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Ancient Feet: 45 - Rumblings In The Night

...I had yet to experience Don's nocturnal noisiness and was not sure what to expect, but had not been in my bunk long enough to fall into a deep sleep before I was shaken by an explosion; no, an earthquake measuring at least twenty-seven on the Richter scale...

Alan Nolan and his hiking matges are troubled by noises in the night.

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It was clear that we were going to reach Keld by early after-noon, despite taking our time and I gathered from Tom's comments that we would struggle to fill our time there but, although the result of the match was a foregone conclusion, England being the overwhelming favourites, at least we could look forward to an evening watching football.

Tom was still fiddling about with his pack as we set off again, and I found myself walking alongside Joe.

'How are things going, Joe?' I asked, in an attempt to open the conversation.

'Very well,' he replied, although I thought I detected a slight hesitancy, 'but I'll have to see how I feel when we reach Keld.'

Feeling that, perhaps, 'how are things going?' was a question to be added to the 'how are things at home?' bin, I continued: 'Why, is there a problem?'

'Just that I've been finding it tough going,' he replied, with a grimace. 'I had that cramp attack on the first day and I still get shooting pains in my calves every now and then, as though another attack isn't far away, but I noticed that Tom just walked at his own pace on that first day and wasn't bothered if everyone else left him behind, so I decided to walk with him, which was a good decision, I think. The poles are a big help as well. I'm sure I wouldn't have managed that descent near Grasmere on the third day, when we had to slide down on our backsides part of the way but, even with the poles, it knackered my knees and I haven't recovered yet.'

'Well, I think the toughest section is behind us now,' I said, trying to offer some encouragement.

'I'm hoping so. With this being a shorter day, I'm hoping I'll feel better. I'm not a quitter, but my knees are giving me real pain.'

'What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?' I asked, trying to lighten the mood.

'Oh, I'd be keeping myself busy with something,' he said, in a non-committal sort of way. 'Everything changed when my wife died six years ago,' he added, and I made a mental note to delete 'what would you be doing if you weren't doing this?' from my list of opening gambits.

'We were married for nearly forty years and had great plans for all the things we would do when we retired,' he continued, 'but then she fell ill and I had to retire a couple of years early to look after her.'

During our first few days together, I had realised that there was more to Joe than is evident at first sight and now I risked a glance sideways at this extraordinary man and could have sworn I glimpsed a moistness in his eyes. Fighting against the lump in my throat, we walked on, as he continued to reminisce.

'It was hard at first, but I lead a full life now even though money can be a bit tight at times as I didn't qualify for my full works pension, what with having retired early. I realised that I needed to keep busy and I've been very lucky because I've got the choir and I've always loved classical music and the opera. As well as that, I've always been interested in Roman history, so I enrolled for the Open University course, which I'm thoroughly enjoying and it fills a lot of time. In the winter, the site where I live closes for a few weeks, but I can go off to stay with my daughter and^ family in Spain and enjoy some winter sun.'

'That sounds good,' I said, marvelling at how he turned everything into a positive light. 'Do you have any family in this country?'

'No, but I do now have a lady friend to keep me company.'

'Oh, that's good,' I said, genuinely pleased, 'is she waiting at home now?'

'Oh, no,' he said quickly, 'we don't live together. I don't think I could ever live with anyone again. She comes round two or three times a week and I make a meal, or sometimes I go to hers. It suits me like that.'

'And does it suit her?' I asked.

'I think so,' he answered. 'I haven't really talked to her about it, but she's always given me the impression that's the way she wants it as well.'

'It's nothing to do with me, Joe,' I said, 'but women can be a bit strange, you know, and they sometimes say one thing when they mean another. She could be making out that she's happy the way things are because she doesn't want to push you into anything when, in reality, she's pissed off.'

'Do you think so?' he asked.

'Well, it's possible,' I said. 'How would you feel if she wasn't there when you got back?'

'I don't know,' he said, apparently deep in thought.'I think I'd miss her,' he added, reflectively.

'It seems to me that you need to talk to her and find out - what each of you expect out of the relationship,' I suggested.

'Thanks, Alan. That's good advice,' he said, which made me miss my footing and fall on my arse. 'I'll give it some thought,' he said, as he resumed his position one pace behind Tom, leaving me to pick myself up.

