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One of the enduring memes (if we had had such a word to describe them at the time) of my childhood would have been my Dad’s invocation of the “gremlin in the petrol tank.” He was prone to bring it up in any situation where something unexpected happened and a thing that was supposed to have taken a finite amount of time, or achieved a particular outcome, either disappointed in the first instance, or didn’t perform as advertised in the second. Over time, we kids began to take it for granted. “Oh, yeah. There’s must be a gremlin in the petrol tank. No wonder it took so long. No wonder it didn’t work.”
But, as we grew up, and as we demanded more in the way of Science! dare I say, we began to doubt. Was Dad simply saying this to cover up a defect in planning or execution? Or was there, as Paul Harvey might have said, a “rest of the story?” Dear readers, in Dad’s own words–on what would have been his 102nd birthday–here’s the “rest of the story,” told through the eyes of a young and vulnerable Dad.
The events recounted here took place in 1947 or so; he’d have been in his late twenties and hadn’t been in Nigeria very long. (For the record, I have no knowledge of the “girl in Lincolnshire,” who appears in this tale rather like Coleridge’s “person from Porlock” and as far as I know, she is never mentioned again anywhere in Dad’s writings. I’m just grateful she took herself off and left the field clear for my mother. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been a me, and I wouldn’t have had such a Dad. But here I am. And without further ado, here he is, too):