Excellent if you’ve got the patience to fiddle about with lots of tiny nuts and bolts, strips of metal and a spanner, building a robot that may or may not work.
I had Meccano, but no patience. I built a crane over several weeks and it didn’t work, so I put it under my bed and forgot about it.
Then Nick came to the door.
“Pongo!” he said, “You’ve got Meccano, haven’t you?”
“Errr… yes… but…”
“Great – I’m building something and I’ve run out of parts.”
Oh dear God, no. He’s building the robot for which Meccano never gave you enough parts.
“Are you building that stupid robot?” I asked him, “You’ll never get it to work.”
No. No he wasn’t.
“And bring your steam engine. We might need that.”
Ah, yes. The Meccano steam engine. I had asked very nicely one Christmas, and had got the Meccano/Mamod steam engine that ran on meths.
It had already given me serious burns once when I had lost an important valve, and decided a small plastic peg from a solitaire set would be adequate (it wasn’t), but I was more than willing to risk life and limb if Nick was involved.
I got my gubbins together and followed him to his house, where I fully expected to help him build a steam-powered wanking machine.
There, screwed firmly to a large piece of wood was the beginnings of his project.
“What… what is it? It’s not a wanking machine, is it?”
“It’s my launcher.”
“Anything. Ball bearings, mostly.”
This was going to end well…
We set to work, adding my Meccano to his, and before the afternoon was out we had built this, well, thing, that housed several heavy-duty springs, a big lever and some sort of small metal platform.
The steam engine was intended to wind the thing up, but it was worse than useless, so we did it by hand with a large spanner stolen from his dad’s shed.
Nick ceremonially loaded a single steel ball bearing onto the platform, and after a short speech on this being the future of British engineering, he flicked the lever, and the ball bearing shot through the air at a rate of knots the length of his garden. Then out of his garden, over next door, a hundred yards down the road, where it narrowly missed an old chap mowing his lawn.
Nick was ecstatic, and after a few more tests, where we punched neat holes through a number of plywood targets, he announced that tomorrow, we would be going onto Phase Two. Bring money.
Then we launched the still-chugging steam engine to see how far it would go, and the meths set fire to his dad’s bins. Things were going excellently.
The next day, we took ourselves off to the chemists’ shop with a shopping list that, these days, would have you in Belmarsh Prison starting a forty stretch for the crime of blowing stuff to pieces, for fun.
They sold us everything we wanted, and more.
What we couldn’t get, we found in an old car battery. And when, as usual, the garden shop refused to sell us two pounds of Sodium Chlorate weed killer (the choice of your local Irish Republican militant), we turned to the elderly lesbian down our road, who we had convinced we needed the stuff to fulfill our Scout Job Week duties, weeding the gardens of elderly lesbians. She was only too happy to buy the stuff for us, and laughing evilly, we returned to Nick’s bedroom-cum-lab to make Loud Powder.
Our expertise as junior terrorists coming to the fore, we soon had a number of small yet viable packages, which could be lit by a fuse, and capable of considerable damage in the wrong hands. Ours, for example.
We loaded up the launcher and set the first – let us be charitable – banger on the platform.
“Nick – don’t point it down the road. The old bloke at number 23’ll die if you do.”
“Right you are.”
So we turned the monster through 90 degrees, wound it up until the springs started making strange pinging noises and my Meccano bits buckled uncomfortably.
“You’ve got the matches.”
“Err… right. Here you go. IGNITION.”
“Shit. Broke the match.”
“You ARSE. IGNITION.”
Nick’s garden backed onto a farm. A farm full of large greenhouses, growing, I think, tomatoes.
He missed them.
He missed the farm, completely, as a matter of fact.
He did, however, score a direct hit on his father’s shed.
You will be disappointed to discover that the thing did not disappear in a ball of flame. Far from it. Our little bomb rattled around inside, came to rest, and then came a satisfying…
And a cloud of smoke puffed out of the door, but the shed remain steadfastly untorched.
So, we cranked the monster up again, and let it have both barrels. Several times over, in fact.
BOOMPH! BOOOMPH! BOOOOOOMPH!
Oh, what fun we had.
Two lads, our little machine, and our barely adequate not-quite-as-exciting-as-we-wanted-them explosives.
SP-A-A-N-G! went our launcher.
Weeeeeeeee! through the air went our little gay bomb.
RATTLE-RATTLE-RATTLE it went around the floor of the shed.
KER-FUCKING-BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM! It went, being somewhat more excitable than the others.
“My dad’s shed’s on fire.”
“Only a bit, mate. Only a bit.”
“My bike’s in there.”
It was too. Some sacking had caught fire, one thing had led to another, and much of the inside of the shed was merrily ablaze.
We extinguished the flames with a hosepipe and a couple of buckets of water, but Nick had to explain, somehow, why all the family’s bike tires were now melted to the floor of the shed, looking to all the world like little pools of vomit.
“It was a really hot day, you see” just didn’t wash with the olds. They knew him too well.
“You’ve been blowing things up again, haven’t you Nick?”
“I’ve told you a thousand times. If you’re going to do that, do it at a friend’s house.”
So we did.
And when the Old Bill came knocking, the dim kid next door got the blame. Excellent!