I was just a little boy.
I nipped down to PC World the other day and purchased a CD cleaner. When I got it home I found that removing the thing from its packaging was a task akin to something that would not have been out of place on 'The Krypton Factor.' Back when I was a kid if you bought something and it wasn’t in a brown paper bag, the thing you had bought was not wrapped. I think it was sometime in the early sixties when packaging got silly and I recalled an incident back at 28 Connell Road one Friday night in the summer, the day we set out for our annual holiday in Cornwall. That summer was hot and Dad had spent over an hour loading the Morris Oxford with all manner of luggage, holiday paraphernalia and of course the blow lamp for tea the next morning. As a consequence he was hot and bothered. Dad decided he would take a quick bath prior to setting out and as a result he could use the last of the hot water to save wasting it.
Now the bath tub back then was nothing like the ones we use today. It was enamel, very large and very deep. It was so deep in fact that when it came time to get out of the bath one had to be very careful that you didn’t succumb to the effects of the bends. Back then we cleaned the bath with a product called Vim, which was a scouring powder which contained various chemicals and came usually in a cylindrical cardboard container about eight inches high. That particular week however Mom had seen the new improved version of the product in the local shop. This new version came in a pink plastic container and although the powder was still white, for some reason it turned blue when it became wet or even damp. Mom figured that the new container would look far more appealing on the bathroom shelf than the old one, a fact I seem to recall that the manufacturers were keen to promote.
And so Dad went to take a bath. The atmosphere in the house was electric as we were, that evening, setting off on an adventure to the South West. Mom was damping down the living room fire which she had lit to heat the water for Dad’s ablutions even though the temperature outside allowed you to fry eggs on the garden path, Grandad was explaining to his friend how to manage his pigeons while we were away and I was in a state of giddy excitement. It was during these pre holiday chores that Dad emerged from the bathroom wearing only a towel around his waist to protect his modesty. I recall the conversation that then took place as though it was only yesterday.
Dad: “Joan… don’t buy any more of that talcum power. I don’t like the smell and to be honest it itches. Was it cheap ‘cause it’s turned blue as well?”
Mom: “What talcum powder?”
Dad: “The stuff in the pink plastic container on the shelf.”
Mom: “That’s the bloody Vim you daft bugger.”
It was around this exchange that the chemical reaction started to take place. The hot bath, the hot day and Dads open pores did not help the situation in anyway. He had liberally sprinkled the ‘talc’ in some, if not all of his intimate places and it was clear even to a boy of about 10 years that Dad was in some discomfort. The words, “Bloody hell, Joan, it’s really starting to burn”, confirmed my original suspicions as Dad headed back to the bathroom for another bath. The second dip in the tub I am sure was not as pleasant as the first, as Dad had emptied the hot water tank when he first bathed. So as Dad took his cold second bath Mom, Grandad and me had a quiet giggle. It had to be quiet as to this day my ‘Old Man’ can’t see the funny side. Pain has that effect on people I suppose. Well the outcome was we were a little late setting off but we all arrived in St Agnes the following day but I am certain Dad did not enjoy the drive down.
The weather that year was not kind to us, but as it was in those days, Mom and Dad had booked a chalet by the sea and we would spend time on the beach taking in the sea air even though it was pouring down and we were confined to sit in the Morris. As we looked out over the Atlantic breakers we saw a number of surfers taking advantage of the large waves. Surfing was a relatively new sport in the UK at that time and it really took Dad’s fancy. There was a surf board hire shack on the beach and Dad decided he wanted to try out this new sport. After changing into his swimming gear he made off in the pouring rain, hired a board and made several successful surfs runs. It was at this point he wanted Mom to record the event on the ‘Box Brownie’. So Mom stood on the waters edge with Dad posing in thigh deep water with his surf board. After the photo session Dad held the board out in front of him and turned to face the open sea. It was at this point the Atlantic breaker hit the surf board with the force of a steam hammer. Once again Dad drove himself to hospital where he was treated for a broken nose and severe facial bruising.
Well I could go on and tell you more but I really do have to open this CD cleaner and the only way I can see it being done is with the aid of power tools, so please excuse me till next time.
Yesterday I spent four hours washing, polishing and vacuuming the car in preparation for yet another summer holiday. As a result, today I ache in every limb and the only part of my body I can seem to use at the moment without it causing me pain or discomfort is my brain! Now although I attribute this to the Ford Galaxy getting bigger, I know that the true reason is all down to my autumn years and retirement, which has resulted in my nowadays sloth-like inactivity. And so, in my greatly reduced mobile state and whilst I was summoning the energy and courage to reach for a cup of tea Julie had placed on the coffee table beside me, my thoughts once again regressed back to the early 1960’s.
