Radio Days. Imagination and The Force.

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Flanagan’s Force

To peer at the glowing valves in the back of an old-style wireless was like looking at a futuristic city, the sort of place the Treens lived in on Venus. You could imagine them flying from skyscraper to skyscraper in their machines and The Mekon of Mekonta hovering around on his brain-powered tea tray. The Treens were almost human, although green but The Mekon, also green, was practically all head. The Treens obeyed his every command because he was so, well, brainy. I really wanted one of those hover trays but I wouldn’t have had the brain power to drive it.  After a certain age the ability to fly through deepest space in a cardboard box or on a bin lid, powered by imagination alone, sort of deserts you. You may of course, sit in the box and make appropriate noises but long before you reach Alpha Centauri, your family will have sent for the good people in the white coats. When adults are described as ‘well grounded’ it is considered a compliment, not a disability. We Earthlings are unavoidably ‘earthbound.’

You might see the Manhattan skyline, all lit up and buzzing with energy. That was where so much music and talk came from. By reaching around to the knob at the front, you could cut off the energy. Wheeeoooo chunkk! Manhattan died. Turn again and the city came back to glowing life.This was a guilty pleasure as we were expressly forbidden to interfere with the wireless. Even the smallest valve is vital to the life of the whole apparatus. The Old Man might have to go down, in high dudgeon, to Oisín Thornton’s shop for a new valve, or to Bernie Clancy to have the whole blasted thing repaired. High Dudgeon may sound like a charming little village in the Cotswolds but it isn’t. My Old Man was there on many occasions. It was not a tranquil place at all. Certainly not in 1940 when his wireless exploded with the surge of the new electricity. The Force was not with him on that occasion. Blasted E.S.B. At least I wasn’t responsible that time.

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Grid Force

Static was the curse of radio, as it came to be called. I believe that the fizzing and flickering on old televisions after ‘shut down’ is the echo of The Big Bang, the reverberation of the creation of the ever expanding Universe. If so, the Big Bang must have occurred somewhere near Skerries, because we got it all the time on radio and later, on television. Amateur wiring and dodgy DIY fuses probably didn’t help. Multiple adapters from a single plug created the perfect electrical storm. Nevertheless the static emphasised the wonder of the whole business. Practically every programme sounded like a dispatch from Nazi occupied Europe,where some brave resistance fighter pedalled  furiously on a bicycle-powered generator to send vital information over the airwaves. Fine tuning was required to locate your favourite programme through the blizzard of static. The needle jerked along the dial from Athlone to Hilversum to Frankfort in search of a clear signal. The needle was powered by strings winding around little wheels. There was a green tuning ‘eye’ that promised clarity. We lived in hope. Sometimes it paid off.

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Force filched from the wind

Always at breakfast time, we got Dvorak and his Slavonic dances from the Home Service, courtesy of the BBC Northern Ireland Light Orchestra. There was Lift Up Your Hearts, a short inspirational talk just before the eight o’ clock news. One of the themes remained with me:……..a clergyman in some far-flung outpost of Empire saw a young shipping clerk supervising coolies as they carried bags of rice up gangplanks and into the hold of a freighter. The sun was hot, even in the early morning. The young man, clad in white, with his sola topee and clip board, was tallying the bags as the coolies struggled up the plank and ran back down.  “Juldi! Juldi!” said the young clerk by way of encouragement. The clergyman saw him in the late afternoon, still tallying and encouraging the sweating coolies. The young man looked exhausted. Even the mad dogs and all the other Englishmen had taken refuge from the heat. ‘”You’ve had a long day,” I said. “Keep your chin up”. The young man smiled in response. He straightened up and carried on with renewed vigour. It is amazing how even the simplest kind word can make such a difference.”‘ He never thought to lift up the hearts of the coolies. Blasted natives. “Juldi! Juldi

The Old Man always encouraged us in the morning: “Get a move on. There’s Lift up Your Effing Hearts. Get out of bed and get off to school.” He improved after a cigarette and a cup of tea. Piiip! Piiip! Piiip. Eight o’clock. Boots on the floor. “Here is the News.(in no particular order)…..Korea, Mau Mau, Cyprus, death of Stalin, The Middle East, (always The Middle East,)King Farouk, Nasser, Suez, Hillary and Tensing, Glubb Pasha,Makarios,Kenyatta, inflation, Budapest, Cold War, Kashmir, Bikini atoll and the hydrogen bomb…” That was before ‘bikini’ took on a new resonance to disturb the tranquility of growing boys. They were only talking about nuclear devastation  and the end of life on Earth.

