Ward’s World: searching question of childhood ways - by inventor John Ward

Life through the eyes of madcap inventor John Ward.
Life through the eyes of madcap inventor John Ward.
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One thing that makes me want to start smiling is on hearing, as I once again did the other day, that old, patronising question: “And what were you like as a child?”

I heard somebody asking some poor soul this and he looked as if a searchlight had suddenly been shone on him and before he started to splutter, I carried on walking.

You may well have gone through this mind-numbing experience yourself, as you grow older and towards the expectation of being helped across the road, even though you perhaps didn’t want to go in the first place, as you thrive on the unexpected and the sheer excitement of being thought to be at that time in your life, or, then again, not.

This question or verbal device is usually put to work when it’s a case of the people or persons inquiring have not known each other that long, or are just being plain nosey – as it strikes me that the above question is always dragged out when short of ideas, after the usual list of things to yak about are all but exhausted, such as the current state of your bunions, when you expect to get the results of your tests, medical not cricket, and Bobby Moore and the lads being the best thing of 1966, despite petrol going up tuppence a gallon.

Would we learn anything from finding out what indeed we were like in our younger days? Would the world be better knowing, perhaps, that Dr Crippen, despite his less-than-caring attitude to his then wife, ate all his greens, kept a hamster and polished his shoes every Saturday morning as a child?

Did Pte Sid “Mole” Benson, the tunnel king and head of creative digging in Hut 7, Block B, Stalag 19, show any interest in gardening on his dad’s allotment as a schoolboy?

A descendant pointed out that he was slightly behind most of the other tunnelers, as instead of using purloined cutlery, as in knives, forks or spoons, he used a cruet, but he did have his own torch.

Call Alfred Nobel what you like, but perhaps it would have been nice to have asked him what inclination he had to keep a safe distance away when he first demonstrated the fruits of his labours when he created what we now know as dynamite.

One story has it that his mum thought he was practising to be a magician, but after the third garden shed disappeared without trace, and it did not re-appear, she started to ask prudent questions.

One of my own “moments” was some years ago when I became the subject of a scientific study into Creative Thinking (yup, me too, but what do I know?) as not one but two research scientists appeared on the doorstep, all the way from a university in Germany no less, and vonted, sorry, wanted to study me (?!) as part of an ongoing programme into whatever their minds had come up with, in an effort to kill time and get away for a day or three, then conduct said survey. When I saw the names of the others on their list, I knew I was there to lower the tone of the situation and I don’t think I let them down. They arrived wearing the latest, up-to-date crew cuts and operated, if that is the word, from a large camper or caravanette-type vehicle, that was crammed with all sorts of stuff that involved them tapping away on the keyboards of assorted compootahs, after numerous hours of conversation that we had, like: “Herr Vord, (he meant Ward, but close)can you tell us how long haf you had das creative brain?”

I replied it came with the skull section as part of the whole deal, according to what I was told.

Progress was slow to start with, but I knew we or they were getting there when they stopped looking at one another in silence after I answered their questions.

I enlightened them about the family trait of creativity and great, great, great, great uncle Frank, who, while sitting under a tree, had an apple fall on his head. I could see them both looking at each other with a telling smile, as I explained that from this minor occurrence, he developed the first safety hat or helmet as he attached leather straps to his wife Cissie’s colander; she was okay to use it if they were having salad, of course, but he left the idea of how it happened and why to somebody in Grantham to sort out.

Their questions into the family background were amusing, or at least for me they were. After the first day of Twenty Questions, there were mutterings between them about my parents and I pointed out I had one of each, otherwise it messed up the shelf with the mugs on you buy at the seaside with a person’s name on, as in “Mum” and “Mindreader” inscribed on them in delightful lettering.

I suggested they should perhaps put Mum and Dad through the questions-and-answers routine (or the mental wringer in real terms), so it was agreed I would take them over and introduce them and, if they behaved themselves, I would bring them back as well. I further explained that as they had known me for quite a while they would perhaps be the best people to supply the answers as to family background.

Once there and the introductions over, Mum made drinks and then it was down to the mental agility stuff, as in questions being asked and answers when prodded. One mind-numbing one was when Herr Crewcut One asked: “Mrs Vord, (this cropped up a few times) can you tell us vot (what) your son was like as a child, please?’ and Mum, test pilot of the people for the people, replied: “Well, he was shorter, of course, and his kit (clothes) was cheaper to buy back then.”

Once again Crewcuts One and Two did the silent looking at one another, before jotting things down on the pad, even though they were also using a memo or small-size cassette-type recorder as well, thereafter being inputted into the almighty compootah back at das bunker-on-wheels at our end.

There seemed to be a certain breakdown in communications at times and one that still tickles is when Crewcut Two asked: ‘Mrs Vord – did your son show any inclinations as he grew up?’ and the reply was: ‘Not as I recall, although it may have happened before he took up shaving.’

Cue more silent staring between Crewcut’s One and Two.

Mum kept nudging me and saying that Crewcut One did not look anything like Maurice Chevalier and I said I never said he did, but she replied that she sort of expected him to, but for whatever reason was never explained.