In my previous I’m so lucky to be here column I described an unfortunate incident involving myself and a water barrel. Looking back, this was the least of my adventures…
Did you ever use to watch that American TV sitcom The Golden Girls? I used to like the part when Dorothy's mother, Sophia, would start to tell a rambling story of her youth with the phrase “Picture the scene…”
Well, picture the scene… a seaside town in England circa 1963… a large, rambling, old hotel reminiscent of a cross between Fawlty Towers and Gormenghast… it’s a gray and dreary day that manages to combine a playfully rambunctious wind with an ongoing light drizzle (which tells us we’re experiencing a typical English summer’s day)…
This was in the days when hotels were really rather dreadful places. There were no on-suite bathrooms and toilets (at least, not in the guesthouses we frequented). Instead, there was a single communal bathroom and toilet at the end of the corridor on each floor, which was shared by all of the residents on that floor. Similarly, you didn’t have a television in your hotel room (we didn’t even dare to dream of such a thing). Instead, there was a “Residents’ Lounge”, whose walls were adorned with peeling wallpaper and whose floor was covered by a ratty carpet. This lounge contained a television, a bunch of ragged sofas and armchairs, and a motley collection of dispirited residents.
I was about 6 years old and I thought everything was wonderful. My mom, dad, and myself were on our annual one-week vacation. We had just arrived at the hotel and staggered up the stairs (no elevator/lift) to our room on the third or fourth floor.
Now, this is where you really have to picture the scene. Imagine that you are a fly on the wall. There are two beds – a queen-size one in the middle of the room for my parents and a small one against one wall for me. On one side of the room we find a large bay window. The wooden windowsills at the bottom are only about one foot off the floor. All of the windows are open “to air the room”. The way in which they have been opened is that the lower panels have been raised by undoing their latches and sliding them up.
Most of the room is carpeted. However, the area of the floor in front of the bay window is covered with slippy, shiny linoleum… can you say ”Disaster waiting to happen”?
In one corner of the room, on the opposite wall to the bay window, there is a large wooden wardrobe. My mother is lying on the bed relaxing after the long drive. She is chatting to my father, who is unpacking out suitcases and hanging out clothes in the wardrobe.
Behind my mother, I am poised to have a jolly time sliding back and forth on the lino. In fact I’ve taken my shoes off so as to slide in my socks (it seemed like a good idea at the time).
Now let’s picture the scene from my mother’s point of view. She’s chatting to my dad (which means she’s waffling on about whatever takes her mind at that moment in time, and he’s grunting in an encouraging way whenever she pauses to take a breath). My dad has just picked some clothes out of the suitcase – he stands up and turns to look at my mother.
Suddenly, he drops the clothes and – from a standing start – bounces across the room – leaps over my mother lying on the queen-size bed – and disappears out of the window! (Don’t forget that we were on the third or fourth floor.)
For a few seconds all my mother can see is my father’s left hand gripping the side of the window frame. She hasn’t got a clue as to what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. Gradually he pulls himself back into the room through the window until he’s standing on the floor – finally he pulls in his right arm, at which point she sees that I am dangling upside down and my dad is holding onto me by my ankle.
When I was older, my dad told me that when he looked up I had just started my run across the lino. He could immediately see that my path was going to take me directly into the middle of the knee-high (to me) windowsill and, knowing me, he could extrapolate the next stage of my journey…
It sends shivers down my spine just thinking about this. This was literally a case where a fraction of a second made the difference between life and death. If my dad had been looking the other way… or if his reactions had been a tad slower…
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