During the last week in July and the first week of August, the industrial holiday period when most, if not all the Black Country heavy industry companies shut down for the summer break, the Edwards clan; Mom, Dad, my two Granddads, my Nan and younger brother would set south in search of sun, sea and fourteen days of rest and recuperation. We always seemed to realise the latter three ingredients although the sun was not always as accommodating as it might have been. The destination? Weymouth. Yes, apart from once when we went to Torquay and once when we journeyed to The West Country Mom and Dad's favourite coastal resort was good old Weymouth.
As in previous years, Dad had meticulously serviced the Morris Oxford and polished it so that the paint work possessed the same reflective qualities of a pair of Grenadier Guard boots at The Trooping of the Colour, except of course the Morris was British racing green. Whilst Mom packed the suitcases the only other yearly ritual that remained was for Dad to drive the dog, Bruce the Alsatian, to a friend of his near Worcester where he was kennelled for two weeks. The dog that is, not Dad, as after all he was required to drive the car. So Dad set off whilst my brother Stephen and me were despatched to bed in preparation for the 6.00am start the following day.
When I awoke on that Saturday morning it was clear to me that all was not well. Mom was clearly upset and explained to me that Dad had been involved in a road accident whilst driving with the dog to Worcester. It turned out that no one had been injured but that the Morris’s front nearside wing, steering and suspension had been reduced to scrap metal. Now every cloud has a silver lining and I learned that Dad’s friend in Worcester also owned a garage. Father had, as a result, been loaned a Ford Escort Estate for the two week period. The drawback was that whilst the Morris was a six seater with luggage-carrying capability of a Post Office van, the Ford was somewhat smaller. To be blunt even then, as a small boy, when I contemplated that seven people were about to embark and the amount of luggage Mom and Nan insisted were essential for the trip, the Ford took on the appearance of an upholstered roller skate. To this day I have no idea how Dad managed to load that car with seven people and every piece of essential equipment. Yes, my Dad had a TARDIS long before the good Doctor.
I have to say it was a little cramped and it didn’t help matters that whenever Dad braked the football which was in the rear of the estate became dislodged and bounced off Granddad's head. I am also convinced that if you undertook a journey today under the same conditions you would be descended upon by a twelve year old wearing a yellow jacket and white hat who would then exhaust at least one ball point pen listing the infringements committed against The Road Traffic Act and Construction and Use Regulations but hey, this was the early 1960’s.
Well, we had been on the road for a little over three hours when the car suddenly decided it wanted to sound like a formula one racing car. The sudden change in engine noise was accompanied by a metallic tinkle, tinkle, tinkle noise from the underside of the vehicle. To err on the side of caution Dad pulled into the nearest lay-by to make a rapid inspection. I have to say it was somewhat a relief to get out of the cramped conditions and we found it easier to exit as the pressure inside the car vastly outweighed that outside.
The exhaust had sheered and was hanging in two parts. Now Dad had been a member of The RAC for a number of years but back then the cover only applied to the stricken Morris which was undergoing major surgery back in Worcester. Dad said he needed to stretch his legs and set off along the grass verge muttering what I am sure were obscenities to himself as he went. He arrived back a short time later clutching a discarded tin can. After removing everything from the back to get at his tools lodged at the bottom of the luggage compartment, Dad went to work to fashion a repair for the exhaust system. And so, after an hour and a half the repair was complete, the car reloaded and we were on our way.
Eventually we all arrived in Weymouth safe and sound, if not somewhat crumpled and cramped. The seaside town was just the same as every other year. The part of the beach where we used to encamp still had the blue and white striped beach huts and rowing boats owned by the Kelly family. The clock tower was still there on the promenade. At night time the lights along the front shone as we walked to the fair next to the Swanery where Stephen and I rode the bumper cars and the miniature railway with the engines named Black Prince and Robin Hood. We still as always would head back to the digs eating cod and chips out of newspaper and watch the night train to the harbour trundle along the streets to the harbour for the night ferry to Jersey sending smoke, steam and sparks into the night sky. We would pass sailors dressed in blue uniforms and round white hats from the naval base at Portland. Us kids would get into bed and look forward to the next day playing on the beach and in the sea. Eating picnics near the shore and Walls ice cream out of square shaped cones with the six people I loved the most in the whole world. Those were wonderful holidays down there in Weymouth.
