by Wilf James.
"It is Jim - isn't it? Come and join us - you're certainly
a stranger in these parts nowadays. Penny! Set one up for Jim
- make it a big one!"
"Okay Harry, I'll do an extra special one for our long-lost wanderer. Go and join the others Jim - I'll bring it to you."
"Thanks Penny. It's good to be back. Lead the way Harry, it will be nice to get my knees under that old table again."
"You've got a lot of explaining to do Jim. Penny's been pining for you ever since they took you away."
"Hi Jim - they've let you out at last then? You should have known that playing Superman was against the law!"
"It's good to see you again George. You haven't changed - you won't be happy until you get a chance to visit me in jail - will you? How many innocent victims have you arrested while I was away then?"
"No more than the usual three million - was it Harry?"
"Three million and twelve I think - the odd dozen were for having cars which didn't match the colours of their front doors. You need to watch it Jim - his average is two a month."
"One special for you Jim. Don't worry Harry - this one's with me. Let's have it Jim, what have you been up to since last summer?"
"Cheers Penny, I needed this. Nobody can mix them like you do. It's a long story which will probably bore you anyway."
"Let us be the judges of that Jim. Penny can pass sentence and George will keep you locked up for the duration. Is that okay with you George?"
"Suits me - but we don't need a confession - we've got enough on him to lock him up so that he doesn't run away again."
"Okay you lot. If you want to hear what happened you had better listen well because I will have only this one chance to tell you about it. I'm picking up Deidre and the kids in half an hour and then we are off to the Bahamas for a holiday - we need it."
"Janet - can you hold the bar for a while? Thanks. Go on Jim, tell us what happened when they arrested you."
"No, you have got it wrong Penny. I wasn't arrested, but
I didn't have much choice about going with the plain-clothes people
who came to see me.
You know all about my experiments with anti-gravity? Well, as you know, I managed to produce a form of anti-gravity which enabled me to fly like Superman - after a fashion. It was all very experimental and I found that I could use a camping gas cylinder as a lifting device. Deidre and the kids loved it when I fixed it up. It was only a crude affair which worked like a tethered balloon. I couldn't risk losing Deidre in a strong wind - could I?
Anyway, when the news people came to see me they were turned away. A special army detachment in civilian clothes appeared and persuaded them that it had all been a hoax. They were efficient. You may have heard the saying 'His feet never touched the ground' when someone was arrested. That was how I felt - and I wasn't using my anti-gravity at the time either! It was all explained to me very nicely. My aunt had just been taken ill and I had to go to look after her farm in the country. I would be away for a while so I would need to take all my belongings with me. I would have the assistance of a good removal service and my house would be looked after by a newly-wed couple while I was away. All I needed to do was to go out to the car with Deidre and the kids as if we were going on a shopping expedition - in ten minute's time!
The security men had not taken the ways of little girls into account when they made their plans to move us out. One of Andrea's friends - Donna - had just asked Andrea to come out to play - just before the security men arrived. As it happens, both little girls had been warned about talking to strange men. When one of them went into the back garden - looking for Andrea, she and her friend decided that they would run away and hide from him. The man didn't know which one was Andrea and which one was Donna. The man caught Andrea and asked her who she was. She told him that she was Donna so he let her go and started chasing after the real Donna. In the meantime, Andrea climbed up into the tree house to hide from the man. Donna squeezed through a small gap in the fence between her garden and ours. The man tried to follow her and tore his trousers in doing so. Andrea saw what was going on and called to Donna to 'follow the rabbits'. The man, delayed by his mishap, resumed the chase just in time to see Donna disappear in a clump of bushes. He tried to follow her but discovered that she had returned to our garden - under the fence! While he went to get back into our garden through the gap in the fence, Donna had joined Andrea in the tree house. They then pulled up the ladder!
Here, I will have to acknowledge the benefits of a good education.
John, the eldest, had heard about the ways people in castles used
to protect themselves from attack by their enemies. Conventional
weapons like bows and arrows are too dangerous for children to
play with, but there are other, less conventional weapons, which
are quite effective and safe enough to be handled by children.
John had devised his own version of boiling oil as a defensive
weapon for the tree house.
Fortunately, (or not, depending on your point of view) the tree house had never been attacked so there was an ample supply of 'boiling oil' available. I thought that John's 'boiling oil' was water or maybe even something as messy as golden syrup or olive oil. I was wrong. Over a period of a month or two, John had purloined a collection of half-used tins of paint, solvents, and adhesive from my workshop.
I must explain at this point that Helen had been put in her
carry-cot - there hadn't been time to change her nappy, John had
been collected, and was in the car with Helen, and Deidre and
I were madly rushing around to pick up the things we would need
to take with us on a 'shopping expedition'.
The senior security man had noticed the delay in collecting Andrea so he told another of his men to hurry things up a bit. The man soon returned and explained that Andrea and her friend were up a tree in a tree house, and that his colleague had them cornered but couldn't reach them. Neither Deidre nor I were consulted about this hiccup in their plans. They decided to form a human ladder to get at the girls. They probably didn't think how ridiculous it was to have several grown men trying to deal with one six-year-old child.
The man with the torn trousers had not attempted to climb the tree but had called to Donna, asking her to come down from a safe distance.
In the meantime the girls had been busy, opening the tins. They had wisely (?) decided that they wouldn't use their precious 'boiling oil' until an attack was imminent so they spent the time available in preparation.
Have you ever been involved in trying to build a human pyramid? The crucial points are, that those above spend most of their time looking downwards, and those below concentrate on not having shoes pushed into their faces. As you may gather, this is not the way to see what the enemy is doing. The girls watched the men gradually form the pyramid until the last man was climbing up. Then they struck. Paint, varnish, thinners, glue and paint stripper were poured onto the men by the litre.
