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Friday, 1 July 2022

Dad’s Thursday Helper

New month old post (first posted 18th August 2014)

Thursday afternoon was half-day closing. The whole town seemed to shut down. Retail businesses got the afternoon off in part-compensation for being open on Saturdays. So, Dad came home and Mum went off to Grandma’s leaving him to get on with his Thursday afternoon jobs. I ‘helped’.
 

We cleaned and brushed his boots and shoes, black and brown, with Cherry Blossom polish from a round tin with cherries on the lid, and Wren’s waterproof dubbin with a little bird. 

We replaced brake blocks and pumped tyres, and mended punctures by immersing the inner tubes in bowls of water to see the bubbles, marking with chalk, and sticking on puncture patches with stringy rubber solution. I learnt about tyre levers and tubular (box) spanners. We polished the wheels and handlebars with rags (old underpants were good) and mustard coloured chrome cleaner, transforming dirty grey to silver shine. We smeared on vaseline for protection from the weather – a magnet for yet more grime. 

We soaked the chains in trays of petrol to remove the oily grit, and then disposed of the petrol by setting it alight. Dad once just tipped it on the garden but had to stop after Grandpa came for tea one day and complained: “This lettuce tastes of petrol.” 

We cleaned Dad’s pipes, scraping out the burnt black ash with a gadget barbed like a miniature medieval mace, and soaking up the evil-smelling gunge with fluffy pipe-cleaners.

Then it was time for nicer smells and sounds: the matchsticks that rattled in their flat green and red box with a picture of a swan on the top, the firework hiss and smell of sulphur when he struck one, and the clouds of sweet St. Bruno smoke. He would pack the pipe bowl with tobacco from a black and white metal tin (with new tins, you had to pull a rubber vacuum seal from the bottom before you could open the lid), put the stem between his teeth, suck a flame down into the bowl, and blow smoke from the side of his mouth with a satisfied expression and popping ‘p’ sound.

“Can I have a puff?” I begged. “Let me have a puff”. I was only four.

“Oh all right,” said Dad reluctantly. He held the stem of the pipe near my mouth. I was instantly sick.
 

And then there were the fun jobs – playtime. We had a model steam engine, the “steam boiler”, which drove a flywheel through dual pistons, exactly like the one pictured. It had a brass water tank heated by a methylated spirit burner that slid underneath. Dad loved to take it out of its oily cardboard box and fire it up on the back room table. Once steam was up, it could be set in motion. The flywheel revolved at a fair old pace, puffing and rattling, spitting out a lethal mixture of hot oil and boiling water. It had a screeching whistle and a safety valve that blew like a railway engine when the pressure got high.

It was important the pistons were always oiled and that the water tank did not run dry. The spirit burner needed topping up frequently. The smell of methylated spirit mixed with hot emulsified oil is unforgettable. Once, we spilled methylated spirit on the table and it caught light. I watched fascinated as a lucent blue pool of flame spread slowly across the surface, Dad flapping it frantically with his hands, looking panicky.

A move to another house brought a whole new set of Thursday afternoon jobs, sanding and painting skirting-boards and staining wooden floors around the edges of carpet squares before fitted carpets became the norm. 

We painted the garden shed banana yellow. It leaked, so we mended the roof. I sat up there with Dad, ‘helping’ him tack down new sheets of roofing felt and painting it with hot black tar. Dad heated the tar to boiling point in an old paint pot on the kitchen gas cooker. Then, holding it with just a wooden cane through the handle, carried it bubbling and the smouldering tar acoss the kitchen floor, across the garden, and up on a rickety stepladder and on to the shed roof. It must have been a thoroughly hazardous operation. There were splashes of black tar on the yellow paint for years.

But there was still room for play-jobs.
 

We found some old lead piping in the shed. Dad melted it on the kitchen cooker in an empty tin can, and then, holding it with pliers, poured the molten metal into toothpaste tins which had originally contained hard, flat, tablets of ‘dentifrice’ wrapped in red cellophane. You rubbed it with a wet toothbrush to form a lather. The empty tins were just right for moulding make-believe medals – possibly something Dad had himself made in this own childhood. After pouring the lead, the medals were dropped into a bowl of water and sizzled as they cooled. The embossed ‘Gibbs’ lettering transferred perfectly to the moulded medals. No one knew about lead poisoning then.