The seaside town has changed now and although the old clock tower is still there, the rest have all long gone and with them a lot of the magic. We still go back to Weymouth though from time to time and twenty nine years ago Julie and I walked along the promenade on our honeymoon holding hands just like the sailors I used to watch with young girls wearing bright summer dresses. But back to the now. I don’t seem to be able to attract Julie’s attention from doing the gardening so it looks like if I want another cup of tea I’m going to have to push myself through the pain barrier and go and make it myself.
I was making a cup of tea in the kitchen last Sunday morning when my wife Julie walked in with her arms full of washing. I watched her walk over to the automatic washing machine, open the porthole glass door at the front and load the washing she was carrying into the machine. Without saying a word she pulled out a small drawer at the top left hand side of the device, dropped in a small square blue tablet thing and closed the drawer again. Finally she tuned a dial at the front and pushed a button, where upon I heard the sound of water, accompanied by a series of whirls and clicks as the machine undertook the task it had been assigned. Job done! My Nan back in the 1950’s and early 1960's had a much different approach when doing the weekly wash.
When I was about nine years of age I stopped going for Sunday walks with my Dad, and instead I would walk from my house to my grandparent’s house about a mile away to spend the day, and have Sunday lunch. I would arrive at around 10.00am and I always found Nan in the kitchen starting to prepare lunch and up to her eyes in clothes, steam and soapy water as she tackled the once weekly big clothes wash. Nan’s kitchen was a basic and functional affair. The floor was light brown tiles. Its only contents were a gas cooker, a red topped Formica table, and a dresser. There was a large porcelain type sink which was about three feet long, one and a half feet wide and a foot deep and which stood immediately under the kitchen window which, looked out into the rear garden. To the right of the kitchen sink was a galvanised gas boiler with a lid on the top to allow items of clothing to be placed inside and, immediately next to that was a device that resembled an instrument of medieval torture, but what was in fact a mangle used to the wring out the wet clothes. On wash day under the front of the mangle was a large corrugated galvanised metal tub which caught the water expelled from the mangles two large rollers.
I never took time to try and understand the exact process and order my Nan adopted on these wash days, but I can remember well some of the individual processes. The boiler would be boiling away, the steam lifting the lid in a regular and metallic clanging manner. Every now and then Nan would stir the contents with her ‘boiler stick’, which was a three foot piece of wood the diameter of a brush stale and which over the years of use had been bleached completely white by the scalding hot water. Another weapon of attack she employed was a thing she called a ‘Posher’. This was a brass dome shaped device attached to a four foot broom stale. Items of clothing were placed in the water contained in the large corrugated steel tub and the posher was pushed up and down with a twisting action to agitate the dirt from the clothes. And so whilst my Nan was juggling various items of washing paraphernalia, making Yorkshire pudding and generally preparing lunch, my Grandad would be in the living room engaged in a similar rigorous Sunday ritual. That would have been reading the Sunday newspapers and smoking his pipe. My Grandad would arduously follow this Sunday morning ritual seated in the living room and stopping only when he had read all three of his news papers back to front or periodically to refill his pipe with Digger Flake tobacco. My Nan would only interrupt him to bring him a cup of tea or to scoot around the living room with the Bex Bissell carpet sweeper when she was certain that everything in the kitchen was set at the correct temperature and simmering nicely.
On the other hand back in the kitchen which resembled a Turkish bath with a strong but delicious aroma of roasting beef, my Nan would be poshing, stirring all manner of items of clothing with her boiler stick and wringing out washing on the mangle. How she managed to accomplish all these tasks with only the two arms is to this day, beyond me. When I consider that she was also hanging the washing out to dry, bringing in washing that had already dried and cooking the Sunday lunch, I still find it quite remarkable. I think my grandparent’s generation were made of sterner stuff than those of my own. I am sure that the reasons for that were that the appliances that today we take for granted were unheard of in those bygone days and also that they had not long before endured six years of World War II. During those war years both my grandparents worked in local heavy industry factories. Grandad was a foundry man, a reserved occupation, at Dartmouth Castings near the West Bromwich Albion football ground where they made heavy engine castings for tanks, trucks and all manner of automotive vehicles essential for the war effort. My Nan worked in a munitions factory of some description packing items in wooden boxes for dispatch all over the world. It was whilst nailing one of these crates closed, a nail head fractured and struck her in her left eye and thus blinding her in that eye for life.
