Sunday, 3 November 2013

An extract fromThe Rough and Tumbles of Early Life - Yo-Yos and Model Aircraft

The yo-yo in its simplest form is an object consisting of an axle connecting two disks, and a length of twine (usually called a string) looped around the axle. It is played by holding the free end of the string typically by inserting one finger in a loop) allowing gravity or the force of a throw to spin the yo-yo and unwind the string, then allowing the spin of the yo-yo to wind itself back to one's hand.
The craze for spinning and dangling a yo-yo from the end of a length of string was in full swing in the late 1950s. Our school yard was full of exponents of this new toy, playing competitively with their yo-yos (if you can excuse the pun) and surrounded by groups that varied in number according to the dexterity of the individual players.
Yo-yos were flying in and out horizontally on their cords, up to a typical five hundred attempted times, or upwards vertically for a few times (being a much more difficult feat to accomplish repeatedly), and even crawling along the ground – known as “Walking the Dog” - or between arms and hands where the player was especially skilled and in tune with his yo-yo.
Typically, I would play with my bright red yo-yo at every spare moment in my bedroom, bouncing it up and down, in and out with self-absorbed concentration; unfortunately, when fully extended, it reached the ceiling and soon left a lot of bruise marks on the white painted surface. It did not occur to anyone that the yo-yo might prove to be an effective martial arts weapon, but I had been tempted once or twice to lob it at someone’s unwary head when they annoyed me.
Of course, this type of skill pales in comparison with the modern craze for skate boarding, but in those days there was nothing that really compared with it. That is, apart from the hula hoop, which is a fairly rigid and large plastic-covered hoop that is twirled around the waist, limbs or neck, but this sport was typically in the domain of the fairer sex and never really took off with us boys.
To help hide the marks on the ceiling, which began to puzzle my mother, I started assembling plastic fighter planes from the first and second World Wars, buying as many Airfix kits as I could afford without dipping into my bicycle fund; these were then attached by sewing thread from the ceiling, using drawing pins to make the connection and hide the original yo-yo marks.
My collection of model aircraft soon became impressive, ranging from the pretty Sopwith Camels, to Baron Von Richthofen’s triplane, the legendary Spitfires and Hurricanes, to their German counterparts, the Messerschmitt fighters and Stuka dive bombers. The smell of the glue provided was also intoxicating, and I developed a fondness for it that has spanned the years.
I then decided that I wanted to build a model aircraft that could fly, and bought a much larger kit that used a rubber band which would be attached to a propeller. Rotating the propeller wound the rubber band tightly; releasing it made the propeller whirl at high speed, and we would have lift-off.
For weeks I laboured over this primitive aircraft, sniffily gluing together the balsa wood frames of the fuselage and wings, spreading the provided tissue paper over the skeletal joints and coating it with dope it until this flimsy covering stiffened and hardened.
Finally, one balmy summer’s day, I felt that it was ready for its maiden flight; winding the rubber band by turning the propeller, I achieved maximum torsion. Aiming the little beauty at our field, with the railway embankment in the distance, I launched it into the blue horizon.
It was a marvel to behold, as it flew in a straight line ever upwards. Across the field it went, with me in hot pursuit, and disappeared over the tracks. I never saw it again, and felt devastated.