Monday, July 25, 2016

It must be love.

An Imperfect Life

Chapter 14

It must be love!

There were going to be four of us on our trip to the Lakes – Jamie, his climbing pal Alec - another Oxford undergrad
 - my nursing friend Ginny and me.  It helped that Mum and Dad knew and liked Ginny and now I was nineteen they had at last decided they could trust me.  Ginny and I were travelling up by bus and the boys were hitch- hiking from Oxford.

“I promised Jamie we would travel fairly light Gin.”

“The heaviest things are these wretched boots with all the nails.  If we travel in them there should be bags of room.”

“Let’s make a list of essentials“ I suggested, “and take it from there.  We need rain gear, sweaters- it can be freezing in the mountains - shirts, underwear and say one pretty outfit for any special occasion.”

“We’re not likely to be meeting Royalty Pat.”

“You never know!”

At last we were on the bus with our bulging rucksacks.  Being away from the wards and the strict discipline affected out spirits and we were light hearted, giggly and excited.  At Lancaster Bus Station we caught a glimpse of them striding past our bus.

They looked like Greek gods and – like the silly young girls we were - we cowered in our seats so they wouldn’t spot us.

At last we reached the hostel. It was a relief to get off the bus and listen to the silence broken only by bees buzzing and birds tweeting.  The weather was perfect – sizzling in fact - so we ditched the sweaters we had travelled in and put on shorts and cotton tops.  We chatted to everyone in sight and then sunbathed in a field where we could spot the boys’ approach.  The meeting went off smoothly and our shyness soon wore off.

After supper we did our duties – washing up  - and went for a walk in the meadows  spattered with wild flowers in delicate pastel colours.  After Manchester the air was fragrant with wild herbs and blossoms.  Alec managed to annoy a bull who gave chase and, inadvertently Ginny kicked me in the eye as we both scrambled over the wall.  No great harm done and we sat and chatted in the evening sun.

Before bed I wrote to Andrew as promised.

  The moment of truth came the next day when Ginny and I staggered when we attempted to put our rucksacks on our backs.  The boys were brilliant- Jamie taking charge.

“Take out every thing that isn’t absolutely necessary and put it in Pat’s rucksack which we’ll leave in Ambleside Bus Station. Put the light stuff in Ginny’s rucksack and you both can take turns in carrying it.  Any extraneous stuff that you want (this included my book-sized diary) we will put in our rucksacks.”  Were they not true gentlemen?  Yes I do feel ashamed but it was a different age.

We blessed them later – when we were struggling up Red Screes in a heat wave.  We had cherries, peaches, crisps and packed lunches but no water and the heat had dried up the streams.  What were we thinking?

The boys climbed the steep slopes with long loping strides but then would wait for us to catch up – with encouraging words.  Ginny who wasn’t used to mountains was doing well.

“Did you do this with your Mum and Dad Pat?

  I laughed, “The big difference was that Dad would drive us in the motor bike and sidecar to the mountain – we would all climb it, come down and drive back to the camping ground.”

“Whereas the boys plan a route from A to B regardless of the fact that there may be two or three steep climbs in between,” groaned Ginny.

“And all the hostels have been booked so we are committed.”

“Lets get to the top of this slope and then we’ll have a refreshment break.  You’re both doing great!”   There was a twinkle in Jamie’s eyes but his encouragement got us going again.

We had a treacherous descent down the other side with the tantalising sight of the Kirkstone Pass Inn, which we prayed would be open.  It was and we celebrated with ice- cream, milk and cider.  We were very thirsty.

As we weaved our way – we girls somewhat unsteadily- along the valley towards Patterdale we came upon Brother’s Water and sobered up with an icy swim.  Quite a dangerous thing to do but it revived us and I enjoyed seeing Jamie in his swimming trunks.  He was taller than Andrew –very slim – lovely shoulders and narrow hips.  His skin and hair were much darker than his brother Liam and already he was looking quite bronzed.

By the time we reached the hostel we were tired and hungry.  Food and drink became of paramount importance and I still remember the raspberries and custard that we were given for dessert.  We had had years of going without the more delicious eats and had a lot of catching up to do.  We repaired to the White Lion – the local pub and sampled the local cider.  We had become a close knit unit of four and both Jamie and Alec had proved themselves to be ideal climbing companions.  I wrote to Andrew.

  The first time I climbed Helvellyn with Mum, Dad and Evan we had stared awestruck from the summit at Striding Edge – a razor’s edge path with airy drops on either side.

