I am constantly surprised at the vagaries of the human mind. Today, whilst eating a passable cardboard beef pie for lunch and listening to my wife expound upon the effects of altitude on the rising of bread dough, I suddenly found my mind drifting back to life in the Canadian Arctic in the winter of 1956.
The outside temperature was around fifty below. That means that liquid water is something of a rarity, only available indoors if at all. Nevertheless, some unknown plumber missed taking showers and has constructed one out of plywood and copper pipe. And a heater. None of which works too well at fifty below. You don’t know that. You are a trusting soul. It must be alright, the plumber said so.
You strip, adjust the water temperature to your liking, fiddle with the angle of impact, get in, soap everything you’ve got, and then the water stops for no discernible reason. You are all alone. You are not a plumber. You can’t find a plumber when you need one. Cell phones haven’t been invented yet.
What do you do now? Your hair is wet and white. You’ve got soap in nooks and crannies where you wish you hadn’t. (The next day your wishes become prayers). You dress. As you return to your hut your hair turns white a second time. This time it crackles. Visibly and audibly. You wonder if all your hair going to fall off. There’s a breeze so your nose turns white and you wonder if your nose if going to fall off. It starts to run. You’re afraid to blow it in case it comes off in your hand.
Those nooks and crannies encrusted with soap make it increasingly uncomfortable to walk. You sit on your bunk and seriously consider stealing a spoon from the cookhouse to scrape out the soap. You look at your hut mates quietly reading books or playing cards and debate with yourself: would you or would you not take your trousers down in public and do unspeakable things with a spoon. You decide not to steal the spoon. You suffer in silence because the Great Unwashed will go into hysterics if they find out you’re the latest sucker.My mind returns to California to hear my wife saying that because of our altitude we must halve the amount of yeast.
Paul is one of those wonderful story-tellers who has a vast range of personal experiences that he draws upon for his humorous vignettes about his life. He and his wife Madeleine lived in Placerville until his death in 2006.
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