“Tonight we go to the big dipper!”
Eric beamed with joy as his children whooped and danced around the room in excitement at this announcement.
“We’re going to the big dipper! We’re going to the big dipper tonight!” The children sang as they danced.
The family was visiting with Grandparents Adam and Fanny at their retirement home in Margate by the sea, a distant suburb of Brisbane, Australia. Grandma looked at the dancing children with a mixture of amusement and alarm. They’d come to Margate to celebrate retirement in a peaceful environment and children sometimes forgot their place and endangered treasured items on side tables and shelves. These items represented memories of a lifetime. Grandma frowned as she thought of the damage their exuberance could cause, but her face softened as she remembered the fun she had bringing up her own ten children in the 1930’s.
Fanny sighed! Oh well, it was only for a couple of weeks; then peace would return to their little retirement home.
The children were always happy to visit Grandma and Grandpa. But Fanny was rather stern faced, and Adam too detached to come down to children’s level and take part in their games. He spent most of his day sucking on a pipe seated next to the radio while listening to his favorite soap operas.
But there were a lot of interesting things to see and do at Grandma’s house. These were the days before our throw away society discarded magazines after use, and the porch area was a treasure trove of old English magazines dating back to the 1920’s with lots of funny illustrations and cartoons. Both Adam and Fanny were children of English immigrants and knew what hard times were all about so they saved all the little luxuries we discard after a cursory glance today.
This was the place the children were introduced to smoking by a cousin. These days if you talk about smoking grass it has the connotation of being addicted to the evil weed. But in those days, smoking grass amounted to stuffing dried grass stalks and setting them ablaze with the full ten inches protruding from the mouth in mock imitation of the movie stars of the day. It was soon apparent this was a dumb idea and therefore never made it to be a habit.
But more about the big dipper! In the adjourning suburb of Redcliffe, also by the sea, was an amusement park. The big attraction for children was of course the big dipper. This was a sort of gigantic undulating slippery dip, precursor to today’s horror rides where you paid a fee before making the lengthy climb to the top to receive your grass mat. The next few minutes would be spent descending and ascending at high speed holding desperately to the mat until spewed out onto the sawdust heap at the other end of the big dipper.
Today with all our concerns on children safety this marvel would be roundly condemned and closed down, but those were the days when we were allowed to live normally and destroy ourselves if we chose without government intervention. We loved the big dipper, but occasionally would be separated from the grass mat in the downward spiral to arrive skinned and processed in the sawdust heap at the bottom. We wore those wounds as a badge of pride. We had survived the big dipper!
While this held modest interest to Eric for his children’s sake, his eyes constantly scanned the roller skating rink while his children were busy skinning themselves on the big dipper. Skating appealed to Eric’s sense of wild abandon. Anything with wheels that moved rapidly captured his interest be they cars, motorcycles or roller skates. It was an unwritten understanding that when the kids had tired of skinning themselves we’d all troop to the skating rink for Eric’s holiday evening fun.
The scene I am about to describe has been etched into collective family memories as a notable event. After establishing Maude and the brood in vantage points from which we could all watch him perform Eric would march confidently to the counter to pay and collect his skates, then retreat to the changing area bench to put them on for the show.
This particular evening the ritual was performed as usual but on the first round Eric sailed majestically to where Maude was seated and uttered the memorable words, “Watch my form!” These words would later come back to haunt him.
Around he went gathering speed and waving his hands in the air to acknowledge our rapt attention. He was obviously not paying attention to the dangers of the rink. Coming full circle to the start off point with arms extended frontward in mock imitation of a sleek racing car he collided with a shapely miss in skimpy clothing. She’d donned her skates and streaked out of the bench area to begin her own ego trip without carefully noting dangers ahead. On impact she fitted neatly into Eric’s outstretched arms and the momentum carried them both out of sight into the changing area in passionate embrace.
Three pair of children’s eyes swiveled toward their Mother Maude, who after the initial shock of it all burst into uncontrollable mirth. She was barely able to control that mirth when Eric emerged sheepishly from the change area with a rather disheveled shapely miss limping back onto the rink moments later. Eric headed uncertainly for his family, and definitely with less bravado than his original entry into the rink.
Maude put on her sternest look as he approached. “If that’s your form I can’t say I approve of it.” She then burst into uncontrollable laughter as Eric slowly returned to the rink to complete his laps at a much subdued pace.
From that time onward Maude could reduce Eric’s bravado with her words weapon. “Watch my form!” This of course would be accompanied by peels of laughter from all who’d heard the tale of his humiliation, and the sheepish look of one who wished he’d never uttered these fateful words.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2011 All rights reserved”