We walked on and, in spite of the annoying drizzle, we enjoyed our first taste of Dales walking. Grouse moors gave way to field enclosures, each with a smattering of moving white dots which transformed themselves into sheep as we came closer. The wonderful countryside prompted Tom and Don to become more and more animated as the abundance of abandoned barns and shelters sparked their creative talents into action. A shelter knee deep in sheep shit would make a wonderful artist's studio, apparently, and a medium sized barn could be converted into a five bedroom, five bathroom property which Prince Charles would be proud to well...visit if he is ever in the area and needs to use a bathroom. After all, you can't have the heir to the throne peeing in the heather; at least not if he's forgotten his crisp packet.

They happily discussed building a wall here and knocking one down there and even considered where to place roof-lights in the nonČexistent roof. It was all very interesting (to them, anyway), but I was just glad that Paul wasn't with us to encourage them with his architect's knowledge. Mind you, if he could have told them there was no chance of getting planning permission, it might have shut them up. On second thoughts, that would simply start a discussion of their experiences with Planning Departments, which I have heard so often before I might have been driven to commit donslaughter.

The final approach to Keld is along the B6270 road and, for tired walkers, the sign post 'KELD ?' is a welcome relief. However, it is unwise to celebrate too soon and, as Wainwright said, this is the longest quarter of a mile in the north of England. In fact, it must be more than twice that distance. As we approached the youth hostel, I looked ahead in an attempt to spot the bustle of activity associated with village life, but all I could see was a cluster of five or six houses down a lane to the left.

'Where's the pub, Tom?' I asked.

'What pub?' he responded. He could be a little imp at times.

'The village pub,' I said. 'In fact, where s the village?'

'There's no pub and, can you see those houses down that lane?' I nodded in acknowledgement.'Well, that's the village.'

This was a major shock. After all, this was the crossroads of two famous long distance walks, not to mention a popular attraction in Swaledale in the National Park. Even I had heard of Keld and yet there were no shops or pubs and precious few places to spend the night. This must be the best known cluster of houses (I hesitate to call it a village) in the whole of England. Swaledale may be very beautiful and Keld may be one of Swaledale's gems, but what were we going to do until next morning? To cap it all, and despite Joe and Paul's protestations, all five of us were booked in at the youth hostel that night, so we faced the prospect of sharing a dormitory with Don.

We checked in at the youth hostel and, in answer to our enquiries, the warden told us that there were no soundproofed dormitories in which snorers could be confined. Things were going from bad to worse and Tom was soon in trouble again when we discovered that there was no television.

'I'll have to remember that for next time,' he said, before quickly adding 'hush my mouth. What am I saying? This is the last time, but what a good thing Andy isn't here. He'd give me such a bollocking for this, even though he's not interested in football.'

With no football to anticipate, we had a lot of time on our hands but, at least we had a dormitory to ourselves. We expected Paul to be waiting for us but there was no sign of him at the YHA even though it would not have taken him much more than four hours to reach Keld. Eventually, he arrived late in the afternoon having walked beyond Keld to the Dales village of Muker where he had found a country fair taking place, the highlight of which was sheepdog trialling, and he had spent a pleasant hour or two watching. At least, that was what he told us, but I was beginning to suspect that there was another reason for his solitary walking. It was quite apparent that he was much fitter than the rest of us, so my suspicion was that he must have snaffled a copy of my Care training tips which he was using to good effect, walking on ahead to eat all the pasties he could lay his hands on. No wonder all the tea shops were out of pasties by the time we got there, so we had to make do with scones or toasted tea cakes.

In Andy's absence, Tom was not getting as much confrontation as he would have liked or expected but one of the wardens almost redressed the balance. Apparently, during the afternoon, Tom had been mooching about in the reception area trying to pass the time and, despite his age, he still has that little boy habit of touching everything he sees. This makes shopkeepers alert to the possibility of shoplifting and, when you add the Liverpool accent to the equation, alarm bells ring in their heads. As a respectable elderly gentleman, this attitude irritates Tom no end. Quite rightly, why should an accent single out a person as a potential thief? Anyway, the warden was keeping a very close eye on him. At first, Tom wondered whether the man was scrutinising him because he recognised him from somewhere, but then he began to wonder whether it was purely the suspicion that he might be a shoplifter that had aroused the hawk-like watchfulness. After a while,Tom's irritation got the better of him and he fixed the warden with a hard stare from which the warden refused to stand down.