Perhaps it was just as well Mum went to Grandma’s on Thursdays. 

‘Dad’s Thursday Helper’ would have continued for me until I started school, but Dad was then able to do it all over again with my brother.

46 comments:

  1. Tasker whar a delightful post - how I remember the St Bruno and the Cherry Blossom - cleaning all the shoes was a Saturday morning job every week for my Dad - it was a disgrace to go out in dirty shoes. Thanks for the reminders.

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    1. I think the cakes of toothpaste are probably the biggest change.I can't remember using tubes until about 1960. It's not the same these products are in horrible plastic tubes.

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  2. Anon is me Weaver - the only way I can reply on some posts at present.

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    1. Thanks weave. You'll get it sorted out in due course.

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  3. I remember vividly every single item except the steam engine. Smells and all. My brother used to dubbin his football boots. What a trip you gave me, thank you!

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    1. Thanks Boud. I enjoyed keeping out the images.

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  4. This is a wee bit sad. Blogger should not be about wanting hits and comments from folk you don't know.
    If you haven't anything new you are capable of posting then I really hope you get better soon. Good luck.

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    1. PS. That'll be another snowflake I've pissed off. Hopefully there will be non left soon.

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    2. Cheer up !!!

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    3. Adrian - it's Weaver who is having trouble with her google account.

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  5. Gosh, I thought I was reading Boys' Own there.
    What a wonderful childhood you had, Tasker.

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    1. We all had wonderful childhoods JayCee. In some ways my dad could be a bit of a nutcase. It's where I get it from.

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  6. Are you sure he set fire to the petrol? I think it may have been paraffin which is what we always used for washing the chain on our bikes and it was a lot safer than using petrol and setting fire to it. Perhaps on a farm we just had access to paraffin, but we would certainly have not been playing around with petrol with dad or no dad.

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    1. You could be right, but I'm still fairly sure it was petrol, but he would have known not to have the can anywhere near. And grandpa definitely said the lettuce tasted of petrol.

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    2. Nobody was ever allowed to play with petrol.

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    3. It's pretty dangerous. Do you remember the report a few years ago about someone trying to store petrol by siphoning it into bottles in her kitchen whilst the cooker was turned on? Blew up the kitchen and burnt the house down.

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    4. During the Suez crisis my father decided to store petrol in cans for our haulage business. He put it in the cellar of the house. Soon mum was smelling petrol fumes in the rooms above. It was hastily moved elsewhere. We were sitting on a ready-made bomb.

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  7. My older brother, who is probably around your age, had one of those steam engine devices as well when he was a kid.

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    1. Eventually, the boiler started to leak, probably because of age. They were great fun. I saw one in a specialist toy shop a few years ago but it was expensive and only had a single piston. It's a wonder that health and safety permitted their sale.

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  8. I read with increasing alarm at some of the dangerous things you and your dad did on Thursday afternoons. You're probably lucky to be alive! I kept wondering where was your mother during all this and was somewhat relieved to find that she didn't stay around on Thursday afternoons, probably for her sanity's sake. She was a mart woman! (Upon rereading the post I saw that you mentioned she was at Grandma's in your first paragraph, which fact must have slipped my mind.)

    My nightmares may now include mustard-splotched underpants as I cannot get that image out of my mind. Also, I urge you not to include the words 'underpants' and 'vaseline' in the same paragraph ever again.

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    1. I look for any excuse to use the word "underpants". I find it one of the funniest words in the English language. It greatly amuses Tom Stephenson too. However, my underpants have never been mustard coloured before being consigned to the role of rags, and I most definitely have never smeared vaseline on them, new or old.

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    2. Yes - underpants and sausage were made for each other.

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  9. Okay, this time Anonymous was me, rhymeswithplague.

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    1. For a long time, when I comment on some blogs I get an email back saying that it has not been possible to deliver a message. I remember discussing this with Graham of Eagleon Notes well over a year ago and not being able too work out why. I think your is one such blog, and also Rachel's and Weaver's.

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    2. I get those emails all the time, I just delete them every morning.

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    3. Just dealt with some now. What it actually says is "your message has been blocked", although the comment appears on the blog normally. I guess the blog may have notifications turned on but it is these being blocked. It also gives the email address of the blog owner, which they might always want share.

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    4. I get them all the time, just delete, they appear meaningless and do not indicate any special kind of or secret settings (as I have been accused of). I know many others get them too.

