The Alien Returns
"Timbers" the family home
Insworth, as expected was typical of the transit units of the R.A.F. We were so different from the eager lads of our early days in the services. We were all eager to get out and back to our lives. We knew that a grateful country was going to give us a complete set of "Civies" to ease our way into civilian life but that was months away.
My path, at least, was certain; the first destination was to be The Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Halton where I had hoped to be diagnosed, treated and discharged. Nothing is ever so simple. Every orifice was investigated, samples taken including a lumbar puncture (not painful but unpleasant) followed by the inevitable wait. The morning queue with the consultant, followed by a doctor followed by the matron, (she would now be the sister in charge) followed by a nurse, followed by 'students' with clipboards, stopped at the foot of my bed. No one accepted eye contact. The consultant was handed a folder containing my notes which he perused. Only then did he look up to meet my eye. Then the completely unnecessary curtains were pulled round and he said "You have amoebic dysentery."
It seemed that I was allergic to the excreted matter from the amoeba (unpleasant thought) which had caused my 'giant urticaria' and grounded me. He prescribed the treatment, the curtains were removed and after seeing one more ward member they left. Soon afterwards a nurse appeared carrying two blocks of wood which were placed under the feet of the bed so that I would be lying with my feet raised. This was supposed to make it easier to retain the 10cc of Yatrine (an iodine derivative) inserted anally. Emetine bismuth iodide was taken by mouth. This made one feel like vomiting so the Yatrine retention gave rise to much humour in the ward. We can draw a line under the remaining treatment which took over six weeks.
Two weeks leave was followed by an appointment to a unit in Northumberland where we were given 'psychological tests' to discover our aptitude for further duties. Our stay was for several days during which we answered pages and pages of the most extraordinary questions. I was puzzled almost to confusion and I left some entries unanswered. The others poured out of the examination rooms saying that it was all "a piece of cake". The questions were too easy! Thus, on the last day it was with some concern that I was called for an interview. It was the usual 'scrambled egg' (gold braid on the peaks of the hats of senior officers). I was motioned to the lonely chair on the other side of the table and was puzzled that they were all smiling. "I suppose that you know why you are here Flight Lieutenant?" "No Sir". I waited for some ghastly posting. "You have passed out with very high points indeed". "But I was sure that I had failed, Sir; I did not even answer some of the questions." "What did you think of the tests?"
I replied that I had found them full of rather sly traps but realised the psychological reasons. It seemed that I had only dropped one percentile point and that the questions that I had not answered were mere traps for the unwary.
"What posts may I apply for Sir?" He replied with some smugness that I could choose any department as long as I did not try to displace him. "Would that include accounts?" "Yes, if you wish to apply for that." I only asked that because I have always been impossible at maths. That met with a "Hmph, then what department would you like to apply for during the rest of your time with us?" (I noticed that I was not being offered a permanent commission and decided to go for broke). My choice was to serve with R.A.F. Intelligence in Copenhagen. Eyebrows were raised and I was given an interview with Intelligence H.Q. in London.
I duly presented myself to what was almost a surrealistic experience. Everyone seemed in a permanent party mood. Paper mobiles hung from every available point, groups standing around and chatting, elated, almost the point of being manic. My attempt to apply was the biggest joke that they had heard for ages. The department was being run down, not expanded. Jolly decent of me to apply to join them though! They were all such great fun that I would dearly love to have joined them but it was not to be. I left on indefinite leave until my last day of service 22/08/46, only having to return to 'sign off' and pick up my civilian clothes, having handed in most of my kit in India. There was absolutely no chance of my flying singles again so I was resigned to being bound to the earth.
My private life was in limbo. Sneh's letters were spasmodic and while I was glad to hear that Josef Lampkin had seen her, I read with resignation that he had stayed at Shantaram' s Bungalow. This period was, perhaps, the most productive in my life.
I flung myself into work in the family business where opportunities seemed endless. We had a bricklayer and his mate and several permanent painter/carpenters. There were many company houses to look after as well as about five acres of greenhouses and the mushroom unit at Lindfield but we needed to expand. Expand or die and the devil on my back drove me on.
