Legs Through The Ceiling
Legs Through The Ceiling
Many years have passed since the big freeze of 1963. It seems a lifetime away; another place, another world. A world so different from one we enjoy nowadays, and take so much for granted. Life is now far easier than it was during the nineteen-sixties.
They called it the swinging sixties; I have no idea how that term came about, and why they came to that conclusion. Despite the many changes that were happening in the world, most people lived the same, miserably boring lives they had up until then experienced.
Despite their boring existence, people truly believed the nineteen sixties was a period of great change; a period like none other before it. That, however, was a fundamental mistake. There were no computers, then, no internet or satellite TV to inform and entertain. There was TV; grainy, black and white pictures on pitifully small screens. Yes, there were newspapers, but they were just that, newspapers featuring yesterday’s news. It was a dark time, made even darker in so far as people were oblivious to the deficiencies in their lives. Because people believed – really believed – they were living in a time of social and material advancement, a Utopia of sorts, it was impossible for them to counter the fact that they might be wrong.
Now, more than forty years later, I ask you, did anything worthwhile come out of the nineteen sixties? No, I don’t mean mini cars or music or any such other nonsensical items, I mean SOMETHING REALLY WORTHWHILE!
“That got you, didn’t it? There wasn’t anything, was there? All the major, useful, worthwhile changes in our lives have come during the last few years, many years after that supposedly enlightened time.
The nineteen sixties was a superficial, drug-induced time of delusion, not a time of meaningful change. One has only to scratch beneath the surface, to see the same hypocritical, racist, discriminatory and, above all, BORING life that it was. The minds of the people in power, the people who really mattered, who could have brought about the change that everyone thought was upon them, were closed, blinkered to the possibilities this time offered. Closed minds closed hearts. Despite it being proclaimed – and so loudly – a time of love, it was a time devoid of love. It was a time of hate, a time of war (cold or otherwise), a time when standing up for what you believed in was not an option – unless you wanted to face the unpleasant consequences for your actions.
I can hear you all saying, ‘Oh, but people did stand up to be counted, then, to try and change things.’ But if you think about it, if you really think about it, you will see, realise it was the herd mentality that was driving them on. They only spoke up when surrounded by likeminded people. Unlike Gandhi, they fell silent whenever they were alone. It was, as I have already told you, a time of delusion, the nineteen sixties…
This brings me neatly on to my story:
Because of the severity of the prolonged cold spell the country had endured, the water pipes in our attic froze solid, so also did the water tank. Determined to sort it out, to rectify the situation, dad borrowed a blowlamp from his brother-in-law, Eric. “I’ll defrost those frozen pipes, so I will!” he told us. Making his way up the stepladder, dad set foot in the attic, hell-bent on warning things up…
In those days, houses had little or no insulation to keep out the cold. No, when winter arrived IT WAS COLD, AND THAT WAS THAT. I can still remember lying in my bed, at night, listening to the panes of glass in our steel framed windows, crack, crack, cracking, because of the frost. God, it was cold!
“Are you alright, dear?” mum said, calling to dad in the attic.
“Jim!” she called out again. “I said, are you alright?”
“Hello?” dad answered, in the strange, peculiar way he oftentimes preferred.
“I said, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” he told her. “It’s a bit dark up here, though…”
“Have you got the torch?”
“No, I forgot it.”
“Shall I pass it up to you?”
No; I’ll come down and get it,” he gruffly replied.
Mum said nothing.
“What was that?” mum asked.
“Dad, are you alright?”
Incoherent mumbles from above.
Cutting mum off mum, dad began shouting and swearing, “XXXX; you MADE me do that, so you did!”
“What did I make you do?” mum asked him politely, for fear of another tirade of bad language being hurled at her from above.
Dad said nothing. A few minutes later, however, we heard him moving about in the attic again. Then we heard another thud, followed by more angry mutterings and cussing from above.
Making our way upstairs, onto the landing, my brother and I whispered to mum, “Did he bang his head?” we asked.
“Shush, he might hear you,” she warned, as she gazed uncertainly into the inky darkness above her.
A blast of icy cold air suddenly shot down from the attic. “Dad, where are you?” she said worriedly.
“You boys go play in your room,” she said to us.
“But it’s cold in there,” we answered.
“Go to your room!” she ordered. “I won’t take no for an answer!”
We did. We did as mum told us, we went to our room. We never played, though. With dad lost somewhere above us, play was far from our minds. Suddenly, we heard a crash and a smash. “MUM!” we shrieked.
“What is it?” she asked. “Don’t you know I am busy helping your dad?”
“MUM, THERE ARE LEGS IN HERE!”
“DAD’S LEGS ARE DANGLING THROUGH A HOLE IN THE CEILING!” we told her.
“If you’re telling me fibs, I’ll get the wooden spoon out, so I will,” she warned us, as she dashed into our room.
Then she saw the legs, dad’s legs, and she gasped, “DAD! DAD! You are going to fall though the ceiling and be killed!”
Incoherent, panicky and desperate mumblings emanated from the attic.
“Get the stepladder, Gerrard!” Mum ordered me. “Quickly”
I got the stepladder.
“Put it under his legs!” she directed me.
I did; although I was struggling under the weight of the heavy wooden ladder (I was only nine years of age at this time), I placed it under dad’s legs.
We laughed, my brother and I laughed. It was so funny, seeing dad’s legs dangling through a hole in the ceiling.
“Go on, up the ladder, Gerrard,” mum instructed me. “Get up there, and stop dad from falling through the ceiling.” If dad fell through the ceiling, while I was perched precariously upon the stepladder beneath him, I had no hope of stopping his fall. Nevertheless, I did as mum ordered.
“Jim!” mum said to him. “Jim, Gerrard’s on the stepladder, right under your legs. He is going to try and push you back up! Are you ready?” she asked me.
On hearing this, the incoherent mumblings from above grew in intensity. It took me a while to push dad’s legs back up into the attic, but I eventually managed to do it. We cheered as his legs disappeared from sight above us. We cheered again when we heard him crawling away from the hole in the ceiling. We stopped cheering, though, when we heard him growling and cussing, when he banged his head for a third time on one of the beams up there. We cheered respectfully when dad made his way down the stepladder, onto the landing.
Covered in plaster, cobwebs and dust, dad was truly a mess. Moreover, he had three of the biggest, nastiest lumps on his forehead I had ever laid eyes on. “Take this,” dad barked as he handed me the blowlamp.
I accepted the object. It was cold, stone cold.
Turning his attention to mum, he said, “You can take this. Accepting a section of roofing felt, she studied it with interest, but dared not ask him as to where it had come from.
“The roofing felt up there is as thin as can be. That bit,” he pointed to the piece mum was holding, “came away in my hands the minute I touched it. It’s shot. It will have to be replaced, the whole lot. ”
“And as for the ceiling board up there, it’s useless. The minute I set foot on it, it crumbled into nothingness. That’s how I ended up with my legs dangling through the ceiling, so it is!”
My brother and I looked at each other in sheer disbelief. Dad had been walking on the plasterboard ceiling instead of the joists!
“It was only the timber that stopped me from coming all the way through the ceiling,” dad explained. “I had a leg on either side of a joist.” We cringed, thinking about it.
“They don’t build houses like they used to,” dad grumbled away to himself.
We were cold that night. We were cold for almost a week afterwards, until the workmen came to fix the hole in the ceiling and the roofing felt dad had destroyed. By then the pipes and tank in the attic had defrosted. Dad never again ventured into the attic during cold spells.
Do I look back to the nineteen sixties with nostalgia? No I do not. It was, like I have already told you, a time of darkness.