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The Highbury Estate in the 50s - Part 14

Author: davidjoyce Published: 17th March 2017 14:30


Two doors along the road from us lived mum and dads' friends, the Mundays. Mr & Mrs Munday had, like us, three boys; Malcolm, David, and Stephen. At 16, 11 and 5, they were all a year younger than we were, but we all became good friends. For financial reasons, it had become the custom, on Bonfire night each year, to share our fireworks, and in 1957, it was our turn to play host.
In the 1950s, events such as Christmas, Birthdays, and Bonfire night were eagerly anticipated occasions and November 5th, 1957 was no exception. That it would be indelibly ingrained in our memories forever was, however, not anticipated.

As it had rained that day, and the ground was wet, dad decided to store the fireworks in the shed at the bottom of the garden before setting them off.
Mr & Mrs Munday, Mum, Grandma, Terry, Malcolm, myself, David, Richard and Stephen duly took our places at the top of the garden and awaited the start of the display.
Dad, carrying an empty milk bottle, duly set off down the garden accompanied by a call from mother, 'Now, be careful Terry, I don't want you blowing yourself up'. She had NO idea just how prophetic those words were going to be !
We'll start with a rocket' He announced and, placing one in the milk bottle, lit the touch paper.
WHHOOOOooooooooooooosshhhhhh ! The thing shot up into the night sky, before exploding in a blaze of colour, accompanied by Oooooh's and AAaahh's from the audience, well the adults anyway, they were worse than the children for this kind of unnecessary commentary.
‘Can we have another dad' Asked Richard and dad duly obliged, placing a second rocket in the bottle, lighting the touch paper and quickly retiring.
This time, unfortunately, things did not go to plan as dad's hasty retreat caused the bottle, with rocket spluttering and about to take off, to topple over onto its side, sending the firework, full tilt, straight into the shed.
The results were spectacular; fireworks flew everywhere, accompanied by flashes, bangs, and whistling noises. Catherine wheels were hurtling everywhere throughout the garden, one rocket flew horizontally across the grass, before embedding itself in mums best rose-bush, and a jumping jack flash chased grandma all over the place to the accompaniment of 'OOeerr' and ‘Oh my'. I'd never seen her move so quick!
But worse was to follow. There was an almighty BANG as a number of fireworks exploded together, and this caused the front window of the shed to fall out. With nothing then left to support it, the roof (formed of corrugated tin sheeting) collapsed and the side door fell off its hinges.
All these events took place in about three or four minutes, in the awestruck gaze of a totally startled father, and a completely bemused group of onlookers, all that is except for Richard, who was jumping up and down with excitement, as though the entire event had been planned.
‘This is REALLY GOOD David' he said to me, before dissolving into tears when mother shouted ‘SHUT UP, you stupid boy!' into his ear and cuffed him around the back of the head (parents could do that in those days).

In a few minutes it was all over, the smouldering remains of the shed bearing silent demonstration of an unforgettable fireworks night.
The thing was never repaired, and for years its remains bore witness to the events of that evening.
The next year, we held the display in the Munday's garden .... without incident ...but it was not quite the same.
Richard and Stephen used to play ‘forts' with the shell of the building and it was still in its partially destroyed form when I left home in 1970, looking like some latter-day mausoleum, a kind of 1950s equivalent of a ruined castle.
I often wonder what the people who bought the house after mum died thought of this strange, shell of a building at the bottom of the garden, and mused over just how it got like that.
We, who were privileged to witness the events of November 5th, 1957, knew EXACTLY how it had got like that ... and we never forgot it!


As well as an upstairs bathroom, our house had an outside toilet, adjacent to the back of the kitchen. It was dad's favourite place to sit a while, and read the paper. When I asked him one cold winters day why he chose such a place in the depths of such weather he replied 'It's the only place I can read the paper in peace son, and having served on the arctic convoys during the war ... believe me ... it's not that cold out there!'
But winter, of course brought early dark evenings and disappearing to read the paper by candle-light was not popular with dad - especially once he needed glasses. SO ... he set about solving the problem by installing an outside light, within the loo.
'Its simple David', he told me when I offered to help 'I just place a switch here (pointing to the wall of the small cubicle) wire it to a light up there (pointing to the roof), and then connect a supply wire back to the kitchen light system. No problem when you know what you're doing!'
A true statement, except that experience had told me that dad did NOT know what he was doing .... he was NOT a d.i.y. expert - NOWHERE NEAR ONE in truth, but one couldn't tell him that, especially at 11 years old, so I let him get on with it.
He finished the job, the light worked .... nothing blew up ... so all seemed well.
Monday evening came around, and with it failing light and, having arrived home from work, dad was off to the loo, complete with newspaper. He disappeared inside, the loo light came on .... and the kitchen light went OFF .... causing huge confusion to mother who was trying to cook tea.
'TERRY' She called out to dad 'Come here quick'
There was a degree of scrambling in the toilet, the light went off .... and the kitchen light went back on again.
'What's up now' He said, arriving back in the kitchen, where nothing was apparently wrong.
'This light just went off' said mother .... making no connection with dads actions outside to what had just happened inside.
'Hmmm' Replied dad 'Must be the bulb ... I'll change it' He did .... all seemed well.
Back he went to the loo, switched his light on .... and the kitchen light promptly went out again.
'TERRY ... it's done it again' Called mother.
More scrambling about, and a now exasperated father reappeared from the outside toilet.
'Just what's going on here?' he said
I'd witnessed all of this and offered my view, something that most readers will have gathered by now that I was not short of doing .... usually to my detriment.
'Dad' I said 'The kitchen light goes off when your toilet light goes on!'
He looked balefully at me
'When I want YOUR input, David, I'll ASK for it!' Was the short, sharp response I got.
Mother said nothing, but went outside and switched on the loo light. The kitchen light immediately went out, and when she switched it back off, the kitchen light went on again. Saying nothing, but giving dad a look that I've since learned only women can give, she then removed the light bulb from the outside loo.
'DON'T use that toilet 'til I've had it fixed' She instructed.
No more was said that evening. Dad went upstairs to the loo, mum finished cooking tea, and an electrician came round the next day to sort out the problem.

'I think your son was right for once' said mother to dad when he came home the next evening. He did not reply ... and, for once, neither did I .... I just carried on reading my LION comic.



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richard t
At 12:25 on 19th March 2017, richard t commented:
Great yet again David. Look forward to meeting up soon
At 18:06 on 24th March 2017, ruth commented:
Lovely story, brought back memories of my own dear Dad lighting a Catherine wheel which he had nailed to the shed and of course it shot off heading straight for us. Simple pleasures but such fun.

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