The great problem was building materials. There were none. Only one source was available; wartime surplus sales. What could be used? The dumps were all over the country, in odd places. In one example there were huge cubes of wooden cases covering a couple of acres, one could jump from one to the other. They contained great radial engines destined for aircraft that never flew. They were sold for the wood in the cases. The engines, worth millions of pounds were tipped into landfill. Other lots were of dozens of Nissen huts. We bought more than we could use just to get enough to convert to more mushroom houses. To buy a couple of hundred rolls of treated felt we bought tons of piles, only the top layers of which were useable, the bottom layers had long condensed to solid masses of bitumen, felt and wire. There were millions of tons of surplus stores, all to be bought for a song but someone had to be able to handle the material.
On one such trip I was returning through Salisbury when a large display of fireworks in a shop window caught my eye. They were dummies, but the product was sold out. Noting that they were made by W.A.E.C.O. of High Post a few miles to the north I went to the factory, arriving just in time to see a man about to leave. He was Jack Wheelwright, the owner. He smiled at seeing my uniform as he had been in the R.A.F. and offered to show me round. It transpired that he had gone in for manufacturing fireworks because he had suddenly lost his government contracts for Very Lights, distress flares and other military pyrotechnics. Just inside the entrance was a large display board on which were the company products. Among a torch for the Olympics, the signal rockets ete: was a device that looked for all the world like a spray can with a metal fin about 4 inches long welded to the bottom.
It transpired that it was the British answer to the mosquito. Previous attempts to spray insecticide from the air had failed because it failed to penetrate the jungle canopy. The units were packed into a dummy bomb which exploded at about 500 feet. The canisters would then flutter down through the canopy on their vanes like sycamore seeds and ignite on contact, releasing a cloud of DDT smoke. Immediately seeing a use in horticulture I offered to distribute them for him but he had already contracted his products to a London firm to whom he recommended me. As soon as I was free from the R.A.F. I started a company for the world wide distribution of insecticidal smokes by the name of Vapour Fumigants Ltd.
Southerly aspect at "Timbers"
At the same time I was in contact with Stanley Mullard, an inventive genius who became a lifelong friend. This in relation to Hydroponics on which I had worked in Denmark, eventually using a 2,000 gallon per minute pump for nutrient solutions. Not a second was wasted. A trip to the loo was precious private time to read and scribble on business papers. There were huge piles of used mushroom compost to be disposed of. In order to have a sales pitch for selling it I ran a large experiment of ten plots, starting with 100% mushroom compost and ending with 100% soil. Immaculate records of yields were kept. Result? There was a straight line graph showing a decline in yield with every addition of mushroom compost. Exactly the wrong result! There were also experiments to be carried out with "Fumite" (still on sale for the amateur grower.)
Travelling the length and breadth of the country with my mind on fire. Pushing, always pushing. I was insatiable. A simple comment on the weather would evoke an instant impatient response that if the speaker had anything important to say THEN SAY IT. I had no time for trivialities. The weather was beyond our control! My parents spent considerable time in an hotel in Bournemouth. That was fine by me!
My evenings were mainly spent in reading. Reading the materials of which I had deprived myself by an inadequate education. I reread the classics, followed Plato to the disastrous end of Socrates. I devoured reading as I was devouring life. I sat in the empty (Thank God!) living room reading when a black cat read my looming instability. As I read, it would approach - creeping along - just out of my sight until it caught the edge of my vision, I would turn my head to see it facing me, paw raised to take the next step it would stop, withdraw the paw and retreat.
I would try to start reading again and it would always reappear. I was never aware on which side I would glimpse it but one side or the other, it would be there, one paw raised for the next step, green eyes staring straight at me. This went on for time beyond reason. My senses were reeling when I took my revolver and the cat to the boiler room. Old Ike would have made up the fire for the night in the Robin Hood boiler and fire flamed across the glowing coals.
I took the cat, placed it on the floor, it seemed to brace itself to accept the bullet which I fired into the back of its head. Every hair stood out as I picked up the lifeless body by the tail and threw it into the furnace. I was not prepared for the explosive flash as the hair burst into flames. Closing the door of the boiler I went back indoors.
When my parents returned, all was as usual until my mother chose her moment. In my complete emptiness she said "Edward, I think that you need help!"
- Looking Inwards
Previous: - Homeward Bound
Edward Sparkes ©2001