Saturday, 23 November 2013

Hometown Memories (Part Two)

Previously, I was talking about health and safety during my childhood (or lack of it!) I’d now like to revisit a blog entry from 2009, some of which I’ve tweaked for the purposes of this post.

Health and Safety didn’t exist in the 70’s and 80’s. British Bulldogs, a game we played during break-time at school, resulted in many broken limbs, missing front teeth and black eyes. Despite this, there was never a need for playground supervisors. We just got on with things without adult intervention. And it's a miracle that any of us managed to escape Mad Cow Disease after being forced to eat those horrific beef olives for school dinners. They looked like turds wrapped in boiled socks, cunningly disguised under a mound of lumpy gravy and mashed potato which had been served up with an ice-cream scoop).
I distinctly remember my Primary 6 teacher clapping with glee as a fellow pupil stood up to show us all her party trick, which involved shoving a liquorice lace up her nostril, pulling it out of her mouth and yanking it backwards and forwards like she was drying her back with a towel. We all thought this was mega cool and not one single member of staff intervened to tell us otherwise. Those were the days!
The best example of 1980’s leniency towards health and safety was my Dad’s generator. Intrigued? Sounds like something out of Doctor Who, doesn’t it? Well that’s not far off. The few times I have ever dared to raise the memory of the Generator in front of my childhood friends has resulted in the room suddenly turning icy. This is usually followed by an eerie silence filled only by the sound of tumbleweed rolling past. Some memories are best left buried.
The Generator was one of a kind. I had never clapped eyes on one prior to 1981 and I have never seen one since. I still have absolutely no idea what the purpose of the device was (other than to torture small children), although I have a vague recollection of it having something to do with my Dad’s job as a telephone engineer. Basically, it was a small, black plastic box with a handle on one side and two long (rusty) wires sprouting out of the other. One person was supposed to turn the handle S-L-O-W-L-Y while the victim - sorry, willing volunteer - held on to the wires (one in each hand). If this was done correctly, a mild electric current, not dissimilar to pins and needles, could be felt in the palms. My Dad thought it would be a great idea to take this contraption into school and to use it to demonstrate the physics of electricity to a class of nine and ten year olds. Actually, it was a brilliant educational experiment which involved the class standing in a circle, linking hands. The person at the beginning of the circle would grab hold of one of the wires and the person at the end would hold onto the other. Ta-da! Everyone would experience the tingle of current flowing through their hands, hence grasping the important message that human beings are excellent conductors of electricity. Now, in a controlled environment with a sensible adult supervising, this was a terrific lesson (unless you were unfortunate enough to be standing next to John Galbraith who not only spent most of his time with his finger up his nose but who also had incredibly sweaty hands). However, in the wrong hands this small plastic box was a lethal weapon. It certainly gave kiss, cuddle and torture a whole new meaning!
Only once did I agree to hold the wires when asked to do so by someone who shall remain nameless. I had a hopeless crush on this boy and was therefore putty in his hands. He lured me behind the coal bunker, another dangerous place where we liked to explore, despite the desperate pleas from our mothers who had to deal with our filthy clothes in the days before spin cycles and Vanish washing powder. He cruelly led me into a false sense of security by initially turning the handle very slowly. Delighted with the attention I was receiving from him I happily allowed him to speed up a little. By now the pleasant tingle had been replaced by a prolonged stinging sensation. A small crowd had gathered and were goading him to go faster. There was an evil glint in his eye as the rotations quickened. I didn't have time to let go of the wires. I can still remember, with horrifying clarity, the whirring noise of the generator. I can almost feel the hot, searing pain that shot up through my arms and neck before making its way back down to my burgundy Clarks sandals. There was a smell of singed hair in the playground for days after. The whole experience had a nightmarish quality to it - the boy’s evil laugh as his cheeks reddened from the exertion of turning the handle, the jeers of the baying crowd and the horrific realisation that no matter how much I wanted to let go of the wires I simply could not open my fists. When he eventually stopped (and believe me, it felt like a lifetime before he did) I remember trying to smile to cover my embarrassment but in truth I fought back the tears until I got home. It was my first realisation that love could hurt. Despite this, the hopeless crush continued well into my teens.
The Generator made me popular - for a little while. I took it into school a few times after the coal bunker incident but we got bored of it when no-one was willing to take a turn holding the wires. Something better, more exciting and equally as dangerous probably came along and the Generator would’ve been relegated to the back of the garden shed, the one my sister and I decorated with blue and white gloss paint and posters of Bananarama. It’s nice to still laugh about the Generator with friends who remember it as clearly as I do. Perhaps every childhood contains an object that to an outsider may seem of no consequence but to the rest of us holds much more significance. To those of us who shared the moments it created, the Generator will always trigger vivid memories –  and not always good ones!

No comments:

Post a Comment