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A Shout From The Attic: Jack-a-Frost!

Ronnie Bray recalls recalls the fundamental message he recieved when he was offered a lift in a Rolls Royce.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's engaging autobiography please click on a http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

Hitchhiking to Huddersfield was something I was used to as a young soldier stationed in REME workshops in Sudbury, Staffordshire in 1953. A thirty-six hour pass set us free from noon on Saturdays, and a forty-eight hour pass released us from 1700 hours on Fridays, until 2359 hours on Sunday nights, although, in practice, provided were had signed in at the camp’s guardroom by 0600 hours on Monday mornings, we were safe and not subject to the exotic punishments devised by the long traditions of the British Army to pull offenders into line.

One dark slushy February Friday, with my prized forty-eight hour pass safely stowed in my battledress blouse pocket, having got a lift from Sudbury to Derby, I stood at the side of the main road north to Yorkshire from Derby and waved my frozen thumb at passing vehicles.

It was only eight years since the end of the War, and memories of soldierly glories and sacrifices, and the nation’s gratitude for the job the armed forces had done had not yet faded from public consciousness, and because of this, hitchhiking was easy for anyone in uniform. Battledress was warm although it was not waterproof and so it was with intense gratitude that I thanked the occupants of a silver Rolls Royce that drew up beside me in a brilliant blaze of red stoplights.

The driver leaned across to open the passenger door. As he did so, the interior light came on and revealed the driver to be a short bald middle aged man splendidly dressed in a hand-finished mohair suit. In the back of the car was a beautiful bejewelled woman of about twenty-five who looked like a fashion plate and an angelic three-years old girl as pretty as a picture who seemed destined to outstrip her mother’s beauty in about ten years.

I felt somewhat out of place in my wet khaki suit and gently mired boots, but I eagerly accepted their warm invitation to ride with them, climbed in and settled into the sumptuous leather upholstery of the passenger seat. The door closed after me with an almost silent but satisfying ‘snick’ and the car slid into the night with no sense of it being in touch with the ground. It was pure magic. But what else could it be? It was a Rolls Royce, the benchmark of horseless carriage perfection

My hosts were not very talkative, and after the conventional pleasantries, in which it became apparent that he was indeterminately Mediterranean and she English, they were largely silent. That suited me, because it let me focus on drinking in every wonderful thing about this elegant masterpiece of motor artistry. The fascia was polished mahogany, the engine silent as a ghost, the upholstery sinfully luscious, and the comfort level heavenly. It was the perfect way to travel: well – almost!

As the headlights illuminated winterwhite trees by the roadside, the little angel stood between the front seats and asked her daddy what made them white. “Jack-a-Frost,” he explained in his embellished English. “It’s Jack-a-Frost.”

His lady wife, in tones that would have frozen Jack Frost, ten esquimaux, and an extended family of polar bears, remarked rather too pointedly for comfort,
“It’s Jack Frost! Not Jack-a-Frost!”

I slewed my eyes sideways and saw by his dejected look and its attendant silence that he was wounded at being corrected in this callous manner. I was embarrassed for him and for her, but kept silent, not having by then honed my skills in diplomacy or marriage counselling, and not wanting to get stuck between the kind man and his hostile wife. Their daughter – what can we think but that she was well used to this kind of exchange between those she loved with all her little heart – remained silent for half an hour before falling asleep, in which peaceful state she remained for the balance of our journey.

When I had entered the car, I had been affected by a spirit of envy at the splendour of their ‘Roller,’ their clothes, jewellery, and even envying them their enchantingly agreeable daughter. I had let my imagination run riot for a while, imagining myself lodged in their world with its conspicuous benefits. I envisioned myself driving a dream car in an expensive suit, a heavy gold watch on my wrist, and a beautiful and gorgeously arrayed wife and child sitting in luxury, at ease with the world and not a worry about where the next meal was coming from or whether available funds would stretch to paying the meagre rent. I was warming to the idea until I heard the beauty’s bitter words.

After what seemed to be an age, my benefactor stopped the car where the Huddersfield road meets the main Sheffield to Leeds highway. I thanked them for their kindness to a stranger, and smiled at the sleeping angel, before leaving the light and warmth of their car to stand in the bitter coldness at an ill-lit road junction to wait the arrival of my next lift.

My breath curled like railway steam in the sparkling air, and in a moment Jack Frost nipped my nose and ears and froze my finger, even though my hands were thrust deep into my trouser pockets, and the toes inside my size ten Army boots lined with industrial weight woollen socks felt the chill of death move up from their ends and into my sub-zero feet.

And there I stood at a deserted junction in the dark under a solitary flickering gas lamp mocked by stars sharp as needle points and bright as diamonds in the grip of a Yorkshire winter and thought how much colder I would be if I had changed places with my helper and had to endure her hostile taunts about the way I spoke in tender moments with my daughter.

And there came into me a warmness of gratitude, that although my life had not been perfect, nor lovefilled, nor always satisfying, I did not have to endure what he had been made to endure in the presence of a stranger.

In Yorkshire winters, warmclad children chant:

Look out! Look out!
Jack Frost is about,
He’s after your fingers and toes

Thank God that in their innocent years, they know nothing of the ultra-odious Jack-a-Frost who is not after their digital extremities, but after their hearts to permafrost them into devices that destroy love, comfort, and peace, which are the natural products of warm and honourable hearts. In our lives’ coldest winters, may we never succumb to this malevolent fellow, and may the warmth of love live in us, scattering life, amiability, and joy to all who come within our purview – especially to those who need a little extra help getting someplace.

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