I am delighted to say I had a ‘swallows and armaments’ childhood.
Indeed, some of the things that I did as a youngster, back in a more innocent and forgiving age, would almost certainly get you banged up today.
From the age of 10 I was very fond of making explosives, for example, and I had a go at the odd bomb (none of which worked very well).
I had great good fortune in having two partners in crime: my grandmother, a veteran of the First World War, and a childhood friend who, when I last heard of him, was a judge.
Grandma Alexa was usually our quartermaster and had the view that boys should be boys and helped to be so in all possible ways (no doubt social services would take a very dim view today in our rubber edged, yet increasingly dysfunctional, world).
On the explosives front it was mainly gunpowder – potassium nitrate (aka saltpetre), sulphur and charcoal, of course – but we were also fond of mixing up the now banned variety of sodium chlorate weedkiller with sugar.
As my modest knowledge of chemistry improved, there were some more exotic concoctions (none of which succeeded). But I did find a theatrical supplier in Olympia that sold magnesium flash powder (great stuff) and cheap electrical detonators.
Ignition – or rather safe ignition – had always been a key problem. Those stage detonators could also replace the fuse element of a conventional banger to good effect.
One could rig up a chicken run of mini ‘mines’ with disguised wires to confuse passers by or garden visitors. Usually, though, things went bang by outstretched hand and match (very dodgy – I lost my eyebrows at least one – or by wire wool with a bell battery).
My childhood and adolescence were, without doubt, a health and safety nightmare. Somehow, though, like thousands of other adventurous British and American kids, I survived it.
In the meantime, homemade bows and crossbows were replaced with a smoothbore Webley Junior .177 air rifle (happy days).
There was a lever-action Daisy ‘Winchester’, various pistols. Then things got serious: a BSA Airsporter .22 and several Originals.
My first firearm was a Webley 9mm, and there were other smallbore shotguns, a bolt action .410, 12-bore Mossberg and a couple of Mirokus before my first FAC rifle. This was an Anshütz target model (I got the FAC almost exactly 40 years ago). However, I had shot Martini .22s and the odd .303 before this.
The first shooting prize I won was with a .303 SMLE. I came second in a snap shooting competition on a range day at Ash near Bisley.
There was an error in the count up though and I did not get my gong – I was 14 or 15 – and absolutely mortified. I suffered in silence.
The old Guards Colonel who used to run our club, based at Vauxhall, later realised his error, and I was given a spoon instead (one of his own) at a special ceremony one night in the TA hall with much applause from the other much older members.
A very happy memory, and the rest, as they say, is history. We could do a lot more to encourage kids nowadays.
I had so many kindly mentors – nearly all of them WWII vets with immense knowledge and experience – and I hate to think that this young generation must stumble on without similar guidance.