Not An Electric Eel In the Belfast shipyard of Harland and Wolf, it was necessary for me to go into the bowels of the ships to check wiring. It was there that I discovered the cruel, if crafty, disciplinary action of the management. Generally it was a long way from any part of the ship to the conveniences ashore, and, in wartime, most of the men were on piecework which meant that every moment counted – to stop work was like drawing blood. The men therefore, tended to relieve themselves in some dark corner of the bowels of the ship which was under construction. The management had its own bizarre solution to this problem, in the same dark corner they had a string of short lengths of live, low voltage electric cable, stripped of its insulation – that tended to cure the practice.
Incendiaries I was asleep in bed when my mother woke me, telling me the house opposite had been hit by an incendiary – silver coloured tubes, probably of aluminium, about nine inches to a foot long which were dropped in bunches and scattered on their way down, bursting on impact and setting fire to anything combustible within a small radius. In this case it had gone through the scullery roof of the house opposite, and was setting fire to the laundry. The ARP issued us with a stirrup pump, really a garden spray, two buckets, one for water, one for sand, and a long handled shovel – a broom handle with a small, square mouthed coal shovel fitted – something for lifting dog excrement rather than digging . One was supposed to lift the incendiary, set it in a bucket of sand to burn itself out. The water was to put out the fires. It was a totally useless system for any conflagration greater than a smouldering cigarette – just another cosmetic exercise to hoodwink the populace.
I put on my tin hat, trousers and gum boots, I climbed on to the roof of the scullery and opened up a hole to put the stirrup hose through. The whole exercise was a total waste of time and in the end we just chucked buckets of water in .There was no point in trying to open the door into the yard, the place below was an inferno.
Fire Watching On another night, two of us were fire watching at an office when there was a shower of incendiaries and one lodged behind a stone balustrade. Too far to reach with the long shovel, I decided to slide down the roof and wedge my feet against the balustrade to tip the incendiary out through one of the holes between the columns. The idea seemed safe enough and that was what we did. It was only when we went up in daylight to see what damage had occurred that we discovered that the balustrade had one or two larger holes at intervals, holes a body could have slid through and shot down to the road some five floors below. They do say ignorance is bliss.
Knowing I was short of cash an aunt got me a job fire watching in a tea warehouse in Docklands. It was tedious, boring, but well-paid. Opposite, some distance away, was a railway viaduct and one of the arches had been equipped with heavy doors at either end to form an air raid shelter. On a night, when I was not there, the Docklands had the terrible bombing, and a bomb blew the doors up the shelter killing and injuring many, while my tea warehouse, unsurprisingly, was consumed. This was another case where ignorance at the time is bliss.
High Tea. A friend had two daughters with a four-year age difference. Sara and Denise The older daughter Sara had a boyfriend and had persuaded her parents to let her invite him to high tea. They in turn had insisted that Denise was to have tea, as a chaperone. Never in their wildest dreams did they suspect the outcome of this rash decision. They were given book and verse, and a blow by blow account of what had happened, from a deeply offended Sara, on their return.
Sara had really pushed the boat out with a fresh salmon salad and all the trimmings. That was not the problem, the problem was Denise. Apparently, Sarah had everything prepared, with the table beautifully laid and only had to bring a few things to the table after the boy and Denise were seated, but that was when strife began. How Denise thought up the ploy has always been a mystery, she was only about thirteen years old. She was fully conversant with all their condiments, utensils and cutlery, but on this occasion she chose to ignore all that and show surprise at everything on the table. ‘What’s this?’ she asked, picking up the pickle fork. ‘I didn’t know we had one of those.’ Next it was the fish forks, the pepper mill, the sweet server and so on. When we heard the story, we and their parents commiserated with Sara in absentia, but we all had to laugh at such devious thinking.