Friday, July 04, 2008

Saturday 19th August 1939

Was ready for the road by 8 a.m. but the car wasn’t! She just wouldn't fire. Eventually found a mechanic-bloke in Stock who was obliging enough to set about the job. Left Stock 9:5 a.m. on a journey the length of which I did not know. All I was sure about was that I must reach Matlock Station by the time John’s train arrived (4:25p.m.) as this was our only rendezvous. So I decided to just do my best – try to average 30 miles each hour. I’d mapped out a rough route and this proved quite accurate and was easy to follow. There was a suitcase in the back seat. I wore a khaki shirt, no jacket, a scarf, ancient, stained grey bags, socks rolled down and slippers.

10:5 a.m. I reached the outskirts of Saffron Walden – 30 miles. Stopped for three minutes, lit a cigarette, sipped tea from a thermos. My next halt was between Cambridge and Godmanchester. 11:5 a.m. – 60 miles. At 11:20a.m however, my calculations went astray. Spinning along a nice stretch of road at 50 there was a loud bang and a slight swerve!
Exhaust? No!….tyre. I stopped. Yes, dammit; one of the bloody front tyres had burst!
There was no sign of a puncture and, as I found later, this burst was caused by a faulty tyre cover. I methodically, coolly and peacefully changed the wheel. No worry about getting dirty! I sat comfortably in the road and did the job. What a difference dress makes!

Thrapston. The tyre burst had delayed me 20 minutes. 12:5 p.m. 84 miles. Kettering. Slinky B droned on steadily. My eyes glanced at the clock, at the mileometer. Five miles every ten minutes. 1:5p.m. 114 miles. Drove slowly through Leicester. Removed scarf, put on sun glasses.
Reached Rothley 1:30 p.m. and pulled into a café/garage for lunch and repairs. The tyre, although new, proved to be non-repairable, also the inner tube. So they put on a completely new tube and tyre. (With petrol and oil, my bill came to £2!) Meanwhile I’d had lunch and a wash at the café.

Loughborough. 2:45p.m. 130 miles. Derby, Belper. With the journey through Derby I just failed to keep up to schedule on this lap! 3:45p.m. 158 miles. Now I felt sure of victory and trundled leisurely into Matlock. Stopped near Crowford for a chat with an AA Scout who turned out to be a “yellerbelly” and had lived in Lincoln, where we had several mutual acquaintances! Before proceeding the Scout obligingly used my camera to take a snap of the car and myself in my super-comfortable attire. Matlock Station 4:35p.m. 166 miles.

Whilst waiting for John’s train I gave an elderly lady a lift, with her luggage, up to an hotel on the hill. She’d arrived at a moment when there were no taxis about. It was nice to be in Matlock again. I once stayed here for a night in the summer of 1930. I’d come through memory-land on the way up, too. Familiar names on signposts. “Billesdon”, “Hallaton!” “Swithland”. And around Cambridge, Rupert Brookes villages. “Madingley”, “St Ives”, “Cherry Hinton”, “Grantchester!”

John’s train arrived just before five. I stood on the platform and a ludicrous incident occurred.
The train was too long for the station, so the last two coaches were beyond the platform. With sundry shouts and gestures the station staff encouraged the driver to pull up. The train crawled forward. The last coaches passed me, John’s face glaring from a window. The last coaches cleared the far end of the platform and disappeared under a bridge.

“When will it stop?” I asked the dumbfounded station master. “Matlock Bath” he said. “And how will the passengers in the rear coaches get back here?” I demanded. “There’s a train in an hours time” he said miserably. I strode angrily off whilst the bewildered station staff were crying, “What the ‘ell?” “Why didn’t the damn fool put his brake on?”

I hastened to Matlock Bath Station. A harassed crowd of passengers confronted a nervous station master. John, the ringleader, was saying loudly, - “Then I propose that we all hire taxis back to Matlock and charge it to the railway”, when I arrived. This saved the situation – for the railway. Deprived of their leader, the passengers straggled disconsolately down the drive.

John and I found digs quite quickly – at a small house in the main road facing High Tor – left our things there and went out to tea. Sweated up Great Masson Hill and eventually found the Cavern. As we approached the entrance, the guide bellowed, “Any more for the Cavern before we close?” “By gad,” I panted, “We just got here in time!” “He says that at all hours of the day” said a cynical youth, who sat nearby, peeling a stick. John began his famous guffaw. “Haw, haw! Excruciatingly funny if he shouts that at about eight in the morning!” “Somewhat humorous,” I agreed.

The guide was a decent old boy and we thoroughly enjoyed our cave trip. Sure enough though, when we emerged into the warmth and daylight again, he cast an eagle eye around and yelled, “Come along now! Any more for the cavern before we close?”

John and I reached the top of High Tor and dusk had fallen. Had glasses of lemonade in the kiosk and cooled down. “You’ll be alright going down?” asked the café proprietor (he’d chosen this lonely place because of lung trouble – gassed in the war.) However we didn’t descend immediately; we went to the very edge of the precipice and lay there looking down into the town. A terrifying drop below the overhang. When we cast away our cigarette ends, the red glowing stubs fell and fell, second after second.

We sat on a bench near the foot of the cliff, smoking and talking, chiefly about love affairs. It was a great relief to find that John guessed all was not well with my engagement. “I have reached a point at which nothing you do can surprise me!” he chuckled. As he said that, I suddenly realised how ripping it was to have an old friend who knew one well. Further, he was able to give advice and an impartial view. It was good to talk to a just person, instead of bottling it up forever.


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