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  10. I am not quite sure how some of us survived childhood with such risky behaviour go on around us, aside from our own risky behaviour. I would have been in heaven with the miniature steam engine.

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    1. I would too if I could get one. I didn't mention that that ours had a drive belt wheel next to the flywheel where you could connect it to things made out of Meccano and the like. I'm can't see whether the pictured engine has one.

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  11. My father kept my brothers busy the same way. They helped him build the garage, build a sidewalk to it. They had a Lionel train on miles of track around the basement. And, they built a Van der Hoof static electricity machine. My brothers would charge it up and threaten me with it, and I would tell them I would tell dad, and escaped all static electric charges.

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    1. That's why we all grew up practical and able to do things. You don't when everything is electronic and computerised. The train set sounds wonderful.

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  12. What nice memories. My brother had a steam engine. It used white rectangular 'fuel'. It was great fun, although, being a girl, I could only watch. One thing I remember is that my father showed us how to stick a match into a spent 22 shell, and then whack it with a hammer. It made a satisfying bang. I think about it now and cringe a little. He also use to pour gasoline on the creek. It would float, of course and he woud light it. It was like fireworks to us (we were rarely taken into town to see them). Funny how innocent all of that seemed when I was a child. We never once gave it a thought of the danger.

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  13. So evocative of times past and so many fine details. Quite lovely.

    P.S. Wasn't "Steplatter" the disgraced president of FIFA?

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    1. Pleased it's appreciated. Unlike Blatter. I thought he was always on the make and disliked him all along.

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    2. My P.S. was a way of gently pointing out an uncharacteristic error. Just think of me as Colonel Pedant - your English teacher at Goole Grammar in the sixties > "stepladder"!

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  14. We grew up on a farm that had it's own blacksmith and engineering workshops (family have been blacksmiths before farming), so there were lots of ways to spend time with Dad and his brother doing those kinds of things you describe. It fed the inner mechanic, the problem solver, the adventurer.... they all got full expression in later life and it sounds from reading your blog that yours did too. Those years with your Dad kind of explain it.

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    1. I would have seriously injured myself in a blacksmith's shop. But, yes, all these kinds of activities are essentially creative and satisfying.

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  15. My Dad showed me how to get the tin of shoe polish back to flat and unbroken by gentle heat on the electric stove. It has stood me in good stead over the years. One of the reasons I don't like a gas cooker - too wobbly. Lesley (or Potty)

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    1. Flat black unbroken shoe polish - I like that - neat and tidy. Just the thing for a perfectionist like me. Think I know what I might be trying this afternoon.

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    2. When I was in the Army, we actually lit the boot polish. It would burn and become soft. We would replace the cap to snuff the flame and then use the hot polish to 'spit shine' our boots.

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  16. It sounds like a wonderful childhood. I was left to myself a lot, until school holidays, then I was still left at home alone unless Dad said I could come to work with him. Then I'd watch as he replaced or repaired stoves and helped hold the pipes as he put new threads to replace the worn out ones so new pipes could be screwed together, stuff like that. He was a plumber-gasfitter and if the lady of the house was a nice person (they almost always were) I would get lunch made for me on those days.

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    1. Dad wasn't especially practical but he was good at play. He was wonderful with our children too.

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  17. When I look at the shoe-polish (in Germany we had "Erdal") I think I could smell it till here. Your father must have known the proverb "Busy hands are happy hands".

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    1. This is the only scratch and sniff blog page on the internet.

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  18. I loved reading this, and actually did so a couple of days ago, just didn‘t get round to commenting.
    When I was little, I loved doing things with my Dad. He helped me and my sister to take care of our bikes and with other things around the house. With my Mum, I loved being in the kitchen and „help“ with the baking.
    On weekends, my parents would often cook together, and then my sister and I would gladly leave them to it but even more gladly eat whatever great meal they had prepared.
    I never minded the cleaning up afterwards, mostly done by me and my Mum as our Dad would sit down for a fag and my sister would disappear upstairs and only return after everything was done, asking ,can I help?‘

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    1. Thank you. It sounds like you also had quality time with parents. Children might not like to admit it these days, but they can learn a lot from their parents. It was wonderful that parents had time to spend with their children in those less-hurried times. It seems such a pity now that they have to rush around trying to do too many things, and that children can be left looking at screens on their own for long periods.

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