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.
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.
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…