Saturday, December 07, 2019

soldering iron

Last week I was at the funeral of my uncle Tony, in Hove. It was the same spot I was at a year previously, for my aunt Julie. Now the two are together again.

My dad produced a picture of him and Tony in 1941, when they were in the Lake District, evacuated there from Eastbourne. They were on a bike ride. The ten-year-old Tony's confidence with the bike, leant negligently against him, was in marked contrast to his cowboy-hatted younger brother's excitement and anxiety. Tony had just taught him to ride. For my dad a bike ride was a literary experience whose meaning you could express in words; for Tony it was something deeper and less articulate, something you did and were good at.

Strange contrast to their later lives: then it was Tony who seemed like the anxious one, kindly but shy, awkward with social settings. He had trained as an engineer with the RAF, later he was an electronic engineer for radio and TV manufacturers. He and Julie lived quiet lives, wrapped up in their hobbies. I can't think of Tony without thinking about things: his collection of the oldest radios, his model aeroplanes and trains, his 78s (later, CDs) of Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, Chet Atkins, Elvis Presley, his books of silent movie stills. I feel I have quite a lot in common with him, but we never really got to know each other, the shyness was too deep on both sides. At the funeral my dad recalled Tony's shapeless working jacket, bulging with components, screwdrivers, flux, a soldering iron...  When we emptied their house last summer, one of the rooms was entirely devoted to little labelled cabinets of screws, transistors, diodes, terminal clips, wire.

Coincidentally, the next day I had to buy a soldering iron. I've never used one before, but now I had no choice. For weeks the driver's side rear light hadn't been working; indeed the bulb wouldn't even fit, the bulb-holder was so badly corroded. And even if I could have fitted it, it wouldn't have worked, because one of the connectors had simply flaked off and disappeared. I really needed a new bulb-holder, but I couldn't source one. So I had to fix up what I had with adapted bits from a not-quite-mirror-image bulb-holder for the passenger's side. It was a hideous job, but after many hours of intricate work clumsily executed with inappropriate tools, much cursing -- and eventually some poor-quality soldering -- I am legal again. It was a bodge, the inevitable resort of those (like my dad and me) who would rather spend time reading.    


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