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It was December 1977, Susan and I had been ‘going out’ for about nine months. It’s interesting, before we are married we call it ‘going out’ then after we are married we don’t anymore. At least, not very often – go out that is.

It was nearing Christmas and Susan decided she wanted to decorate her apartment with a Christmas tree – a real one – a fairly tall and bushy one. I lived a couple of blocks away and was enlisted to help get the tree, get it back to her place and help set it up.

My car was larger than hers, I was driving an orange Volvo station wagon known locally as the Great Pumpkin. We decided it would be easier to carry the tree on my car roof than on her Ford Pinto. Safer too; if we were in an accident and her car burst into flames, as the Pintos were want to do, the tree would be charcoal in no time. The Volvos weren’t graceful, elegant or exciting but they were safe! Mine also sounded a lot like a tractor.

We went to one of the Christmas Tree selling places set up in a parking lot. The snow was deep on the ground and the weather had turned very cold early that year. The trees were all standing leaning against each other frozen solid. After we had inspected every one for height, shape, and any barren areas, one was selected, and paid for. The seller bound it up in twin and I carried it and heaved it onto the roof rack. The seller also provided strong twine to tie it down. We set off back to Susan’s apartment happy and getting into the Christmas spirit despite the terrible Christmas music being played in the malls and on the radio.

It’s not easy to get a Christmas tree into a 21st floor apartment without leaving a little mess along the way. Needles and odd stuff that had been trapped in the tree left a nice trail from the elevator to the door of Susan’s apartment. We were able to clean that up with a broom and dustpan.

We manoeuvred the beast into her living room. Unfortunately the trunk was too large for the Christmas tree stand she had. “Not to worry” I said. “I’ll get some tools and we can cut it down to size”. I retrieved the tools, returned and started on the trunk. “Don’t mess up the carpeting” Susan said, with concern for her rented accommodations and the damage deposit. “Not to worry” I said sounding a bit like the character from Mad Magazine (Alfred E. Newman), I have a great vacuum cleaner, works like a charm, it will handle this stuff easily”.

You may wonder why I didn’t perform the tree surgery on the balcony. Good thinking. There were two reasons. The balcony was covered in snow – and the glass sliding doors were frozen shut. The apartment had wonderful floor to ceiling windows, including the sliding glass doors – but the seals weren’t that great. When condensation dripped down the glass doors it met the outside air and froze solid. So I did the wood-cutting in the living room.

I completed the operation and we managed to get the tree into the stand and tighten up the screws around the ring that held the trunk.

We stood back and watched as the tree slowly toppled over and crashed to the floor. The legs of the stand were bent back – the tree was too heavy for the stand!

“Oh, no! Look at the mess on the carpet” cried ‘She Who Should Be Listened To’ (SWSBLT). “Not to worry” smiled Alfred E. Newman. “I have a great vacuum cleaner, It’ll clean this up in no time”.

It was too late in the day to go and buy a new larger stand for the tree. We thought about what else we could use. Susan said she had some very large, round, white planters on the balcony. Maybe we could stick the tree into earth in a planter.

Now, how could we get onto the balcony to retrieve the planter. “ I know, do you have a hair dryer?” “Of course”. I set about blowing hot air onto the locks and doors. (Yes, I blow hot air fairly frequently, very funny).

After ten minutes or so I was able to ease the doors apart. They immediately were covered in frost – the humid inside surface meeting the very dry and extremely cold outside air. However, I was able to bring in one of the planters, which was surprisingly heavy and very very cold to the touch. I quickly put down the pot. “Watch the carpet” I heard, “Not to worry…..” you know the rest. We managed to get the doors closed again.

We probably should have thought about all this a little more before retrieving the planter. The earth inside was frozen solid. It wasn’t about to thaw any time soon. Except for the outside of the planter which was starting to become moist and a little drippy – and a tiny bit muddy.

That’s when I had my brain wave – or was it a seizure – “Let’s put the frozen planter in the bathtub in very hot water!” I staggered into the bathroom with the dripping pot and lowered it (I still have the bad back today) into the tub. We filled the tub with hot water and waited.

We waited quite a while. We waited a long while. It became clear that the mud in the planter was not going to thaw before spring. We let out the water in the bath. The planter had become quite slippery and the bathtub had a very interesting ring of mud all round it. Looked like a job for Vim.

Nothing for it but to put the planter back on the balcony. Unfortunately by this time the sliding doors had frozen more solid than ever – and there was ice on both sides of the glass.

I used the hair dryer again and eventually we could open the doors. I carried the dripping planter out on to the balcony. SWSBLT mentioned something about muddy drips tracking over the carpet from the bathroom to the balcony doors. “I have a great vacuum cleaner” I said, getting a little tired and testy by now. What’s wrong with an artificial tree? I was thinking.

I got the planter out onto the balcony and came back in, I had to use the dryer on the doors to get them to close properly. This caused a little melting ice to also drip over the floor.

The only option left – apart from chucking out the tree or waiting for the stores to open the next day, was to straighten the stand, replace the tree and attach strong twine or wire from the tree to the ceiling/walls.

This I did. But there was a fair mess on the carpet, with bits of bark, trunk wood, snapped off branches and a copious amount of needles. Not to mention the muddy spots which were drying nicely and should be easy to vacuum. Actually, she did mention them.

I thought it would be good to have a break and a nice cup of tea next, but instead I found myself out in the cold on my way to get my vacuum cleaner.

I returned, the triumphant hero, with my wonderful, trusty vacuum cleaner – it may even have been a Hoover, I don’t remember now.

I unwound the lead, found an outlet and plugged it in. With a big smile and flourish I switched on the machine. It sucked! Unfortunately not the way intended. It didn’t beat as it sweeps as it cleans. It started then coughed and wouldn’t pick up anything. I switched it off. Susan was looking a little sternly at me.

The light went on, not the living room light, the one over my head. “I bet the bag’s full” I said. So I laid the machine down and undid the cloth covering, and went to touch the bag. The bag went “Poooooof” and spewed like an Icelandic volcano – grey looking powder and dirt stopped any air traffic for about twenty seconds and then settled nicely over me, Susan and unfortunately the carpeting. I think I may have frowned at this point. “That’s never happened before”.

“Do – you – have – any – spare – bags?” she asked, enunciating each word slowly and distinctly”. Frankly I was becoming concerned about a second far more powerful eruption. “I, I think so…”

Once again I found myself out in the cold on my way, hopefully, to find a spare vacuum cleaner bag.

Luckily I had more bags, returned and was able to get the vacuum cleaner working again. There was a considerable mess to clean up, and I never did get that cup of tea.

The next year we were married (we have a certificate to prove it) and I brought my vacuum cleaner with me to our new life together. At the ceremony they ask “If anyone knows any reason why this couple should not be lawfully joined in matrimony they are to declare it”. Well, if Susan was prepared to go ahead with what she had experienced and already knew, why should anyone else have anything to say!

Mind you, after one of my amusing puns she can often be heard saying “Thirty six years!”. Then she smiles. We passed the Beatles 64 test some year’s ago. How lucky can I be?

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