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Sometimes there was good news; news to make young lads, leave their breakfast,  jump up and down and yell in sheer delight. Sixty years ago, almost to the day, through the firestorm of static, all the way from Melbourne, came the commentary on the Olympic 1500 metres final. The ‘man from Eire’, Ronnie Delaney came through the field, the greatest milers of the day, Landy, Hewson, Lincoln, Tabori and a handful of luminaries, to carry off the gold medal for Ireland. In the apparently relentless and grim Fifties, his achievement stills shines out. The Force was with him that day. I still cheer when I see it on video.

I think it was even better though, on the wireless.

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Sport, diplomacy and war…almost

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After Stalin died, everything was going to get better. When we heard the news, on the BBC Home Service, early in the morning, I asked my mother if Stalin was in Hell.  From what I had heard, he was a sure-fire candidate. I could already picture him down there, surrounded by demons with red- hot tridents. Serve him bloody well right. “Betwixt the saddle and the ground, he mercy sought and mercy found,’  says she.  A bit cryptic. What had that got to do with anything? It sounded like a cop-out to me. What was he doing on a horse anyway?  It seems that he did fall down. Beria, his sycophantic security chief, let a cheer out of him: ‘Hooray! The tyrant is dead.’ Stalin opened one eye and looked up at him. Beria fell to his knees and grovelled. Stalin took a while to die. Beria was a worried man. I’m sure they have sorted out whatever misunderstanding took place on the day, over a glass of brimstone. Anyway, the world was definitely going to be better.

1956 was a good year for diplomacy. Bulganin and Khrushchev  came to Britain in April,  in a Soviet warship on a mission of peace and goodwill. The naval frogman, Lionel, “Buster” Crabb, disappeared while diving under their ship. However, we will all understand what happened, when the British cabinet papers on the matter are released…..in 2057. Feelings may have died down a bit in the intervening 101 years.

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Buster was a hard drinking , chain smoker, overweight and unfit, the ideal chap to send diving under Russian warships. He was an example to athletes who wish to achieve fame. He is still in prison in Moscow. His headless body was discovered weeks later, near Portsmouth. He has been brainwashed and is training Russian divers, to this very day. He was shot dead by watchmen on the Russian ship. Take your pick. We will know soon enough. Diplomacy cranked up again. A major athletics meeting, arranged for The White City in London in August, was cancelled, following the arrest of Nina Ponomareva, for the theft of five hats in a London department store. Nina was a discus thrower of impressive proportions, a godsend to the tabloid newspapers. Her defence was that she had paid for the hats in the Russian way, where the shop assistant kept the receipt. In the pre-bling era of Russian consumerism, the state store, Gúm, supplied everything you might need, if it was in stock. You stated your requirement..e.g. a pair of shoes and you paid a clerk. He or she passed the receipt on to the shoe person who went away and brought back a pair of shoes.  If they were the right size, you then departed. If not you could probably exchange them for beetroot. Poor Nina was confused by the decadent, capitalist, imperialist system.  10742-P0000-000005-1640

Vulcan bombers were put on standby. Nuclear submarines took to the water. Missiles swivelled towards the target cities. Tanks and infantry massed on the borders, ready to plunge the world into Armageddon. However, Nina paid £3-15s-0 d and the matter was dismissed. War was averted. My mother said: “Ah, the poor thing. She had probably never seen a pretty hat in her life.”  Women have a natural instinct for hats. They’re not really very good at war. However, the troops were ready, so they had to be employed.  Britain invaded Suez, where Buster had done some underwater spying in his time, and Russia invaded Hungary.(Stalin was dead but he hadn’t gone away, you know.)  If it hadn’t been for the Melbourne Olympics and Ronnie Delaney’s gold medal in the mile, it would have been a gloomy year altogether. It might seem a long time ago now, but I still cheer when I see Delaney on old archive film. By the way, we had a state Irish language publisher, called An Gúm. ‘I want to buy a book.’ ‘Very good sir. I have one here. That will be five shillings, please.’

