Post: I cannot let this moment pass without an explanation for the illustration of the summit of Kirkstone Pass shown above. In those days, the ‘Cycling’ weekly paper used to run a monthly competition for the best story of the month to be published by ‘Cycling’. I am pleased to tell you that at some time in the following year Charlie won one of those monthly prizes, which was a Patterson print of Kirkstone Pass printed on board, and which I possess and reproduce below. Charlie has cleverly altered the drawing so that the figures have passed round the corner and only the footsteps and wheeltracks remain. When Charlie’s article won its prize, he must have decided to write it up in his journal for 1928, copy Patterson’s picture but changing it slightly, add two other illustrations of his own and put the whole thing to bed. I have always said that Charlie was very gifted. And I am right.
At breakfast the next morning we decided to go skating. Three had purchased skates on the outward run, anticipating the ice, and Jack and I were offered a pair each by mine host. So fitted, a general move was made up the mountainside to a little tarn about a thousand feet above, which was frozen quite hard. This was wonderfully placed in a clearing in pine forest, sheltered and rocky. We donned our skates. None of us had ever worn skates before, so after the first five minutes we got together to make resolutions and to feel our separate ‘bumps’. A thin bar of steel like the back of a knife is no support, especially when cycling shoes gave play to ankles that ought to have been strapped up in heavy boots. We resolved that skates ought to be like smoothing irons for comfort. It was also universally agreed that ice was too slippery, for as soon as we touched the surface our legs always shot from under us. We went back to our mishaps with that hard gleam in each of our eyes that speaks determination.
We persevered. Soon it became evident that we were born figure-skaters. Weird and wonderful figures we made quite involuntarily, assuming many positions. I watched Tom cross that ice in poses I never dreamed he could have twisted himself into; Fred W. displayed a genius for going backwards, though he always concluded on his neck. He said that was an essential part of the performance. Jack had an attractive style of his own which consisted of throwing up one leg then the other in wild abandon like a Red Indian dance of war, but sometimes he would forget himself in his enthusiasm and throw both his legs up at the same time, then he would come down with such a thwack as to send tremors through the ice. H.F. was what I like to call a lazy skater. Whenever I took notice of him he was sat down, travelling at a fast rate. At first I wondered how he could get that speed from a sitting position, but I watched him and found that he started on his feet, then sank down all at once as though he had suddenly tired of the whole business. My suggestion that he strap his skates to the double seat of his knickers and so make the most of them caused a general collapse. For my part I tried every conceivable position including a glide on my nose, and the only kind of skating I could not master was on my feet. I worked on the thesis that if I must fall I would fall as comfortably as possible, spending much time in pursuance of this desirable end and achieving some little success.
Two other things besides skates, just as necessary. I shall bring next time, a bottle of good embrocation and a large roll of sticking plaster. Our enthusiasm over-come at length by the call of hunger, we gave up skating, seeking a way home down the white-fringed Grizedale Beck.
A real New Year dinner awaited us. Turkey, plum pudding – a veritable array of good things under which the table groaned. They were certainly doing us well ! During the lazy interlude following it was suggested that we go up to Aira Force, the prettiest waterfall in Lakeland, so we got out our machines, and, groaning under the influence of the dinner, slowly wended along to the Matterdale branch road, half-way up Ullswater, where the path for the waterfall starts. Crossing snowy fields and glittering woodlands to Aira Force. What a picture – a silent, motionless waterfall ! All silver bars and ropes of glittering diamonds, great, rounded slabs of pure glass, with, deep in this sparkling palace, just a thin trickle of water. Words fail to paint the picture as we saw it, Aira Force in the grip of ice! The same frosted beauty held the woods – the fields – the mountains – everywhere except in the choppy waters of the Lake. Of all the lakes, Ullswater never freezes.
While the bright beauty of the heart of winter was in such evidence, the tragic side was near us too. For quite a long time we stood watching a robin which kept hopping closer to us. A cold winter is a hard time for the birds. We watched until it seemed to be appealing for a morsel to save it from starvation. A very pretty bird, but forlorn, it seemed, and from pity I turned to sorrow – none of us had the tiniest crumb of food with us. All the way back to Glenridding I felt kind of miserable because we had to leave that bird hopping about in the snow, vainly searching for the morsel that might mean the difference between life and death. There is a human parallel, even here, “In England, now, …….”
When we got back, the two defaulters had arrived, having been held up at Kendal the previous night. Our party was now made into ‘We.R.7” John Leigh is the lad for making a party go, a pianist of the first order either on popular dance stuff or classical, and an organiser to boot. Jack (J.T.), the other, is a sport – our ‘nominee’ for ‘membership’ of which more anon.
We all went down to Patterdale and across the end of the lake, walking a mile or so along the opposite side, where we found a sheltered bluff. There we sat, singing songs while the dusk slowly gathered over the waters of Ullswater, pale-ing the glimmering snow, and then the mountains grew fantastic and hazy. However can I describe the glories of Lakeland in winter !
After tea snow began to fall heavily, at which hopes ran high that we might be ‘marooned’ ere Tuesday. In that was the excuse for a prolongation of our short holiday.
John got away on the piano, and soon established himself with the two maidens, who, by this time, had fully emerged form their shell. We tried a bit of dancing too, but dancing on a carpet is the direct antithesis to skating, so we decided to play games. You know the kind of games. As there were only two girls to seven of us, the games were very one-sided, and as they were nearly all organised by John they were mostly ‘one-man’ as well. At any rate, John came in fairly prominently. This lasted until the enterprising John bade fair to become the sole male player, when we gently withdrew him, and a sing-song replaced the farce. At 2am we settled down in complete darkness to a period of ‘table-rapping’ by ‘spirit’ signs, also organised by the sprightly John. Mistletoe-in-the-dark was the logical outcome of this, and here John had no more than his due portion of the game. At half-past three we broke up and dispersed – to bed.
Part 2 THE GREAT PARTY
“This is a notable couple and have met
But for some secret knavery”. The Tanner of Tyburn
“Why sleep they not when others are at rest?” -With apologies to Byrom
We lingered under the warm enclosure of the bedclothes. A cold grey morning after a late night makes one appreciate the seductive qualities of a good bed, and the beds of mine hostess are beyond reproach. Chuckling from the direction of John’s bed was followed by the rapid flight of six pillows, for peace is the keynote of morning restfulness, but John had germinated an idea. When it came to us, he had it worked out, complete to a detail, watertight, certain of success. He out-lined his brainstorm over breakfast. We would have a party. Call every young inhabitant for miles around, open out with a whist drive, then a first class dinner and sing-songs, games and what-not. We asked the girls to gather the village up and bring its best attractions in at, say, 7.30pm. We were only just in time, as they were going to organise a village dance in the schoolroom in our honour, but John’s idea was better, they agreed.