Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Lakes

Chapter 7 

The Lakes

After the departure of the happy pair it all went a bit flat so it was a relief to set off with Sarah for the Lake District.  I had saved some money and Sarah was earning so we decided to treat ourselves to a bed and breakfast instead of camping or staying in youth hostels.  Mum and Dad recommended Mrs Lawson’s B&B in Ambleside.  It was a typical local house, built of grey Lakeland slate, close to the Police Station. Mrs Lawson was motherly and Mum said she was a good cook so we were persuaded to have our evening meals with her. 
After exploring Ambleside I took Sarah to see our old haunts.  The camping ground  now had a few caravans - but the enormous tree, by the edge of the lake, which had been struck by lightening and uprooted, was still there.  Evan used to call it his castle and on the lake you could still see the rocks where we use to tie up and fish.  We wandered round the town and admired the super boats moored there.  One was called ‘The Girl Pat’. 
The Lakes were busier than pre-war, but their beauty was unchanged.  I never tired of gazing at the shimmering lakes garlanded with dramatic mountains - so different to the sea-side scenery I had grown accustomed to over the last year.

  I couldn’t find the little shop that used to sell lime milk shakes – such a treat in war-time – so we discussed what to do next over a cup of coffee 

“Sarah I think rather than tackling a mountain straight off on our own - especially as I’m meant to be the experienced one –how would it be if we spent tomorrow in the Langdales?  There are lots of little sugar loaves. We can potter up and down at our own speed and break ourselves in gently.”

“That sounds like a plan – especially as the weather is so gorgeous. There can’t be too many days like this up here I imagine.  What’s a sugar loaf by the way?”

“Little grass and rocky pinnacles just crying out to be climbed.  You’ll love ‘em!

Next day we bussed to the Langdales, climbed a couple and had our picnic lunch.  The third one was more like a grassy knoll and – intoxicated by the fresh air and the sunshine - we ran down the last one like a couple of kids and collapsed in a heap at the bottom.

“Sarah do you know Littolf’s piano concerto thing?

 Lah dee da dada da da da de dada “nodding my head vigorously in time - but Sarah looked blank.

“It doesn’t ring a bell.  Why?”

“Every time we run down a hill I hear it in my head and I just want to fly.”

“Steady on luv!  There’s a caff down the road – lets go and sober up with a brew.”

The weather was unusually balmy we were hot and tired and the cool shady tea-room with a flagged floor was a welcome oasis.  The seating arrangements were trestle tables with wooden forms to sit on – quite matey.  Most of the tables were occupied so we chose one with just three chaps sitting there.

“Do you mind if we sit here,” I asked politely?

“By all means – do join us.  This is my brother Ben, our friend Tony and I’m James.”

“Hi!  This is Sarah and I’m Pat.”

We quickly sat down as I could tell they were about to stand to acknowledge that we were young ladies.  Once we had drunk refreshing mugs of tea and scoffed hot buttered toast my natural curiosity got the better of me and I discovered they came from Ripon, had been in the army and were about to start at University - rather like my new brother in law.  They seemed really nice chaps – James who I found quite attractive was the chatty one, Ben his elder brother had an ‘other world’, aesthetic look about him and Tony was a little shy but good natured and friendly.

They had been climbing and had lots of useful information about the area so conversation flowed easily.  I realised time was running away with us and started to look up the bus timetables to get back for Mrs Lawson’s supper..

“We have a car and we’d be happy to give you a lift to Ambleside” said James.  They were quite a bit older than us, there were three of them but they were polite and charming and were climbers so I knew we would be safe.

  James was driving – I was sitting in the back with Sarah and Tony and we could see each other’s faces in the mirror.  We all seemed to get on so well it seemed a shame not to see more of them so I told them we were going to a local dance after supper and they said they might join us.

