Monday, 12 November 2012

Heredity

The process of turning into your parents is an insidious one. You don't see it happening, or you catch a tiny oblique glimpse of some alien, older generation behaviour leaking out, uninvited, much as you catch the odd dispiriting glimpse of your sagging jowls in the hallway mirror. Then it recedes again for a while, or you force yourself to do stuff that would disgust them, like owning slippers or voting Tory (well, not that). You think you're ok. But then suddenly you wake up one morning and you realise you like BIRD WATCHING (on the computer) and LENTILS and you force your children to go on an actual WALK on Sunday morning in a cold forest, when all right thinking people are watching shit telly and then quite honestly you might as well just give in and die.

A walk! Voluntarily!



"ISN'T IT BEAUTIFUL?" you bellow at them to try and drown out the voice in your head telling you how incredibly old you are. "LOOK AT THE COLOURS!"

The children do not reply, because they have sloped off into some undergrowth to kick something, or whack something with sticks and are ignoring you. The dog can hear you though. The dog is right behind you optimistically dragging half a tree that it hopes you will throw. It barks hysterically, as if to say "LOOK AT THIS AMAZING TREE I FOUND! THROW IT! THROW IT! I CAN TOTALLY CHASE IT!"

"No" you hiss at it. "Fuck off. Go and get a normal sized stick, you idiot".

Then you find and throw a normal size stick for the dog, who runs after the stick, sniffs it a couple of times, then goes back to its half tree. It staggers down the path under the weight of it, nearly tripping up several mountain bikers who shout at you in Dutch. You put the dog on the lead and look for the children.

They are looking at some moss. Or sniffing glue. Who knows.


You chivvy them onto a tree stump for a photo opportunity:


For a split second, neither of them does rabbit ears behind the other one's head. 

Then you plough onwards, getting lost several times, the dog nearly gets crushed under a horse's hooves whilst dragging another tree, then rolls in some fox shit, and at one point, magically, a deer just walks across the path in front of you, turning momentarily to glance at you with slightly bored appraisal before it disappears into the forest. You regale your children with the traditional Tales of How Much Worse It Was In My Day, tales of Kendal Mint Cake and Dubbin and poorly waterproofed cagoules.

"So, every day of the holidays he would make us climb a mountain and because my legs were much shorter than his, he would get to sit on a rock for ten minutes and have a rest while I caught up. Then when I did catch up, he would set off again. And he had the only food".

"Uncle Frank once got hypothermia halfway up Whernside. Well, he thought he had hypothermia, but Grandad wouldn't stop to check. He's never been north of Luton again".

"When I went vegetarian, the only sandwich filling I was allowed on walks was bread. Maybe a couple of Seabrook crisps on special occasions".

"I've told you about the time he locked us in a barn all day at Christmas, haven't I?"

But then you realise you are talking to yourself again, because the children have run away, bored, and you find your mind wandering back to the other bits of In My Day, like when your father found that dipper's nest at Askrigg Falls and hoisted you onto his shoulder to peep in behind the rocky overhang at the chicks. You think about happening upon wobbly legged newborn lambs, still wet and slimy, then you remember leaping across the otherwordly limestone pavement at Ingleborough, and swimming in the deep shockingly cold pools in the River Cover. You remember the way the rabbits would scatter in all directions across the moor when, bored, you went out of the back gate on your own with a pony book and a piece of Lyle's Ginger Cake, to go and sit by the rope swing.

You think of the pair of kites circling slowly above the long, flat summit of Penhill when you used to scramble up it for fun on summer evenings, over the bouncy heather and the coarse tufts of grass, startling up ungainly pheasants, raucous and surprising. The smell, and the taste, of those tall marshy grasses you used to chew for no particular reason, the ones that grew on the edges of fast, full streams and brown tarns. They grow here too, you've seen bushy clumps of them. You pick one, bend it, put the stalk in your mouth speculatively, instantly feel the peaty familiarity of it. You wonder how hard it would be, at Christmas, to drive up to the Dales for a night or two. You feel the pull of that landscape, the hardy little black faced, white nosed Swaledale sheep, the occasional moments when a shaft of sunlight pierces the cloud cover and turns the fields that supernaturally brilliant green. And you know you're lost.

Eventually you get back and everyone is slightly chilled at the extremities and pink cheeked apart from the dog who is muddy and panting and still optimistically dragging a tree. You light a fire and spend the rest of the day dozing on the sofa under a duvet and reading Ian Rankin and failing to understand the intricacies of that new-ish Spiderman film that looks like the bastard child of Glee and Twilight. The children can't be bothered to fight with each other: one has a proprietary hand on your arm and the other leans a cheek against your shoulder, both absorbed in Spidernonsense. The dog flops onto a beanbag and doesn't bother you for the next 12 hours. Everything is very peaceful. And at that moment, for a little while, it doesn't seem so very terrible, turning into your parents.



Me and my father, on Penhill. I have been allowed an apple! 

22 comments:

Jaxie985 said...

