HEAD FIRST INTO THE BUCKET, BETWEEN BARS, BEHIND BARS AND THREE BATHS IN ONE DAY. (Again this chapter has not been copy edited, so please forgive any errors."Don't complain too much, after all it's all free," said Jimbo......to which Derek replied. "Of course it is. No one would pay to read it!")..........This little chapter for my aged maiden aunt whose birthday it would have been next week on Oak Apple Day.....The dedication should be next week, but she doesn't put in an appearance in that one and I think she would go TUT,TUT,TUT, if she read it!
THE FARMHOUSE TREE DAIRY is as cold as the North Pole. It's cold in the summer, and even colder in the winter. The air is as cold as ice, and it burns your cheeks when you walk through the door and your breath rises slowly to the ceiling just like a big white Christmas balloon.
The walls and ceiling are painted snow-white, and the floor is made up of great slabs of slate, and there are also wide slate shelves around one long wall. Really it is a big cold store room with the shelf always full of apples from the orchards, milk, butter, cream and tins. There are masses of tins - tins of fruit from all over the commonwealth,tins of meat and tins of soup. Finally there is nearly always a big bowl of separated cream that I have on my cornflakes at breakfast, on my dinner time apple pie and on a big slice of bread and golden syrup for tea.
While mum was busy churning butter, I sat on my stool watching and thinking to myself that during the time I had been there I could have spent it sticking my set of Brooke Bond tea cards into my album. I've been collecting them for months from the small packets of loose tea, and that morning at breakfast when mum opened the packet, there was the final card in the set of fifty bird cards that I'd been waiting yonks to get.
Butter making sometimes takes up to two hours and if the weather is thundery, even longer. Gallons of milk are poured into a device called a butter churn which is a type of barrel with a handle supported on four legs. Mum has to turn the handle and that revolves the barrel. She has to turn it about forty times a minute, and it takes a lot of physical effort to turn milk into butter. My arms get tired after only a few minutes, and I have to give up and let mum do all the really hard work.
As I sat watching the churn turning over and over, the sloshing noise of milk hitting the wooden sides changed to a solid thonk-thunk sound. The milk was changing into lumpy butter. Mum began singing her butter song - "Come butter, come,
A hungry boy stands at the gate.
Waiting for a butter cake,
Come, butter come."
This was my cue to get the Scotch hands, board, presser, butter bats and prints from the cupboard under the front stairs and lay them on the slate shelf. The salty water mixture used to prevent the butter from sticking to the sides of the churn has to be removed and mum does this by squeezing the butter on the board with the presser. Next, she puts a ball of butter on a Scotch hand, which is a small board with a handle. She then picks up another Scotch hand and rolls the butter ball into a pat of butter. She marks a zig-zag pattern on it and then with a wooden print stamps a picture of a flower on the surface.
Mum never touches the butter with her hands, the wooden tools are extensions of her hands and she's really clever at doing it. What we don't eat, mum and my old aunt sell around the village together with fresh milk and eggs.
Mum placed the last pat on the plate,"I'm just going up to the cellar. Don't go touching anything you shouldn't. Shan't be gone long."
She'd only be gone a couple of seconds when I was joined by Jimbo and Derek. I was about to ask them why they had vanished so quickly when I had fallen back down the chimney when Jimbo said, "See how far you can lean over that pail of milk. Go on. Dare you."
In the corner was a large bucket of milk left over from when dad had separated the cream from the milk in the special separating machine.
"See how close you can get your nose to the surface without bending your knees," echoed Derek. "Double dare you."
"Have to be quick," encouraged Jimbo, "or your mum will be back. You go. First and then I'll have a go."
"Yeah, hurry up. I want to try it as well," added Derek.
This was an easy dare. No chance of getting dirty and mum getting angry. I positioned myself with my legs slightly apart and slowly bent my head towards the milk.
Lower, and lower and lower.
Only six inches to go, and my nose would be touching the milk. Suddenly I felt a burning pain in the back of my knees and thighs, and the next second I was tumbling forwards.
