A tall but true tale from my younger days
|“You want me to crawl in under there,” I couldn’t take my eyes off the rosebush, which had been slowly enveloping the corner of the garden as long as I could remember, “Don’t you?”
“Yup,” answered my father, a man of few words.
“And hook that chain around it?”
“Yup,” repeated my father, a man of very few words.
We had been systematically destroying the overgrown garden at the rear of my late uncle’s house for the last few days. The plum trees were gone, and the scrabbly apple trees were gone too. The big round lemon tree, the only thing in the yard which had ever really been productive was gone and the tall almond trees, which had only been useful for the cockatoos to wake us up in the early hours of the morning, were now nothing more than sawn blocks next to the fence. The only thing remaining was the huge rosebush in the corner of the yard.
“How do you know it’s going to work?”
“It’ll work. It’s soft enough underneath. Hook the chain around it and we’ll pull it out with the truck.” It was one of his more epic sentences.
We had let a garden hose dribble around the base of the bush overnight, to soften the ground and make it easier to implement my father’s plan.
I stood there with my arms folded, unconvinced. “It has to be huge under there; will the chain even go around it?”
“We’ll know soon enough when you get in under there and put the chain around it, wont we?”
A man of very few words and indisputable logic my father.
“But what about the prickles?” I complained, doing my best to avoid a fate worse than a chimney sweep kid in Dickensian London.
“Roll your sleeves down and they can’t scratch you.”
Seeing that appealing to my father’s sense of reason was never going to work, I took a different tack.
“I could die under there you know. Then what would you do?”
“That would ruin everything,” he answered.
I felt a tiny thrill of triumph rush through me, until he added, “I could never get your mum to go under there.”
I decided to push it a little further, “Seriously, I could die under there and you wouldn’t have a son any more to do your dirty work.” I didn’t want to sound bitter, but I really didn’t want to go crawling around under that bush.
“I’d be heartbroken.” He paused for a moment, and I was sure I had him, “but I could live with the guilt if you managed to hook the chain up before you keeled over.”
Stubborn and pig headed are two of the nicer words used when describing my father; fortunately those traits skipped my generation. I prefer to think of myself as determined and goal oriented.
At this moment in time I was determined to not go under that giant prickle bush and my goal was for someone other than me to do it.
Unfortunately, in the mental and emotional game of “Rock Paper Scissors” taking place in the wreckage of my uncles back garden; I was now banging my head against a big rock. A particularly hard one enveloped in sand paper, with scissors poking out of it, like a porcupine with a drinking problem and a pituitary disorder.
I knew, whether I liked it or not, that I was about to embark on a botanical spelunking expedition.
The words “dead man walking” rang in my ears as I walked toward the monstrous bush. I stopped and turned sharply, to give my father one last vengeful glare.
The ominous chant ceased and he favoured me with his most innocent smile. “Well go on then” and he gestured toward the enormous pile of thorns.
“If I don’t come back out alive, please tell Mum that my last thoughts were of her beating you with a stick,” I added as a last testament before picking up the heavy iron hook at the end of the rusty chain and trudging resignedly to the rough opening we had made the day before.
Groaning, I dropped to my knees, and peeked tentatively into the leafy cavern before gulping my last lungful of clean living air and plunging headfirst into certain doom.
Though I would never admit it to my father, even under torture, it wasn’t so bad under the rosebush. The sun shone very weakly through the tangled overhead cover, creating a dappled shade that I found strangely comforting. Under my knees and hands, the mulch of generations of dropped leaves was soft, and even the odd thorn poking out of the mattress wasn’t enough to dim my renewed optimism that I might actually live till lunchtime.
After only a few crawling dragging paces I had found seven tennis balls, the victims of years of backyard cricket brilliance. This left only three hundred and seventeen still unaccounted for, not counting the ones the dog had ran away with and eaten during games.
A short distance later, suspended in the tightly packed stems, I found the wreckage my old foam glider. That thing went for miles when you threw it properly. Like all long distance aviators though, it wound up missing never to be heard of until being discovered years later by some intrepid explorer. Me.
