In My Day, we had a saying – Boys Will Be Boys. And we were. Like the time we wedged a cucumber through an aged spinster’s letter-box… then phoned her and screamed “The Martians Are Invading!”
Actually, that’s just a gag. In My Day, most people didn’t HAVE a phone. But some technology DID exist in those far-off days. Like rolling blackboards. These meant you could write a cheeky remark about a teacher – like, “Bunter looks like a monkey” (he did) or “Noddy is a berk” (he was) – on the board, above a piece they wanted to keep – then roll it up.
Later, when said teacher needed to write something new, he would roll the board down, seeking an available space – and be confronted by the comment. The class could then laugh their heads off – and there was little the luckless master could do, other than go purple and quickly rub the comment off.
But teachers weren’t the only targets for our Mischief. Supermarkets were fair game too. Like the one we used to queue outside, while waiting for the school bus. One day, they were having a special on washing-up liquid. And someone had piled up a display just inside the window.
Thanks to physics classes, I knew about harnessing the power of the Sun and next day brought a large magnifying glass with me. And whilst a couple of boys covered me, I used it to focus the Sun’s rays THROUGH the window, onto the bottom of one of the bottles. As it cut through the plastic like a tiny blow-torch, I slowly moved the glass in a circle. Eventually, a small circle of plastic hinged open.
Then I concentrated the beam onto the TOP of the bottle. After a few more seconds, this burned a small hole, allowing ingress of AIR (more physics).
For a few moments, we watched with satisfaction as the pool of green liquid spread rapidly across the floor – then our bus arrived. The next day, we saw the display of washing-up liquid had been moved AWAY from the window and been replaced by a display of beans – in TINS. Tee-hee!
Sometimes, our Mischief was quite sophisticated. Like the time we found an old pre-war Morris Eight in a shed, by the school field. Amazingly, the headmaster gave us permission to restore it. So we cut the body off and dumped it into a nearby tip and set to work to get the chassis working. A poor boy’s “Bucket T”.
Long story short, we hooked up the carb to a plastic bottle filled with petrol and tinkered with the electrics. Eventually, using the crank, we managed to get it started and all jumped aboard. We managed to get in several laps of the school field before a teacher ran out and stopped us.
Then, intrigued by our achievement, he allowed us to take him for a couple of laps. I was driving and as I hit a corner, Mr Chenery suddenly disappeared from sight. As I looked in the mirror, I saw him and his seat tumbling along behind, on the grass. We had neglected to warn him that the passenger seat wasn’t actually bolted to anything.
Thus ended the first period of my driving career – but the Morris Eight did make a reappearance – at an “Open Day”. But not being DRIVEN. The boy who’d managed to get the electrics working was allowed to stand by it and proudly demonstrate its (one) working headlight. On. Off.
Meanwhile, on the edge of town was a heath. And on this PUBLIC heath – was a PRIVATE golf club. Now this was a constant source of friction since, while the tees, fairways (except for recognised crossing points) and greens were private – everywhere else was public domain. Including two unofficial cycle tracks.
These were kept clear by constant use (although who had originally carved them through the VICIOUS gorse bushes, gawdnose) and featured a number of large DIPS. These MADE the cycle tracks.
The story was, on a bombing run back in WW2 (which had only ended twenty years earlier – although to us, it was another AGE) the Luftwaffe had missed the town and hit the heath, setting light to the gorse bushes, which blazed brilliantly (having torched a few, I knew this to be true) making the Hun think they’d hit a useful target.
Of course, the fire brigade let it burn, so the Master-Race would drop all their bombs HARMLESSLY, that night. And now overgrown by gorse bushes, the craters left by Jerry remained, giving us the two “switchback” cycle tracks.
One time, someone produced a rope and we hooked two of our bikes together – the back of Lamb’s to the front of mine. But just being towed around the circuit quickly got old, so on the main straight which preceded a BIG dip, I PASSED Lamb, timing it so’s the rope would go taut again JUST as I STOOD on the pedals, as I went down the dip.
The result was instantaneous – and spectacular (thanks, Leslie). Lamb’s bike SPUN round and SHOT forward – catapulting him through the air, OVER me – and head-first into a large gorse bush. Oh how we laughed as we helped him pull the thorns out of his head, one at a time. Again, physics (whose “O” level I actually FAILED to get) came in handy – but that scene from “M. Hulot’s Holiday” might have helped, too.
Anyway, while we stayed on the cycle tracks, there was no problem. But the private golf course also provided opportunities for Mischief. Especially on the long, straight, par-five. The thing was, it had a RISE in the middle, making the second shot BLIND. This meant if you concealed yourself in the bushes and waited for a ball to come over, fun could be had.
