What funny thing happened to you?

In my last year of school, in 1965 I took a weekend job at the local zoo. I loved the work and soon realized that I did not want to go into office-work. When I left school in the summer of that year, I stayed on at the zoo on a full-time basis. Two other girls also worked full-time: Hazel who was about the same age as me, and June a couple of years older. We mostly tended the smaller animals; the manager and two other men looked after the larger ones.

When school broke up that summer there was no shortage of young people - mostly girls - looking for part-time work at the zoo. With the part-timers, there could be as many as twelve working there during the summer break, and being a very busy time, the hours would be staggered between eight in the morning and ten at night. Half would start work at eight and finish around six, while the other half started at ten or later working until closing time.

The mornings began with the cleaning of all the animal cages, followed by the feeding and providing of fresh water to the occupants. Lunchtimes would begin around eleven-thirty, and every half hour thereafter, with staff taking their lunch-breaks in pairs.

On one particularly hot August day, I paired up with Susan, one of the part-timers. We wanted to find somewhere out of the way to have our lunch in peace rather than in the staff room, (which was really a large shed, and also housed the animal feed) to avoid being called in to help in the cafeteria or the gift shop if it became extra busy, which it invariably did. 

I suggested we go to the giraffe house, a very high wooden structure situated in the zebra, and ankole cattle paddock. Now, it stored bales of hay and straw since a giraffe was not in residence at this time. Susan agreed, and we slipped unseen into the paddock, and through the small door at one side of the giraffe house.

Inside, the bales had not been stacked in the correct way: one layer placed one way, the next the opposite way, and so on. They were haphazardly thrown in, some of the bales precariously jutting out here there, with hardly any support beneath them. Even so, they provided an easy climb to the top, and seated on one of the bales, we proceeded to eat our lunch.

While we were laughing at the thought of Mrs Harries trying to find us to help in the cafeteria, I spotted a small window in the corner just beneath the roof. I decided to check it out, and stood up, forgetting the instability of the bales.

I never reached the window. Instead, from the floor of the giraffe-house, I watched open-mouthed as bales of hay hurtled towards me, and, standing at the top, I saw Susan, rocking with uncontrollable laughter. I have no recollection whatsoever of falling, but fall I did, and luckily landed on a soft bed of hay that had spread across the floor from some of the opened bales. Beneath the hay, the floor was solid concrete.

Afterwards, Susan told me that I stood up, and then, was suddenly gone. The bale I had been standing on was one of those jutting out with no support beneath it. When she looked down, and saw the expression of shock on my face she was unable to control the laughter.

From then on we took our lunch-breaks in less hazardous surroundings but Susan wouldn‘t let me forget it for a long while.

The End

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