Ian McMillan: When our singing knitter made a stand for athletics

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This was to be the day. It was the mid-1960s in Wombwell and this was to be the day. Uncle Don was ready. He was standing in the kitchen and he was ready. The chair was on the lawn in the back garden, ready. Don’s son Brian had the accordion ready. I was ready and my brother John was ready. I hope I’m giving you the impression here of a group of people, indeed a whole street, poised, anticipatory and ready.

Uncle Don had told us he could do a run up and do a handstand on a kitchen chair. I have to say that none of us believed him; he just didn’t look the athletic type, and we really couldn’t see him upside down on a piece of wood that you normally sat on to eat your tea. Mind you, he was unusual, Uncle Don; he liked doing things that were a bit out-of-the-blue, a bit unexpected. He enjoyed knitting all kinds of garments; he enjoyed singing along to their Brian’s accordion, his lovely tenor voice floating to the ceiling where it hung around by the light-fitting.

The dangers were obvious and could be boiled down to the possibility of missing the chair and landing in a tangle in the lupins

He had got me and my brother and a couple of Brian’s mates to place the chair near the middle of the lawn, just to give the whole event an added sense of theatre. Auntie Winnie had provided a jug of dilute orange and a plate of biscuits for the spectators, fanned out in a pattern. The biscuits, not the spectators.

The dangers were obvious and could be boiled down to the possibility of missing the chair and landing in a tangle in the lupins; it was certainly much more dangerous than warbling along to the accordion or knitting.

He stood at the kitchen door and we thought he was about to run up to the chair and do the handstand. I munched a biscuit, nervous for him. It turned out that he was just going to pace the distance, like a fast bowler testing his run-up. He paced. The chair looked, well, fragile; unsteady, as though a wrong move by Uncle Don would send them both crashing to the ground, whimpering and splintered.

Funny how moments from your childhood suddenly surface like shopping trolleys in a canal. I hadn’t thought about Uncle Don’s Furniture Jump for years and then, one morning as I was sitting gazing into the garden and thinking about the apple tree, there it was, an event as large as life shining from decades ago. Somewhere, I knew, there was a black and white photo of the event in an old biscuit tin.

Uncle Don was really ready, now. I grabbed another biscuit. Someone averted their eyes. Uncle Don nodded to Brian and Brian began to play the accordion. Uncle Don disappeared for a moment because he was at the back of the kitchen to make his run-up longer.

The music swelled. Uncle Don ran out of the kitchen as though it was on fire. Time seemed to slow down and he almost floated up to the chair, his hands outstretched. Time stopped. We held our breath… and he did it! The handstand on the kitchen chair! We all applauded and my brother took a photo. I’ll get the biscuit tin out later and find it to remind myself that it all really happened, that it wasn’t a dream.