Friday, July 04, 2008

Sunday 20th August 1939

Dull, sultry morning. We drove aimlessly to somewhere near a place called Brampton. On a steep hill above the road we saw some rocks, so puffed and wheezed up to them and spent the morning climbing. One crag seemed precariously balanced, so I climbed onto the end and scratched SJD on the last bit of smooth rock. This worried John and about an hour later he crawled onto the slab and eventually scrawled his name an inch beyond mine. I sat beside him and made helpful remarks: “This slab must weigh nearly a ton” “I say, John, do you think it might tip over?”
I stuck a sprig of heather in a crevice at the end. When we reached the road it was still valiantly flying in the breeze but canting to a drunken angle.

Lunch in a Matlock café. “Soup” I said to the girl. “Zuppe” snapped John grimly. “It’s alright,” I explained, “He’s German. Can’t speak a word of English!” Thereafter indeed, John spoke no word of English – or of German, although he made impressive guttural noises whilst the waitress was present. I laboriously translated the items on the menu into thick noises whilst the girl giggled.

On the river in a skiff. The Derwent is a wide, rapid stream, mostly shallow but with occasional deep holes (some reputed to be bottomless whirlpools!) The band in Lovers’ Walks played selections from “Snow White” whilst I (showing off) stood up to steer, ostensibly to be able to see where the shallows were. We reached a point where there was a notice, “It is Dangerous for Boats to Pass Beyond this Point”. A little further on the river swirled madly around the bend and beyond the water was only a few inches deep. I took off jacket, shoes and socks and easily paddled the few yards into deeper water beyond these shallows, dragging the boat after me.
Then John rowed on. People collected on the bank as we proceeded up this un-navigable reach.
The current gradually became stronger, until we reached a point where John, rowing like hell, could just keep the boat stationery. Ironical cheers from the banks. They probably hoped to see us capsize when we turned but we carried this out successfully. If they’d have waited awhile longer - !

When we reached the shallows again, I got out, puffing at my pipe and pulled the through. There was a slight misunderstanding regarding the moment of my re-entry into the boat. Suddenly the current swung her broadside against me. I took a step back – and the water rose to my knees.
Then with terrible deliberateness the boat pushed me back, step by step into deeper water.
“I’m in!” I exclaimed suddenly, as the water rose just above my waist. “Aye” said John, clutching the sculls helplessly. Somehow I scrambled into the boat and moored her alongside the bank; water poured out of my trousers which looked somewhat draggled (luckily they were an old pair) I found I was still puffing at my pipe.

“Wah! Wah! Wah!” I laughed.“Haw! Haw!” bawled John. “You said “I’m in!”” he chuckled, “And it seemed so obvious!”“But it’s so bloody funny!” I yelled. When we reached the boathouse our delight increased, as the man did not mention the extra time (more than double) we’d taken and which should have cost us about 2/-.

We walked through the streets to the car. Strangely, no one seemed to notice my wet appearance until I posed for a photograph. “How’d you like it?” I asked John. “Looking as rough as possible,” he said grimly. Went back to the digs and changed. “By gum, you look quite smart” said John in amazement. “I gather I didn’t before?” “No-ah, you didn’t” boomed the Yorkshire voice definitely.

Saw him off after tea. Evening, drove up to Stennis (The Black Rocks) at Cromford and did a little rock climbing. I was soon sweating with fright but climbed up the gully I’d chosen eventually. My clothes were still wet so Mrs Kirkland put them before the fire whilst I talked to her husband.

One thing made me howl. When we arrived, they’d looked upon John and I as suspicious characters – possibly foreigners or IRA agents come to blow up the caves. “Don’t tell your friend” begged Mrs Kirkland, embarrassed. “Oh, I must! This will kill him!”

A storm awoke me after midnight. I watched the lightning weirdly putting High Tor in grim silhouette above my window.


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