  We didn’t linger over Mrs Lawson’s excellent supper but both paid a great deal of attention to our toilette that evening.  Sarah was more grown up than me – well she was older, had her mother’s dark good looks, a shapely figure and beautiful deep set eyes.  My hair was all over the place but at least it was clean and shining and the sun had bleached it a little.  We decided we would abandon our shorts and be girly in dresses.  I had an old cast off from Maddie - a blue silk – more her colour than mine with little rosebuds and a heart shaped neck.  The silk on my skin felt heavenly and we set off for the Village Hall in high spirits.  The hall was already crowded and before long the chaps turned up.  We found a place where we could sit and took it in turns to mooch round the dance floor.  It was as if there was a magnet between James and I and when he suggested we went out for a breath of air I agreed.  It was a beautiful summer night and we followed the stream up a little way until the sound of the dance hall faded.

“Shall we sit on the wall and see what stars we can recognise,” asked James?

“Good idea – OUCH!”

“What’s the matter?”

“These stones are really sharp!”

“That’s alright Pat.  Sit on my lap.”

So I did and we stared at the stars and James gave me a lesson in astronomy which wasn’t boring in the slightest.  He would reach up to the sky to point something out and I would put my arms round his neck so as not to lose my balance – my dress was really slippery – and then I would be encircled in his arms again.

“Ah! La figure,” he murmured as his hand traced my outline.

“Actually ’la figure’ is the face,” said Miss Clever Clogs,” I did French for School Cert.”

James released his hold.

“Pat how old you?”

“Seventeen.  And a half!  Now I’m old enough to go to the main Hospital to start…”

James deposited me on the path and suggested we got back to the others.

“Well how old are you James?”

“Twenty seven.”

When we found the others James announced baldly,

“Pat’s seventeen!”

“And a half,” I added.

Well the good news was that I at last looked older than my age.  The bad news was that somehow my age had stopped that delicious spooning which had never interested me before with boys my own age. 

“Is it NEVER going to be the right time for me,” I asked Sarah?  She comforted me by saying it hadn’t put him off altogether because the chaps had invited us to spend their last day with them when they would drive us to a part of the Lakes we weren’t familiar with – Coniston.

  Next day - armed with our excellent packed lunches - we met the chaps in the village and had a pretty, scenic drive to Coniston – about 9 miles away.  Coniston Old Man looked quite tempting but it was another rare hot day and we were content to drift round the village - visiting the Victorian Sage and Art critic John Ruskin’s Gallery and Museum and his grave in the Churchyard.  Coniston was more remote and we had another lovely day of sweet scented meadows, shimmering lakes and gentle flirtation.  It was a rare experience to sit in that beautiful spot with perfect weather in the company of four attractive and intelligent people and just talk and talk and talk. 

 Time flew and it seemed criminal to dash back for supper, especially as the chaps were leaving the next day.  I had a brainwave:  we could phone the police station from the inn and ask them to pop over to Mrs Lawson’s to tell her we wouldn’t be back for supper.
  It was magical by Lake Coniston in the early evening and the lake - about 5 miles long was flat as a mill pond.  We were surprised to see quite a lot of people.  I suggested we had a skimming competition where you find flat smooth pebbles and see who can get the most bounces on the water before the pebble sinks.  The chaps were brilliant at this and we were rubbish - which pleased them no end until two officious looking blokes came up.

“You must stop that at once.  You’re disturbing the calmness of the lake.”

Feeling a little chastened we DID stop at once.  Disturbing the calmness of the lake?

What on earth was going on?  Why were we being berated for skimming stones on Lake Coniston?  

  Sarah was the first to spot him.  We all recognised him.  Those beaky, aquiline features were unmistakably those of Sir Malcolm Campbell.  His easily recognisable daughter was with him but not his son.

Sir Malcolm had broken the land speed record on nine occasions between 1924 and 1935 both in a Bluebird, which raced on land and a Bluebird that raced on water.  In 1935 he reached 301 mph at Bonneville Salt Flats, in the United States and now here he was waiting to do a run on our lake and we were causing ripples.  Red faces all around. 
  In the end, although the lake looked like glass to us, it was decided that the conditions were not ideal and the people drifted away.  We felt privileged to have seen him.  A year later he died. 

