Christmas past

My interest in machinery goes back to an age of 9 or thereabouts. It’s not easy to be accurate about times past. Memories are moments in time that can get mixed up in a chain of events.

Christmas presents for me, and my brothers were a mix of new and second-hand. Someone the second-hand ones were more valued than the new ones. If I close my eyes, I can still see the auction sale room[1] in Gillingham, Dorset where a mysterious collection of toys and bric-a-brac where exhibited every December. A white painted outhouse building that was never warmer than a fridge. Full to the brim with cast-off items and curiosities.

In the afternoon, surveying the goods before the sale was an exciting moment for me. It was a time to say, “can we have that?” The answer would depend on how much my dad was prepared to bid. That was a good life lesson. Knowing that wants were not always going to be met.

That’s where my Meccano[2] came from. Not just the metal variety but there was a larger plastic type too. It was a junior range. More cherished was the classic metal version. Green strips of metal and boxes of nuts and bolts arranged in neat plastic compartments. Unlike current versions, these kits gave only the merest hint as to what to build and how to do it. So much was left to the imagination.

Cranes and bridges were one of the more basic designs, I liked to build. The cranes had strings and pulleys to lift and lower things for the fun of it. Bridge builds could be tested to see if they were strong enough to carry weight.

Inevitably, the more I played the more the small Meccano nuts and bolts went missing. The noise an upright Hover vacuum cleaner makes picking up those nuts and bolts was so distinct. It was like many large hail stones hitting a tin roof. Rummaging through the vacuum cleaner bag with a magnet ensured all the neat plastic compartments remained full.

Those long gone dusty sale rooms in Gillingham were also the source of more than one chemistry set. That’s when a boy’s chemistry set paid only scant attention to personal safety. As much as to say I had an experimental childhood with a degree of freedom that was wonderful. The more I reflect, the more I can see that was the case. Luckly, I learnt a lot and got through it relatively unscathed.

[1] Chapman Moore & Mugford


Author: johnwvincent

Our man in Southern England

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