Bambi and the gliders

There will come a day when I can no longer run. Hopefully, it’s a long way off, but while I can I’m getting out and loving it. It’s also a possibility that as I age, my memory will fail. I may not be able to recall names or match them to faces, I may be hampered by confusion, unable to remember places I have visited or even whether I have eaten that day. 

I’m not being melodramatic or pessimistic. Ageing happens and unless we take the alternative route of a premature exit, it’s inevitable. But, when I am in my dotage, many years from now, and you pay me a visit, I’d like you to interrupt me if I start moaning about young people, modern music (all noise) or my crumbling teeth. Instead, I’d like you to ask me if I remember running up Parlick Hill, that Sunday at the beginning of February in 2019, when the sun was low and the frost hard. And when I look at you blankly, I’d like you to say, ‘It was the run with the gliders.’ 

The cogs will turn, slowly perhaps, but there will be an image, fuzzy at first, then becoming clearer of a glider, turning lazy circles. The light shining off the wings, silver then white, the licence numbers printed underneath the electric-blue tipped wings. You’ll say, ‘There were two of them,’ and I’ll shake my head until another picture crystallises: the second glider, flashes of red on its wings, approaching silently from a nearby airfield. 

And when these pictures begin to connect, I’ll see a group of brightly clad runners descending a slope and an orange windsock against the brilliant green of the hillside. I’ll question whether this was the same day. It was snowy, the ground was white over, so why the brilliant green? Remind me then, that we had crossed to the other side of Parlick, that we traversed around the top through the drifted snow and came down on the sunny west facing slopes towards Blindhurst. Tell me that over there, the sun was warm and that the views were of fields stretching away into the distance, pale, green, warming for spring. And I’ll say, ‘No, no, no, it was icy,’ because by now, I’ll be putting the route back together in my mind. 

I might recall the splendid stump of a tree, with a hole clear through it, eroded like sea arch. I might recall the woman who opened the gate at a farm and threatened to tag on behind, or the front bucket on a Massey 4355 packed with sickly, sweet silage. I might even be able to hear the crunch of frosted grass and feel the give of half-frozen mud under a shoe. 

I’ll say, ‘There were birds singing,’ and you’ll ask me what sort, and I’ll say, ‘I don’t know. Small ones, the twittery ones, they were singing.’ You’ll ask me where, and I’ll tell you they were on the bridle path where all the ice was, but I won’t be sure if I’m right, or whether the birds were flitting into and out of the reeds. I’ll nod my head as I remember that we ran down that track stopping and starting like a jumpy train, doing our best to avoid the slicks of ice. 

I might get bits of it wrong. In my confusion, I might add in bits of other runs – a tree from Cumbria, transported by my failing mind into the Bowland landscape. ‘We paddled across a stream,’ I’ll say, and you and I will both wonder whether I am remembering, embellishing or inventing. Why would there be a stream to paddle across on such a cold day?

I’ll say, ‘Oh, we never used to bother about the cold, you know. All weathers, minus twenty, and blowing a gale and we were still out there, running up hills. Not like you young uns.’ At this point, you can use your judgement, temper my claims with a dose of common sense, realise that it was cold but not Arctic, and that gliders would hardly have taken to the air in a force 9. Make me a cuppa. Fetch me a biscuit. It had better not be a Rich Tea. 

‘We had chocolate digestives when we were running,’ I’ll say. Humour me when I tell you how we’d find a sunny cleft on a hillside path and stop for a drink and some goodies. ‘You could see for miles. Longridge Fell, Pendle, Winter Hill. And Beacon Fell – why, it looked like a tiddler from up there. All the farms, all these fields, snow everywhere and the sun, just sparkling. Wind farms on the horizon. Ever so many wind farms. There’s more now, of course.’

Ask me, if you will, what else I remember. I’ll mutter something about a lost shoe, and a bog that sucked it clean off and swallowed it whole. I’ll nibble a bit more of that bland biscuit, find that my tea has gone cold. You’ll change the subject and I’ll say, ‘Rabbit. Bloomin’ big one, tearing across the field in front of us.’ You’ll suggest it might have been a hare, and I’ll wonder if you’re right. ‘And Bambi,’ I’ll say. ‘Three of them, down at the bottom of the field by the hedge.’ I’ll lean forward, you’ll mirror me, waiting for the confidence I’m going to share. ‘I used to think I could run, but they’re in a different league. There one minute, gone the next. Used to be a lot of deer in those parts.’ 

‘Around Chipping,’ you’ll ask, and I’ll say ‘Where?’

You’ll look at the clock. Is it too early for you to leave? Have you done your duty visiting this dotty old bird with her tales of running? You’ll wonder if I’ve dropped off to sleep. If I’m dribbling, please don’t mention it. You’ll slip your arm into a coat sleeve and tap me on the arm preparing to make a swift getaway. ‘A café,’ I’ll start. ‘We always went in a café after a run. What was it called? On the corner.’

‘It’s still there,’ you’ll say. ‘The Cobbled Corner. They do a good breakfast.’ And just like that, you’ll have me remembering cheesy scrambled eggs. Cakes.  Enormous cakes. And I’ll start laughing about a plate of toast and a shared teapot, and you’ll have no idea what’s tickled me. 

You’ll be backing away, by now, and I understand that. You’ll have earned your brownie points and you’ll have resurrected, from the depths of my brain, memories of a very wonderful morning, allowing me to relive the experience. For that kindness, I’ll thank you. 

But hey, let’s hope all this is a long way off.

For now, let’s keep adding to the memory banks.

Kate Woodward