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.