In Festive Mood Part Three

John went further than that.  We went shopping that morning for whist prizes.  For the ladies, a lovely pair of silken garters, for the gents, a good tie – with a secret condition attached that must only be known after the event – that the winning gent must put the garters in their right place on the winning lady.  Chocolates, cigarettes and an ample supply of port wine completed our list.  As an extra attraction, J.T, our recruit must, according to the flexible rules of the ‘We.R.7’ undergo his initiation at the party, and it was the job of Tom and I, as ‘president’ and ‘secretary’ to make a speech for the occasion.  This we prepared.  These proceedings were kept a close secret from the unsuspecting ‘recruit’.

The snow of last night had changed to sleet, and a thaw had set in, so a second visit to Aira Force revealed a great change.  King Frost had lost his grip entirely, and the glittering, glassy beauty of yesterday had become a wild rush of water, through the far-flung spray of which little rainbows formed and broke in the weakling sun.

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After lunch we set off to pay a visit to Kepple Cove, a mountain tarn under the bulwarks of Helvellyn.  About two months before, on the same night as the disastrous Fleetwood flood, a cloudburst had descended on Helvellyn, and Kepple Cove Tarn, which had acted as a reservoir for the copper works a mile below, burst its dam with calamitous results to the little village.  Mine host had caught a goodly share of the stream which flooded the house to the ceiling of the first floor, and had left a sorry case for them to repair.  John insisted that the piano had been a heavy sufferer.  We followed the track of the deluge, noting the tremendous masses of rock that had been carried by the water.  The copper mines and works had not suffered, being too high, but we subjected them to a thorough investigation.  Kepple Cove tarn was but a tiny pool with stream issuing from a great rent in the dam; ahead the snow-covered mountain, rose up to Striding Edge, clear in a pale sky, and down the valley we could see Ullswater, and Place Fell in fine proportions, behind.

I was minded to try another way back along the far side of the valley, and receiving no support, ventured alone.  Difficulties cropped up; the snow was deep and hid pitfalls and boulders, whilst sometimes I could hear mountain becks running underneath the snow.  The sunset displayed colours of amazing beauty, and ere, saturated to the knees, we reached Glenridding, the sky had assumed a tender green, the like of which we had not seen before.

In Festive Mood004Back ‘home’ the stage was set, and already people were coming in.  Changing into more comfortable, drier, things, we were introduced to everyone in turn, and could not help but commend our hostesses on their choice.  The youthful flower of Patterdale, both sexes, was gathered, with a careful equilibrium between youth and maid…..

The whist drive was got under way.  Only once before had I taken part in a whist drive, a professional affair, and that time I gathered the personal opinions of many people, who seemed to regard me as the one who had spoiled their chances, and said so.  They had obviously come for the prize, not for the game, and as I was merely a novice, I clung to a single table with pathetic loneliness, my score card mounting laboriously upward in one’s and two’s, and I became sadder at each move. I had a roomful of enemies ere that whist drive ended, but I had one enemy supreme.  She was an oldish lady who had seen many a stern struggle in the world of whist, many an encounter with luckless partners, and she came to my table flushed with a brilliant first half.  As my partner she met her Waterloo.  As usual I made a false slip and received a terrible glare of wrath, but at the second slip (which lost us the game) she denounced me in withering tones, whereupon I retorted a biting sarcasm to the best of my ability.  The next game she played on the same table, and that game I enjoyed, because I won, and left her there, a living bundle of fury.

But this drive was a pleasant jaunt of twelve games played by twenty-four novices, and the first prize ladies was won by a winsome young woman (married).  The gents was taken by mine host, a man of forty years or so, but, as later proved, he was a ‘sport’, relinquishing his ‘condition’ to J.T.

Dinner was a gorgeous affair, worthy of a first-rate banquet, then, with headgear (paper) and spirits of approved party humour, we settled down to sing-songs, on the sing or forfeit system.  Some sang, some tried to sing, some paid a forfeit.  Of those who tried to sing it can be said that their attempts were honest and genuine, and unwittingly they provided to the general amusement.  Next came the time-honoured games which are far better played and not explained, though it seemed strange to me to see Tom, for instance, the quiet, hard-riding cyclist, disappear into the parlour with a village belle, and stay rather a long time…..  Tom, to whom girls were taboo, who would rather do a mid-winter century, or would drop dead with fright if forced to run the gauntlet of a party of girls.  There was a game that concluded with each man a girl on his knee, and by the worst stroke of fate, I was compelled to provide seating accommodation for the hostess’s maiden aunt, a straight-laced, Victorian lady of seventy summers at least.  My interest in that game ebbed away; during a period “in the dark”, she turned and murmured in a stage-whisper “I’m not married yet” !  Happily she went to bed early.  The young married woman was the liveliest present, and her husband entered into the spirit of the thing. In a game of forfeits, every man had a step on the stairs – winding stairs with excellent corners on the landings, and the girls were passed along from one to the other.  There was a stoppage in the shufflings, and a voice floated down in the dark: “Has my wife not got off that top step yet”?  A little later, the same voice: “Who is this”?..  (answer) “Your wife”.  To which:- “is that all – pass her on”!

These games are definitely ‘soft stuff’, the kind we usually spurn, but given the atmosphere of a party of young folks in the festive season, then they help in the night’s diversity, for they are innocent enough.

During the disposal of cakes and port-wine, the whist presents were handed out, and J.T, our recruit, was given the honour of fulfilling the whist conditions, which was done amid applause.  The speech was made regarding JT’s  initiation, he was made a ‘member’ of the ‘We.R.7’ and awarded the trophy – two bones, remnant of a past dining, which were then placed round his neck with due ceremony.  Ports were drunk, and to the tune of ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’, Jack made his bow.

The night wore into morning, yet the fun grew apace.  Port wine was liberal, though its worst effect was no more than a sleepiness in the small hours.  Finally, the village boys, headed by a burly farm lad, gave us ‘Bill Barman and his Ullswater Hounds’, the local reply to ‘D’ye ken John Peel’, and with an Auld Lang Syne the party broke up at 6am.

We went to bed, which was really worse than useless, for we were up again in under three hours for our last breakfast.  As we prepared to take our leave some of last night’s party arrived, and photographs were taken outside, setting a permanent seal to the party that Patterdale will talk of for many years to come.

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The morning was gloomy; we were decidedly off colour for cycling, and a night frost had made Kirkstone Pass one long sheet of ice.  At Kendal we had lunch with the Braithwaites, where the Bolton District Association [of the CTC] had held its New Year festivities, and there we learned of the untimely death of our old clubmate ‘Albert’ Mather.  Poor old Albert – a record holder on the Liverpool-Edinburgh road – only a week ago he had been with us to a Christmas party at Bilberry’s in Hindley.  I had been on some good rides with him, and found him the real sort….  the news put a mournful conclusion to the best New Year we had upheld.

Fog was encountered from Milnthorpe, and as we drew into Lancashire, it went worse, so that we were glad of the rest tea time afforded us at Barton.  At Walton-le-Dale our party split up, and two hours later the nightmare journey ended, to go down in memory to be spoken of in the uncertain future by Lancastrians and the inhabitants of a lovely Lakeland valley.

Editors note:  I attach a picture of Albert Mather taken from Charlie’s photograph album, a picture taken shortly after be broke the Liverpool – Edinburgh record in September 1926.  On New Year’s Day, 1927, Albert died after a collision with a car near Preston. In Festive Mood005

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