Head first into the large aluminium pail which toppled over and rattled noisily across the slate floor.
And the milk in a white lake flowed everywhere
And I was soaked white in the flowing lake.
And mum re entered the dairy.
And a long second of silence followed.
And then the long second of silence exploded into a storm of anger.
And it was trouble with a capital 'T' trouble time again.
"I leave you for two minutes, and in that time you decide a bath of cold water isn't good enough for you, and you have a milk bath. Well now you can have another cold bath. And after that you can go to bed because there aren't any more clean clothes for you."
There was no point in arguing. For the second time I walked stark naked through my farmhouse tree, before shivering again in a bath of cold water. Ten minutes later at four-o'clock, I was in my pyjamas in my brass and iron bed.
As I lay there thinking that Jimbo and Derek were turning out to be really good friends, by always leaving me at the first sign of trouble, when they appeared, grinning in the doorway. I didn't bother having a go at them because I had suddenly had a brilliant idea.
"You see those two iron bars just inside the window. We can play a game. Pretend we're in prison, and we're trying to escape and get our loot back."
Jimbo opened the window as he was examining the bars, "Why are they here? Your mum doesn't keep you as a real prisoner does she?"
"Does she lock you in at night?" Asked Derek.
I laughed, "Course not. Dad put them in when I was a baby learning to crawl and climb, because he was afraid I might clamber up, open the window and SPLATTTTTTTT."
"How do we climb through them and escape," said Jimbo, wrenching them fiercely.
"Too close together. Never move these," echoed Derek as he attempted invainly to force them apart. "Won't budge."
I laughed. "I know that. Tell me something I don't know. It's going to be a pretend escape. We're not going to really climb out. Like I said, drop down there and it's SPLATTTTTT. SPLATTTTTT. SPLATTTTT. I'll be the robber leader.
They exchanged glances, and I could tell they weren't happy, but they wouldn't 't argue about it, because it was my bedroom, my window and I had thought up the game. Also they owed me, because they had left me to face the music on my own. I don't know what the music is, because I've never heard it, but that's what my old aunt says.
"OK. We won't put our bodies through, just our heads," suggested Jimbo.
"We'll pretend that counts as a complete escape," added Derek.
"Right. You see if yours will go through." I was getting fed up with them trying to take over all the time. "I give the orders around here. I'm the gang leader."
But Jimbo wasn't going to be outdone. "If you're the gang leader you've got to go first and show us how it's done. That's right isn't it Derek."
Derek nodded in agreement, "He's right. The leader always leads from the front."
Events weren't going the way I had planned. I had to think fast. "That's where you're wrong. One of the gang members would go first to make sure that the coast was clear. You can't have the leader getting caught. You've got to go first Jimbo, because you're my deputy."
Jimbo placed his hands on the bars. "OK. Like you said you're the leader."
But just as he was about to put his head through the bars I saw the gang of wild children standing in the road outside the farm gate.
The wild children is the name given to the family of brothers and sisters, who live at the bottom of the village, by my old aunt. She says they're wild because they run around screaming, shouting, banging on doors, throwing mud pies and calling people names. I'd like to play with them, but mum and my old don't like them and I'm not allowed to mix with them. I breathed a sigh of relief. At least Kenny the Gorilla Harris wasn't with them.
"Quick. Get down," I whispered. "I can see the prison warders standing by the gate."
I ducked down under the window closed my eyes and waited. "I'll count to ten, and then look again."
There was no reply, both of them had entered into the spirit of my game. ".....Six.Seven.Eight.Nine. Ten.' I slowly raised my head and peeped through the prison bars. "Coast is clear. We can make our escape."
"I said we can escape now."
I looked behind me. They'd gone. While I'd kept my eyes closed they'd made a daring escape without the wardens seeing them. I was impressed, but I had to follow quickly or I'd get left behind. Worse still they'd dig up the tin of banknotes and jewels where we'd hidden them under the third apple tree on the left in the orchard, when we'd been on the run. They'd take the loot and leave the country without me.
There was only one choice open to me.
