As I was teasing poor Jon Ronson about his indecisiveness on whether or not to wake his 11-year-old son at the thoroughly indecent time of 8am on a holiday morning, I was reminded of how I used to be woken up at a similar age, and because it would take rather more than 140 characters, I’d better tell it here if I am to tell it at all.
To cut a very long story short, my parents moved to France when I was 12 to run painting holidays in the lovely Pyrenees mountains. So we had a big old farmhouse with plenty of rooms for us and our paying guests. At first, my little sister and I were shunted in and out of rooms depending on the guests’ requirements, and then we finally had the attic converted into rooms of our very own. Obviously we were delighted, but this was not without causing a few inconveniences. The first was that the nearest toilets were now down a very squeaky flight of stairs and along a long corridor. The second was that if anyone wanted us, they had to do a lot of shouting. As teenagers, invariably getting a lot of phone calls from classmates on the phone downstairs, and also requiring a lot of telling off in general, while spending most of our time sulking in our rooms 2 floors up, this quickly became a problem.
So, being a resourceful lot, we devised a high-tech system that involved a length of string, a hole in both intermediate floors, and a bell made out of an old tin of cocoa and a large rusty nut. The nut and bolt kind, not the squirrel kind, I don’t think they rust very well. Yank the string in the living room, and the bell rings upstairs. Simples.
The only thing was that the only place we could put the bell was right above the only place we could put my bed, so if I happened to be on it when the bell rang, the noise was quite deafening. Also, my dad is a big strapping Yorkshire chap who doesn’t always know his own strength. So he wouldn’t just give the bell the gentle tug it needed to make it ring, he would yank on that string good and proper.
Since the holidays were the busiest time for the business, we wouldn’t get much of a chance at a lie-in when we were off school, we had to be dressed, breakfasted and out of the way by 9, to ensure the kitchen was free for the guests to have their breakfast. So every morning, without fail, the bell above my bed would start a-shakin’, and up we would get, with our ears still a-ringin’.
This system was used for many years, in fact until we sold the old house after my parents retired. Looking back now, I can think of so many things we could have done to improve it, but we never did. I think this was partially due to something I realised just a short while before we moved out.
My parents didn’t often come up to our rooms, they were busy enough, the stairs were rickety and the attic room ceilings were low, especially for my dad who is a good 6 foot something. One day, however, he had come upstairs on some mission or other, and was sitting next to my bed when the bell rang. He nearly jumped out of his skin. All these years of ringing that bell and he had never actually heard it ring! “Oh my God!” he said, “Is that how I’ve been waking you up all these years? That’s terrible!”
Unfortunately, by that time I was no longer living with my parents, and they moved out of the house only a few months later, so we never got to improve on our inter-floor communication system. When the skip came for all the stuff we threw out before the move, I took a great personal pleasure in throwing the bell in there the first chance I got!