S is for Steam #atozchallenge

For the last two years I’ve joined in the #atozchallenge, namely to post every weekday in April using each letter of the alphabet in turn. In 2015 it was places I’d been to, in 2016 it was London themed. This year it is a dictionary of my family, recounting incidents small and large that have taught me lessons down the years, caused me consternation or generally seared themselves into my memory.  I hope you enjoy them. To find other bloggers doing the challenge and maybe be inspired yourself, check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge Blog, here

I spent a large amount of my childhood in steam. Mum’s kitchen was like a cauldron of cooking and boiling. At most times of the year it seemed some industrial catering process was underway – marmalade, chutney, jam, preserving vegetables like beetroot – and when the smells weren’t culinary they involved boiled clothing or some other mechanical process.

This was, you might understand, back when a vegetable was cooked to a pulp, or so it seemed. Cabbage wasn’t eaten crisp, the only thing stir fried was a chip pushed around the pan and had we heard the term Al Dente we would have assumed it was an Italian dentist.

Mum used a pressure cooker a lot of the time, which generated both steam and a series of whizzes and fizzes that made her kitchen appear to be a prototype for a Potions lesson.

Sometimes mum could become a bit reckless. On one occasion she was trying to rush and had the heat turned up too high on the pressure cooker. For those of you who have never experienced these marvels they cooked whatever it was in pressurised steam but as with all things under pressure there needed to be an escape; and in this case there were weights on the top. Were the pressure to get to be too much and the neat little vent to prove insufficient, the weights would pop off the top and roll to one side letting all the steam out and avoid turning the cooker into shrapnel.

Unfortunately in this instance the weights didn’t so much roll as rocket. One minute the kitchen was full of a low level crackle, the next it was filled with an enormous pop. The weights hit the ceiling, as I tried desperately to exit stage right screaming, mum, who was in the process of tieing up an airer of clothes  let go mush to her annoyance, and the dog, all 27 kilos of muscle proved once more that the only thing entirely frictionless in the known universe is a sprinting dog on wet linoleum.

If I escaped steam at one end of the house, I might well find it at the other. The Archaeologist was fascinated by many things and the power of steam was one. He acquired, as a present I expect, a Mamod – a scale model of workings steam engines – which was powered by a small power source that used methylated spirits to heat the water.

for once I’m in charge of the matches…

Looking back you do have to wonder at my parents and their gullibility, allowing an eight year old Frankenstein loose with such inflammable material. They trusted him which in one sense is meritorious. And really something that might be used to conflagrate the house was small beer for him.

This was the boy whose imagination was beyond his years.  Somehow – blue eyes, blond curls, whatever, he persuaded mum – and remember this was well before his tenth birthday to buy him some Salt Peter – potassium nitrate because he wanted to do a small chemical experiment. Back then fertilizer bombs were a thing of the sci-fi imaginings but not beyond the wide reading of the Archaeologist. Souring sulphur and charcoal wasn’t tricky either. And the small ‘accident’ that occurred when he lit a small metal dish with some of these compounds in it ‘to see how it went’ leading to a sooty mark on our bedroom ceiling and some melted sticky-backed plastic on our table wasn’t noticed. Eventually he managed to blow up a small amount of lawn – not telling anyone of course – and there, we must be grateful his experiments in ordnance ended.

‘Psst. I’ve had this great idea to make a moon rocket. Fancy being the pilot?’ ‘Will I come back?’ ‘Sometimes there has to be a needless sacrifice…’

Neither of us thought there was anything wrong with this; even when he built a horn for an old fashioned gramophone player that lacked the same leading to the needle being so deeply embedded in the heel of my foot that I required an operation to remove it, we didn’t want the experiments to stop. A little collateral damage was a small price to pay to satiate for a while an otherwise unquenchable curiosity. Would he be the polymath he is today, had that urge been restrained? Maybe not. Anyway I’m sure he’s forgiven me now for breaking that needle given how long it took him to make that horn…

Plotting, always plotting…

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
This entry was posted in A to Z blogging challenge, family, memories, miscellany and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to S is for Steam #atozchallenge

  1. Exciting stuff Geoff, sounds like a lively household! My brother used to get up to shenanigans too. Climbing up on the roof was one of his favourite pastimes and there were some explosions too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. willowdot21 says:

    I have had contact with your brother …he does seem very nice and he is very intelligent. I do worry about him though and now even though I love the sound of your Mum and Dad ….. I am concerned about your safety as a child… how do you manage to appear to be so well balanced now. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your family stories are always so interesting, Geoff. And fun! Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rowena says:

    Your stories always sounds too familiar to me. My Dad’s brother made some kind of explosive device as a young boy and blew off his eyebrows at the time. Our son pulled apart an old remote today and destroyed it. I had the feeling I should head off to the op shop to buy a few disposables for him to pull apart.
    Meanwhile, I’m wanting to make a sculpture of my grandmother the concert pianist using some brass cuckoo clock parts I found beside the road next door and pinching the pedals off the old piano I’ve been wanting to get out of the house. My concept is based on trench art and as much as I can see this creation in my head, I have no experience in welding etc to put it together. I guess that’s what I have Geoff for…or the young man. Young men are always fairly intent on blowing themselves or someone else up. Might as well do it for a good cause.
    I’m up way too late again and seem to have found my own, personal time zone.
    xx Ro

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ritu says:

    You do.make me laugh!
    Lil Princess says to eat ‘steam ‘ is posh!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Charli Mills says:

    I have a similar childhood photo of an age with yours and I’m clutching a pack of cigarettes. We could have made a great toddler gang! The Hub was experienced and experimental in ordnance, as well. He grew up in the Nevada desert and had space to blow up big homemade bombs and on a farm which supplied plenty of ingredients. Stream, however, was not a factor. Ouch, to that embedded needle.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think growing up in the middle of last century (!) we were allowed to be children and experiment with the world. For many boys that meant activities that involved matches and some substance or other that ensured the desired outcome – blowing things up. 🙂 I spent a lot of my childhood wandering over hills and through valleys and bush entirely alone and very often ended sitting at the very top of a very tall tree trying to see to the ends of the earth. Nowadays none of this is allowed any more as it is ‘too dangerous’. I know who I think is the better off generation. Yay for the Archaeologist – and for you for surviving his experiments!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My brother liked blowing things up too, or setting fire to things!
    My mum was always too scared to getr a pressure cooker in case it blew the roof off the house or something! It was bad enough trying to get her to use the microwave when that first came out , she was terrified of it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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