'Are you looking at me?' Tom asked in his most aggressive tone, laying on the scouse accent in the hope of intimidating his antagonist.

'Actually, I was just wondering why you don't answer your phone. It's been ringing for ages.'

'Oh, I hadn't heard it. I'm a bit deaf,'Tom explained as he fumbled in his pocket to retrieve his mobile.

The youth hostel was full, with a mixture of Coast to Coast walkers and other visitors, but including a group of about fourteen older people (is that possible I hear you ask) who explained that they were a walking group who had enjoyed walking together for many years, and who were in the Yorkshire Dales not only to do some walking but also to celebrate the birthdays of a couple of the group. Whilst we had our meal served by the youth hostel staff in the conservatory, this group used the members' kitchen to prepare their own meal and had a little party in a room adjoining that kitchen. Unfortunately for them, our only access to the members' kitchen to make our own drinks was through their not so private room. They didn't seem to mind and they even insisted on doing our washing up for us.

'After all, what are a couple of mugs on top of all the washing up we are doing already?' one of them said. They were having a wonderful time but had made far too many puddings so we felt compelled to help them out by devouring some beautiful homemade rhubarb pie and custard (excellent for carbo-loading).

Joe had volunteered to sleep in the bunk below Don and had threatened to jab the bunk above with one of his walking poles at the first rumblings of a snore. I had yet to experience Don's nocturnal noisiness and was not sure what to expect, but had not been in my bunk long enough to fall into a deep sleep before I was shaken by an explosion; no, an earthquake measuring at least twenty-seven on the Richter scale. I waited for the roof to fall in, grateful that I had chosen a bottom bunk which I convinced myself would give me some protection from the falling debris.

A second or two passed before I realised that the bunk had stopped shaking, but then I heard another, different, sequence of noises, starting with a rustling of bedclothes, followed by the clink of walking poles and the thud as one of them made firm contact with the bunk overhead, an 'ow', and more rustling bedclothes as Don rolled over. This pantomime was repeated at regular intervals throughout a disturbed night, except that one of the performances was extended. In the very middle of the night, an earthquake measuring only six on the Richter scale was followed by the now customary thud of the walking pole on bunk and the heartfelt 'ow', but this time additional dialogue was appended:

'It wasn't me. I'm not snoring.'

'Who do you think you're trying to kid,' said a voice that was unmistakeably Joe's.

'It wasn't me. Somebody else is snoring,' pleaded Don.

'Bollocks,' was Joe's response.

Eventually, and after a very disrupted night, dawn broke and I was glad to get up. Of course, Don's snoring was the only topic of conversation as we got dressed and during breakfast:

'How does your wife put up with it?' Paul asked.

'Oh, she copes,' Don said.

'How?'Joe queried, clearly not satisfied.

'We sleep in separate bedrooms,' Don muttered, almost inaudibly.

'What was that?' I asked, aware of our earlier conversation about his marital problems. 'Did you say you sleep in separate bedrooms?'

'Oh, all right,' he said, 'yes, we sleep in separate bedrooms.'

'For how long?' we asked.

'As long as I can remember now; she used ear plugs for years but, when we moved house, she decided we should have separate bedrooms.'

'I'm not surprised. In fact, the only surprise is that she didn't insist on separate houses,'Joe said.'What do you think,Tom?'

'I don't know what you're all on about. I haven't heard a thing,' Tom said.

'What, even last night?'Joe asked, incredulously.

'No, once I'm asleep, nothing wakes me. Mind you, I am a bit deaf. And, anyway, it wouldn't be fair to criticise Don when Pam tells me that I snore sometimes.'

'There, I told you it wasn't me every time last night,' Don said to Joe, 'it must have been Tom. That wasn't fair.'

'Well, if it wasn't you, I apologise,' Joe said, doubtfully, 'but, you deserved everything you got,' he mumbled.

'I've had enough of this,' Don whinged,'I get it in the neck at home and now you lot are getting at me all the time. Tom's the only person who never complains. As soon as I get home, I'm going to ask for a divorce.'

'Why?'Joe asked in astonishment.

'So I can ask Tom to marry me.'


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