And so at around 1.30pm she would serve up lunch. Her gravy was always a bit on the ‘thick’ side and the roast was always carved in varying degrees of thickness due to the fact she could only see through one eye, but my Nan’s cooking was the best. I never left a scrap. Well come on, I was hungry. After watching the woman tear around the kitchen for the last four hours it would give anyone an appetite. After lunch I would spend the afternoon watching what seemed to be the obligatory Sunday afternoon war film on the BBC. For tea we would have salmon sandwiches and hot buttered piklets (pronounced pyk-lets, the Black Country name for crumpets) and around 8.00pm Mom would collect me and we would set off for home just as my Grandad settled down to watch his favourite TV show, The Black and White Minstrels. He loved that show. I think you will understand, if you have read any of my other ramblings when I say, I think it was the realism regarding the colours in that show that appealed to him.
It was at that time I was roused from my thoughts of yesteryear, by Julie telling me the washing up wouldn’t sort itself out. As I consider myself to be a modern man, who nowadays has a duty to share the household chores, a view my Grandad would never have agreed with, I set immediately to the arduous and tiring task of unloading the automatic dishwasher.
We needed a new telephone for the lounge, and the reason I knew we needed a telephone for the lounge was because Julie said, “We need a new telephone for the lounge”. It was explained to me that the model we were currently using was a little dated and when I tried to argue that it was adequate for our humble needs it was explained to me that technology had moved on to some greater degree and we needed to embrace it. It was further pointed out that the model we had was the same one Eve had used when discussing with the snake as to what after-dinner fruit to partake of following the dessert course. So that was decided then, and off the two of us went to Currys to get a new phone. The choice was astonishing. There were hundreds of them! But the one that caught my eye was what was termed ‘retro phone’ which was all black. It was as near to damn it the same as the first black Bakelite telephone that Mom and Dad had installed back in the early sixties at 28 Connell Road except that it didn’t have a little drawer at the bottom front where you could write down the numbers of all the other two people you knew at that time with a phone of their own. It got me thinking back to when I was about nine or ten and the upheaval and chaos that phone installation brought to our lives in those mid twentieth century years.
Mom and Dad decided that before the telephone was installed alterations were necessary in the living room to bring the pre-war house into line with fashions of the time. A battle plan was drawn up whereby the fitted wooden cupboards which had been fitted when the house was built would be ripped out and the front window frames of the house would be converted from numerous small ten inch square panes of glass to just four large panes. The living room was also to be completely redecorated and when all was done and 28 Connell Road was truly in the modern nineteen sixties, the crowning glory would be installed. Neither of my parents seemed daunted by the mammoth task that they had set themselves and it was concluded that the alterations and redecoration would be completed within three weeks maximum with Dad working evenings and weekends. It all started off so well, who would have dreamed...
One Saturday morning the work started. The furniture and floor was covered in white sheets and Dad went to work with what is locally know as a ‘Dudley Screwdriver’ which is in essence a ten pound lump hammer. The cupboards came away from the wall with relative ease, as did the majority of the plaster from the wall where it had been attached. This, Dad said, was only to be expected and that Mom would have no problem later that evening vacuuming away the debris whilst he was out at the club playing a very important snooker match. It turned out that Mother was up to the task but the technology of the early nineteen sixties cylinder vacuum was not as the dust somehow blocked the machine and hence burned out the electric motor. On his return that night I recall Mom pointing out to Dad, in a somewhat forceful manner as I recall, that as he earned a living as a fully qualified electrician he should have foreseen the limitations that the machine clearly had and a new replacement was expected to materialise no later than Monday evening. The rest of the weekend passed without event and without a great deal of conversation as I remember.
The following Friday evening Dad returned home from work in a Ford Anglia 307E Thames 5cwt van that he had borrowed from a mate at work with all the glass panes he needed to modify the front windows of the house that weekend. He came up the side entry as usual and opened the back gate where he was greeted, as he was every evening by a frantic Bruce (our very affectionate Alsatian dog you may recall from previous tales) who always went berserk when Dad came home as though he hadn’t seen him for a year. The dog calmed down and Bruce retired to his quarters in the converted Anderson shelter to resume his dozing. Father was clearly in a hurry as he had promised to return the van as soon as was possible. The result was that he carried the panes of glass from the van in the street outside through the back gate and leaned them against the dustbin next to the Anderson shelter door whilst he returned the van, intending to stack the glass on his return in a more secure location. Now who would have expected that two Jehovah’s Witnesses would call at 6.30pm on a Friday evening? The result was when Bruce heard the front door knock he naturally thought the house was under attack and exited the Anderson shelter at speed in order to repel boarders, as he did every time there was a knock at the front door. On this occasion however, and unknown to Bruce, someone had moved the dustbin from its normal position. The dustbin didn’t stand a chance when it was struck by a seven and a half stone Alsatian travelling at terminal velocity and neither did the glass. Once again we enjoyed a very quiet weekend.
