Wright's Aerials

Quite a few years ago I went out into the wilds to Merryfeather Hall. Apparently the old colonel had taken to spending more time in bed—not surprising at 94—and so I was to rig up a TV set and aerial for the main bedroom. I’d been to the Hall before, years previously, but even so I had problems finding it. I parked on the overgrown gravel drive and swung the ponderous doorknob.

Eventually a small elderly man wearing a pinny opened the door. He showed me through a hall littered with ancient umbrellas and golf clubs into the drawing room, and introduced me to the colonel. The room was rather dark and very cluttered, and there was a strong odour that seemed to have elements of tobacco, whisky, and horse liniment. The old boy was laid flat on his back on a chaise longue, with his long legs propped up on the wall. He had a large magnifying glass in one hand and the ‘Sporting Post’ in the other. An elderly 28" Mitsubishi was belting out ‘Top of the Pops’ at full volume. This made conversation difficult, so Colonel Merryfeather’s hand scrabbled about in the semi-darkness until it found the remote. After a bit of unsuccessful button stabbing the small man yelled, “Wrong way round again, Colonel – wrong way round!”

“ Damn stupid thing!” swore the colonel, swivelling the remote in his hand and punching the ‘down’ button. As the sounds of the teen frenzy diminished I couldn’t help but ask, “Do you like ‘Top of the Pops’, then, Colonel?”

“Yes, I do, by Jove,” he cackled. “I like to get an eyeful of the young fillies, y’know!”

Well, that broke the ice, and for a while we discussed the relative merits of the various programmes of the time featuring ‘young fillies’. Eventually George, the little man who turned out to be the butler-cum-chauffeur-cum-cook, was instructed to show me to the bedroom. The room was surprisingly modest; rather small and sparse. Not wanting to damage the external stonework by shelling it off, I decided to drill through the wall from the outside, so I measured carefully across and down from the corner of the window, and went outside to drill the hole.

It was quite a long walk from the front of the house round to the back, carrying the ladder. The house was shaped like a capital ‘E’, with three quite long wings at the back. I picked my way through the undergrowth until I reached the bedroom window, propped the ladder up, and measured across and down from the bottom corner of the window. The measuring had to be fairly accurate, because I was planning to fit the outlet right in the corner of the room, just above the skirting board. I’d checked inside for any signs of pipes or wires, so I confidently started to drill. I’ve always been rather proud of my skill in this department. The stone was quite soft, and in no time at all I was through 14 inches of ancient masonry. The big Bosch drill has a pneumatic hammer action, and it really belts through hard masonry, so this was a doddle. I completed the other external work, which was just a splitter, and pushed the new cable through the hole. The ladder went back on the van.

Arriving back in the bedroom I was dumbfounded, to say the least. There was no sign of the hole, or the cable. All right, if I’d been a bit low I would have wrecked the skirting board. A bit to the left and I would never have got through. To the right or up would have been tolerable. But nothing? After some head scratching I went out and around the back, and then the penny dropped. I’d got the right window; I’d presumably measured accurately; but I’d got the wrong flaming wing! I’d forgotten that there was a middle wing! In some haste and fear I scurried inside to locate the inner end of the hole, mercifully not meeting the manservant. I crept along a creaky upstairs passage and tentatively pushed open the door of what I supposed would be the right room. It turned out to be a very large bedroom, highly ornamented, with elaborate curtains and huge framed paintings. On the carpet was a circular piece of hard plaster, about as big as a dinner plate, surrounded by lesser fragments of wall. The ‘plate’ was piled high with a cone- shaped mass of soft rubble. On the wall, about two feet above the floor, was a matching crater. Scraps of expensive wallpaper completed the scene. The Bosch, and its gormless operative, had surpassed themselves this time. The window that had provided the datum point was a small one with a high sill. In this room, unlike the corresponding room in the other wing, the main illumination came from a big window on the adjacent wall. Hence the two foot height discrepancy. As I surveyed the debris I considered my options, and then I heard footsteps in the corridor and realised that they were now greatly reduced. Legging it was out, for sure. George looked round the door.

“Oh bloody ‘ell!” he said as he came into the room.

“I seem to have miscalculated,” I faltered.

“Ohh arr, is that what tha’ calls it?” There was a trace of a grin. “Give us an ‘and, we’ll soon put it reight.” I found myself helping to move the bed across the room, turning it round and backing it up to the wall in front of the crater, which was thus made invisible. George kicked the dinner plate under the bed. “Sorted,” he said. “In any case, himself hasn’t set foot in here since ‘er died, nigh on thirty year back.”

As I drove away, job completed and the Colonel’s spidery cheque in my pocket, I contemplated my narrow squeak, and it crossed my mind that I owed George one. Sure enough, about a year later, when George found himself sadly without an employer or anywhere to live, I was able to help him out by knocking a few quid off the aerial for his new council flat. “How did he go, in the end?” I asked.

“In bed in front of that telly you rigged up,” said George. “I think the young fillies finally got the better of him.”

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