“We’re not using that route – too dangerous!” said Dad.  Now with Alec and Jamie, it was our route for the morning unless, they said, it was foggy or there was a high wind.  We left Patterdale and had a hard slog up to the Edge. Once on it- as long as you concentrated and were careful it wasn’t too bad, with views of Red Tarn to the right and the summit of Helvellyn ahead.  The last bit was a rough scramble and we managed to miss the Gough Memorial where the body of Charles Gough was found in 1803.  He had been killed by a rock fall and three months later he was found with his dog still guarding his remains.  By the time we were descending Dolly Wagon it was tea-time – the most important time of the day.  Around 3pm we would start to get twitchy.  Would this be the day we would fail to find a tea-place?  We were like a bunch of old ladies- salivating at the thought of the crumpets, muffins and scones oozing butter, jam and cream.  And then there were the cakes and pastries.

  To cut down on weight we hadn’t bothered with pack lunches and hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  We were in luck and stuffed ourselves silly.  The Hostel was run very efficiently by two ex- army chaps.  After supper we ambled round Grasmere ending up at The Traveller’s Rest, then had to race cross country to be back in time for curfew.  Since my visit to Oxford Jamie and I had got in the habit of giving each other a dispassionate kiss at bed-time - as he said - the kind that I would give the family.  This night Jamie kissed me and I knew I’d been kissed.  He then told me I was scared stiff of men.  This was news to me but I was confused - trying not to enjoy the moment too much and be loyal to Andrew.  Both Ginny and I were experiencing that heightened awareness that being removed from the stresses and tragedies of working with very sick children can bring.  The beautiful, carefree environment we were in only served to make the experience surreal.  Neither Alec nor Ginny were romantically involved with each other and we both felt utterly safe, as if in the care of two older brothers.  Now things were getting complicated and each day Jamie and I were slowly but inexorably getting too close for comfort.   I wrote to Andrew.
The next couple of days we relaxed more - walking round Elterwater and Blea Tarn, Dungeon Ghyll and the Langdales - where Sarah and I had climbed three years earlier.  Jamie and I did a lot of loitering on little stone bridges staring into the mesmerising water looking for fish and being enveloped by a growing sweetness that was hard to resist.  We left Elterwater and walked over Hard Knott Pass and Wrynose.

I found an Irish tweed flat cap which Jamie coveted and there was much bargaining with biscuits and chocolate as barter.   We began to get punch drunk walking endlessly with our rucksacks and were all feeling high spirited.  That night we were going to visit some old climbing friends of Alec.  They were distinguished climbers – he had been on the reserve team for Everest and his first wife had been killed in an avalanche.  They now ran a pub in Boot and Ginny and I decided it was time to put on our glad rags and show the boys why dresses and pearls were not just a waste of space.

  We were excited about meeting these famous friends of Alec.  Both of us had pretty dresses, were burnished by the sun, and were bubbling with laughter and anticipation. Even the boys had made an effort and looked unusually spruce. We ambled along the lane in the evening sun and saw in the distance a gaggle of boy scouts.  One – a little fat boy in baggy shorts – was intent on scratching his bum.  This amused us all but Ginny and I started that awful helpless giggling which persists the more you try to control it.  I could hear my mother’s voice in my ear.  “There’ll be tears before bed-time!”  As usual she was right.

  As we neared the inn a man recognised Jamie and said there was a telegram for him in the pub.  All laughter gone, we entered the pub to be greeted by people with serious faces.  Silently Alec’s friend handed over the telegram to Jamie and I propelled him to a bench to sit down.  He opened it and read it sitting very still- the owner of the Inn got him a brandy and we waited for him to tell us what was wrong.

 Jamie cleared his throat as he always did when he had something important to say,

‘My grandfather has died.’
Although the family were Scots born and bred - Jamie, his two brothers and his parents lived in London.  Throughout his life the highlight of the year had been the trip to their paternal grandfather’s farm in the Highlands where they would spend the summer.  Not only had Jamie lost a much loved grandfather but the happiest part of his life had come to an end. 
Sid and Jane – Alec’s friends – brought us coffee and sat down with us to help us decide what to do.  Clearly Jamie had to get up to Scotland as soon as possible.  His parents and the younger son Duncan were already at the farm but his elder brother Liam was now at Yale in the States.  It was too late to do anything tonight but he would get the first train in the morning.  The station was some way away so Sid lent Jamie a bicycle.  Jamie didn’t want to spoil Alec’s reunion with his friends so we put the sadness on hold and sat enthralled by the stories the two mountaineers had to tell us.
All too soon it was time to get back to the hostel. 

“Jamie - Ginny and I will rush back to the hostel and explain to the warden what’s happened. We’ll take the bike and you and Pat come on afterwards.”