Oh my, Waffle, your soggy posts always remind me of similar things, forgotten somehow, but then brought home by your lovely prose...
Makes me want to make lists, go for a walk, chew on a blade of grass.

Anonymous said...

Yet again, I am lost for words after reading your... prose. You have a wonderful gift. Thank you for making me fall in love with Yorkshire just that little bit more.. Lucy

Anonymous said...

My father died a few weeks ago, and although we always had a difficult relationship (to say the least) one of the ways we connected was through encounters in the landscape. Our locations were the gentle hills of Central Scotland. When I walk the same paths with my own children it helps to contextualise the man my father was, in a way that he was never able to communicate himself.

I didn't really appreciate that about the power of place before.(crying a little for my confused 9-year old self)

Joi said...

Dear Waffle,

Having read your blog for several years now (three, four?) I thought I'd let you know what pleasure your writing gives me. Your blog is like a favourite book I revisit every week, and find that it has acquired several new pages in my absence.

The Reluctant Launderer said...

I wasn't going to comment, given that I'm now stalking you on THREE blogs, but then I saw the pic of the boys - print it out! frame it! - and then I saw the pic of you and your dad, and I got a bit teary (as well as thinking - What ARE you wearing?) and so here I am. sorry. PS - your opening line - like Dickens, only better.

Amy said...

Bravo Waffle. A wonderful post, beautifully written.

mountainear said...

Sounds just fine to me. Beautifully evocative of just how really good 'out there' really is.

Start worrying when you buy anything with an elasticated waist from M&S 'Classic' range.

Merisi said...

I was already all taken by your beautiful stories when I reached the end and saw the picture of you and your father. That really hit a spot in my heart - such a lovely memory to have, warm even my heart.

ali_jane said...

I remember walking across crags somewhere Scotland with cold rain pelting down, and us kids keeping ourselves going by discussing the revenge we would exact on our parents once they'd reached an age too feeble to avoid our torture. I think we decided on parking their future wheelchairs in front of speakers at hair metal concerts.

I have to admit an advantage in that usually when my legs were flagging I was encouraged on to the next corner at some ridiculous distance off with a single life saver or if in Britain one of those chewy fruit gum things, also in a roll.

A couple of years ago, when I was voluntarily hill walking, I went across the same hills with just my dad and the place was gorgeous, and not at all comparable to my memory, but then in my memory we could barely SEE the place through the dark clouds. So even if I have the same enthusiasms as my father, it's the all-weather aspect I haven't hit (oh god, or at least not yet, I hope that isn't coming).

MsCaroline said...

What lovely memories- I'm sure your boys will have them, too.
Our dog also has unrealistic expectations when it comes to having things thrown for him, but his forte' is primarily dead things: eating them or rolling in them.

Waffle said...

Launderer - Ha, that is my FAVOURITE polka dot Ra-Ra skirt. I have no explanation for the rest, other than it must have been - most unusually - hot.

Thank you all for your lovely comments.

soleils said...

I am grateful for this writing gift you have, Waffle, and for the fact that you share it with us. A gift that is inextricably linked to your good, intelligent heart.
When do you become a widely read author? Cos, you know, that HAS to happen.

bevchen said...

Wonderful post. Makes me want to go for a walk.

Your boys are adorable!

Kim Velk said...

Transports. Again.

Also, I am impressed "tarn" is part of your working vocabulary. I remember having to look it up back in high school when I read "The Fall of the House of Usher."

Beatrice said...

OMG. Your father is a copy of mine!

Anna said...

Emma, every time I read your blog I feel a twinge of sadness that you were in your words 'weeping and in France' for most of Oxford and not talking to me in the bar. It's such a pleasure to read your words. I loved this post; I've just returned from a trip to North Yorkshire for my Grandmother's funeral - lots of good memories of the landscape you describe. And I had a very similar polka dot ra-ra skirt made by my mum, in red! (AnnaD)

Waffle said...

Oh, Anna! I was of course mainly very very STUPID back then. I wish I had been in the bar with you too. Hey, did you spot Miri Rubin on the Great British Bake Off?? I've been having nightmares ever since.

Anna said...

Oh my God! what was she doing on there? Unfortunately living in Hong Kong I don't have ready access to The Great British Bake Off but I may have to remedy that with some dubiously legal downloading procedure... And I'm not sure you missed all that much in the bar; we were all pretty stupid then.

Waffle said...

I'm not sure, I just saw her face and started hyperventilating.. Boring on about some god-themed confectionery I suppose. GAH. Is nothing sacred??

Žiupsnelisdruskos said...

This is such a wonderful wonderful piece! You're a great writer, this made me all emotional..

Andrea from Neath said...

I have to go to bed now, but not sure if one can sleep feeling so poignant and nostalgic for the simple unappreciated at the time pleasures of my own childhood that this evoked. you genius! It reminded me that, even now, when I walk barefoot up dunes after a day of sunshine and feel between my toes sand that has been chilled by the evening air, I am 6 again!

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing..