Johnnersintheraw's Blog

May 15, 2010

Mrs. Bichan’s Pelvic Floor

What it was, What it was for, and What was Traditional about it.

By now, you all will have heard about Mrs. Bichan, and if you are not familiar with her actual name, you will be aware of existence, either as a compatriot of a certain Miss Frame or as my grandmother’s ‘so-called housekeeper’.  Miss Frame (who as far as I know did not have a first name), was a severe and unsmiling spinster from somewhere in the Inner Hebrides, and she dedicated much of the latter part of her life to bludgeoning our rockery into obeying her will.  A great deal of time and effort was expended in diverting a small but enthusiastically independent-minded stream so that its course might spill down an impressive cascade and into a lovely hidden garden.  And it says a lot about her strength of character that she herself transported the majority of the boulders and trees and plants to the chosen site herself,  either in  an ancient Ford tractor or when that failed her, in an antediluvian barrow.  To my knowledge, Miss Frame had only two sets of clothes.  The first of which – it goes without saying – was comprised of an uncompromising black coat and skirt, stout black shoes worn with dark grey Balbriggan stockings, a dark grey linen blouse and a simple strand of pearls.  This was, of course, what she wore on Sundays, and which she continued to wear when, late in the afternoon, she paid her regular Sunday visit to Mrs. Bichan.  Her other set of clothing consisted of a greenish brown tweed skirt and coat, which she wore with ancient brogues, the inevitable Balbriggan stocks (in a shade of dark brown), a homespun blouse fastened at the throat by a silver-mounted stag-horn broach and a battered felt hat.  Her hair was cut short and was of an indeterminate greyish brown.  As far as I know, I never I saw her in any other outfit.  That being said, I must point out that women of her generation expected to go through life with one good suit for Sundays (and in which they would eventually be buried) and one for every day, as well as, perhaps a summer frock or two (although I don’t think Miss Frame was really the summer frock type).  Stockings were well-cared for and darned; ditto underwear.  They were not of the consumer generation, nor did they have access to cheap clothes churned out in sweatshops in Third World Countries.  Everything they wore spoke of quality, and they made everything last.  And when anything finally fell apart, they would bring in that convenient personage, ‘The Daily Dressmaker’, to salvage the wreckage and refashion it into something absolutely identical.

Now, I may point out that Mrs. Bichan did not attend the same church as Miss Frame.  In fact, Mrs. Bichan was a Fraser and, therefore, a Catholic.   A very devout Catholic.  On the other hand, every drop of Miss Frame’s blood had been squeezed through a staunch Presbyterian ringer. The difference in religion was, by mutual agreement, something they never discussed.  However, as a matter of principle – although their respective churches were but a hundred yards from each other and they both lived side by side in tidy semi-detached houses – they never accompanied each other to church on the Sabbath. And they never partook of Sunday dinner together either.  This meant, that they both ate identical roast dinners prepared by their own hands in their respective kitchens; for when it came to Sunday, Miss Frame resolutely refused to break bread with what she considered the Whore of Babylon, and Mrs. Bichan preferred to share a glass of wine with a statue of the Virgin Mary and half of dozen of her favourite saints, including St. Magnus and King James VI of Scotland and Mary, Queen of Scots and William Wallace.

Neither lady officially worked on the Sabbath.  That being said, come Sunday teatime and both of them – along with the ever-present Sophie – were to be found in our kitchen, sitting round the large table and eating a robust tea. Now this was what they had done long before my parents had moved into the house; it was a tradition.  It was also their way of saying, “we are not toiling on the Sabbath, but we are here.  And should we happen to walk upstairs at dinnertime and have a tray of cold food in our hands, we shall leave it on the sideboard.”  Of course, they never did – nor were they asked to do it. That wasn’t part of their jobs. But, then again, it was tradition.

I should point out that be both my parents were extremely good cooks and that Mrs. Bichan was actually a very bad cook; not only that, but she never actually cooked for anybody except for herself, Miss Frame, Sophie (who was nothing if not a menace in the kitchen and who was a wiz at burning pots) and James, Mrs. Bichan’s much older brother.  Now as I remember it, James’ principal function was to sit in the garden, urge Miss Frame to be brave and work harder, comment unfavourably on the weather, and smoke his pipe.  He, like his sister, had been there for years, and I don’t think he had ever done anything else.  It was his life’s work.  Another tradition.

Now, James eventually overstayed his welcome and progressed from being a mere nuisance to being a health hazard.  It happened like this.  When I was of an age when my entire focus was on becoming a jump jockey, any available time I had when I was home from school was spent either in our small yard or on our gallops.  From the start I was always honest about my shortcomings, but one thing I had going for me – and perhaps it was the only thing – was that I was determined and I was extremely disciplined. However, for the most part I chose to ride out at the yard of a nearby trainer who happened to be in the employ of my father.  To be honest, he wasn’t really a very good trainer, and out horses weren’t very good horses (I’m not talking about our show-jumpers or show-horses who were).  But he was very much a gentleman of the old school and, what is more, he liked me. And so, he let me ride out every morning, rain or shine, and in return I willingly mucked out and groomed his charges; the old man also helped me learn the basics and let me know in no uncertain terms how privileged I was to be allowed to work with horses.

Whenever I was riding, whether it was on one of my show jumpers in the ménage or on one of our National Hunt no-hopers on the gallops, James liked to come and watch.  By which I mean he would transfer his bottom from the old bench on which he perched to hector Miss Frame, to another old bench facing the ménage.  Or, conversely, when I was out on the gallops, he would lean against a tree and tap his pipe against his shoe and ask me what time I was going to quit and eat lunch.

James’s most serious problem was his pipe.  The first time it came a cropper was when one day, just as I was approaching a series of hurdles, he did his usual thing and tapped his pipe against his shoes. Only this time, the tobacco in the pipe was still burning.  Therefore, when he tapped it, the burning tobacco jumped out and burnt the back of his hand.   Whereupon he flung away the pipe, started waving his hands around, went into a jig and started wailing. In the meantime, the pipe had flown across the gallops and hit my horse on the nose. The horse in question was a gelding named Hannibal Ben who was a very steady and reliable (if rather not particularly fast) hurdler who had lost many a race and point-to-point in the course of his long and easygoing lifetime.  While he tended to be very blasé when it came to moving fast, he was also a joy to ride; he leapt like a deer and was a perfect school horse.  Be that as it may, when James’ pipe hit him on his nose, Ben reared up and took off in the opposite direction – with me clinging to his neck.  He not only cleared all the hurdles and fences in record time (thus proving that he was not so slow after all) but he eventually tried to jump a very high yew hedge.  After which I flew through the air in one direction and he continued running until he was exhausted.  My father, who had watched the whole thing, marched straight in to Mrs. Bichan, who was as usual sitting in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea.  He warned her that if her brother ever went close to the horses again, he would be thrown off the property.  He also made it clear that as much as he liked James, James was only allowed to stay as a favour – because he realised that James needed looking after; but could he please leave his pipe at home?  My father obviously had no respect for tradition. 

Needless to say, the following week poor James – still carrying his pipe – wandered into the yard and accidentally set fire to a bale of hay.  One horse panicked and was injured as a result.  And James was seen no more; nor did Mrs. Bichan ever mention him again.  Now, one interesting discovery that was made as a result of this mess: it was that James was not her brother after all, but her husband. Mrs. Bichan, however, being extremely old-school, was terrified she would lose her place if we knew she was married.  It was a tradition.

It goes without saying that the revelation came from Miss Frame, herself.  For she had just had ‘words’ with Mrs. Bichan and was in a sulk.

But back to the saga of the two household fixtures (and fittings): Miss Frame and Mrs. Bichan. Miss Frame, it should be remembered, was (as they say) not like other women. She had ‘only one hole – like a chicken’, a fact that my father gleaned whilst eavesdropping in the kitchen one day, and immediately told everyone within hearing.  Now, since this deformity was never discussed in detail – at least not in front of me – I’ve never really grasped the finer points.  Instead, if ever I’ve thought of it at all, it has always been in reference to a fowl.   And to this very day, whenever that poor benighted – and utterly respectable lady – comes to mind, I immediately think of her as some sort of extremely ancient, scraggy hen, dressed in brownish green tweeds.

Shortly after my father stumbled upon the secret of Miss Frame’s never-before-mentioned nether regions, he happened to find himself in the kitchen again (probably again doing something inconspicuous such as making a sandwich or making a pot of coffee) when he once more heard the two woman whispering something in the corner.  Now, if there was anything that set his ears a’flutter, it was the lowered voices of Miss Frame and Mrs. Bichan.  And, once again, he hit the jackpot.  For this time, he heard the memorable phrase (issued with heavy breathing and great sibilance – always a sign that something important was in the offing), ‘pelvic floor’.  Needless to say, he knocked over the coffee pot and fled the room. And in so doing, he missed the rest of the conversation.  However, for the next few nights, ‘pelvic floor’ was the principal topic of conversation at the dinner table.  And it also launched a whole series of stories.  In other words, ‘The Pelvic Floors I Have Known.’

I have to admit that, in common of most members of my sex, a pelvic floor is very much a mystery.  I’m sure that if I should Google it, I would find a perfectly straightforward and boring definition, as well as a probable Wikipedia entry.  However, why ruin a good thing and take the fun out of life?

Let me explain something.  Mrs. Bichan was somewhat broad in the beam; .she had what used to be called ‘good childbearing hips’. In other words, there was plenty of room down ‘there’.  And since she was clearly never going to occupy that particular area with children (or even with a litter of kittens), I found that I could entertain myself for hours at a time simply by coming up with various and sundry practical usages for her pelvic floor, the space of which was obviously being wasted.  And since I know for a fact that Mrs. Bichan hated waste almost as much as she hated Presbyterians (Miss Frame being the only exception), I’m sure that if she were alive now, she would appreciate the time and effort I am putting in.

The most obvious use, it goes without saying, was as a dance floor.  Now, when I was a kid I knew all there was to know about dance floors for the simple reason that there was a ballroom in the house – an incredibly draughty space which was only ever used by my father when he took his morning jog in the nude. And I know he did it every morning – at least as long as we lived in the house – for I used to escort him on my tricycle.  Around and around and around he would go, his bits flapping up and down, and there I would be, peddling away like mad, trying as best I could to match his pace.  Then, of course, during the months when one of our border collies assumed I was just another variety of sheep and was in need of supervision, it would tag along beside me, biting my ankles and trying to herd me into obscure corners.

Be that as it may, having had a personal experience as regards ballrooms, I was perfectly able to translate what I knew into that magnificent space between Mrs. Bichan’s ‘hind legs’.

Now, having established that our so-called housekeeper was none other than a walking ballroom, I quickly set about arranging a few soirees, with musicians, lots of good food, and even a horse or two.  As for music, I decided that – although at the time I wasn’t sure what they were – it might be fun to have some drinking songs.  Miss Frame, of course, all dressed up as a mother hen, would be serving punch, and Mrs. Bichan herself would lead the dancing.  Although how she could dance in her own pelvic ballroom did give me a few minutes’ pause.  After which I thought: it’s my story; I can do anything I want. And if it hadn’t been for me, Mrs. Bichan might have gone to her grave without knowing she had a ballroom of her very own.

Of course, the ballroom scenario didn’t last very long, simply because it was so boring.  So for a time, I held show-jumping competitions in her pelvic floor, with my main competitors being (once again) Miss Frame – this time disguised as a Guinea Fowl who just happened to have won Best Miniature Horse at the Horse of the Year Show in Wembley. Again, Mrs. Bichan put in an appearance – this time as a judge, dressed – of course – in one of those dreadful purple velvet evening gowns they used to wear, and with a potted plant in her cleavage.  Of course, the trainer from next door was there, but only to cheer me on (something he never did in real life). It goes without saying I won all the time, so eventually it got as boring as the ballroom idea.

After the show-jumping came a women’s hockey team, with Miss Frame and Mrs. Bichan as the two opposing captains.  As I remember it, these fixtures were always extremely violent, and they would always end with the captains ganging up on me and smashing me to bits with their hockey sticks.

One thing I should mention:  Sophie was never allowed into to any of my Pelvis Floor Fantasies.  And it also seemed that, although they were always invited, my parents never actually showed.  But my brother – Ol’ Whatisname, always did.  This in spite of the fact that I never once invited him.  But there he would be, lurking behind a pillar, dressed in black bombazine and studying his particle physics.

In the end, I gave up thinking about possible uses for Mrs. Bichan’s pelvic floor, and simple rented it out as a bingo hall.  After all, I knew that Mrs. Bichan enjoyed her Wednesday night flutter at the Church Hall (an activity for which Miss Frame held her in contempt), but at the back of my mind was the realisation that Bingo Halls in fact made a lot of money.  That being the case, simply by renting Mrs. Bichan’s extra-wide abdominal cavity twice each day and with added pensioners’ specials on Monday and Thursday mornings, within a very short time I could afford to retire Hannibal Ben and buy something that might even take me to the winner’s enclosure at our local point-to-point.  And from there, my new mount and I could progress to Ayr, and from Ayr we could go to Perth, and from Perth we could go to Aintree, and from Aintree we could go to the Cheltenham … and it all would take place inside Mrs. Bichan’s Pelvic Floor.

Inevitably, as in the way of all things, the Presbyterians scuppered by plans by buying Mrs. Bichan’s Pelvic Floor and banning bingo.  Therefore, I had to be content to turning it into a student hostel, and installing Miss Frame and Mrs. Bichan as managers.  It was an occupation that suited both of them, for it allowed them free-reign when it came to uncovering the filthy habits of young people.  And well do I remember the day when they emerged triumphant from a young lad’s room, denouncing him as the Devil’s Own Seed.  For even though he had secured his backpack with seventeen padlocks, their sharp noses had sussed out his stash of ‘dirty pictures’!  Not only did they send him away from the hostel with a flea in his ear, but they wrote a severe letter of condemnation to his mother – a letter in which they also managed to cast doubt on her fitness as a mother and upon his supposed legitimacy. Upon casting him out into the cold, Miss Frame and Mrs. Bichan marched straight out into the garden.  They lit a very large bonfire, and – then and there – the ‘burnt his dirty pictures’.

Now, I bet you didn’t even suspect that Mrs. Bichan’s Pelvic Floor had a garden, did you?  That shows what you know.  For it was a tradition.

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