A Sheila Called Sheila




Leslie Wilkie


 E-mail: lesjo@cranswick46.freeserve.co.uk



Students take gap years between A levels and university or university and work. I took mine when my wife left me for the milkman. Actually he wasn’t a milkman as such because he didn’t deliver milk to the doorstep at some ungodly hour of the morning. No, this one owned half of all the milk delivered in the north of England . His milk was literally gold-topped.

            I came home from work one day to find a note on the kitchen table propped up against a milk bottle of all things. It just said that she was fed up with us scrimping and saving to pay off the mortgage and all the other bills and that she’d found another love. At the time I didn’t know who that other love was but I soon found out when the divorce papers arrived. She didn’t want any part of the house or its contents, she merely wanted to be free of me. I let her go.

            About six months later I decided to let the house and its contents go as well. By that time I could write my name in the dust on the diningroom table. It wasn’t that I’d given up cleaning, I did clean the bits I used - the bed sheets, two towels and my clothes. I dined in the kitchen, cooked my meals in the microwave and ate and drank from the same plates and cups every day. However, when I found myself talking to the microwave and answering the characters on the television I thought it was time I took a holiday. That was when I decided to sell up. Bugger it, I thought, let the lot go.

            The leaflet I prepared on my office computer was headed “Bargains Galore”. I intended to have a house sale at the weekend so that evening, Wednesday evening, I toured my local area pushing leaflets through every letterbox. There was a queue outside my door when I got home from work on the Thursday, all of them wanting a sneak preview. By the time Saturday dawned I’d already sold half the contents of the house and by Sunday evening there was virtually nothing left. I couldn’t talk to the microwave any more because it and the telly had gone. The house sold three days later.

            I’d handed my notice in at work that same week and when I did so my boss muttered all the usual platitudes about how hard it would be to replace me and so on. Two days later there was a new man sitting at my desk and I was busy showing him the ropes. The following day, the same day that the house sold, I booked a round-the-world air ticket. I hadn’t a clue where I was going but the girl in the travel agents suggested Dubai as a suitably exotic first stop. I was on the plane on Friday.

            The hotel in Dubai was magnificent but I found it hard to come to terms with the two faces of that desert state. On the one hand there were camels, dhows and sand dunes whilst on the other there were massive modern skyscrapers. I moved on after three days. Actually, I was supposed to be travelling on to Mumbai but somehow I finished up in Colombo . I spent two days in Colombo airport sorting out the mix-up. The immigration people were quite nice about it and they put me onto the next plane out. I thought I was finally going to get to Mumbai but I finished up in Singapore . Still, Singapore was fine; the people there let me stay for two weeks. I had to buy some new clothes though, my Harris Tweed sports coat and flannels were just a bit too heavy for that climate.

            My next stop was Perth in Australia , a lovely place. I spent the best part of six weeks wandering around Perth and Fremantle before I decided to hire a mobile home to explore further afield. In a country where blokes like me are Poms, dogs are dingoes and women are affectionately known as Sheilas, I managed to find a Sheila called Sheila. I know it sounds crazy but I did, honest.

            It was like this. I was driving along this outback road in the middle of nowhere when I came across a car parked with its bonnet propped open. I pulled up to offer what help I could and found myself addressing a woman of about thirty.

            “Do you need any help?” I asked, as I climbed down from my vehicle.

            “I need a cool beer,” she replied.

            She was sitting by the roadside, sheltering in the shade of the raised bonnet. I climbed back into the van, got two cold beers from the fridge and joined her.

            “Are you a Pom?”

            “Sure,” I said, offering her my hand. “I’m Ron Parker from Yorkshire .”

            She looked at me, shook my hand and replied, “I’m Sheila from Notown.”

            I must have looked sceptical so she laughed and said, “It’s true, I’m a Sheila called Sheila. My dad was as drunk as a skunk when he registered my birth, so drunk in fact he couldn’t remember that I was supposed to be called Sandra. My mum nearly killed him when he got home with the certificate.”

            “Where did you say you were from?” I asked.

Notown, I known it sounds odd but that’s the name of the town where I live.” She pointed along the road in the direction I’d been heading. “It’s about forty clicks that way.”

