Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Is my house haunted?

Mrs Pouncer raised the interesting question, in response to blood-soaked tales of minor accidents involving myself and the occupants of the semi-detached house attached to ours, as to whether the ground upon which they are built is haunted. I think not; but perhaps the house in which I grew up was. This would explain many enlightening incidents of first aid provision to my dear father during my formative years. He was - and remains, as far as I'm aware, although I haven't spoken to him since yesterday - a left-handed engineer. If any of you have ever encountered a left-handed engineer you will probably already be forming a mental picture of the chaos and destruction in his wake. He is actually quite a fine craftsman in some areas, it must be said: The rocking horse he made for my nephew is a thing of great beauty, though it was made - and I stress the point - with moving parts supplied in kit form.

When he himself encounters things with moving parts, common sense flies from the window along with spatial awareness and self-preservation. The best of his accidents have a classic elegance to them. There was, for instance, the time when he opened the loft hatch from the wrong side, causing it to swing freely into his own face and knocking him backwards into a door.

Then there was the time when he designed and built an inspection trolley for use under the car, which was basically a 3/4 length bed on castors on which one could scoot oneself under a jacked-up vehicle rather than wriggle like a caterpillar. A fine idea, you might think. And had he used it on a level surface rather than a sloping drive at the top of a hill, it would have worked beautifully. I caught up with him 150 feet down the road and rapidly approaching a traffic roundabout, while my mother was still leaning on the front door, incapacitated with laughter.

But the one that sticks out in my mind was the time in the early 80s when we bought our first video recorder and were duly sent by my mother to buy a flat-pack cabinet in which to put it (and on top of which to put the telly, if you follow me). We arrived at the shop to find a variety of such items, graded according to size. I asked him whether he had measured the video recorder before setting off. "No son; this is the one we want!" and so saying he selected one at random. We duly got it home, and I suggested it might be provident to measure the video recorder to confirm that this was the right-sized cabinet. "Less of your lip, son" he admonished me; "Let's just press on and build it."

"Let's just press on" was a favourite phrase of my dad's, deeply worrying to hear; it usually meant "I have just encountered a major snag but am determined to continue on a dangerous and ultimately catastrophic course".

Anyway, we assembled the thing and put the video recorder in it. Lo and behold, it protruded a good three inches, preventing the glass doors from closing. Rather than admit the problem, dismantle it and get a refund, my dad hit upon the brilliant solution of getting a saw and cutting a slot in the back of it, so that the video recorder could be pushed through and the doors thus allowed to close. My parents still have it...


No Good Boyo said...

Reminds of Major Neuheim in Private Schulz (http://

When he can't get some looted painting through a door he orders the soldiers to saw the end off.

My father is also a master of random wooden stuff, most of which is subverted to his campaign to prove that hedgehogs can sing.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Did your dad do the plumbing in my house? And the doors in my kitchen?

It would be unfair of me to blame him for the original central heating set-up, though. It took me and two gas engineers to work out how it had been turned into a worryingly effective incendiary bomb. (Never buy a house from a policeman.)

Your dad could still find a market for his skills in the local government buildings maintenance sphere.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Excellent. There really should have been an Ealing comedy called The Left Handed Engineer. But who would play your father: Alec Guiness, Alastair Sim or Stanley Holloway? We must know!

Ah yes, Private Schulz, that was rather good, kind of like The Good Soldier Schweik meets Schindler's List.

Kevin, the old house we've bought here in Cluj-Napoca, Romania has old listening devices hidden in the walls - yes, we appear to have bought it from the Securitate :-(

Gyppo Byard said...

I too was a fan of Private Schulz, and sometimes wonder why it never seems to have been repeated.

In the Ealing version, it would have to have been Alec Guinness. In a modern remake, I would suggest Steve Pemberton for my dad and Reece Shearsmith as me...

I may post photos at some point showing the pure genius of his work on the lighting of my kitchen (a task he undertook while I was out of the country, I hasten to add). My sister has yet to forgive him the pointless hole he drilled through the door of her new kitchen unit.

Mrs Pouncer said...

My father was obsessed with adhesives. There was scarcely a ceramic/plastic/wooden utensil in my dear old home that hadn't, at some point, been anointed with araldite, uhu, wood glue or copydex. He had a cousin called Willi Vollemaere who masqueraded as a plumber. As a result, whenever you turned on the cold tap in my grandmother's bathroom, you would receive an electric shock.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Alec Guiness, an excellent choice, sir. Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith would be excellent in almost anything, though I seem to remember it was Mark Gatiss as Iris the charlady who was always dicking about with the kitchen units.