Deidre was doing the finishing touches to her makeup at the time and heard the shouts and curses through the closed bedroom window. As you might imagine, the noise attracted the interest of our neighbours who had been hitherto unaware of our imminent departure. It also attracted the interest of one of the security drivers because he thought (correctly) that his colleagues had been attacked. So, from the safety of his car, he called for assistance. This is how the uniformed police became involved and it seemed that I had been arrested.
The police arrived incredibly quickly. Deidre had not had time to reach the back door when they stormed into the garden with guns at the ready. The paint had blinded three of the men, and they were doing their best to hit out at who they thought were their assailants. One of the men had been injured when the pyramid collapsed and was writhing on the ground. The two sighted men were doing their best to try to get their injured colleague away from the rain of assorted paints which were still being poured as fast as the girls could get them from the back of the tree house. By the time the police had reached them, only one of the six could see, and he had had paint stripper poured over his back. His suit was made of some form of man-made fibre and was disintegrating by the second. Deidre ran down the garden screaming at the police not to shoot.
Andrea and Donna had realised that they had done something wrong when they saw the police arrive with their guns so they hid out of sight in the back of the tree house and kept quiet. Deidre could hardly keep a straight face when she told Andrea and Donna to lower the ladder and come down. The neighbours cheered and laughed when they saw two little girls climbing gingerly down the ladder. They cheered even louder when one of the policemen lifted them off the ladder to save them from having to step in the spilled paint. Apart from the odd mark or two on their hands, the two girls emerged from the battle completely unscathed.
You may ask what I was doing at this time. Well, I'll tell you. When I heard the shouts from the garden I was in the loo. I opened the window to see what was going on. When I saw what was happening, I grabbed my camera to record the scene for posterity. After taking a few shots, I thought that the security people might not like the pictures, and if they were going to search the house, they would find the camera or the film if I hid them somewhere. I decided to ring Donna's father who I could see in his garden, watching what was going on.
He cursed loudly when he heard his phone ringing because he had been enjoying the spectacle. He is an insurance man and daren't turn business away so he answered the phone promptly. I told him about the photos I had taken and that I didn't think that I would be able to keep them where I was going. He thought I was about to be arrested and I didn't tell him otherwise. I said that I would throw the film canister into his garden from the loo window. I suggested that he left it there until all the people had gone and then kept it in his house until I came back. He agreed to do as I suggested. I've just got the film back from him - unprocessed. I'll get the prints done while I'm on holiday. I'll show you them when I get back.
After the security men had gone, a police inspector asked me to drive my car with the family in it where he would direct me. We had a police escort all the way but otherwise the journey was uneventful. We ended up at an Air Force base in Lincolnshire. We were given an officer's married quarter to live in. Everything was provided but we were kept under a form of house arrest. Andrea and John were told that they could play with the officers' children but they mustn't say anything about my anti-gravity machine or me flying like Superman. They didn't go to school with the other kids - tutors were provided. Deidre was told to say as little as possible about my work and to socialise with the officers wives only as far as protocol directed.
I had the job of demonstrating and explaining my anti-gravity system to a select group of engineers and scientists. I had to do it in a closed hangar so I would not be seen by unapproved observers. I took the precaution of using just enough gas to lift me gently so that I could control my height easily. I flew around the hangar and stood on a girder for a minute or two, just to show that I could use the anti-gravity to go downwards safely as well as upwards. In spite of this demonstration, one of the scientists was still convinced that it was all a hoax. He thought that I could hypnotise people into believing that I could produce anti-gravity or I was using some sort of trick. Unknown to me, he went into the lab on his own some time after my demonstation was over. He tried to copy my demonstration in the hangar. He fell and killed himself after hitting the hangar roof.
After that I had no problems with people who disbelieved me, but I soon found that there were other problems to solve. The scientists now believed that it worked, but they were sure that my theories contravened the laws of physics. They couldn't rationalise what they had been taught with what they had seen. When I had done my demonstrations I had used a lot of the butane gas which had been brought from my house.
The butane gas provided by the Air Force didn't work. The scientist who killed himself had used most of what was left of the original gas, so there was hardly enough left over for the chemists to analyse. When they analysed it they couldn't detect any difference between the gas which had worked and that which didn't. The small traces of the original gas which were left were then sent to Harwell for more detailed analysis. They found out eventually that the ratios of carbon 12, 13, and 14 in it were unusual, and that it included traces of uranium hexafluoride and radon. (I'm sure that the hexafluoride and radon was theirs in the first place.)
Eventually they were able to synthesise some butane which worked. It wasn't as good as mine but it was good enough for trials. It would only work over a restricted range of temperature and pressure in the complete absence of vibration. The slightest jolt would destroy the effect for several minutes, whereas the original had to be shaken violently to stop it from working. We discovered that the substitute gas was also sensitive to radio waves. Devices which were made to check how high they would go wouldn't even lift if the telemetry was switched on. After six months of fruitless experimenting, they decided that what I had achieved was fluke, and that it was unlikely to be of any practical use or military significance.
They paid me very well for my time and inconvenience so I'm going on holiday in the Bahamas.
They never discovered my secret.
When I was doing my original experiments, I was so short of money that I had invented a way to make my own butane - from compost!
I'll make some more when I get back.
Copyright (C) W. H. James 1/11/1985 Revised 15/5/91 and 04/12/98 (2689 words)
Wilf James,106 Jarden, Letchworth, Herts. SG6 2NZ, UK. E-mail wilf dot james at ntlworld dot com This version of my email address is to beat spammer's robots.
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