My aunt wrote this short account of one of her brother Jim's boyhood exploits. It took place during the First World War - almost a hundred years ago.
My brother Jim was a clever, inventive boy. He used to speak of things beyond my ken such as splitting the atom. He spent hours in the shed at the top of the garden experimenting with wheels and all sorts of things saying,
‘If I could find the secret of perpetual motion I’d be a rich man.’
Of course he never did and it hasn’t been discovered by anyone else, I doubt it ever will be. During the First World War, he’d be about eleven or twelve years old, he made a periscope. A long rectangular cylinder of cardboard with a kind of nose at one end, with the living room window open, this nose could be rested on the windowsill. Lying on our stomachs we could peer into the bottom of the cylinder and see what was happening at the bottom of the garden.
To me it was enchantment, a true piece of magic. How he made it always remained to me a mystery. A later invention didn’t have such happy results. He decided he’d make some gunpowder to save buying caps for his pistol. He was busy concocting this stuff in the shed when Aunt Bessie came for tea. Dad’s older spinster sister. With Mam as usual preparing tea in the kitchen, Aunt Bessie sat comfortably in an armchair, her back to the living room window.
Suddenly with a loud explosion an object hurtled through a pane immediately above Aunt Bessie’s head. Unhurt – she was covered in broken glass. Jim had literally been blown out of the shed – sans eyebrows, sans fringe of hair but otherwise untouched. It was the pistol trigger which had come crashing through the window pane.
‘That boy,’ Aunt Bessie moaned, ‘will be the death of me.’
In this tiny slice of bygone life from the back streets of Derby, young Jim reminds me of Richmal Crompton's William Brown who first came into the world not long afterwards (1919).
As an old man, Uncle Jim used to make his own wine, but never bothered bottling it. He used to drink it straight out of the demijohn once it had finished fermenting. He insisted that the yeast was good for you, so he'd swirl the demijohn round to mix it up before pouring into a glass.
Mum and Dad tried it once and described it as unspeakably vile; and believe me - they were not fussy about home made wine.