John and I were close neighbours. He lived with his Mum and Dad in a flat in the big three storey houses behind our row of terraces. His Mum and Dad were much older than mine I recall. In later life John would become a bit of a wag, an accomplished embellisher of the truth and the author and prime mover of many a good wheeze. Even as a child he invariably had a devilish plan in mind. I still remember the day – I must have been eight or nine years old – when he came around to our house to play for the afternoon. I guess it must have been a weekday during the school holidays, as I did not get friends round to play at the weekend as they were reserved for just our family only. Boring.
On this particular day John arrived armed with what I soon learnt to be the inner tube from a tyre of some sort. He signalled that we should immediately make for our small back garden. Given that we were out to play within the confines of an area that she determined to be under her control, and the weather was fine, my mother had no problems with this. It was safe – she could carry on reading her book indoors.
John told me that he had, a couple of weeks previously, noticed that there were two, slightly rusty, yet in his considered view, serviceable pokers lying out of commission in or about the rockery at the rear of the garden. He had decided that, by combining his inner tube with the two pokers in question we could assemble a ‘garden catapult’. A glint of mischief was in his eye. I felt a degree of excitement, although being the entirely impractical person I was then, and still am, I could not fathom John’s plan for this catapult thingy, yet was prepared to go along with the idea.
Setting about his task with some gusto, he recovered the pokers, and staked them, about three feet apart into the patch of grass that Mum called a lawn. He then affixed the inner-tube to both pokers in the manner that you would put an elastic band over your fingers in order to construct a hand catapult the like of which he had already used at school to fire small stones at unsuspecting girls – for sport you understand. With that accomplished he returned to the rockery and carefully selected an old house brick. It wasn’t a great rockery, and such house bricks constituted the majority of the so-called, ‘rocks’ – it should have been called a ‘hard core-ery’ really! Anyway, lining the brick up with the middle of the inner tube on the ground he then beckoned me to stand behind him. With him now holding the brick fast in the inner-tube and my arms now around his waist he ordered (I was definitely the private to his corporal) that we pull back with all our collective might. We retreated a long way back until the rubber of the tube was as taught as two small boys could make it.
Just like Nelson at Trafalgar, canons primed and at the ready, John then cried, “Fire”. With that he let go of his grip. We both tumbled backwards. Both brick and inner-tube parted company from the pokers. The brick hurtled into the air at some speed, the inner-tube less so. Whilst the brick continued climbing through the air, seemingly gathering pace, the inner-tube didn’t travel that far. After a slow and brief ascent it fell to the ground like a shot pheasant. Not so the brick. Within seconds there was a loud bang, the sound of crashing glass and a scream from an adult female.
What John had achieved was to take out the entire frame of the upstairs sash window of frosted glass of the property that backed on to ours. Neighbours appeared in their back gardens from up and down the road, all quizzically wondering what had happened. The poor, wretched woman opposite stood framed in the gaping hole that was, only moments before, her bedroom window, thankfully unharmed – physically at least. Terror struck, she screamed hideous screams, then calming a little shouted generally to all about her asking did anyone see what happened. No person could assist, and plainly, two small boys could not have the strength to throw a brick that far, so, in essence, we had got away with it. More interesting however to two young red blooded boys was that it was only after her panic-stricken rant that the lady all of a sudden realized she was entirely naked. She first froze as would an artist’s model then swiftly wrapped a forearm across her breasts and a hand to her groin. Thereafter she stepped slowly backward into the gloom of her bathroom – I suspect our missile had taken out the light bulb also. Even as unfledged youngsters we couldn’t but help noticing that she was rather lovely looking – and after all we had, as indeed almost the entire street had, got more than just a glimpse. The both of us considered this event an added bonus to a mission successfully accomplished!
I asked John if he knew he was going to get a direct hit. He said that was how he had planned it when staking out the pokers. I was very impressed. Even my mother, who herself had come to see what was going on had no idea we were the culprits – John the mastermind and me the additional muscle. Regardless, insofar as my mother was concerned I could do no wrong therefore it would not have crossed her mind that I was one of the perpetrators of the deed. I think that that was the day when it first dawned on me that maybe I could get away with anything insofar as Mum was concerned if I needed or particularly wanted to.
So when people say that the kids of today do things far worse than those of yesteryear they are frankly talking bollocks.