Rome in 1960, brought a bright new world of colour to the Olympics. It brought also, Cassius Clay, who lit up the world and still inspires. Tokyo in 1964 brought digital timing and digital display. Athletes broke records, or missed records by on thousandth of a second. It was a triumph for Japanese technology, although ironically, more young people nowadays,  play games on digital gadgets than engage in actual physical activity. I heard a youngster telling his brother :”Hey, I’ve just broken the world record. I’ve beaten Daley Thompson.”  His brother replied. “Huh.” They were both sprawled on a couch, twiddling their thumbs. No victory parade and cheering crowds for our new decathlete champion. Lazy little so and sos.  Good morning Tokyo indeed. Fortius Citius Altius and all that.

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In a funny way, Tokyo 1964 could have ignited a war between Ireland, Italy, Britain and the Soviet Union, if chance and a bit of diplomacy had not intervened. Where would we have put all the prisoners? Everyone who knew Leo Flanagan, has a story about him. He told quite a few, mostly against himself. He had plenty of material.  This one he told me while in philosophical and contemplative mood. “The last young woman I ever looked at with lust, was an Italian gymnast at the Tokyo Olympics. She wore a blue tracksuit. The Azurri.  Ah, yes.” He had blagged his way to becoming chef d’equipe with the Irish sailing team.  He had met a few of the officials in Hong Kong and tagged along. He organised the loan of a boat, a vital piece of equipment. He was kitted out in blazer and slacks and a sporty looking hat. He found himself in the assembly area for the opening parade. He looked around, wondering about his good fortune.There she was, a vision in blue, the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. “I must pinch that young woman’s bottom,” he said to himself. Being a cosmopolitan kind of fellow, he knew that this is a compliment of sorts, to Italian womanhood. I don’t think he had ever verified this with Italian womanhood. Staring straight ahead, he reached sideways and grabbed a good handful of bottom.  He looked furtively to gauge the effect, perhaps envisaging romantic trysts and candlelit dinners.  To his horror, he realised that he had miscalculated. He had pinched a towering Russian female shot putter, an unforgivable error of navigation. In blind terror, he stared straight ahead.  “She darkened the sun. She had thews, rather than arms. Beside her, Nina Ponomareva was the merest slip of a girl. She glared all about her. All my past life flashed before my eyes. She decided that the likeliest culprit was a British boxer, rather than the feeble old man in the Irish blazer.  I think his name was Henderson, a heavyweight and Britain’s best hope of gold. She drew out and punched down at him, splitting his eyebrow wide open.” He emphasised that she had to reach down to the heavyweight. Henderson or whatever his name was, had to withdraw from the games.

There were cries of outrage. The missiles swivelled again. The Vulcans revved up. Leo went to a reception in the Irish embassy.  He met an old friend, a photographer from The Irish Press. “You bastard, Flanagan,” his friend began. “I have the photograph of the entire games…and they won’t let me use it.”. A damn close call. If Leo had started a war, at least we would all have died laughing. Even Brezhnev might have cracked a bleak smile. As for the prisoners, we could have put them in Red Island Holiday camp. It had a wire mesh fence and a big, bearded security man on the gate. Conversely we could have interned them in Leo’s cinema. There was so much chewing gum on the floor and seats, nobody could have escaped.

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That one, by the way, is Berlin in 1936, the first televised Olympics. Nothing funny there.  My mother never mentioned ‘mercy sought and mercy found,’ about  Hitler.  Note: If you go to Tokyo in 2010, keep your hands to yourself, or you will be digitised and put on YouTube..

George Best’s Map. Global Strategy. Ask your Mammy.

Untitled-28There is no denying that George was a genius in his own way. This map might suggest that he had leanings towards rugby rather than soccer. The map makes a lot of sense. There is a good solid weight at the bottom to keep the world upright. ‘Incognita’ is Latin for ‘Dunno’. Think of how much simpler life would be if we could admit to not knowing. Exploded gear-box diagrams or instructions for self assembly furniture, could label components ‘no idea’, and ‘haven’t a clue’; ‘try a six-inch nail’; ‘lash in some glue.’  That’s how it works out in the end anyway. I went past  a hospital once, in the company of a farmer. He remarked: ‘My brother is in there right now, operatin’. He might as well be lookin’ into a bush’. It’s a learning curve.

George’s world is elliptical. There is a good reason for that. Otherwise half the world would be round the other side. Have you noticed that Leonardo’s Last Supper shows everybody on one side of the table. They call it ‘dough-nutting’. It is very important to get into the photograph with the leader. I recall an old geography teacher who told me how to get rid of an inspector. Inspectors used to visit schools to get invited to lunch. ‘Did you ever see an inspector producing the cigarettes?’ He didn’t care for inspectors. ‘Tell him that you’re having a bit of difficulty explaining Mollweide’s elliptical equal-area net.  Ask him to run through it with the class. That’ll get rid of him. Heh, heh.’ Mollweide dealt in sine curves  and stuff. Only Mollweide understood it and George Best, on one of his better days.

