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A Shout From The Attic: Adventures With Curly

...The kitchen was full of acrid black smoke that would have done credit to the Coronation Scot steam locomotive pulling forty carriages up a one-in-two incline... And the rabbits could not be blamed for the cause of that smoke, as Ronnie Bray reveals in this tale of what happened when he went to stay with his mate Trevor Lee.

Read earlier chapters of Ronnie's life story by clicking on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, I met a lad called Trevor Lee who, because of the unruly nature of his hirsute thatch, was known to his contemporaries as Curly. Curly lived with his widowed mother in a terraced house in a respectable street in Marsh. He kept rabbits. His attic bedroom, reached by a narrow staircase, was made immeasurably attractive by the large wood and canvas hammock which was slung across it.

One Friday night, with the approval of his mother and my mother, I was permitted to sleep in the hammock. When we awoke next day, Trevor’s mother had gone to work, leaving her valuable property in our incapable hands. The damage was mostly superficial. A little soap and water, and the place was almost as it had been when she left it. If she was cross about it, she didn’t say so, but I was not invited to stay again, and that could be significant.

We could have blamed it on the rabbits, but that would not have been fair. Rabbits have to eat, but they can’t be blamed for what others do, or, as in this case, do not do. They are just furry, fuzzy, warm, chewing , breeding machines which ask little of life.

We could have blamed it on football, for it was football that caused us to leave the house and forget what we were about. The football field, that was really a grass covered rec, was just across the road at the end of Curly’s street, s less than a minute’s gallop away for a lad, especially if he knew how to do the Hopalong Cassidy gallop.

We stayed too long and did not realise what was happening until we burst through the unlocked back door of Mrs Lee’s house to be met by a billowing cloud of black smoke. Of course we knew immediately what had happened and set to as fast as we could to put things right and normalise the kitchen before Curly’s mother put in an appearance and showed us what vexed meant.

After feeding our own faces at breakfast, Curly had disclosed that he had a task that must be done before we went out to play. A huge pile of carefully preserved potato peelings was secluded in several pages of the Huddersfield Daily Examiner. These were rabbit fodder, but before they were fed to the fluffy bunnies, they had to be boiled. A cast iron pan was set on the gas stove, the gas lit, and water and parings put in until it was filled to its brim. I had not boiled peelings into rabbit mash before so I did not know how long they took to transmogrify from waste to taste. I gathered that Curly was the expert and I left the matter entirely in his hands. Then we went out to play.

Boiling potato skins is not rocket science, even though it has a rough scientific base that needs to be observed if it is not to end in disaster. What that base is, I did not know, and if Curly knew it he kept it a close secret. However, whether it was observed or not – and my hunch is that it was not – some part of the transaction was not completed. While we were out doing what young boys do best, playing, the pan boiled dry, the peelings dehydrated, and then caught fire.

How many minutes after the conflagration started we entered the building, we do not know, for no scientific data was collected so that it could be calibrated and corroborated. We can only report that the pan held a few, a very few, charred bits of unidentifiable carbon particles that were still giving off fumes after we carried it outside into the back garden and doused it with a kettle of water. Being cast iron, the pan looked no worse for wear until you looked inside. The outsides were always black caked with crusted coal tar, and the insides were no oil paintings.

The kitchen was full of acrid black smoke that would have done credit to the Coronation Scot steam locomotive pulling forty carriages up a one-in-two incline. Most of it stuck to the gloss painted walls, and some of it decorated the curtains. A few whiffs had crept around the ill-fitting door to the living quarters and left traces of spud soot here and there as almost permanent reminders that rabbits, potato peelings mash, football, and thoughtless young lads don’t always mix.


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