Windy Days

At a young age, I had learnt how to harness the power of the wind. One of my childhood constructions was based on a chunky 4-wheelled trolley that was used to move milk churns around our farm. It may have been redundant at the time when my boys own “land yacht” was created. What made it fun was that the front wheals were steerable. With a slight slope on the concrete farmyard and a windy day, it’s amazing how much fun could be had despite a crash now and then. My poor parents must have spent a lot of time patching up me and my brothers’ grazes, bumps, bruises and hurt pride.

In the 1960s, dad and mum were still milking cows, but milk churns had been replaced by a polished stainless steel bulk milk tank installed in the dairy at the back of the farmhouse. It wasn’t so much a dedicated dairy farm, as we had pigs and chickens and cattle, but the cheque from the Milk Marketing Board[1] probably kept the family finances in the black.

To create working sails there was plenty of discarded black plastic sheeting. This was used a lot to cover hay ricks so they would survive the winter without rotting. Nicely, this tough sheeting could easily be cut to any size and shape even if the discarded bits had rips and holes.

My first experiments with flight were unique. In so far as I know. More accurately the term “controlled falling” describes what we got up to when parents were not looking. Built on the fun had with my milk trolley yard yacht it seemed natural to experiment. Being in the Southwest windy days filled a sizeable number of days of the year.

Out the back, in a field behind the cow stalls was a standard Dutch barn. Quite a big one with a lean-to that faced roughly north. That painted red lead[2] barn was filled to the brim with hay. It was a sturdy construction that wasn’t going anywhere. A steel roof strong enough to hold an 11-year-old without any problem. I’m sure we were told off many times for getting up on that barn roof.

The black plastic rick covering material didn’t make good kites. It was too thick and heavy. What it did make was crude parachute constructions. I tried these as a substitute for a kite. Seeing a strange boy running with a string attached to an inflated plastic parachute must have been quite perplexing.

Having gained some feel for the power of the wind by playing, it was time to see if these experiments could be taken to the next level. Jumping off a hay barn roof may sound reckless and downright dangerous. However, I never was one disregard my own safety, even as a mischievous young boy. Having springy hay bales to land on or a soggy field where wellington boots sank deeply into the mud, lowered any physical risk considerably.

Parachuting off the hay barn roof proved to be a short-lived project. It almost worked. The wind did slow the inevitable plunge but not enough to make it enough fun to do it too many times. The baler twine parachute attachments got twisted and broke loose far too often. In so far as I remember no injuries were sustained in this boyhood madness. Well, a couple of bumps.



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