Bear in mind that George drew this map less than a century after Columbus. He had no satellites to photograph the world. He had never been to any of the new continents or islands. He gave the public what they wanted, a sea route to the Indies. This map is a call to adventure. Frobisher’s Strait is the most direct route. There would be no Spaniards to interrupt the voyage.  It is there because Frobisher thought that he had found it. Frobisher needed it. He wished. He prayed. He dreamed and George drew the map. It was  a bit like Dumbo. ‘You gotta have faith, Dumbo.’ It took another five hundred years for anyone to sail through the waters of the North -West passage. George might have done better to stick to the footeballe but it was illegal in Queen Elizabeth’s time. People were neglecting their archery. England and Spain were engaged in a global struggle. There are always at least two super-powers engaged in a global struggle, allied to an arms race.

I could never resist a map. I saw an advertisement in the paper.  ‘Get your free global strategy maps.’ Just what I needed. I was an eager student at the time. Students will go for anything free. I wrote away. You write in to complain. You write away for freebies. I forgot about it. The Chinese were shelling Quemoy and Matsu.  They did it every day at twelve o’clock so that the other Chines could go down into their bunkers. They were just making a point. The Pakistanis were shelling the Indians in the high Himalayas. Their people were starving and wracked by earthquakes and floods, but first things first. The Indians are sending a probe to Mars. Should we be worried? Eden was making a bags of things in Suez. Russian tanks were grinding and clanking towards Budapest.  A man called to the door. He wore an impeccable suit. His shoes were polished. He had a dazzling white shirt and cufflinks, all things alien to a student. He carried a brief case. He smiled. He had called, it transpired, to deliver my free global strategy maps. Just in time, to judge by the dismal news on the wireless. Imré Nagy was even then, making his plaintive broadcasts from Budapest. There was no time to lose. I brought him into the sitting room.

He discerned at a glance that I was a man of extraordinary erudition. I understood how the world works. I was a man of vision, perhaps even a man of destiny. With the right knowledge I could lead my people out of darkness. I could show the world a better way. Oh, all right. What do I have to do? It was ludicrously simple. For a small monthly payment I could have, nay, would have, access to all the world’s knowledge. How much? Too much. Less than a daily packet of cigarettes. I don’t smoke. Or a daily pint of stout. I don’t drink. ( I wasn’t much of a student, was I?) Would I deny my children the chance of an education? I have no children. I was a celibate, tee-total, non smoking ascetic. I rarely indulged in food or the pleasures of this world. Mediaeval hermits were roistering layabouts by comparison. (It was the truth.) I began to worry about my children.   The cufflinks glittered. I stared at them. My eyes glazed over. I was falling into his spell. I will obey.

My mother put her head around the door. I know  she sensed that her cub was in trouble. You’ve seen it with lionesses and polar bears, even the wren. ‘Are you folk nearly finished?’ He invited her to join us. He was good. He invited her into her own sitting room. He gave her the spiel.  As an adult she would understand the necessity for Enclycopaedia Britannica. In fact if she had bought it years ago, there would have been no need to waste and hour and a half on this dunderhead of a son. He didn’t put it quite so starkly. She nodded. He elaborated. There was a special offer, a reduced rate for Ireland. ‘Oh, indeed, and why is that?’  I watched him commit hara-kiri in our sitting room. UNESCO has designated Ireland as one of the world’s educationally deprived areas. Encyclopaedia Britannica were prepared to do their bit. They were giving a special reduction, for one year only  to Irish buyers. After that year it was Devil take the hindmost. Not a moment to lose. Eejit!  He didn’t know my mother. She had dedicated her life to education. It was her guiding passion. She was proud of her country. She exploded. His smile faded. He fled, with his cufflinks and his briefcase. ‘The cheek of him!’  Sheepishly, I held onto my global strategy maps. I found that I could launch my missiles across the Arctic Ocean. I had never thought of that.  I had always thought the the US and Soviets would send  them over Europe, the Mercator way. I could control the world’s oil supplies  with fleets at Aden, Simonstown and Gibraltar.  On the other hand, I could send my Mammy in to sort them out.  Maybe I would have been better employed in trying to get George Best to play for the Republic of Ireland.  A cunning strategy.

