The Back Room



The Back Room was my first bedroom, and the bed was a cot with dark wooden safety rails and casters. Betty said, "Do you want a hurl?" I'd no idea what a hurl was and thought I was going to get something to eat, but she just pushed the cot across the floor to clean underneath it. That may or may not have been the same day I asked her if she cleaned every house in Ayr, which made her laugh. For some reason, she was less amused when I asked her if she was a servant or a slave.

The back window was for 'giving Daddy a knock' when he was in the garden and tea was ready. Apart from the lawn which was made of weeds, the garden was made of sand, which was great for digging holes in. You sat in a fish box with a short plank stuck through the grip-hole and were indistinguishable from a real mechanical shovel.

Things to play with in the garden included the clothes pole (for pole vaulting), cold chisels (for striking sparks on the granite wall), the sledge hammer (for weight-lifting) and the Iron Bar (for pile driving into the ground). The jungle gym doubled as a climbing frame and James & Jenkins bicycle factory where we invented the chain drive and sold our first production model to Queen Victoria.

There was a walk-in cupboard off the back room where the idea was not to bring down the coat rail when trying to climb up to get the bagatelle. The bagatelle was, without doubt, the best thing in the house. That rumbling noise, the smell of dusty wood and the cold steel taste when you put a ball in your mouth...

On top of the school there was a furnace chimney that was the biggest in Ayr of course, and right beside it was the fire horn that went off at 12 o'clock every Saturday and every time there was a fire. It was very loud. Even people in London could hear it.

Sometimes, a plane would fly over. Most planes had propellers but there were a few jets too. The best plane was the (de Havilland) Comet with its back-slanting wings. Somehow, we knew it could do 200 miles an hour and to fly in it cost £200. We knew we'd never get to fly. That was for rich people.

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