Standing up I eased my head towards the bars. I hadn't really intended to put it right through, but before I knew what was happening I'd eased it through. No odds, I thought to myself. What goes through, must come back. But that rule, I quickly found out didn't apply to a head through iron bars, least ways not my head. No matter which way I wriggled it I couldn't pull it back. Heads have ears on. Ears which are pressed flat into the head when the head goes forwards, won't press flat into the head when the head is pulled backwards.
My head was stuck fast.
I really was a prisoner. And then I saw them. The wild children hadn't gone away. They were lined up.All six of them, and they were staring straight up at me through the bars in the farm yard gate.
And then they started shouting.
"He's got his head stuck," they chorused, pointing at me and laughing.
I tried again to free my head, but it was stuck firm.
The chorus grew louder, and the words changed.
"He's got his head stuck!"
"Monkey in a cage!"
And that was when events really took a turn for the worse.
The wild children ran away from the gate, but they quickly returned.
SPLAT. SPLOT. SPLAT,
Big dollops of mud were landing on the wall on each side of the window with loud resounding plops, it wouldn't be long before they got their aim in and my head would be plastered in mud. The wild children were doing what they were best at doing - making and throwing wet squelchy mud pies.
Three more missiles whooshed through the air, hitting the wall only inches from the window. A mud pie was going to hit me at any minute.
But then into view, trotting across the yard, came the cavalry to my rescue in the form of my old aunt armed with a broom
Trouble with a capital 'T' trouble.
"Go on with you! Go home! Be off with you! Shooo! Shooo!"
The wild children began jumping up and down with excitement.
"Here comes the witch! Here comes the witch!"
On reaching the gate, my old aunt held the broom by the bristle end and jabbed the handle through the bars.
One of the wild children attempted to grab it, but my old aunt was too quick for him.
"Monkey in a cage! Monkey in a cage," came the all too familiar chant.
A back up troop was on the way. In the corner of the yard dad was strolling towards the gate. Now I'd really had it. Now there really was going to be trouble with a capital 'T' trouble.
Dad marched up to the gate. The wild children realising that they too could be in trouble with a capital 'T' trouble, decided that a retreat would be wise, and as one they moved back a few feet, where dad was unable to reach them but from where they could scatter in all directions if he opened the gate.
Dad waved a clenched fist at them.
The wild children grinned and pointed in my direction.
Dad turned and saw me. Without a word he marched towards my farmhouse tree, my old aunt close behind him..
At the same time the wild children stepped forward and pressed their faces against the gate as if realising that the second act of the comedy was going to be even funnier than the first act.
A few minutes later I heard the floor boards creak, and then I was aware of dad's hands grabbing the iron bars in an attempt to force them apart.
"It's no good," he panted. "They won't budge. What on earth were you thinking of. It would serve you right if you were stuck there forever."
I knew that if I wasn't careful I was going to start blubbing, and that was the last thing I wanted to happen. It was going to be bad enough at school on Monday, without the wild children seeing me crying. I groaned, I could just imagine what Kenny the Gorilla Harris was going to say.
Next I heard the voices of mum and my old aunt as they entered my bedroom..
"Just look at the wild children now!" She exclaimed. "Worse than little savages. I'd like to get my hands on them. I'd give them what for.Little hooligans."
Outside the gate the wild children were jumping up and down and shouting at the tops of their voices, "Monkeys in a cage! Give them all a banana."
"They'd get more than a banana if I got hold of them," continued my old aunt. "We'll be a laughing stock."
And the wild children continued to pillory me with abuse.
"Get a lump of lard," said dad, "and you push your head out as far as it will go."
"Will it hurt." I asked nervously,wondering what a smelly lump of white lard was going to play in my escape.
"It won't hurt half as much as it will if I have to use a hack saw on the bars, and the blade slips, cuts into your neck and slices your head off. Nowkeep still and stop talking."
From behind me I could hear mum and my old aunt whispering. I even thought I heard a stifled laugh as dad rubbed the smelly lard all over my neck and ears. It was all sticky and gooey and 'orrible.Now I knew what it was like to be the Christmas chicken before it was put in the oven..
