Some really weird things happen as you move through life. You may sometimes wonder if there is someone watching over you. I can easily believe the poor Greeks as they thought the gods amused themselves with the people beneath them. An example of that – I was walking along the cliffs at a place called Hunstanton. This particular spot was about sixty feet to a very rocky beach. Suddenly a puff of wind took my hat – instinctively I grabbed for it and found myself with no visible means of support. Needless to say I had to succumb to nature and gravity.
I clearly remember the flight down, but have no recall of the landing. Getting back to the Greek gods, I can imagine how they must have laughed as I landed flat on my back on the only part of the beach that had no rocks. I neatly fitted in-between them. Thank you Zeus, or Poseidon or which one of you who guided me down to a safe landing.
In my bathroom above the mirror are two lights in the same fitting. Gives a good light for shaving. Several years ago we went over to those confounded curly lights – miniature neon tubes. One of the bulbs went out, thus making shaving one side of my face difficult. Cursing under my breath I gently unscrewed the offending device. A very weird thing happened. Now if any of you readers are of the scientific type I would be interested in an explanation. You see I took the bulb out of the socket, and as I looked at it – totally disembodied from the power source, the damn thing lit up right there in my hand.
Although the illumination was only brief, it was quite bright. I bunged it back into the socket and hey-presto it now works perfectly.
You only need two miracles for sainthood. I’ll write the Pope and request canonisation.
As a youngster I was known to my friends as Prof, short for professor. I knew dozens of ways to create explosions and did so. One favorite was what we called a hand grenade. In reality it was a tightly wound and heavily glued paper tube, the interior of which was filled with a home made explosive. We also used to make pipe bombs, but they were harder to conceal. I remember one lunch break three of us thought it might be a fine bit of fun to go blow up a few garbage cans, or as we called them dustbins. This particular time we picked on the district known as Little London.
I suppose children do not think things through properly as we walked down a dead end street we found a large selection of dustbins placed out for collection. I placed my prize bomb in one and we walked on nonchalantly waiting for the explosion. ‘Bang’ and the bin made like the John Kennedy space center. A magnificent display of pyrotechnics. The bin blew out its bottom and took to the sky just like a dirt propelled rocket. It crashed down on the roof of the nearby cottage and fell to earth. Who should come out of the cottage and looking extremely angry? Oh boy, it was our very own headmaster, Mr. French, and typically, there was nowhere to go. As he looked in our direction we ran for cover, but there was none. He knew we would have to return the way we came and so stood by his wrecked bin and waited.
Our only escape was round the back of a nearby house and through their back garden to the open fields. The problem being even there the only escape was to cross the river. We reasoned that if we crossed the river we could reach the school before the Head, and no one would be the wiser. Unfortunately the only way across the river was by a skeleton of a bridge just under construction. Being lunchtime there were no workers and we scrambled across the iron work. Geoff slipped and fell into the middle of the river. Fortunately he was the only member of our little group that could swim. Although we managed to escape detection, we learned nothing and continued our vandalism. Once we blew up a greenhouse, but that’s another story.
I’ve made a few errors in my time and I’ve witnessed some doozies. Once when I worked in air traffic control we had a naval aircraft carrier come in for major repairs. The sea base or port had no facilities for aircraft – the obvious thing was to send the planes to us so the pilots could still fly while the ship was being fixed. The aircraft were anti-submarine Fairey Gannets. A strange looking thing with turbo prop contra-rotating propellers. I’ve nothing against the navy, except they have a rather stuck up attitude. Being the so called senior service they have this dream that other people are merely there for their benefit. We did get the last laugh as the commander thought his men should show off their prowess as fliers. But we had a concrete runway not a ship’s deck. Brilliant as the navy must be, they came up with a solution.
We used one meter square concrete blocks with rings in the top for planes to be tied to in high wind conditions. Sort of a way to stop the planes from blowing away. The sailors painted a section of the runway to look like the deck of a carrier, then they placed two rows of our concrete airplane anchors at about 75 meters apart and connected a steel cable along the top. With great interest we observed these diligent jolly Jack tars build this magnificent device. The last two blocks, one at the end of each row were joined with a cable representing the arresting wire on an aircraft carrier. The theory being that the plane would land between the two rows of concrete blocks and catch the wire on the first pair thus being brought to a stop as if aboard the ship. On first sight, this device looked as if it might well do the thing. Though now I’m sure air arm commanders have physics included their curriculum.