Dear Alec – he had seen what was happening over the last few days and wanted to give us a little time alone.  We took our time walking back – so different to a few hours earlier when I had been helpless with laughter.  At the bridge we said good night three times and went to our respective dormitories.  I couldn’t sleep and got up at 4am to wait for Jamie.  Soon he appeared looking sad and tired.  We walked to the bridge and talked of the croft we would have when we were married.  It was romantic nonsense but it seemed real at the time.  We planned the next few days so that we would really be together all the time.  Jamie knew the entire route we were taking, which was a comfort.  Back in the hostel the warden had made Jamie a decent breakfast and some tea for me.  Then I rode the bike down to the bridge and we clung together and said good bye for the last time.  Jamie watched whilst I walked back to the hostel and then I watched as he rode away.  Everybody was busy getting breakfast and packing up so I sneaked out to the bridge and let out all the emotion I had been hiding for Jamie’s sake and sobbed my heart out – except that my heart wasn’t there anymore.  I knew without a shadow of a doubt that for the first time in my life I was truly, deeply, madly in love.  With Jamie.  For ever and ever.

  Jamie liked my hair loose and had asked me to keep it in bunches whilst he was away.  I think if I had had false teeth he would have asked me to remove them.  A chastened trio set off on the long, long valley of Upper Eskdale and each rock and tuft of grass seemed to remind me that Jamie was gone.  His departure made Ginny and me realise that this glorious holiday wouldn’t last for ever and soon we would have the stomach churning ‘back on duty’ not knowing which ward we would be on and whether it was day or night duty.  In contrast the boys would have the whole summer climbing in Skye.  Poor Alec looked care-worn.  He had made up the quartet as a favour to Jamie and now he was solely responsible for two ditsy girls with few climbing skills and absolutely no sense of direction.  The holiday had been planned to give us a ‘breaking in period’ to acclimatise us and now we were to start ’the big stuff.’  No wonder he was apprehensive.  Ginny and I had a quiet word and decided that:
A/ we must make the most of the rest of the holiday.

 B/ We must be good and sensible and do all we could to make life easier for Alec.  He was the Daddy now. 

Alec had two passions: climbing and music – especially Gilbert and Sullivan so we peppered him with questions about rock climbing – what he had done, the different grades of climbs, what he would do in Skye, rope work and how to abseil.  Soon our spirits rose, Alec was in his element and when the weather worsened and we were soaked in a deluge we sang ‘Three little Maids from school are we’ and ‘The Lord High Executioner’. We were rain happy.  As a further tribute to him – demonstrating our trust and esteem - we made him Controller of the Kendal Mint Cake. This is a hard rock like substance – very sugary, which has been fortifying climbers since 1936 and was used on the successful Everest expedition.  Very small amounts were doled out to us when Alec deemed we had deserved them.  We ate our pack lunch sheltering under a bridge and then tackled Scafell Pike and saw where Sid (last night’s host at the pub) had discovered the climb down to Sty Head Pass.  Honister Pass was next on the agenda and then, thankfully the hostel.  By now we were recognising faces and there was a very matey atmosphere.  We were intrigued by Ben – a rotund fair- haired lad who never seemed to exert himself and yet every time we reached a peak Ben would be sitting there – usually scoffing something – like a benign Buddha.  Weird!
I wrote to Jamie and left the letter with the warden to post the next day.  In those days you could post a letter – even in remote places and know it would be delivered the next day and you could have a reply the day after.  There would be at least two posts a day and they were totally reliable.  Whatever happened to our Royal Mail?
  After supper Alec told us what he had in store for us the next day; so Ginny and I didn’t sleep too well that night.  The ‘big stuff’ Alec had promised we were going to do, wasn’t the only thing that had me tossing and turning that night. I wondered how Jamie was coping; there was no sign of him returning and time was running out.  As soon as we knew about Jamie’s grand-father’s death I had written to my parents to beg them to let me bring Jamie home after the Lakes for the couple of days I had before returning to hospital.  The difficulty was that that was precisely when it was Wakes Week, when all the mills and shops close down for the annual holiday and - as surely as night follows day - when they themselves would be going on holiday.  Even after my parents had retired they stuck rigidly to these dates. Of course they would never agree to our staying in the house alone. Gran - as usual - was in the States visiting Auntie Janet so I also wrote to Maddie, who was at the aunts, to ask if she would come home to chaperone us.  It seemed so cruel that we should be separated at this special time.  Then there was Andrew.  These last few days everything had become crystal clear.  I had to tell him; but I couldn’t just write a ‘dear John’ letter I had to tell him in person and I dreaded it.  Before we left the hostel I asked the warden to please be sure he posted the letter to Jamie and then concentrated on what Alec had in store for us. 

 We went over Brandreth and Green Gable and then Great Gable and Alec showed us how to scree run down Great Gable.  It really was awesome but we trusted Alec implicitly; you were really using the mountain as an escalator -  and digging your heels in and the zigzagging from side to side, more or less ensured you didn’t go hurtling off  the mountain.  Now it is considered a danger to the environment and is banned in some countries.

