More on the Turdicle

by Peter Noble

I sent in my earlier "report" before discovering the other articles on the turdicle theme.  It might be appropriate therefore to set the whole thing historically as it were.  Where did it all begin?  Obviously there were and have been other long drops and inevitably other turdicles but the Grillage Village edition was certainly noteworthy. 

The Home of the Turdicle

Late January 1967 and most of the Grillage Village's seven huts were erected.  People were now sleeping there in the lofts (prior to bunk room construction) and sanitation became an issue.  As flushing loos were clearly impracticable and a "long drop" under a major hut would be impossible to excavate (and dodgy for the hut), it was decided to construct a separate loo hut, to be connected to all the others via the main corrugated iron tunnelling.  Work commenced digging an eight foot square hole, the loo detail being mainly John "Golly" Galsworthy, David "Fanny" Hill, Mike "Skid" Skidmore and myself Peter "Neon" Noble (more of that nick-name anon!), though others too helped from time to time.  When the hole got too deep to throw out the shovels of snow we erected a gantry over the top which housed a pulley system.  A rope was passed over it and secured to a forty five gallon drum in the hole, with a muskeg tractor at the other end.  All went very well for 42 feet. . . then someone, with little understanding of physics, suggested we light a fire in a five gallon oil drum and it would melt its way down!  I recall reminding folks that hot air rises, not sinks, and that the bottom of the oil drum would remain pretty cold - no hole, I summarised.  Suffice it to say I was over ruled but, understandably someone then said, "it's a big hole, why not use a big drum?".  A forty five galloner was duly lowered into the pit about a third full of various waste combustibles.  A torch of oil soaked wood shavings and packaging was then ignited and ceremoniously dropped down the shaft.  I don't recall whether the first attempt was successful but the drum was soon alight.  At this point "Dad" Etchells (I'm pretty sure it was he) got involved and kept feeding us with what he called "spent" oil.  There was a lot of it and it didn't look very spent to me!  We started by emptying a pint or two at a time down the pit but the drop was so far and the flames now so big that the stuff ignited before reaching the drum.  We got more adventurous: half a gallon went down, then a gallon.  It was all very exciting and great fun.  It was about then that Dad handed me a bucket with about five gallons . . .   I trudged towards the pit intending to decant the stuff into smaller portions, but just as I neared the edge I tripped on the discarded winch rope and the bucket and all five gallons went down below.   I landed with head and shoulders overhanging the pit so had a good, if too close a view.  Self preservation took over and having just registered the flaming depths like a scene worthy of Heronimous Bosch, I rolled aside as the first explosion occurred.  A flame hurtled up the shaft and licked around the gantry producing a vast cloud of black smoke.  Then it was as though the film went into reverse: there was a noise like a giant drawing breath, and the flame and smoke disappeared back down the shaft.  Almost at once there was a second explosion and the whole scene was repeated, leaving the sky clear of smoke.  Wow, that was something, but it wasn't finished.  Five more times the fuel remnants exploded as they pistoned up and down the shaft and four more times smoke and flames were sucked back down into the abyss, each explosion and each cloud decreasing in size.  The seventh and final blow allowed a small black cloud to drift quietly away over the base.  At this point Ricky Chinn, our Base Commander, appeared.  I think he'd spent too long in the office as his face was very white!  "I think we'd better leave it at that," he suggested with trembling voice.  I concurred with an equal tremble. Several hours later when the fuel drum had expired and everything had cooled we re-rigged the pulley and descended in the original drum with a tape measure. From 42 feet we had indeed deepened the pit to 43'6"!  But it was an impressive 13 feet diameter in the lower half. The nick name?  That came later but in the same environment.  I was working with electrician Paul Wharton as his apprentice when he suggested I install proper lights in the loo instead of the temporary ones wired loosely into the consumer unit.  Proudly I went off to undertake my first unsupervised job.  I anticipated working in the dark so took a torch but was surprised to note that there seemed to be adequate light . . . Light I should have questioned . . . light that was issuing from a bulb connected to the consumer unit that I thought I'd disconnected!  I detached the power cable to redirect it, grasped the bear ends and the Rolls Royce generator groaned as the loo was illuminated somewhat more brightly than before.  Of course everyone quickly found out the cause of their temporary plummet into the dark and I was known as "Neon" from that time!
[13 September 2006]

29 September 2006
1968 index page
Z-fids home page