Like, if it made the green, you could nip out and put it in the hole – then watch the golfer jump up and down with joy when he discovered he’d scored a double-eagle. Although they were less pleased when we’d substitute their ball for a life-sized TOY one.
As soon as they HIT it, they knew from its weight that something was amiss. Then when they reached it, they’d see what we’d done. But fair do – we knew the strict rules of golf, so would toss their original ball back to where it’d been – and quickly run away.
But one day, as we were hanging out at the cycle track, minding our own business, the golf-pro and his son appeared and gave us an almighty bollocking for carving up their greens with our bikes – something we’d NEVER done (the washing-up liquid bottle ploy had STYLE – we were NOT vandals). But our protestations were to no avail. We still received their ire – and felt WRONGED. Thus REVENGE was due.
Now our scientific knowledge stretched to making BOMBS. A fifty-fifty mix of sodium chlorate (weedkiller – in those days available from any garden supplier – but not NOW, which is why I can TELL you this) and caster sugar, rammed and sealed into a pipe, with a small hole into which was placed a length of Jet-Ex fuse, made a very useful explosive device. You could blow up a car with one.
However, we were only looking for simple revenge – not BLOOD. We just wanted to send a MESSAGE to these clowns. They lived in the middle of the heath in a large, two-storey Thirties house, the ground floor of which served as a pro-shop and “nineteenth hole” (the bar) while they resided upstairs.
In those days, Halloween had not yet supplanted Guy Fawkes Night, so fireworks were freely available from late September, right up to The Fifth Of November. And it was now mid-October. Our favourites were the rocket, the tuppenny banger – and the notorious “Air Bomb”.
A little explanation may be useful, as I’m not sure if they’re still available. The penny and tuppenny bangers had a fuse – then about twenty seconds of token “pretty” sparks, followed by a bang (in the case of the tuppenny one – a BANG!) Meanwhile, the Air Bomb had about forty-five seconds of pretty sparks, then it would fire a little fused parcel into the air, which would rise to about thirty feet and then go off in mid-air with a SERIOUS BANG!!!
Rockets were useful as a launch vehicle for a ground-to-ground (or -to-air) MISSILE. You’d tape a tuppenny banger to them and whether they exploded in mid-air – or someone’s back garden, a couple of hundred yards away – depended on whether you lit the banger’s fuse straight away – or let the jet from the rocket do it.
But this mission would just require tuppenny bangers – A HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SIX of them – plus as many Air Bombs as our combined pocket money could afford (in this case – four). The plan was simple but needed military precision – particularly the TIMING.
We taped the bangers together in honeycomb groups of seven, with the fuses tied together. Then taped THOSE together in groups of six. This meant ALL the bangers in each bundle could be lit from just six points. Me, Hank and The Horse took one pack of forty-two bangers each. Lamb was entrusted with the Air Bombs.
It was nine o’clock. All was pitch dark and deathly quiet as we cycled across the heath towards our intended target. Hiding our bikes in a bush, we set off to the golf-house. On arriving, we could see our victims were in place. The upstairs curtains were drawn, but the lights were on and the sound of a TV drifted down to us (double-glazing was still YEARS away).
Having previously synchronised our watches to the second, we agreed on a “zero hour” and circled around the house. I took the side door, The Horse took the other side, Hank took the back and Lamb positioned himself on the grass in front, pushing the Air Bombs into it, at an ANGLE -designed so that the bombs would detonate over the TOP of the house.
At the appointed second, we lit our hundred and twenty-six bangers – then, twenty-five seconds later, Lamb lit the Air Bombs. We all retired into the bushes to watch the fun. Apart from the tinny sound of the TV, all was still quiet. Then it began.
For the next ten seconds ALL HELL LET LOOSE!!! The roar of one hundred and twenty-six LOUD BANGS erupted from ALL ROUND the house and – right on cue – above the roof, the Air Bombs detonated with four MASSIVE BOOMS! It was like WORLD WAR THREE!!!
The echoes finally died away – and silence once more reigned. Even the TV’s sound had stopped. Slowly, a curtain inched open and a very scared face peeped out. At that point we made good our escape.
These reminiscences have merely been a nosegay of the things we got up to in the name of Mischief, when I was a boy. Sadly today, these pranks would be looked upon as TAME – no damage to property (apart from that one bottle of washing-up liquid) and no-one got hurt (assuming nobody in the golf-house suffered from a weak heart).
THESE days, Mischief involves stealing CARS and driving them recklessly. Setting fire to HOUSES – even PEOPLE. The sort of behaviour which In My Day would have been considered PSYCHOTIC – and would have lead to the perpetrators being institutionalised for LIFE.
One YEARNS for the days when our kind of pranks ruled. Shit, we were just having a little FUN…