Harold Strachan's Last Word

Bang! Gunpowder plot

We used to do poetry at school, see, also English grammar and Latin and stuff, which I suppose puts us old toppies somewhere back with Australopithecus Africanus, but I tell you, man, when it comes to expression of the emotions we couldn’t be beat.

Ja, when I got to about twelve maybe thirteen I said to my friend Andrew Kreis, aka Cheese, Cheese, said I, I feel strange things moving within the soul, indeed within the body, and now is the time for us to write some poetry or something, know what I mean? Indeed indeed, he replied, especially in the morning when it’s all cold outside and the bed is nice and warm. Indeed I have the beginning part of a poem in mind, said he, which only this morning in bed I thought of polishing up. So we went our ways and returned on the morrow with our rough drafts. Cheese’s went:

When dawn of day is due
I long to be with you.

Is that all? said I, rather clumsily, for clearly his feelings were hurt. Well it’s just a beginning for now, said he, which I’ll make a sonnet of as I go, and what have you got, anyway? Mine went like this:

O! bring the Cup of Youth,
that I mightst drink
And take up arms against
a sea of troubles

That’s a load of crap, man, said Cheese, and anyway you nicked half of it; my sister Cynthia is doing that thing for matric. Well one can’t avoid the influence of other artists, said I, but I take your point. And I yours, said Cheese, for he was ever a gentleman. So we returned to our sessions of sweet silent thought, and when we met on the morrow Cheese’s poem went like this:

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I dare not waitst upon I would
Like the poor cat i’ the adage

What bollicks! said I, and what the hell does “waitst” mean anyway? Well you wrote “mightst”, didn’t you? he replied. Yes, that’s the first person singular present tense of the verb “may” said I. Oh balls! said Cheese; and fell to yet further s. s. thought. Then after a bit he says Cynthia knows how to make gunpowder, she learned it in History. So you’re going to write a poem about gunpowder? say I. No, says he, I thought in between art creation we could do a bit of science creation. I take your point, say I.

So Cheese furtively scans his sister’s mind in a conversational kind of way and from this secret scrutiny gets the recipe, we go to an industrial chemist’s place down Victoria Road and get a fair whack of potassium nitrate for our pooled pocket money; now all that remains is to get right by experiment the proportions of charcoal and sulphur. Piece of cake!

We find an old bicycle pump and whip the bottom part round and round with copper wire for extra strength and make a wooden mount with wheels for this our cannon. We look around for a nice heavy projectile and find that a torch battery fits exactly down the barrel, so we pour about half a cup of powder down there, then plug it solid with a wad of toilet paper and shove in the battery. We dip a piece of string in gunpowder and stick it in the connection-hole of the pump and take the gun to the far side of our yard and light this fuze. An earsplitting blast ensues, with billowing brown smoke, and a frightful great bang far away on the tin roof of Mrs Mullin’s house over the road, whence issue terrible screams and the thump of feet fleeing a scene of disaster.  My ma drags Cheese and me into the bathroom and beats us about the ears till they’re bloody red and locks the door and busts up the gun with the back of a hatchet; Mrs Mullin is 150 yards away, so nobody has seen it. The police say there’s been an act of God, probably Thor. A bolt of lightning.

Now I tell you this baleful story because of the soul-searching of Dezzie Tutu who declares we have lost our high idealism and the Moral Path andsoforth, but the blokes I remember from MK days didn’t carry all that Christian and Marxist priestly lumber; the low-blow potassium nitrate we just replaced with ammonium nitrate, proper bastardly stuff, and if we didn’t pull off a moral utopia we did bejasus give the regime ’n lelike vokken spook, soos die spreekwoord sê.

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