From Munster Road to Geraldine Road in Wandsworth: my uncle bought a house for £1,000. The biggest adjustment of all involved the primitive bathroom arrangements. If the lavatory was in use, access to the bathroom was blocked; if someone was having a bath, entry to the lavatory was equally out of the equation. Putting up with these cumbersome and sometimes embarrassing inconveniences required at times a superhuman level of commitment to co-operative living.
My uncle had a new lodger called Stinous, a Greek-Cypriot who suffered from stomach ulcers. He therefore had to be careful with his diet, though he more often than not ate the wrong food and suffered the consequences, putting further strain on the bathroom arrangements.
Unlike my uncle, Stinous was full of fun. Although he was of my uncle’s generation and eleven years older than me, he became a willing participant in the pranks and devilry I initiated. It was always debatable which of us had the worst influence on the other – our bonding in mischief caused several disruptions in the household.
Among my friends at the Polytechnic was a student whose father worked at a fireworks factory. With Guy Fawkes Night approaching the friend came into college one day with a variety of high quality fireworks. They were quite powerful and were guaranteed to enthral any audience with a stunning display of colour and some satisfying explosions. I was happy to purchase a few items. The idea was starting to form in my mind that they could be a source of amusement and hilarity on 5 November.
I calculated that if I placed them at the back of the fireplace I would have time to evacuate the living room before the inevitable conflagration went off skywards. The fire was always laid ready to be lit each evening, for my uncle liked the sight of burning coal, especially during the long winter evenings.
Unbeknown to me, my uncle was expecting a monk and a priest to make a social visit on 5 November. Only when I had already put the fireworks in place, in accordance with my original plan, did the doorbell ring and the men of God arrive. There was no time for me to warn my uncle of the impending disaster. The visitors were shown into the very room that was prepared for the spectacular surprise. Worse still, for some unknown reason – since it was not a particularly cold night – the priest rose and stood with his back to the fire to warm his behind as the merry flames took hold.
The eruption in the fireplace as the fireworks fizzed and banged up the chimney singed his trousers and flung burning coals out on to the carpet. Pandemonium ensued and the priest and the monk went simultaneously into a state of shock. They gibbered incoherently as my uncle, yellow with rage, distractedly ran back and forth, trying to contain the damage to the carpet by dousing it with a bucket of water.
He was at a loss to fathom what on earth was happening – the words ‘terrorist attack’ were not part of the general vocabulary in those days. I scurried off in utter panic while Sinous, stunned by the turn the incident had taken, locked himself in his room to avoid the ugly confrontation he knew must surely follow.
Meanwhile my uncle tried to pacify and reassure his visitors with a litany of apologies but all was in vain. The priest and the monk left in complete disarray, humiliated and outraged. What was to have been a pleasant introductory visit to raise the tone of the ménage in spiritual matters had turned into the stuff of nightmares.
It was an affront to decency, my uncle said once the whole picture became clear, a deliberate attack perpetrated against faithful servants of the Church. In this he did me an injustice – no harm of the sort had been intended. I had known nothing of the impending visit and had merely hoped to create a rumpus that would be an amusing diversion. But there was no denying that in this case it had been badly misjudged; the damage it caused to the relationship between me, my uncle and Stinous took a great deal of time and effort to repair.
The incident was soon forgotten, but alas my zest for further larks remained frightfully unbridled.