The very first Gannet approached making its strange sound as it gently lowered and levelled out for the landing. Flaps dawn, wheels down, arrester hook down. She teetered gracefully in the air then the hook hit the runway. Flames and sparks flew like the devil’s own grindstone. The hook caught the wire perfectly. At this point the experiment went awry. With sixteen thousand pounds of airplane coming in at a about seventy miles an hour the physics of the equation meant the concrete blocks took to the air like fleeing giant crows – well not so much fleeing as converging. They landed on top of the once pretty little aircraft and turned it into so much scrap metal. The pilot escaped with only minor injuries and major embarrassment. The experiment was not repeated.
One question I’m often asked is, “Do you base you characters on real people?” In reality it’s a silly question. Of course you have to base your characters on something real. Each invented personality must be believable and the most believable people are real people. Always when writing I imagine the character is here with me. I can hear them speak and see the silly faces they pull and of course they always look like someone I met, or know.
Real people are so much fun if you carefully observe them. One slightly humorous story I recall was my nephew. At the time he was only seven and I was visiting England. On this occasion I found him scooting down the street using a bicycle as a scooter. He had one foot on a pedal and was virtually riding beside the vehicle.
“Why don’t you ride properly?” I asked.
In his funny but sweet Fen accent he said, “I in’t big enough.”
“Can you ride a bike?”
“Oh yes, uncle Malcolm.”
Being the good uncle, I held the bike while he climbed aboard. A slight push and he was on his own. He certainly did know how to ride it. After a while he came back and I caught him and allowed him to climb off again.
“That’s great, in’t it, uncle Malcolm?”
“Yes it is. I’ll tell you what, I’ll show you how I used to get on a bicycle when I was little.”
I showed him how the bike could be leaned up against a wall or a lamppost and without difficulty a young lad could easily climb up using the crank as a step. Once balanced, just ease away frown the wall and off you go. With excitement and gusto David followed my instructions and in seconds was haring down the street on the slightly oversized bike.
Pleased with my afternoon’s work I walked to my brother’s house and continued my visit. About an hour passed when there came a loud banging on the outside door. Being the closest I got up and answered the frantic banging. Opening the door I saw David standing there with mud from head to foot, his shirt was torn and his trousers ripped. His glasses were lopsided and one lens broken.
“What the heck happened to you?” I asked.
With a beautiful smile and in his quaint accent he said. “Wull, you didn’t show me ‘ow to get off.”
When I wrote the story ‘Him’ I could imagine young David for in my mind’s eye this was the character. ‘Him’ is not yet published, but it most likely will be sometime next year. The real David was gentle and kind and had a deep interest in the Middle Ages, but unfortunately some years later he was killed by a drunk driver.
There are times in this life when you whish that someone would have filmed your actions. I was trying to promote one of my books and this time Jean who is my wife, and I were delivering flyers. She took the south side of the street and I took the north. It just happened that I walked up to this church, which occupied almost half a city block. I pushed half a dozen flyers in the Manse letterbox when I heard this little voice.
“I say,” it said in a very English la-di-dah accent. “I say you down there.”
The voice echoed off the buildings and seemed to be coming from nowhere in particular. I looked up and around but could see nothing. Again the voice repeated the exact same words. Eventually I spotted this little head poking out of a second floor window. “I say,” he said again. “You, I say, you.”
Puzzled I looked around and could so no one else then I pointed to myself and gave a quizzical expression. “Yes you,” he said
“Oh,” I groaned. “What?”
“Are you Al Beck?”
“Oh dear,” he said sadly. “I’m locked in the vestry.”
I tried the main door, but it was locked too. I shrugged. “So.”
“Oh dear,” he said again. “Are you simple or something?”
I shook my head. “Well I might be simple, but I’m not locked in the vestry.” At that I walked away and left him too it. Apparently Al Beck is a locksmith company, which I’d never heard of. It would seem that the Vicar was doing a little extra work when the cleaners walking by found the door unlocked and quickly corrected the situation.