They got me though. They caught me in a shopping mall years later. I was still a non-smoker. I had children with me. I was a goner. I love the look of my encylopaedia. I have only read as far as Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. What was the name of that eejit, the president of Georgia, who invaded Russia when Putin was at the Olympics in Beijing? He thought Putin wouldn’t notice. He thought that NATO would weigh in on his side. I could have set him straight. Note: do not invade Russia. It’s large and it’s cold. If you feel that you must, at least bring a note from  your Mammy.spider webs 007

Nowadays we get our information from The Web. We don’t know who writes it. It may be all wrong, but it’s free!! and readily available at the click of a mouse. I keep a wary eye on the Chinese. If they invade, I shall build a barricade from my volumes, the macropaedia and the micropaedia, plus the free three volume Webster’s dictionary and the annual update volumes that I have never opened . However, there is no cause for alarm. They will probably buy Ireland by regular instalments. They have great smiles too.

There was a Global Web conference in Dublin last week. All the Web strategists were there. I wasn’t invited to speak. I was too busy anyway, photographing spiders. They’re taking over the world, you know. Scientists tell us that spiders could even survive on Mars. Where did it all go wrong, George? I’m worried again.

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Oppenheimer, Beaverbrook and the appliance of science.

Before suburbia, there were fields behind our house. Sometimes from  a back window we watched old Mr. Seaver in a Mexican standoff with his horse. It was a Clydesdale, a dreadnought of an animal, 120 hands high, weighing forty tons, with steel shoes that made the road tremble. That at least was my estimate, from much closer to the ground. The horse knew what was in store for him, a day of toil and drudgery, pulling a cart or plough at his master’s bidding. That horse was no fool. He snorted and tossed his head, refusing the bridle. He reared up and trotted away in disdain. Old Mr. Seaver followed him, talking to him softly in horse language. It was an unequal contest, strength against ingenuity. Mr. Seaver produced his secret weapon, a hessian sack with possibly some oats at the bottom. The horse fell for it every time. The bridle slipped on. The bit went home. The day’s work began. The master controlled all that awesome power once again.

The Siemens company from Germany built our first major hydro-electric scheme on the Shannon. The awesome power of that great river flowed through our houses, at the flick of a switch.  It lighted our way in the streets. It modernised our farms and brought crackling radio messages from all over the world. Electricity lifted us out of the darkness.The fears of night time receded. The Banshee went out of business. Life became easier, or at least it should have.

My Old Man had a short fuse. I think he brought it back from the war. I think he may have taken it out of a whizz-bang. ‘Whizz-bang’ was the background sound of electricity in our house. He forgot to turn off his radio when the ‘new electricity’ was switched on in Skerries. We had ‘town electricity’ up to that point. The radio exploded. Not a promising start. I say ‘we’ but I was not around to witness his learning curve. He had a great many short fuses. He found that if a fuse blew, maybe a ten amp, you simply replaced the wire with fifteen or twenty amp wire. The plug might heat up and the rubber insulation might fry a little but the crisis was postponed for the moment.

For general maintenance he had a blasted screwdriver, a pliers and a bloody hammer. This is not to suggest anything sinister. The hammer was not bloody from attacks on nocturnal victims. It was that he could never find the bloody thing, or the blasted screwdriver, when a crisis arose. There was no tool box or recognised storage area. Even the bloody pliers went a.w.o.l without warning. It was useful for extracting bent nails (They weren’t bent when he got them) and staples. He had great faith in staples. Some bloody person left the tools out in the garden. You could find them without difficulty, as the bright orange colour was easy to spot in wet grass. What was that wartime slogan? ‘Give us the job and we will finish the tools.’  

The radio was called a wireless. It was full of wires. When you peered in at the back, through little ventilation slits, the valves looked like a miniature Manhattan. They lit up like the New York skyline. They brought voices from far away, the BBC Home Service, the Goons, (Oh, those bloody Goons!) Tom Jenkins and his Palm Court orchestra, AFN, (American Forces Network, with jazz and the first rock ‘n roll. ‘Turn that bloody noise down.’) Whenever the radio broke down, that bloody fellow, (Name witheld to avoid retrospective litigation) fixed it. He got it to work even though he sometimes brought it back with a few left-over  bits in a paper bag. ‘It works okay, Tom, but I couldn’t figure out what these things are for.’  Bloody fellow was also a member of the volunteer fire brigade. Do you discern a pattern there, by any chance?