A few minutes and twelve more tennis balls later, I began to relax a little, the horrific death that I had forecast for myself had failed to materialise and it was pleasantly cool in the shade. The place had real possibilities. All it needed was a hammock and a bar fridge and it would be a nice little spot.
“You gone to sleep in there?” yelled my father from outside in the real world, breaking me out of my reverie.
“Yeah, yeah, keep your hair on,” I answered without enthusiasm before taking hold of the rusty old iron hook and continuing my trek, muttering, “what little you’ve got left.”
Before long the light became steadily brighter and I knew that my job was nearly done. After cheating death so brilliantly, I allowed thoughts of my mum’s roast lamb to distract my attention from my path to salvation. I raised my head too far, allowing a stray piece of rose bush stem to poke me sharply in my forehead making me jump and tangle myself in the thorny sticks.
“Ouch,” I exclaimed as I recoiled and swatted the errant twig away. When I looked up, I noticed something very unusual about the stick that had poked me.
The offending branch was in fact, a Tiger Snake.
I had just inadvertently head-butted one of the world’s most venomous snakes. It took a second or two for this little bit of trivia to sink in, but it was a long few seconds and I had plenty of time to gape stupidly at the prickly stick turned venomous killer monster.
Snakes aren’t generally considered to be very expressive creatures, certainly not in the league of dogs or cats, or even some of the less evolved livestock such as children. I swear black and blue though, without a word of a lie, 100% truth, scouts honour and hope to die and go to Belgium for holidays, the snake’s mouth hung open stupidly and its dark eyes were wide and round. It was as startled as I was.
We continued staring dumbly at each other until reality went and ruined everything.
Letting out a shriek so girlish to make even the most unwilling castrato wince in sympathy, I turned to run and immediately tangled myself up in the thorns. Terrified and expecting to feel the painful stab of venom coated fangs in my neck any moment, I chanced a quick peek over my shoulder.
The Tiger Snake was equally entangled. It was knotted around a prickly stem and was tugging urgently to free itself. It looked at me, and a look as panicked as any creature with no eyelids could ever be, began tugging frantically against itself.
After long seconds of frenzied tugging and writhing, both the snake and I broke out of our botanical bonds. I tumbled backwards, still emitting a squeal so high pitched that it prompted a mass whale beaching several hundred kilometers away. The snake came loose and cart wheeled straight past my head like a lethal rubber band, coated in scales, a tiny “eeeeeeekkkkk” falling from its wildly working jaws as it passed by.
Here is an interesting fact. A human can run at very high speeds on their bum cheeks. I know this because I landed on them and they took off without orders, carrying me backwards through the scratchy twigs and branches at world record speed.
“SSSSSNNNAAAAAAAKKKKKKEEEEE,” I bellowed as my stalwart buttocks carried me crashing through the side of the bush, into the bright sunlight. From somewhere deep in the Rosebush, I heard a panicked wail “HHHHUUUUUMMMMMMAAAANNNN”, as the deadly snake rushed away on whatever snakes use for the purpose of bum running.
Exhausted, my bum lowered me gently onto the dry grass where I lay panting and sobbing, the heavy iron hook clutched to my breast in a white knuckled death grip.
My father had been sitting atop an old “Amoco” petrol tin, relaxing during my life and death battle. He was in no pressing rush to come to my aid as I lay grey faced, wearing a tightly woven suit of rose thorns on the dry grass, “You took your time,” he eventually said.
I tried to glare through tears of relief, but it really didn’t have the effect I was hoping for. He rose slowly and approached me with the easy languid gait of a lifelong bushman. ‘When he got to where I was laying he said softly, “I am really relieved son.”
Suddenly this whole ordeal was worthwhile; I looked up at my father through the admiring eyes of a loving son as he reached down to me.
“I was beginning to worry that you were right after all and the chain wasn’t going to go all the way round it,” he plucked the iron hook from my clutching hands and hitched it to the tow cable attached to the tow bar of the truck.
“You better move before the cable gets tight mate, wouldn’t want you to have an accident,” he said absently as he climbed in the cabin of the old Bedford. He gunned the motor as I crawled out of harm’s way.
Yup, he always was a man of few words, indisputable logic, and always very demonstrative about his emotions, my old man.