Sunday, 18 December 2011

What If... (The Watchmaker and the Magic Magnet) by Charles Donachy

Charles Donachy says:

This story is largely true. When I was a child I was very impressed with everyday science, from magnets making little iron filings line up nose-to-tail, to the magic chemicals in mammy’s cleaning cupboard, and especially the sulphur match-heads that let home-made percussion caps go with such an exciting BANG! So this story is for anyone who was a curious child - or had unkind relatives.

What If... (The Watchmaker and the Magic Magnet) by Charles Donachy

My friendship with my watchmaker Granda froze in time the moment I stopped all his clocks. I was six at the time and had been aware of an affinity with my Granda from my fourth Xmas when he made me my wooden train from Santa. But since the day of the magic magnet "Time has stood still" between my Granda and me...

Granda’s "hoose" was a two bedroomed apartment. Then he took early retirement and moved their bedroom from the "big bedroom" to the "living room", using the former as his new workroom.
"Hey paw, why hiv ye locked the big room door?" asked Uncle Pat.
"Because I don’t want you or anyone else touching or nicking anything."
"Bit whit hiv yeh got in there?"
"Ach ye know fine well it’s my watch-making workshop."

Uncle Pat and his brothers were not happy for although they were all married and living away from Denmark Street they still treated the house as if it was still theirs - and not just when they were on the booze or merely escaping wives and weans. "There’s nae wei we can manage wae only the wee bedroom atween us." said Pat. But for many years they did.

I was there one day and Granda was out but the big room door was wide open.
"Hie", said Uncle Pat, "the auld man’s furgot tae lock ’is door," and he and Joe went in. A short time later they called me through. "Hie Charlie wid yeh like tae hae a wee look."

I went in and my eyes lit up – the room itself was in darkness but there was a large overhead light shining down on a massive desk full of tools. Granda had steel rulers, two iron protractors, dividers and compasses, and a large tray full of pliers of all types, shapes and sizes. Another tray held the biggest collection of small screwdrivers I had ever seen – some were so small you could hardly see the part that screwed. Answering my unasked question - to the right was a small box containing eye-glasses and magnifying glasses.

"Look at this Charlie." said Uncle Joe and my eyes turned to orbs as my gaze fell upon the large horseshoe magnet in his hand and suspended from a cord. "Granda left a message asking if you could help him." "Joe," he says: "You know young Charlie’s only six but he’s got eyes like a hawk and a lot of gumption so if you just show him what to do I’m sure he’ll do a grand job." I swelled with pride fit to burst. "Now," he continued, "You must make sure that all these little screws are magnetised and stick to the screwdriver like this," and he showed me. "This makes it much easier for him to screw them back into the watches."

It was only then that I noticed that shadowed in the light’s penumbra the whole left of the desk was covered in watches and small alarm clocks and then bigger and bigger clocks all the way to the wall.
"Yeh see it’s difficult fur him tae see them proper but he says you’ve got really sharp eyes and will be able tae dae it." said Uncle Pat.
"Whit dae a’ dae?" I asked, shaking with excitement.

So they left me with the basic instruction to attach any pieces of metal that would stick onto the big heavy magnet. I set to and did this assiduously by first putting each iron protractor onto one of the "feet" of the magnet and then attaching all the loose nails, fly-wheels and main springs. And the magnet, the while, had drawn me into it by its mysterious power just as surely as it attracted all the small screwnails and watch springs, and I was happily lost in a magical wonderland of armies of screwnails faithfully following their screwdriver leaders.

BANG! - Reality impinged when a mighty blow hit the back of my head knocking it forward crashing my left eye and nose into the magnet in my left hand and as from a great distance I could hear this strangulated voice:
"Fur Chrissakes! What the Hell are you doing."
"Bbbut Uncle Joe … Ppat..."
My splutter was lost as he dragged me by the collar into the living room where Grandma let out a shriek: "Holy Mother o’ Jesus! Paddy McGhee! What in God’s name do you think you’re doing to that wean - his face is all covered in blood."

Sure enough the sharp bottom of the magnet‘s ‘U’ plus screwnails had hit me flush on the nose drawing immediate blood, but worse was my left eye, which had taken the full force of the solid ‘U-bend’ of the magnet. Granda’s frantic rage was such that he just shook himself like a wet dog and harrumphed back to his ruined workshop. Yes, ruined. The delicate balance of all the small flywheels and springs was destroyed by their being magnetised into clinging to each other – or any other bit of metal within range.

Meanwhile Grandma cleaned me up as best she could as she tried to coach me on what to say to my parents – well to my Dad, who often failed to see eye to eye with his in-laws at the at the best of times.
"So if you just say you were swinging the magnet on its string and when you glanced away it cracked into you."
"Naw, naw Grandma – a’ know a better wan. A’ wis bending doon tae pick up a wee screwnail behind the door when Uncle Pat came rushing in and the door handle caught me right in the eye and nose."

Grandma found out what had really happened. Uncle Pat had unscrewed the padlock on the workroom door, but pretended it was already open. She insisted on telling a still angry Paddy all this and making him say he was sorry. He hated that almost as much as the damage and Granda and me were never really pals again. He did carve me a nice woggle for my First Communion later, but only because it was already half-done and because Grandma insisted. Apart from that the only things I remember his saying to me were "Wipe your nose!", "Don’t talk with your mouth full!" or "Don’t gabble when you’re eating!"

Grandma got hold of Uncles Joe and Pat, “Right you two get in there and apologise to your Da. And when you’ve done that you’re going to get that poor wean something to make it up to him.” And Joe, being Uncle Joe, decided that they would each get me a magnet. They also got me a big pile of little bits of iron as well (I’d never heard of "iron-filings"). Joe taught me "big magic" - how to hide the magnet under paper or cardboard and move the magnet about to get the filings to "march" mysteriously when nobody was touching them.

I managed to get the belt twice at school for showing off that trick in class. But "Drawing Class" was one class where my magic magnets really helped me. I wasn’t very good at drawing and never got any praise. Then one day I got two metal protractors and attached a magnet to the back of each one. Then I balanced the magnets on the edge of my desk and put a thin piece of cardboard in front of them. Then I traced an outline of my initials ‘C’ and ‘D’ by feeding iron filings onto my now magnetized protractors. Everybody was impressed and Miss Stevenson said it was very clever.

And I liked being popular.

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