When I was six-and-a-half I was a very inquisitive little thing. Having a father who was an electronics' engineer had, I suppose, piqued my interest in technical things and it was the early 1960s when 'the White Heat of Technology' was just around the corner.
And one Saturday afternoon in early September my desire was to discover whether electricity went through string.
Now, for a six (and a bit) year old, this was clearly 'heavy stuff' but, of course, I didn't actually know that! I'd just got it into my head that I had to know the answer to this oh-so-important question. So I set out to experiment … My parents, meanwhile, were out in the back garden, enjoying the late summer sun.
The piece of string was easy to find, and I carefully cut a length off the ball; something around 6" as I recall. But then came the question of how to find some electricity. Which was soon solved by going into my parent's bedroom where the socket was easily accessible next to their bed. Those of you who are very young will not understand when I say that the socket was the three-pin round style, but this meant that there were no automatic plastic shutters in front of the live pin holes as there are nowadays.
Trouble was I couldn't get the string to go in firmly – it was too 'floppy'.
Immediately my mind solved this by realising that I needed something solid to tie the string to, and went off to find a couple of nails! Success? Well, no, as I was still having problems getting it to go in cleanly. So I looked around in kitchen drawers and the like and found something to hold the nails parallel while I plugged it in.
Now I was cooking! Indeed, I'm damn lucky I didn't cook my own goose as I'd chosen a piece of metal (with holes in) to hold the nails and, as I pushed it into the socket, there was a VERY BIG BANG and bright light and, suddenly, instead of being sat by the bed in front of the electricity socket I was now lying on the bed and near the window!
I concluded something was wrong ;-0
In part this was because I noticed the electric bedside clock – which had a little rotating dial which flashed white and black to show it was working and was usually very noisy – was not doing a thing. In fact, after trying the light switch, I discovered nothing was. Whups.
Now you may very well say that I was lucky to be alive – and I certainly won't deny it – but I was fast realising that I had (probably) done something that my parents would deem to be very very bad and were likely to smack my bottom, hard. So I wrote a letter along the lines of "dear mummy and daddy. I am ever so sorry for what I have done. love, alison" and left it downstairs. I then ran upstairs and locked myself (for safety) in the bathroom, it being the only room with a lock on the inside. Yes, I was very worried how they were going to take this!
Some hours later I hear my mother come indoors to prepare the evening meal and hear her call out to my father than "nothing’s working!". It didn't take much longer for them to find that indeed nothing was working at all in the house, and the reason why.
They didn't smack me – so far as I've ever worked out they were just so thankful that in almost blowing up the house I hadn't actually killed myself, but my dad did discover that not only had I blown the circuit fuse and the main (sealed) electricity board fuse, but somehow I had also blown the main (sealed) fuse for next door too! Which by any edition of the electrical regs should never be able to happen. Anyway, the board fuse was eventually replaced and things settled down.
Except – and not that surprisingly I suppose – my father decided that I had been be taught how to do things safely in future and not that many months later I was the proud owner of a 'Philips Electronic Experimenter Kit'. And an awful lot of extra components which my dad brought home. I built my first radio and first amplifier therefore when I was only seven, and have been at it on and off ever since.
Oh, and my mother still has the letter …