            “Clicks?” I queried.

            “Kilometres,” she replied.

            “You can’t call a town Notown.”

            “You can when the town council can’t agree on a name.” She got to her feet and dusted off the seat of her jeans. “Come on,” she said. “You can give me a lift and I’ll show you.”

             Fifteen minutes later a large white board came into view at the side of the road. The name “Notown” was painted on it in green letters.

            “Every year,” said Sheila, “that board is painted white the day before the council meet and every day after the meeting the name ‘Notown’ is repainted. They very rarely agree on anything, in fact they mostly agree to disagree if you see what I mean.”

            I drove slowly into the town. There wasn’t much to see: clapboard houses, a general store, a garage with a couple of battered petrol pumps and the pub.

            “Drop me over there,” said Sheila pointing to the pub. “I’ll buy you a beer to thank you for the lift.”

            There were about a dozen men lining the bar when we walked in and Sheila introduced me with a wave of her hand and a short speech.

            “This guy’s a Pom, a dinkum Pom called Ron Parker from Yorkshire . He’s just saved me a long walk and he gave me a beer.”

            There were several grunts, a couple of howdys and a tall glass of beer slid down the bar towards me. I’d barely got the glass to my lips when a voice said, “Do Yorkshiremen play cricket?”

            I slowly put the glass down again and looked across at the speaker.

            “You must have heard of Michael Vaughan,” I replied.

            “He’s a Yorkshireman, is he?”

            “He plays for Yorkshire and England along with Hoggard.”

            “Hm, yes, that name does ring a bell. Do you play?”

            “I used to and I still know which end of the bat to hold,” I boasted.

            “Good, you’re batting number four on Saturday.”

            “But I wasn’t planning on stopping,” I protested.

            “You’ve got to, we’re a man short. Sheila will put you up until then.”

            The pitch was a stretch of dry ground as hard as rock with barely one blade of grass per square metre. The opposition, a team representing Corrystown, scored two hundred in their forty overs. Their last man, a giant well over six feet tall and as broad as a double dunny hit one six that split the ball in two. He was their main fast bowler. I watched in horror as he proceeded to attack our opening batsmen with a series of vicious bouncers. Sheila was sitting alongside me with a first aid box in her lap and its significance suddenly dawned on me.

            “Why is Notown short of a batsman?” I asked.

            “He’s still in hospital,” replied Sheila.

            “What happened?”

            “He did,” she replied, nodding at the bowler thundering down the pitch in a cloud of dust.

            We’d made thirty-nine when it was my turn to bat and that monster of a bowler still had four overs to go. How I survived that first over I’ll never know but I did. His first ball clipped my right ear as it passed. I never saw balls two, three and four but I felt five and six, one in the ribs and the other with the edge of my bat. I scored four. My batting partner made sure I was facing the next time that monster came on to bowl. I’d already decided that I was going to get out, so I waited till I saw the whites of his eyes, stepped out of the crease and swung my bat. I hit the ball, my bat disintegrated and the bowler collapsed in a shuddering heap. We finished up winning by two wickets. The first time Notown had beaten Corrystown for ten years.

            I was told later that I’d hit the ball straight back at the bowler. It hit him in the middle of the forehead and had rebounded back over my head and that of the wicket keeper for six runs. The bowler was carried off and didn’t recover in time to bowl again. In fact I’m told he woke up in hospital in the next bed to my predecessor in the number four batting spot. We had a great celebration in the pub that night and I woke up the next morning in Sheila’s bed.

            They persuaded me to stay in Notown until my tourist visa ran out and I had to leave the country. By that time Sheila and I were really close so I decided to apply for permanent residence in Oz as soon as I got back to England . The town council finally agreed on something before I left and presented me with a letter of sponsorship to back up my application. Every adult in Notown also signed a petition requesting my presence back in Oz. I handed that in as well to the immigration people.

            It took nearly two months but my application was finally accepted and I flew out to Perth the next day. Sheila met me at the airport and we spent two nights in the airport hotel before she drove me home. As that familiar white board appeared in the distance by the roadside I suddenly realised that it said something different. There was a big white cross through the word Notown and above it they’d written Parkersville

©2006 Leslie Wilkie

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