Friday, July 13, 2007

Mirth and Woe: I was a Teenage Bomber II

Mirth and Woe: I was a Teenage Bomber II

100% of FACT: The terrorists you get these days are RUBBISH.

I remember a time when a nation quaked with fear at the very thought of the Provisional IRA, as their well-organised and murderously-skillful bomb-makers wrought havoc across the UK and Northern Ireland.

And what have we got now?

Crap, that's what.

After the horrific wake-up call that was 7th July 2005, the quality of terrorist in this country has taken a pretty shameful nose-dive. That's where the Provos had a bit of a head-start on today's terrorists - blowing yourself into little pieces wasn't part of the game-plan back then. No wonder getting decent recruits is a problem for today's terrorist tribute acts.

So, driving a Merc into a load of dustbins in central London with a boot full of petrol cans and 200 boxes of Swan Vestas does not a terrorist outrage make. The latest bunch of special needs suuicide bombers might be qualified doctors, but they clearly didn't listen in school. RUBBISH.

And good God, I should know.

The very first Tale of Mirth and Woe I ever wrote was a little number called "I was a Teenage Bomber" that did the rounds on the Danny Baker radio show and various internet discussion forums before it ended up here. It was the story of a young lad's misadventures with things that went bang and the woe that followed our inevitable bust by The Man, in the shape of a village copper on his push-bike.

After that little run-in with the Old Bill we vowed never to do that kind of thing ever again. And, apart from all that business with the hand grenade, the rockets, the fireworks and ...err... anything else of a flammable nature we could lay our paws on, we stuck by our vow to the word.

So, it came as little or no surprise to get a knock on my door one afternoon, and the usual call of "Is Scary coming out to play?" was replaced with a furtive "I've got something to blow up."

It was Geoff. Future research scientist, currently going through life as a complete lunatic.

On the back of his bike was something that looked very much like a propane gas cylinder.

"Err... Geoff, mate - what's that?"

"It's a propane camping gas cylinder."

"Oh. Right. You wanna be careful with that. You'll have someone's eye out."

"That is," he said, "the whole point."

Geoff had been cleaning out his dad's garage to earn a bit of pocket money, where he had found the half-full cylinder underneath a pile of old rags. He didn't need to ask twice. Nor did he need to ask me, but he did anyway.

"Are you going to help me blow it up, then?"

And so, we headed up to the woods towards White Waltham - where we were less likely to be fingered as "that pair of pyromaniacs", and set to work.

We tramped a good half a mile away from the road, carrying all the kit we had scrabbled together on the back of our bikes. Finding a likely spot as the woods gave way to fields, we dug a big hole in the ground and rolled the gas cylinder in with a gentle thud.

Then we buried it up to its neck in dirt, and added a few extras of our own. In this case, half a pound of weedkiller (the Provos' favourite, bought for us by an elderly neighbour who thought us keen gardeners) mixed with a packet of castor sugar half-inched out of our kitchen. A potent mix, and guaranteed to cause wanton havoc every time.

The piece de resistance - a coil of magnesium ribbon, on a long-term borrow from School Science Club, guaranteed to burn hot enough to set just about anything aflame, and all the Swan Vesta matches we could eat.

And having done all that, it was bloody hard work getting the gas to blow up, what with all the stupid safety features the manufacturers insist on building in to the bloody thing.

"You know, Scary," said Geoff as the magnesium ribbon failed to ignite for the third time, "I really think we've bitten off more than we can chew here. I might need to go home for the car battery and some of that filthy Irn-Bru muck."

"Tell you what, I'll go take a closer look. See if anything's started yet."

I crept out from our place behind a fallen tree, to see a pall of tell-tale white smoke rising from our Pit of Doom. A trail of smoke that suddenly burst into a blinding white light of burning weedkiller.

"Nah, I think we're...."



It was brilliant. Nearly as good as the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, only without the churchiness, the Michael Palin and the killer rabbit.

The heat nearly melted my parka coat to my back, and I watched as a large chunk of red hot metal - which turned out to be the gas canister's regulator valve - scooted past my head and embedded itself into a tree. Bits of it dropped to the ground as we stood there slackjawed and, to our dismay, slightly aroused.

And then... quiet. Flames licked around the pit, which was somewhat larger than before and was now doubling as an entrance to Hell.

It was quiet, primarily because I had been rendered totally and temporarily deaf from the explosion, a sound only matched by equally loud explosion in my trousers.

Silence, broken only by the ringing in our ears and the words:

"What the bloody hell's going on here?"

There we were, right out in the middle of nowhere, and what do we get? A farmer on the back of his tractor.

"This is moi land", he said in a country burr that he was clearly making up, "An' I'll bloody well take you in to the law if I get my hands on you pair. Come 'ere an' get what's coming!"

Also: "Ooo-aaar!"

We had absolutely no intention of going there and getting anything off anybody. So we legged it. We legged it to our bikes, and then charged off back to the road, and, eventually home.

Alas, the sound of an engine revealed our worst nightmare - Barleymow was after us on his tractor, and he followed us in a nightmare low-speed chase through Berkshire lanes and by-ways until we shook him off dashing in blind panic up a bridlepath.

There, completely exhausted, and smelling somewhat singed, we took stock of ourselves, and Geoff was sick in a hedge in the traditional manner.

"Never, ever again," he said, spittle down his front.

I agreed totally, and we both decided there and then that chemical reactions of that sort were best left in the school science block. A tad difficult, what with the place being declared off limits to after-hours clubs after the photographic society were caught masturbating in the science labs.

So, next day, there was a knock at the door.

"Hey, Scary, I've still got some of that weedkiller left."

And I countered with the discovery of a load of aerosol cans. The Great Smell of exploding Brut in the morning - smells like victory.

I've still got the scars, but it was OK though - hardly anyone died. No surrender!

That, Rubbish Terrorists, is how you blow things up. When you get out of the jug in 2047, you'll know better.

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