Paradise and Shrapnel

Thinking of memories and their relevance in old age my mind drifts back to inventive days in childhood.

The inventions were miniature bombs, actually.

In the 1940s, with the war still on or just ended, we primary school youngsters prized shrapnel – the debris from air battles and bombs.

A piece of shrapnel was cold to the touch, and heavy for its dimensions –  usually about three inches by half an inch as I recall, and jagged. It was satisfyingly compact as I weighed it in my hand

We collected these chunks of metal, as we collected cigarette cards with their sepia pictures of cricketers and other sportsmen, and coveted and competed for other children’s collections of glass and china marbles.

Meanwhile, in more solitary moments at home, I read and loved the ‘William’ books and the Arthur Ransome series about youngsters living self-reliant, separate lives in the Lake District and the Norfolk Broads.

Our little gang was very well organised: by us. We had both cricket and football teams which played against teams from other local areas. We organised our own pitches, in South Harrow Park.  Aged 11, I broke a finger in one game, as I tried to catch a cricket ball at mid on. We knew all the fielding positions. We shared our pads, one for each batsman – and had  somewhere acquired a scorebook.

None of us was more than 13 years old. And we had a magazine which we wrote by hand and circulated amongst ourselves. We also played and enjoyed Subbuteo, a table football game which had a tiny plastic ball and involved 22 tiny players balanced on half spheres which were finger-flicked to ‘kick’ the ball.

But, what about the explosives? We had an amenable local ironmongers where we could buy some basic chemicals. We discovered that if we took two large screws and joined them together with a nut and then placed a mixture of the two substances underneath the nut, at the join, we could create a very satisfying bang.

What we did, having created the device, was to stand back and throw it at the wall of the nearby public air raid shelter. CRACK. At other times we climbed on to the roof of the shelter and jumped off into a pile of sand – about eight or nine feet. No-one was hurt.

Near the shelter, which inside smelt damp and cold, was the community pig bin. Over the road was a friend’s garden which was full of tall, sweet phlox – see elsewere on this blog.

Odd to remember these moments of childhood paradise, in the aftermath of war and concentration camps. But because of a near fatal road accident in the family it was to end in 1947.

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