Strolling around Bath was always pleasant. In summer the pedestrian precincts were lined with colourful hanging baskets and the soft golden sandstone architecture reflected the warmth of the sunlight. All year round there were tourists and buskers, barges on the canal, ducks on the river, and a diverse assortment of people. There were the older ladies who still wore hats and gloves to go out for morning tea. There were long-haired ‘travellers’ en route for Glastonbury Tor, where they might trog up the hill to talk to Gwyn ap Nudd, king of the fairies. Business men in suits and bowler hats mingled with shoppers in clothes from Oxfam. I felt comfortable in my dungarees or long skirts and pinafores made from 50p Laura Ashley patchwork bundles.
One day I had occasion to take Edward to the doctor’s. He was about sixteen months old and Nikki was a couple of months short of three. We owned one car at that stage, which Michael used for work, so the children and I walked everywhere. At least, Catherine, Abi and I walked and the two little ones sat in a twin buggy.
The doctor’s surgery was in Great Pulteney Street, a wide road lined on either side by elegant terraces dating back to the mid-1700s. As I pushed the stroller along the street, I looked through the wrought iron fencing into the basement windows and wondered about the people who lived there. Some, I thought were students, with Chinese lampshades and beaded curtains. As it turned out, I was not the only one looking in windows.
When we arrived outside the doctor’s rooms, I bent down to unstrap Edward and lift him out of the buggy. Nikki had already freed herself and run around behind me.
I picked Edward up and turned to take Nikki’s hand. That was when I noticed that she was looking through the railings at the basement windows. Only she had her head right through the railings. I asked her to come out of there and a loud wail filled the air. She could not free herself. I tried to help, thinking that what went through must surely come back out. But to no avail. As we struggled, people gathered round to offer advice. Somebody went inside to fetch one of the doctors to help, but he was no use either. And the screams got louder and louder. As I tried to comfort Nikki, part of me wanted to slink into anonymity at the back of the crowd. My emotions had gone from amusement (short lived) to irritation, to anxiety and distress.
Two men tried to pull the railings apart, but they wouldn’t budge. Finally somebody phoned the fire brigade. I strapped Edward back in his stroller before he decided to put his head through too, and that freed me up to comfort Nikki. By the time the firemen arrived, we had a substantial group of onlookers and Nikki’s screams had subsided into a snivel.
The firemen produced some tool with which they easily prised the railings far enough apart for Nikki to withdraw her head with no injury. Her ears were a bit red from trying to bend them backwards, but other than that she recovered faster than I did.
It being in England in the ‘70s, a good soul just up the road invited us in for a cup of tea, which of course put everything right.