 Seven years later I met his son Donald, whilst on a modelling shoot.  He had continued his father’s pursuit of speed records and did 400mph in Bluebird, which now reclines in Lord Montague’s National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, UK.  Donald was charming and was interested to hear of our experience at Lake Coniston.  Tragically he was killed in 1967, aged 46 in a re-engined Bluebird K7. It flipped and disintegrated at a speed in excess of 300mph on Lake Coniston. 

His body wasn’t recovered from the deep lake until 2001 and today he rests in the churchyard in Coniston.
  It was time to say goodbye.  The chaps drove us back to the B&B, we bade them a fond farewell and James and I exchanged addresses.  Mrs Lawson was waiting for us in the hall and we could see at once she was not happy.  It was not so much that she minded our missing supper but to have a bobby come knocking on her door, in full view of the whole of Ambleside was not something she relished.  Oh dear!  We had brought her a little gift and when she saw we were really sorry to have upset her, she melted and when we told her of our adventure she admitted she would have

done the same - without the help of the policeman. 

  The next day we went to Keswick and found the other field where I had camped with Mum and Dad.  It had been occupied by gypsies and I remember being fascinated by a tiny girl with black hair and a red velvet dress trimmed with white fur.  They all seemed so friendly.  When we got back from climbing one day we found there was a large hole cut in the wind screen of the sidecar.  Dad took one look and said. 
“Right!  Pack up, we’re leaving.”
And off we went to the more hospitable Lake Windermere.  Maybe it wasn’t the gypsies but they must have seen something.  We never returned.

    I found Sarah to be the ideal companion and we agreed our holiday had been a success and decided we should try Scotland next year.  We spent a night at home regaling Mum and Dad with our doings - well some of them - and then it was back to the Convalescent Home. 

 Returning on duty after a holiday is always a bit daunting but going back there was less so.  It was such a welcoming place: the staff were like family, the children affectionate and the sea, sand hills and sky were always alluring.  In a few weeks I would be leaving for good and starting training with a vengeance.  Thank goodness Annie would be with me.  It wouldn’t be nearly so frightening with two of us.  Although the Convalescent Home was meant to prepare young girls before they started training proper at the main Hospital not all of them made it.  All we heard and saw of the Hospital filled us with awe and trepidation.  The training was very intense and the discipline of the strictest but this was the next part of my five year plan and I knew that the children would help to make life bearable.  I was in for a shock.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Chapter 6 A Wedding

Chapter 6

A Wedding

  Meanwhile there was great excitement at home:  Maddie’s fiancĂ©e was back in England and they were to be married in the summer.  I’d be a bridesmaid for the third time. 

“Binnie the new Staffie’s here.”

“Oooh what’s she like?”

“Nothing like the old one,” Annie teased”she always seemed so sad.”

“You’d be sad if you had met a soldier on a train just as he was leaving to go to the front.”

“What happened?”

“She used to live for his letters and then suddenly they stopped.  No explanation – nothing!”

“Poor lad!”

“No, no – he wasn’t killed or anything.  He just stopped writing.  He was the first boy friend she’d ever had.  It broke her heart.”

  We met the new Staffie at lunch and she was like no-one I had ever met before; she was stunning in appearance – tall and slender with black hair which she wore in a soft roll framing her pale, delicate features.  She was so cool and at night when we came off duty she would let her hair down – actually and figuratively whilst we young girls sat listening to her tales - enthralled.  The down side was she was quite sniffy about the fact that we were all going on to Pendlebury which she seemed to think was a waste of time.

  We were all sad when Matron told us she was going to retire.  I had grown quite fond of her although I always regretted how she had spoken about Lottie to Mum and me.

She called me into her office and said,

“I’m sending you to the main Hospital next month Nurse.” 

My stomach lurched

“But Matron I thought I was to start in October?”