"That should make it slippery enough. All we have to do now is to let it soak in," said dad.
Again I detected a stifled laugh.
"How long will that take?" I asked.
"No longer than a couple of days,"replied dad. A pause. "Four at the most.What do you think mum?"
"Certainly no longer than a week," she replied.
I could fear hot tears welling up.
"Have to stay there until he's less big headed. Until he learns to do as he's told," added my old aunt. "The weather forecast isn't good either. Heavy rain tonight."
"I'll get his water proof hat in that case," said mum.
"One consolation," laughed dad, "only his head will get wet. The rest of him will stay warm and dry."
And while they all laughed out loud I fought back my tears, which were going to burst through at any moment. "I'm sorry dad. Please try again to get me out. I don't want to stay here a week. I'd rather go to school. I won't do it again. I promise."
Immediately I felt my old aunt's hand ruffle my hair, and dad's strong hands pressing gently on my ears and neck.
Very slowly, my head began to slide back through the bars.
With a loud slurping sound I was free.At the same time the wild children left the open air theatre knowing the performance was at an end, and there would be no encore. My heart sank. They were zooming off down through the village to play the part of the bush telegraph. Kenny the Gorilla Harris would be informed before the weekend was over. Monday was going to be a very bad day.
"Let that be a lesson to you," said dad wiping his greasy hands on a piece of rag. "Had to happen though I suppose. I expect I'd have done it when I was your age if they'd been in position then."
Dad was no longer angry with me. Neither was my old aunt, "Just wait until I see those wild children. And you're a very lucky boy."
But there my luck ran out.
"You'll have to have another bath," announced mum.
I breathed in deeply. Three baths in one day. This could well qualify as a Guinness Book Of Records entry,and there certainly wouldn't be a tide mark left on my neck.
"At least it'll be a hot one this time. I'll have to light the fire and heat the water, because cold water won't shift that grease. It'll take two hours to warm up, until then you're to stay here, and no more tricks. And we'll keep this tightly shut. Never mind bars, we need a padlock."
Mum and dad left the room, and my old aunt ruffled my hair again. "I'll get a barley sugar. You'll feel better when you've sucked on a barley sugar."
I stared out the window at the deserted road. Even the thought of a barley sugar didn't cheer me up. I had Monday morning on my mind.
My thoughts were interrupted.
"Back," said Jimbo.
"Here again," echoed Derek.
"We waited by the apple tree , and when you didn't turn up we guessed the wardens must have caught you," continued Jimbo.
"And someone has dug up the tin of loot," added Derek.
"I've got a longer sentence. No reprieve," I said in a pathetic sounding voice.
"See ya around then. See you later alligator," laughed Jimbo.
Derek giggled as he added, "By the Nile, crocodile."
Later that night as I was lying in bed,I thought to myself that it had been a wet day in more ways than one. Three to be exact, but the egg and chips for tea had been good. Then I thought of the fun the three of us would have over the coming months. Sliding down the front stairs on a tin tray, and how excited they'd be when I showed them the dinosaur eggs that mum keeps in a big glass jar in the small room called the dressing room attached to their bed room.
At that moment the candle lighting upmy room flickered, and the black shadow monsters which live under my bed next to the china po, slithered out and moved across the wall towards me.
A picture of Kenny the Gorilla Harris, arms hanging below his knees, crept into my mind. Snuffing out the candle, I pulled the blankets and the eiderdown over my head, knowing that mum would soon be up to tuck me in. At least the gorilla couldn't get me here where I was safe in the warmth of my iron and brass double bed.
NEXT TIME LEARN ABOUT WHAT GOES ON IN THE BOYS' LAVATORY AT PRIMARY SCHOOL.
THE PAIN FROM A TWELVE INCH RULER ON YOUR LEFT HAND, AND WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE SCHOOL BUS DOOR SUDDENLY FALLS OFF..... AND YOU FINALLY GET TO MEET KENNY THE GORILLA HARRIS......"Bet you can hardly contain your excitement," chorused Jimbo and Derek.