A short story from my forthcoming collection 'Tall Tales From Wales'
Thomas Jones was a farmer and, like other farmers in the valley, he wore wellington boots. In fact, wellies were the only footwear he possessed. As a baby he was given beautiful bootie wellies. He learnt to walk wearing wellies, went to school in wellies and even got married in wellies. Some say it was the sweaty, rubbery smell of his wellies that drove his wife into the welcoming arms of a sheep shearer from Llandybie.
"There he goes," the neighbours would say, "Tom Wellies," and smile at the joke.
One afternoon Tom was on his quad bike, riding home, after taking water to sheep in a field he rented at the bottom of the hill. Windy Hill, as it was known, was steep and there was a cottage at the top called Bryn Awelon. The owner, Mr. Hughes, was by the front door scratching his head.
Tom stopped his bike and switched off the engine. "You look worried Mr. Hughes. Is something the matter?"
"My bath," said Mr. Hughes and pointed at a large cast iron bath in the hall.
An odd place for a bath thought Tom. Why wasn't it in the bathroom where it belonged?
Mr. Hughes saw Tom's confused expression. "I'm trying to get it out, to fit a new bath; one with jets."
"A jet bath! What sort of jets? Why do you want jets?" asked Tom.
"I don't," said Mr. Hughes quietly. He rolled his eyes and nodded towards the kitchen. "It's a Jacuzzi bath - she wants it. Silly idea if you ask me."
Mrs Hughes' head appeared in the kitchen doorway. "Silly idea is it? I'm not deaf. All the famous people have them these days. Jacuzzis are the height of luxury."
"Oh," said Tom but he still didn't understand. "But, Mr. Hughes, why have you put it in the hall?"
"It's stuck. I managed to slide it down the stairs but it's too wide, it won't go through the front door," explained Mr. Hughes. "It's so heavy I can't move it."
"I'll help you lift it out," said Tom and got off his bike.
The two men pushed and pulled but the bath was stuck fast, wedged between the bottom of the stairs and the front door.
"It's no good. It's those big claw feet. I'll get a hammer and smash them off," said Mr. Hughes and went to look for a hammer.
Tom was waiting for him to return when William Bale came walking up the hill. William, a big, mild mannered, fellow with hands the size of dinner plates and a face as red as beetroot, was a casual dresser whose coat had lost its buttons years before. To keep it snug he tied it with a belt of baler twine. He didn't care if everyone called him Billy Baler in fact he quite liked the name.
"Billy, you're just the man we need," cried Tom. "Come and help us move this bath."
Billy Baler surveyed the scene and wondered why there was a bath in the hall of the cottage.
Mr. Hughes arrived with a big hammer and was about to give the bath an almighty whack.
"Hang on. I've been thinking," said Tom. "If we can get the bath out without breaking it I could put it in my bottom field for the sheep to drink from. Billy here will help us turn it on its side."
"Well boys. Let's give it a try," said Mr. Hughes.
The three men grunted and groaned and, after a lot of arguing and a few swear words, managed to get the bath on its side and push it through the front door and into the road.
"What do we do with it now?" asked Billy.
"I'll get a trailer. I won't be long," said Tom. He jumped on his bike and roared off. He returned minutes later with a small sheep trailer behind the quad bike.
"You'll never get it in that. The bath's too long," snorted Mr. Hughes.
"We'll tie it on," said Billy. Tom lowered the ramp on the back of the trailer and the three men dragged the bath in.
"There! I told you it was too long. The bath is sticking out the back. The ramp won't shut," said Mr. Hughes.
"Tie it to the taps with this," suggested Billy and undid the baler twine around his middle. Tom fastened the ramp to the taps and got on the bike.
"I'm telling you, it's not safe," said Mr. Hughes. "Look at the tyres. They're flat as pancakes and that string will snap. The bath isn't secure."
Tom considered Mr. Hughes warning and had an idea. He got off the bike. "You can drive Billy," he said. Then he climbed into the bath and sat down. "I'll hold both sides of the trailer firmly. That should do it."
Mr. Hughes watched the bike, trailer and bath, containing Tom, move slowly down the hill. When it disappeared from view, he shook his head, went inside and shut the door.
"Are you alright, Tom?" called Billy Baler. He could feel the trailer pushing the bike down the hill. "Hang on tight. I can't stop. I can smell burning. The brakes won't hold."
"I'm fine," shouted Tom. "Keep going. We're nearly at the bottom of the hill."
Billy was relieved when they reached the bottom without mishap. He turned to follow the lane beside the river and, happy they were safely on the flat, gently accelerated. The bike and trailer picked up speed but the bath, loaded with its own inertia, had other plans. It refused to change direction. There was a crack as the string snapped, a bang as the ramp hit the road and a loud screech as the bath containing a very frightened Tom Wellies slid from the trailer.
Knowing something terrible had happened, but not sure what, Billy stopped and looked back along the lane. He saw the ramp was down, and the gouge mark in the road but where was the bath and, more importantly, where was Tom. "Where are you," he shouted.
"I'm here," came a distant cry.
"Where," shouted Billy.
"Down here," yelled Tom.
Something on the river attracted Billy's eye. He looked down and watched Tom float slowly past.
"Save me," cried Tom.
"Is that Tom Wellies sailing in a bath?" asked a surprised fisherman as the unfortunate sailor cruised past Llangadog Common. Passengers on the afternoon train were stunned to see a man, sitting in a bath, drifting along the River Tywi. Traffic stopped on the A40 to watch the spectacle. The alarm was raised and the fire brigade called. They stretched a hose across the river in Llandeilo and waited. A crowd cheered from the bridge as they pulled the bath to the shore and rescued the reluctant mariner.
"What shall we do with the bath?" asked a fireman.
"I don't care. I never want to see the bloody thing ever again," replied Tom and squelched home in his wellies.