I didn’t want to leave before my time when life was such fun.

“You will certainly start your training in October Nurse but I want you to attend the Prize Giving Ceremony.  After a rocky start you have steadily improved and I’m proposing you for the annual prize of ‘Best Practical Nurse’.

As soon as I came off duty I rushed to the Post Office to phone Mum at work.  I don’t know what demon got into me whilst I was waiting for them to find her but when she came I said,

“I’ve been thrown out Mum!”

  A word of advice- if you ever feel tempted to play a prank on someone don’t do it on the phone.  It was ages before I could convince Mum all was well.  What an idiot I was!

  We were all excited about the wedding and Mum, Maddie and the Aunts were busy with all the arrangements.  I thought Maddie was crazy for leaving art school before graduating, now that Paul was home.  It must have been strange being engaged when they had only met for a week, previously, with me – like the poor – always with them.  His time in India and Japan had changed him from a young soldier to a mature man of the world.  His family lived in London but his father in the Civil Service was billeted in Cleveleys and worked a few miles from the Convalescent Home, so he invited me out for the day.  He was short, bald and looked like an Oriental sage.  He seemed to know everything and I hung on his every utterance – fascinated- and decided I liked older men, even though he made me feel a little gauche- well I was a little gauche.

 One of Paul’s army friends Sean was to be best man, and an old boy friend of Maddie’s also in the army would be an usher and Evan our brother was chief usher.  Her best friend and I were bridesmaids and we managed to agree on a midnight blue, crepe dress with a keyhole neckline as one of us wanted a high neck - probably prissy me - and one a low one. It was the days of 'powder blue with burgundy accessories’ and ladies didn't venture out without hat, gloves and handbag - ideally of the same hue.

   Maddie lost a lot of weight during the preparations but she seemed happy and excited. Only two more years and I would be 19.  Would I follow in Mum and Maddie’s footsteps?  Not if I kept to my 5 year plan and took my Finals in 4 years time when I was 21.

  Matron had given me permission, before she left, to take my holiday to coincide with the wedding.  It wasn’t possible for Annie to get the same time off, and most of my old school friends were working, but Sarah – an old family friend whose mother was at Grammar school with mine - was free and keen to join me for a walking holiday after the wedding. 

  I said goodbye to everyone and told Annie that once we had started at the hospital we would be able to have time off together.  All was hectic at home – a melange of dresses, flowers, cakes, taxis and sleeping arrangements and we were all nervous about The Visitors. 
  There was a great North/South Divide and  Paul, his family, best man and two of Maddie’s fellow art students were all ‘B----y Southerners’.  I suspect we had a slight chip on our shoulders – it’s not as if we were that ‘broad’. 
‘Eeeh lass sit thissen down – tha looks clemmed an’ thy’rt wichart.  Utch up to’t fire an’ I’ll get thee a brew.’ 
We would only talk like that amongst ourselves.  ‘The Visitors’ would be treated to:
‘Do sit down.  You look cold and your feet are wet.  Come close to the fire and I will make you a cup of tea.’ 
There wasn’t much we could do about the accent.   Since moving out of the Valley Maddie and I had almost lost our strong Lancashire accent but back home A’s were flat and that was that!

But as Mum said ’if we all just be ourselves and make them welcome it’ll be alright.’ 
  The aunts had retired and sold the shoe shop.  They now lived in a pleasant house up on the leafy hill above the town so there was room for some of the guests, and the rest would stay at the hotel in Waterfoot where the reception was to be held.  As usual our house was bulging and Dad had now got an incubator in Evan’s bedroom so we had the excitement every morning of shining a torch to see if there were any fluffy yellow chickens. 
  The Aunts gave a party the night before the wedding and we all met up and mingled.  Paul’s friend Sean was handsome and very aware of it.  In fact both he and Paul gave the impression that the women out in India, had been swooning over them for the last two years, and they probably had.  Paul’s father, who I already knew, was as usual, a fund of interesting stories and enjoyed having an appreciative audience.  His family, who had heard them all before, were less attentive. 
Maddie’s girl friends were, to me, the height of sophistication.  One of them grabbed a tray of goodies, leant over Sean, flashing her embonpoint, and intoned in a sexy voice,

