Friday, 14 March 2014

"Sid-i-ney, I'm Stuck"

Michael Bott

My great aunt and uncle Beryl and Sid were a couple of Ohiro Road identities. Beryl met her Sidney at the end of the Second World War and they remained in love until the day they died.

In some ways they really were opposites. Sid was short in stature and was so skinny that he could divest himself of his jacket with a shrug of his shoulders, while Beryl towered above him and had an impressive girth that was held in with mysterious stays, fixed so tight that her mid drift felt like a 44 -gallon drum. Sid always wore the same thing, winter or summer, wool trousers, a white shirt and an old brown cardigan. Beryl, always wore one of a number of floral dresses, with her feet encased in comfortable soft slippers.

Beryl alongside her enormous girth, was also possessed of “nana arms” or “bingo wings”, those lovely large arms, with floppy folds of skin that loosely hung from her upper arms. Yet those arms were capable of beating a sponge, cream, or egg whites with a speed and strength, seemingly without effort in a way that would rival the most high spec electrical appliance.

Beryl stood a shade under 6 feet and Sid lovingly described her as being “a couple of axe-handles wide across the beam.” As a child I had no idea, what that meant, but I remember the loving glint in his eye, when he said it. They were both quietly spoken, smoked Rothmans cigarettes and lived in the same small weatherboard house built by Beryl’s father and Sid in the 1950s.

Both Beryl and Sid had faces lined with age but these furrows and crags were exacerbated by a lifetime of smoking. Gradually over time the smoking had rendered their skin the same colour as the wallpaper. Indeed in some light, were it not for the floral colours of Beryl’s dress or the grey of her shoulder length hair, she would have blended chameleon-like into the background!

I recall the walls of the entire house were papered with Anaglypta wallpaper, painted cream, but several decades of continuous smoking had rendered them brown with the surface slightly sticky to the touch.

There was a hallway that ran the length of the house and if the front and back doors were open you could see from the footpath to the garden that meandered upwards at the back. In summer there were plastic strips that hung from the back, where the small kitchen was located. In the summer if the back door were left open the breeze would catch the strips creating a soft, hypnotic swishing sound.

The kitchen. like most kitchens of its vintage was designed by a man who did not cook, for the woman who predominately did.  Because of that it was completely impractical. The kitchen was tiny in proportions, there was a stainless steel sink, a few handmade wooden cupboards and a formica benchtop.  In the corner was a small four-seater formica topped dining table with chrome legs, where they ate their meals. I can remember the smell of the house even now. In summer if you approached the house from the back you would be first greeted by the delicate smell of sweat peas, then as you got to the back door the heavy thick spicy scent of the old roses that grew in the grey soil adjacent to the back door. When inside the scent changed again, the air contained a curious comforting amalgam of old apples and stale smoke.

One time when I called over I saw Beryl and Sid laughing. They didn’t just laugh like normal people, Beryl’s whole body convulsed and as she shook, her face went a brilliant red, when Sid laughed, he wheezed and his lungs rattled almost like a pair of maracas. What was the joke? “Oh Michael, you should have been here last night” Beryl heaved. “What happened?”

Sid explained that Beryl was having her evening bath. She always had an evening bath after dinner, and would fill the bath with steaming hot water to have a soak. Anyway she had filled the bath, disgorged her body from its stays and slowly eased herself into the steaming water, when somehow Beryl dislodged the plug with her toe. The water had drained before she could get out of the bath. As the water drained, Beryl’s skin had suctioned to the sides of the bath, creating a vacuum. She was trapped!

“Sid-i-ney, Sid-i-ney, I'm stuck!” Beryl called for the aid of her husband. In vain Sid tried to pull his wife from the cast iron shell in which she was now trapped. Sid had as much chance of releasing his wife as an ant did of pulling a Christmas cracker. In their panic, Sid felt he had no option and called the fire brigade. A fire engine and crew were dispatched, with sirens blaring, to their house. Neighbours from down the street, went to their front doors, looking for the smoke, of which there was none.

What to do? Several fire-fighters squeezed into the bathroom, to examine the scene and to plan a rescue. After several minutes a plan was hatched.

Beryl was covered with several towels to protect what little dignity remained and one of the officers got a grease gun and carefully shot squirts of grease between Beryl’s body and the walls of her prison. Once this was done the bath was carefully refilled with water. Slowly a long pole was wedged beneath Beryl and the bath to create a lever. After several minutes of effort, Beryl said, “she popped free like a cork from a bottle.”

Sid, recounted that after the incident when he made a pot of tea for the rescuers, one of the officers was mulling over the events of the night as he looked down into his mug and quietly exclaimed to no-one, “Geez, I’ve been called out several times to free bloody cats from trees, but this is the first time I’ve had to free a woman from a bath.”

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