The oily smell in the engineering workshops of the School was distinctive. It infiltrated my young nostrils, neither hateful nor pleasant but indicative of the work that went on there. Lathes worn from use were neatly lined up and decorated with spirals of sparkling swarf, a plantation of post-apocalyptic Christmas trees. My grandfather proudly explained how he had tutored several Crown Princes – I was captivated.
The idea of writing an article on my childhood recollections of Harrow had grown from a need, the nagging desire to find some final closure. Forty years earlier, my father’s rusty Ford Popular had struggled with the hill. The visits to my grandparents had always been blighted by arguments; I didn’t understand why.
As I knocked on the front door I remembered the boatered Harrow school boys, brash and sneering as they flicked matches at me outside the sweet shop. I recollected the dank odour of the neglected interiors, the shabby floral papers, the greasy kitchen ceiling and the outside toilet with its gloss-yellow high-level cistern and green walls. Most of all, I remembered my grandfather’s workshop attached to the back of the house, the rusty old biscuit tins full of nuts, bolts and curious objects. Once, I toyed with some strange steel projectiles. My grandfather’s macabre explanation of their use as anti-personnel darts, emptied over the trenches from rickety WWI bi-planes, fascinated me.
I don’t know what I’d expected. The house was clean and comfortable, not at all like I remembered it. There were no ghosts here. Just the ones inside my head.
The Ford Popular made its way down the hill. No one spoke a word. I never saw my grandparents again.