Despite the title, don’t be alarmed, this is a true story, but a happy one.
In my early to mid teens I was fascinated by musical instruments, things that recorded sound or moving pictures (tape machines and cine cameras), flying, and connecting things with electrical wires. The school counsellor thought my hobbies were ‘immature’ for my age. I thought she was an ugly old troll for hers. But that’s judgmental and I must put it aside, breath deeply and believe she thought she was helping. I would have liked to give her a hand too! But, such is the imbalance of power, she would just have to muddle along without my kind assistance.
I’m not sure yet if this is one post or a couple, stay with me and we can talk about it later.
Mugwump (my brother) and I had shared the good-sized second bedroom since I came on the scene and was out of the crib. At some point when we were both much older he volunteered to move into the smaller third bedroom, sometimes known as the box room. The box-room was cool. Very cool. So cool in fact, mum used to slowly thaw out the Christmas turkey in there. Some days, I thought that rather appropriate.
Mugwump vacating MY room meant I could indulge in more of my hobbies without my creations being disturbed.
I liked to paint and put together plastic airplane models and suspend them from the ceiling or in the cupboard so they seemed to be flying. I had other projects that snaked all across the floor. I liked wires. Mum, not so much, but she tolerated them.
My first invention was a two-way telephone between my room and the room of actor Geoff – who lived next door. Geoff wasn’t an actor when I knew him. Geoff is now an actor with the RSC, if you don’t know what that is tough toe-nails as they say. You can look it up on google if you like (or click the link). I see I am still vexed with the counsellor – sorry to take my annoyance out on you – but its better out than in.
Where was I? Oh yes, Geoff was a year younger than me and lived next door. Our bedroom windows were quite close. By precariously hanging out each window the two of us could pass things across the divide.
We were civilized young men so shouting out the window to see if the other wanted to come out to play seemed ungentlemanly.
I had been playing with a twelve volt battery, a buzzer, a morse-code clicker (no idea what those things are really called, you can look that up too if you wish) a microphone and an ear phone. *
It fascinated me how my voice could travel through the microphone, down the wires over the battery and come out of the earphone; or, how the morse clicker could make the buzzer go. The morse set-up meant I could send myself signals. I was unable to decode these signals as I hadn’t yet learned morse – that was to come later, in the Air Training Corps (ATC). Therefore, my secret messages were safe with me. Once I solved the technical issues speaking to oneself and sending oneself gibberish messages in morse became boring. I needed someone with whom to communicate. LIke an assistant I could say “…come in here” to.
Like many inventors or technical types I now had a solution looking for a problem. I remembered Geoff. If I could convince him, and he could convince his mother, we could run wires between the two houses and rig up our own telephone system. Enter the marketing department. How could I convince Geoff this would be fun. I needed to describe the wonders of this new technological service to a boy, a whole year younger than me, who’s main interest seemed to be making cartoon drawings of mexican generals and cowboys.
In my new company I was both technology department and marketing. I painted Geoff a picture of the benefits of being wired. I exalted the convenience of being able to contact each other. I closed my eyes and spoke eloquently of the entertainment hours to be spent as we chatted over our private, secure telephone line.
Geoff was sold, or so bored with me he agreed. clearly Geoff was an early adopter (that’s change management talk) or totally apathetic. Next, we had to convince the local authorities and get planning permission. The two mums were a considerable force and held the balance of power in our immediate neighbourhood. We checked for the right conditions: finding two happy mums on the same day; approaching them on a day they were too busy to ask many questions; selecting a time when neither of us had any demerits on our licenses.
The right day came along, we presented our plan and were given permission to proceed.
This was an interesting activity. I had to estimate and purchase the correct amount of twin-flex to reach between the two sets of microphones and earphones. Leaning out of the second story windows and passing across the equipment and wire was accomplished without loss of life, just a few scrapes from the window catches and locks. It didn’t look unsightly to us, it looked beautiful.
We hooked up the equipment and it worked. I believe eureka, is the correct expression at these moments.
Now we were connected!
We spent about half an hour speaking on our new phone – mainly things like, “can you hear me now?” (Yes that was ours!) and “try going to the other side of the room”, and “let’s close the windows so we can only hear each other over the headphones”. This was exiting experimental stuff.
We spent a few days boasting about and demonstrating our new system to parents and our friends along the street. I was like Steve Jobs for two days.
After we hooked up the equipment and tried to have a conversation we discovered one of the problems with new communications or entertainment technologies. You need content. We really had no idea what to talk about. When we played together it had always been action stuff. Robin hood and his merry men, sword fighting, cowboys and outlaws with guns, cops and robbers, spies. Sometimes playing on the skateboard or go-cart, or riding our bikes.
How do you play at these with voice only? Apparently, there wasn’t much Geoff and I really wanted to talk about. After a few days we didn’t bother connecting the wires. After a week I rewound the wire and went back to my next project. But Rod’s telephone wires became a part of the family history – decades later the story would come out at gatherings “remember when Rod and Geoff had their telephone wires strung between the two houses?”. “Remember I had to sleep in the box-room?”.
I learned that I am more excited by creating or solving something than I am in maintaining it. Maybe that’s why I have had so many careers.
Perhaps you found this interesting but are wondering what it has to do with Blowing Brains Out in the ATC. Good point. I guess this is at least a two-part post after all. You were right all along. I should have listened to you.
So tomorrow, Blowing My Brains Out in the Air Training Corps – part 2
* I think the morse code thingy may be called a key.