Thunderboxes Wot I Have Noan #motherlore #memories

The other day I told the story of how my mother narrowly avoided death by swallowing disinfectant in order to eradicate an ingested fly.

Some of you, dear readers, mentioned your admiration for mum and her methods of overcoming childhood terrors.

One such was the toilet at my gran’s.

My gran lived in a tall terraced house on the seafront at Herne Bay in Kent. We holidayed there every year of my childhood from before I was aware to about 14.

The house, built in the 1820s or thereabouts had two terrifying installations for my 6 year old self. One was a gas water heater that exploded in a controlled way every time it was lit. Naturally this was done by an adult, but the boom and smell of singed hair from whoever had been delegated to light it will be a childhood memory for the ages. My brother and I could stand in the door and watch in awe as the chosen victim, often my dad because he smoked a pipe and always had a box of matched about his person, tried to defeat the devil within. He failed and, looking back, did well not to share some rich Anglo Saxon expressions with we children.

However the toilet on the first floor was a different kettle or terror. For starters there was no adult who would lead the charge. You were expected to flush away your own offerings. However this piece of mid century technology had been deigned for use by a family of trolls. That was the only explanation why the cistern was affixed to the enormously vertiginously high ceiling. This created a dual paradox. The water had a long way to fall to reach the pan and the chain that had to be pulled to release the torrent was well outside the reach of a four foot nothing squirt. Namely me.

To overcome the lack of inches a box was placed next to the toilet so I could stand on the same and pull. Yet the pull required involved something equating to the kilonewton tuggage of seventeen carthorses. I had to use my whole weight, effectively swinging on the chain until the ballcock rose with the speed and grace of a Dowager offered the wrong sort of Madeira.

I descended but I had insufficient time to reach the ground before North Kent’s answer to Niagara was released. That sound, a combination of the finale to the 1812 and Mrs Pritchard’s stentorian admonishment not to run across the playground gave me a severe case of pre-pubsescent conniptions.

I avoided the flush, but that was soon decried by the other inhabitants and I was told, in no uncertain terms by my flambéed father to ‘man up’. After all, wasn’t he regularly submitting to exfoliation by fire? How bad could this terror inducing flush be?

Step forward SuperBarbs, my mum. I couldn’t avoid the need to flush. That escape route had been closed by my unsympathetic pater familias. Nil desperandum, Geoffrey (only she could get away with calling me that). There was always a work around in my mother lexicon.

It took her a while but she attached a length of string to the handle and threaded it through the second hinge on the door where it hung. This did not prevent the door being shut but it acted as a sort of runner. I could now stand in the hall, grab the loop and lean back with all my weight. Gradually the ballcock would ascend and from the other side of the wall that terrific flow would eradicate anything in its path.

I did wonder whether my less than sympathetic brother would sabotage the mechanism, but he left well alone. And indeed, had I understood the concepts of hubris and schadenfreude, I might have made more of catching my father using the mechanism on a later occasion.

I’ve often wondered when I grew out of that Heath Robinson contraption. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe the toilet was replaced. But I haven’t forgotten my mother’s indominable determination to find solutions to problems that allowed for no loss of face.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. 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.
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40 Responses to Thunderboxes Wot I Have Noan #motherlore #memories

  1. Absolutely hilarious

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Norah says:

    What a great story, Geoff. Sounds like your mother was the mother of invention – or responded well to it anyway.
    I was thinking about the previous story of your mother and the disinfectant the other day when I was in the chemist. There on the counter were bottles of Betadine throat gargle. 🤣

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Oh, what memories this stirred. We didn’t have a bathroom, never mind a water heater, and I didn’t even know that gas existed for home use!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Urning gas for heat (though no longer light) remains the principle method in the UK though it is now being rapidly phased out as part of the carbon reduction targets we’ve set ourselves. That’s going to be pretty disruptive…

      Liked by 1 person

      • …and unattainable without compulsion and major taxation to fund it. For a start, new builds and major refurbishments must have a requirement for solar panels and storage at the very least!


  4. Erika says:

    Not only a funny but also a very lovely story, Geoff!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Such a fun childhood memory:)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Chel Owens says:

    I need to read your book to her. She sounds like a mother after my own heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I think she was Chelsea, in that she was both devoted and pragmatic about the joys and many frustrations involved in child rearing. She aspired to more than the two of us but it never happened. I was rather taken aback when she confessed to wanting four or more as I had assumed they stopped with me, having achieved perfection.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh my gosh, Geoff. You got me laughing with this one. What a riot, your father’s exfoliation by fire and the deluge from above. Thank goodness your mum was a woman of solutions. Great story. Thanks for starting my day with a smile.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. JT Twissel says:

    Reminds me of the Hemingway biopic that I recently watched. He had a scar on his head that he claimed he got hunting but he’d actually been knocked out by one of those old-time toilets!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A fun story, Geoff. Your mother was wondeful.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. petespringerauthor says:

    Haha! Funny memories. I especially liked your dad’s words of wisdom, “Man up!” That could have been my dad. Who knew that using a toilet could be so adventurous and exciting?

    I have to imagine the lighting of the gas water heater was quite impressive to a six-year-old. It feels like dear old dad took his life into his hands every time he started her up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      His relationship with his mother in law, my gran meant that he’d grit his teeth and take the risk, since knowing she’d do it if he didn’t and make some apposite remark was sufficient incentive…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pam Lazos says:

    Hilarious as always, Geoff, and a terrifying menace, those old appliances. I had a heater in my old house that did the same and also heated the hot water for the house so you could very nearly get scalded if not careful.😘

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Widdershins says:

    The best kind of mum. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Suzanne says:

    Sigmund Freud would have a field day with your toilet experiences. My Nana had a long drop toilet which was a good walk from the house, the creaking of the door to lifting the lid are still vivid memories. Even better were the times of hearing screams from siblings and realising I wasn’t alone in my dread of long drops.


  14. Jennie says:

    Cheers to your mother! This is even more clever than chasing away monsters that live under the bed at night. I have never seen (in person) that kind of toilet. I didn’t realize it made such a thunderous noise with the water. I would have been terrified, too. I love your family stories.


  15. willowdot21 says:

    I have said it before and I will say it again Barbara was amazing. Great woman, mother genius. If you have not read it yet get Apprentice to my mother, by Geoff. It is my all time favourite book!


  16. willowdot21 says:

    The link didn’t work hope this does.


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