  There is a memorial on Great Gable to twenty four members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District who died in WW1 and a service is held there every year on Remembrance Sunday.  Then there was Black Sail Pass where we met up with, by now, familiar hostellers who told us they had seen Ben on Great Gable – having a snack as usual and no hint of how he had got his portly frame there.  Somehow we found the energy to race up Scarth Gap and then dropped down into Buttermere (not literally) going very fast.  Buttermere is an enchanting little lake; we had seen so much beauty in one day that it would surely help us to survive the rest of the year in the Manchester environs.  Alec was frightfully pleased with us and when we found a welcoming farm for tea, a kind of happiness reigned. We ate lashings of bread, butter and jam followed by scones and then a nice old man gave us his.  We walked swiftly over Buttermere singing our hearts out.  When we reached the hostel, which had the nicest wardens yet, Alec told me all we had done, so I could copy it in my diary whilst we waited for supper.  After an overcast day the sun came out in the evening. We slept like tops!

   Another gruelling day – we were getting very fit.  We went up Dale Head – a steep and rough climb and once the mist had lifted there were stunning views of the valley, Great Gable and Scafell and we spotted some of our hostel friends steaming over the railway track. We then went on to Eel Crags where we could see Borrowdale on the left and Newlands on the right and dropped down to Maiden Moor via a pony track with great views of Derwentwater.  There were beautiful colours on the hills – a deep turquoise and Ginny and I just wanted to leap into the Newlands Valley – it looked so enticing.  An extremely blustery wind came up and we donned our macks for the long haul onto the moor.  The endless trek down to Grange played havoc with our knees and at the bottom – sweaty and exhausted, we closed our eyes listened to the babbling brook and imagined it was a hot sunny day.  I posted a letter to Jamie and then the heavens opened and the three of us squashed into a telephone kiosk to shelter.  Alec told us that the whole of Borrowdale had been given to the monks of Furness by Alice de Rumeli in 1209 and that Grange was where they stored their grain and also the salt made at the salt springs near the village.
  We walked to the famous Bowder Stone and agreed that even in the rain, Borrowdale is probably the most beautiful valley in Britain.  At the nearby studio we bought mementoes and I got some hairy Harris Tweed ties as gifts.  Later on my father, my brother, Paul and Jamie were all wearing them one night and were asked if it were some sort of club.  We signed Jamie’s name in the visitor’s book and wished he were with us.  By now we were shattered and had tea at Hazel Bank – the site of Rogue Herries House – the famous chronicle written by Sir Hugh Walpole.  Back at the hostel we had a merry sing-song with our friends after supper and they said they thought I was sixteen so my hair came out of Jamie’s ‘bunches’ before you could say Jack Robinson!
  Next day there were letters from Jamie, Maddie and Mum; most importantly Mum was very sympathetic about Jamie’s bereavement and said of course he could stay.  Maddie said yes she would chaperone (I never doubted it – she loved to know all that was going on and to be in the centre of any drama).  Jamie’s letter was very loving but it didn’t sound as if he would be able to get away in time.  Next day was going to be a comparatively easy day – we were all stiff and aching so we walked to Seatoller and bade goodbye to friends who were going home then bussed to Keswick and bought vital food supplies - biscuits and cherries.  After coffee we took a bus to Braithwaite and walked for miles in another deluge.  We found a bridge to sit under to have our lunch and Ginny and I laughed at the sight of Alec, for once speechless with raindrops dripping down his noble nose - all enthusiasm sapped.  We were all soaked to the skin but as so often happens, our spirits suddenly rose and before long we were singing our heads off.  Later we saw Walpole’s house and found a lovely place for tea with copper kettle, warming pans and spinning wheels.  In the beautifully carpeted hall we felt obliged to remove our boots, smooth ourselves down as best we could and opened the door  to a room full of posh northerners (and there aren’t many posher) taking tea – and what a tea.  I could blame our behaviour on privations during the war but we were just greedy pigs, which is why we were the last to leave and ate every scrap that had been left by the posh folk.
  There was a storm raging by the time we reached the hostel so Ginny and I donned our cossies and literally bathed in the river that ran through the grounds.  After supper I wrote to Jamie.  Next morning with only two days left, my spirits dropped when I saw there was no letter from him. Turning away from the notice board I bumped in to someone who had just come through the doorway.  I was blinded by the sun but I felt two strong arms round me and Jamie’s rough unshaven cheek, and the smell of his old tweed jacket and I clung to him and wouldn’t let him out of my sight.  It was July 21st - and I didn’t have a clue that two years later, on that very day I would be married.