Neville John William Day 7 March 1922 - 26 November 1990
Fluffy dog meets Steam Engine (fluffy no more)
Late 1957, following the farm fire and now a graduate pyromaniac, Dad bought me a Mamod Steam engine for my birthday. On reflection an odd choice of birthday present under the circumstances but boy was I happy.
I used to set up my methylated spirit powered (Mistake One) Mamod on the coconut matting (Mistake Two) covered floor of our wooden (Mistake Three) conservatory. Immediately in front of my half a sister's fluffy little toy dog, on wheels and with handle bars (Mistake Four).
I had a toy saw bench, without real blade (no mistake then) which connected to the Mamod's flywheel with a belt. In much the same way the farm's little grey Fergie was attached to all sorts of viscous farm machinery such as the big circular saws (dangerous), potato riddlers (dangerous), grain millers for grinding grain to make pig meal (dangerous) and giant irrigation pumps handy for extinguishing fires set alight by me, in case I did it again (dangerous).
As mentioned elsewhere three year old half a sister (dangerous), half was quite sufficient for me at the time. Given half a sister's habit of counting my Rice Krispies every morning and screaming the house down if I had three more than her. Besides which at just three years old she wasn't yet all that clever at counting.
My Mamod appeared to inconsiderately run out of Meths, and so stopped. I pulled out the fuel burner from under its boiler and went to refill it.
"Always ensure the fuel burner is completely extinguished before adding more fuel." Dad's words echoing in my young mind on the day I unwrapped his present. And which Dad repeated every time he anxiously watched me retrieve it from the toy cupboard under the stairs.
Extinguished is a long word with lots of silly bubbles for even an eight year old to understand (dangerous). 'OUT' might have been a better word, especially given my history.
Half full bottle of methylated spirits opened and duly tipped over the invisibly still alight burner and the bottle was suddenly covered in flames. I panicked and dropped the bottle. It broke when it hit the floor and making a fairly good impersonation of a Molotov Cocktail, it exploded. Covering both me and the toy dog on wheels and the coconut matting floor covering in dancing blue flames.
Curiously the flames didn't hurt. At least not immediately and nowhere near as much as the spanking I received from Mother. Even then I thought that was a little cruel given the flames were barely out and the bright yellow Germaline paste not yet applied to my third degree burns. Before the tube of Germaline ran out.
Following the incident with the farm fire only a few months previously, I was perhaps understandably, a little nervous whilst waiting for Dad to return from his day of labours on the farm. The fire hadn't improved the coconut matting in the conservatory very much and as for half a sister's toy dog, well basically it had been cremated. My sister said nothing either, and which was even more disconcerting. She simply and silently glared at me for days afterwards. Menacingly.
Dad though, unlike my Mother, on the other hand instead of reprimanding me, very considerately even bought me a fresh bottle of methylated spirits a few days later.
That evening he helped me polish off the soot marks from my Mamod's brass boiler and finally, gave me a refresher lesson upon how to ensure a lit burner is completely extinguished before attempting to refill it. Basically by covering the burner with a little piece of sheet steel and which Dad cut to size for me for the purpose. It was perhaps surprising that the makers of the Mamod hadn't thought to provide the same thing. But then they didn't employ anyone like my Dad!
I never forgot what to do again. After two fires in under a year I guess this might have come as some relief.
Half a sister's little toy dog on wheels, still pushed around the yard by her for months and months later, by way of recrimination I suspect, and despite it's blackened and melted nylon fur fabric covering, along with its glass eyes hanging out on their sort of wire springs, did though make me feel a little guilty, and sorry.
Sorry for the toy dog.
Chris Latham-Smith 2022.
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