‘Sean. Can I tempt you?’
Bloody ‘ell!
All the Southerners spoke beautifully and would have beat Wilfred Pickles for a job on the wireless any day of the week. (Wilfred Pickles was a famous Yorkshire man who was sacked from his job as a BBC announcer because he had a Yorkshire accent. and for those of you who are not familiar with Lancashire and Yorkshire History I would point out that it isn’t wise to confuse the two and, of course, we won ‘The War of the Roses’.)
  On the day - the sun shone and it was warm - a rarity in the valley.  Maddie looked lovely and Dad was very smart in black jacket and striped trousers - his ’boiled ‘am suit’ he called it - only used for weddings and funerals.  Evan looked very grown up in long trousers and was a brilliant usher.  We all trooped up the left aisle, past our pew under the stained glass window of the Good Samaritan, and the congregation peeked round to look at us.  The church had its usual varnish smell mixed with Yardley’s Lavender.

  Paul and Sean looked stunning in their uniforms and swords- thank goodness it wasn’t that scratchy khaki that our uncles and cousins had worn. 
It was funny to hear Maddie repeating her vows in a shy, hesitant way whilst her left hand was nervously plucking at her dress.  The organist behaved himself.  He was old, deaf and eccentric and liable to let forth a mighty chord if he felt it had all gone on too long.  Back we all trooped down the other aisle past the Aunt’s pew and it was all over bar the bells and confetti. 
The reception was jolly and Maddie had ‘the distinction of cutting the wedding cake with the sword of her officer bridegroom’ according to the local rag.  I thought the Aunts should have been more to the fore but they were content to stay in the background and see the girl they had reared, married. 

  Before the happy couple left for their honey moon in Scotland Maddie and I had chance for a quick chat whilst she was doing last minute packing.

“What happens after the honey moon Maddie?”

“We’re going to Oxford and Paul is taking a special degree for ex-service men.  I’ll get a teaching job I suppose.  You must come down on your next holiday Pat and we can meet up with Liam and Jamie.”

“I’d like that.”

  Secretly I wondered why on earth she couldn’t finish her training at the Slade – it had been so difficult to get accepted. Part of me felt convinced that if she had been brought up at home she would have stuck with the training.

It was time to help Maddie get dressed in her going away suit.  She had lost a fair bit of weight and the plain suit emphasised her new svelte shape.

“You never had chance to tell me how things had gone when you took Paul home for the first time.”  Maddie rolled her eyes.

“ Well as you can imagine Mum put on a big spread: high tea with all the trimmings, the Shelley china, her special malt loaf – although I warned her Paul had had dysentery – and oh yes – and because of the dysentery she decided to do up the loo and painted the lavatory seat bright green.  Unfortunately she did it whilst Dad was at the match and forgot to tell him.  Guess what happened?”

“He didn’t!”

“Oh yes he did!  He smelt of turps for a week!”

“I wish I’d been there,” I giggled.

 “Pass me my skirt love.”

“How was Gran?”

“Well!  She was behaving like a duchess until she knocked the HP sauce bottle over.”

  “Don’t tell me…”

  “Stand up you long-necked bugger” she shouted and …”

 Maddie then collapsed on the bed in helpless laughter.

“Tell me! Tell me!”

“And - Paul -  stood - up!”

I also collapsed on the bed – tears rolling down our faces.

“Well he would wouldn’t he - him being used to taking orders?”

I really was going to miss Maddie.  Paul got quite irritated when we had giggling fits which only made us worse.  I would have to think of them as a couple from now on.

Gran would have the last laugh; these days with hands and fingers swollen and clumsy I know how easy it is to knock things over but I promise I don’t berate dumb objects.