The first electric kettles had no thermostats. When the water boiled, the kettle jumped and hopped around. Scalding steam and boiling water spouted out in every direction.  (Think James Watt,)  Ingenuity was called for. My father had a card table. He and his relations played whist, a game involving explosions, expostulations and kicking under the table. When he retired from contact sport, the table supported the electric kettle. The kettle stood in a metal tray to catch the splashes and overflow. The tray he got from his old friend Frank who owned a pub. It had a picture of a fish and the subtle message ‘Drink Bass’. Subliminal advertising. The fish must have been a bass but it was speckled by spots of rust (electrolytic action.) I thought it was a trout. ‘Never had a cross word with Frank. Bloody decent fellow.’

When the tray filled up to plug level, it overflowed onto the table. He always put The Daily Express under the tray to protect the table. There was  a Crusader squatting at the mast-head. I traced world history through the headlines. ‘I Quit The Reds: Oppenheimer.’  This was the man who oversaw the Manhattan Project and devised the atom bomb. I knew a man who could have helped him out on that. Underwater electricity. It could work. It became old  news on yellowed paper. ‘ Fuchs Off To Russia’. There was a subliminal message there. Klaus Fuchs was the bloody fellow who gave the atomic secrets to the Russians. After Britain’s humiliation at Suez, Lord Beaverbrook had chains put on the Crusader. The chains gave him the posture of a gargoyle.  Cardinal Mindzenty, the destruction of Hungary, NATO, all of human history passed over that card table. The formation of NATO was on the wireless. My sister said: ‘Do you realise that we are witnessing history?’ It takes time to get a perspective on it. The Berlin wall. The what? What was that all about?  Maybe it is time for Lord Beaverbrook to send his Crusaders back to the Middle east. It nearly worked the last time.

If you can keep your head, when all about are losing theirs etc. etc. My Old man was used to alarms and excursions. He extinguished chimney fires, most of which were of his own making. He unplugged rampaging  underwater kettles. He made porridge in a pressure cooker. Not wise. The valve blew and a geyser of porridge hit the ceiling. We dived for cover but he grabbed the pressure cooker and ran for the garden, drawing a line of porridge on the ceiling as he went. It sat in the middle of the garden grumping and sending out small jets of porridge for about twenty minutes. We went back to the traditional stirabout method after that. Bloody pressure cookers.

He was a prodigious reader. He read in bed. That bloody electrician fellow installed electric plugs with wooden ducting, (perfect kindling,) to carry  the flexes. The bedside lamp failed. My Old man rigged up a scientifically devised system of tapes and cup-hooks to switch off the ceiling light. You could hear the switch–kerplack– when he put down his book. It required considerable skill and strength to pull the switch up, a big brass gadget with a knob on the end . Eventually the switch mounting worked loose. You could hear his furious muttering–‘Bloody Gerry-builders’ and then his footsteps. He had to call the aforementioned pyromaniac to fix it. There was no fire. All was well.

Siemens also made great vacuum cleaners. When my mother hoovered up lighting cigarette butts, the flames roared out of the back of the device, making it look like a Lockheed Lightning jet fighter. (She shared a lot of my father’s technological know-how.) NATO supplied those planes to the West Germans. The Germans called it The Widow-maker. I read all about it in a parchment coloured Daily Express. The vacuum cleaner never seemed to suffer from the experience. it worked on for years. ‘Bloody good workers, the Germans. I’ll say that for them.’

He was, of course, a smoker. In later life he scorched armchairs and left burn marks on practically every piece of furniture. He smoked in bed and yet, except for chimneys, he never caused a  fire. He died quietly in bed, having finished a cigarette. He had been  reading The Windsors, that bloody fellow who walked out on his job. He left an unfinished glass of Hewitts whiskey. He would have regretted that. He had turned off the light.

One day Old Mr. Seaver’s Clydesdale reached critical mass. He achieved melt-down. He had had enough. He was knocking off early. He whinnied and reared. He bolted from the field, with the plough bouncing along behind him. He struck sparks from the road. All about lost their heads. There was no time to contact NATO and call in an air strike. The Widow-makers were probably grounded anyway. My Old Man was electrified. He leaped in front of the horse and grabbed the bridle. He hung on and brought the furious, snorting  animal to a halt. A good man in a tight spot. He was a tall man. I looked up to him.