Eventually the windows were replaced, the walls re-plastered and the living room prepared for the final phase of the project, redecoration. That Saturday Dad painted all the woodwork in the living room and finished at around 4.30pm deciding that he had done enough for one day and that the wallpapering could wait until tomorrow, Sunday. This suited me and Stephen, my young brother who was about three and a half at this time, as our favourite TV programme, The Lone Ranger came on at 5.15pm just after Grandstand. Stephen was already in character, dressed in his cowboy outfit, hat, chaps, gunbelt and all. Dad went to get washed and changed for a night up the club playing snooker. I settled on the dust sheet covering the settee and Stephen settled himself behind one of the big chairs which was in his mind a boulder somewhere out in the Arizona Badlands. The Lone Ranger started and it was “Hi-Yo Silver Away”. We were about half way through and the masked man was in a tight spot. He was holed up in an outcrop of rocks engaged with no less than six or seven of Black Bart’s gang and Tonto was nowhere to be seen. Black Bart himself had circled around the back of the Lone Ranger and was creeping up behind him. The excitement was at fever pitch and Stephen was more than holding his own as Black Bart got nearer and nearer. Then disaster struck, Stephen’s gun jammed. I think actually his roll of caps just ran out but from Stephen’s perspective and from where he was, crouched behind Arizona Badlands big chair boulder, matters could hardly get worse. He stood up from behind his cover having no regard, I might add for his own safety, his six-gun clicking uselessly on empty chambers and shouted to his masked compadre, ”Look out Lone Ranger, he’s behind you!”
It must have been the frenzied gunfire coupled with the prevailing Sierra Madre winds which drowned his words of warning, for the Lone Ranger failed to respond. Once again, “Look out Lone Ranger, he’s behind you”. Again no response, the situation was getting critical. In one last-ditch effort he called again at the top of his lungs, “Look out Lone Ranger, he’s behind you”. Nothing!! The weapon Stephen held in his hand was next to useless. Then he must have remembered seeing what everyone does on TV when their gun runs out of ammo. They throw it! I never did know what happened in that particular episode. The six-gun went straight through the screen smashing the tube and the Arizona Badlands was transformed immediately to a shower of sparks and a cloud of blue smoke. Now everyone says that they remember where they were when Kennedy was shot. I'm not so sure on that one but... I am absolutely positive I was at the epicentre of Armageddon that late afternoon when my kid brother took the TV out at 28 Connell Road with his ‘Bat Masterson silver repeating six cap’ firing western pistol.
The next day was Sunday and it was decided that come hell or high water Dad would finish off the living room and get back to normality. Papering the ceiling was the first task to be under taken. The wallpaper paste was mixed in a bucket, the ceiling paper unwrapped and the red Formica leaf topped kitchen table carried into the front room to act as a pasting surface and as a platform to stand on to paste the paper to the ceiling. And so armed with a liberally pasted strip of ceiling paper cut to the required length Dad climbed onto the table and started to fix it aloft. I think he was a little engrossed in what he was doing because as he walked backwards along the table he failed to take into account the canter levered table leaf. Gravity has never been an ally of my father on numerous occasions in his life and this was not to prove to be an exception to the rule. The decent was rapid and catastrophic. The Formica table top went from a horizontal elevation to the vertical in a split second where it then made a rather forceful contact with the bridge of Fathers nose. He ended up in a heap on the living room floor wrapped in wet pasted strip of paper he had been hanging and looking not unlike an ancient Roman wearing a damp toga. The rapidly swelling nose tended to reinforce the illusion. I can’t remember the exact verbal exchange between my parents but I do seem to recollect Mom mentioning something about a chocolate teapot and organising some sort of party at the local brewery. The living room was finally finished and the telephone was installed and our telephone number was STO 2828. Dad still has that same number today although the old exchange code has been replaced with a set of numbers. I think it’s only fitting that he does still have that same number all these years later because let’s face it; he went through a hell of a lot of pain and expense to get it.
We did get a new phone and it does everything. It’s an answer machine, a fax, it has ten ring tones, caller ID and I’m sure if a horse ever found itself in my living room with a stone in its hoof the phone would have some in built system to treat the animal. It goes without saying of course that it doesn’t have a little drawer in the front for phone numbers and I don’t understand it at all.