Happy Christmas and a prosperous 2007 to all my readers, especially the large number I assume are on the four to twelve am shift, or like me, need less sleep now. I have been a watch-keeper. I found the trick, after you have settled in, was to find something to do to keep one alert, especially if you are on your own. I hope I am not being presumptuous in thinking this stuff helps.. To mildly amuse those working on Xmas Day I tell another ridiculous story and a Xmas one.
The Day I Nearly Shot Granny I was on leave from the Navy in 1942 when there was very nearly a disastrous accident. Gran asked me to look through my grandfather’s toolbox to see if there was anything I fancied as she was ‘clearing out’. I found a gun, an old, out of date revolver. Gran explained that one of my grandfather’s jobs involved carrying money, and for protection he bought the revolver I was looking at. I took it out to the garden the better to see it and found it was a type I had never seen before. Revolvers today have a hammer which strikes the centre of the cartridge, in these older ones, the hammer fired the cartridge by striking a rim pin set in the edge of the cartridge at the side, at right angles to the axis of the cartridge. Being unfamiliar with the system I spent fruitless time trying to find how the chamber opened. To be safe I fired what I thought were six shots in the air but the chambers were empty. I remember that above us, glistening in the sun, was a barrage balloon, simply calling to act as a target, but I resisted.
I then called Gran over to show her the gun. We stood examining it at the back door and I told her how I had fired it, and to show it was empty I pointed it casually at the ground and fired once more. You’ve guessed it! The wretched thing had one more cartridge. It hit the ground between our feet and ricocheted with a whine off down the garden. For a moment we stood looking at one another dumbfounded and while I could see no funny side to it, realising that the ricochet could have severely injured her, Gran gave a shaky laugh. The gun had either seven or eight chambers instead of the current norm of six.
A Christmas Story -The Shooting Sheet Of Flame
Christmas Lunch was over, the majority of the family wanted to stretch their legs and the children to push, ride or wear what Santa had brought. My young nephew, Ian, elected to stay with me as I was on duty – my mother was ill in bed. We then sat at the fire and chatted. The room was resplendent with Christmas decorations and Christmas cards on every level surface. The fire was nearly out; if the family came back, feeling righteous but cold, this would be frowned upon. I went in search of paraffin to sharpen it up. The can was empty. Not for the first time I decided to take the risk of using turpentine. I added fresh coal sprinkled turps and then found the Christmas cards had usurped the matches on the mantelpiece. By the time I found them seconds had elapsed. Through all this time Ian had been standing beside the fireplace watching the proceedings silently, taking all in but reserving judgement, while turps fumes were expanding, I struck the match
and offered it to the fire.
For a second nothing happened and then, between Ian and myself, a sheet of orange flame came from the fireplace, out some four feet into the room and then just as quickly returned up the chimney. Ian’s expression intrigued me, once I was over the shock of our personal flame-thrower – not so much the expression as the lack of it. His head had followed the the flame out of the grate and back in with total equanimity, The next phase was less dangerous but much more troublesome. For an instant there was silence and then there was a rumbling like one hears standing in a house built over the Tube Railway in London when a train is passing below. Buckets of soot descended into the grate, into the fireplace and spilled out further. Not only that, a cloud of the stuff settled on every available surface throughout the room. Above, my mother’s wavering voice was questioning what was going on, her bedroom shared the same chimney stack so she had been party to the rumble. I said there was nothing to worry about, and proceeded to clean and Hoover up, which really meant a full Spring Clean of the place, cards and all. Ian and I sat back with a newspaper over the fireplace to encourage the fire into life, when there was another rumble and yet more soot. The moral would seem to be that if in doubt, don’t, and also that some nephews should regard uncles and their decisions with a keen suspicion.
Have a good Christmas – best wishes, John – A Very Old Gaffer