Something in the water

By Jane Mitchell

Walking in Ennerdale photo by Gavin Dodd

Walking in Ennerdale photo by Gavin Dodd

IT was a beautiful sunny day in Spring when my sisters and I rode down the hill into Ennerdale. We’d spent the morning helping Dad marking lambs, and then driven the whole flock back, on the ponies over the fell and up to the Leaps. It took a while to mother them back up and so we’d let the ponies graze by the stream whilst we gave them time.

The ewes, glad of the fresh grass got their heads down quickly, occasionally looking up, still chewing, wide eyed and bleating; whilst the lambs screamed and ran around anxiously. They were grubby from rolling in the dirt, and their once perfect red smit marks in the middle of their backs blurred now. We stood watching them, holding the ponies’ reins.

Suddenly, Sarah jumped off Boo and pulled my yellow ribbon from my long blonde plait and Beth tied it on a branch in the hawthorn hedge.

They sat on the bank and sang ‘Tie a yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree’.

I felt like they were teasing me, I stared at my chest and tried to rub at a red smit mark with a dock leaf from my lovely blue football shirt that I’d recently inherited from my brother. The sheep had paired up nicely and the ewes were still pulling at the grass enthusiastically.

‘It’s so hot’.

‘What shall we do now?’

‘Why don’t we go and swim the horses in the lake?’

They all seemed settled, so we set off. I was selected to open the gate onto the road. I rode bareback and was too small to vault on, so I encouraged Copper to graze the long grass on the roadside then sat on his neck. He flicked his head up and I wriggled into position. We rode down Croasdale Brow into the valley. Our dog trotted behind us happily. In those days there was hardly any traffic so we could ride three abreast, but we never had the ponies shod so we kept to the verges. Ben started to run ahead.

‘Bad dog!’

‘Baby…’‘Get down, get down, get down’

‘But I still want you’oo around’.

Sarah was talking about the Osmonds’ tour, planned for later that year. Beth and I looked at each other and both pretended to be listening, but we knew what was coming. Sarah was to be Alan, Beth as Merill and although I wanted to be Donny, I had to be Jimmy. She sang Crazy Horses (badly) until we got to the lake, persuaded Boo to go in, and then ordered us to go in after her.

‘We’ll swim them to the island…’

Boo and Lady were enthusiastic, but although I managed to get Copper in the shallows he wasn’t having any of it. We watched the other two majestically plunge off rhythmically for a few seconds then he turned tail trotted up the stony beach and, with a neat sideways swerve, deposited me in the banking. I sat up and watched him gallop off.

Eventually my sisters returned from their swim and went after my steed. I limped up to a rocky promontory.

The sky was beginning to go pink. I sat sobbing. It was the eighth time since Tuesday I’d fallen off. Dad said really good riders fell off at least twenty times a week, because they were always trying to improve. I surveyed my knees. The right one was beginning to go red and it was grazed. Everyone would see it at school when I wore my new summer dress. How embarrassing.

It was then I heard music, a saxophone…

And then a man’s voice singing…

‘Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone…’ then the saxophone again. He was tall and fair- headed and had the aura of hope surrounding him.

Beside him on the grass a lady lay. She had thick blonde hair and wore glasses, but no make up, and exuded self confidence.

He was standing with his back to the lake he started to sway.

‘Have you seen her?… tell me have you seen her?…’ I’d seen the Chi Lites in my sister’s Jackie magazine. She’d made me pay 10p for the centre fold of David Cassidy and my brother 5p for a full page picture of Gary Glitter. The magazine itself was only 5p, I remember. I was disappointed because where the staples had been there were holes in David’s denim shirt.

The lady lay on her back and started to laugh.

The man began to sing again.

‘Lets stay together…’ I learnt later on about Al Green.

I watched as he knelt down beside her on one knee. I could see her shake her head then she looked into his eyes. They sat for a few moments and she got up and walked towards the lake. He followed her. He picked up a stone and skimmed it along the surface. It bounced three times. They turned together and kissed. It was then that Ben appeared. He ran down the path splashed into the lake then spun round and shook himself all over them. They brushed themselves off laughing. I got up off the rocks and descended shouting for Ben. He was looking intently at the man, wagging his tail.

‘Sorry. I think he wants you to throw another stone.’ I explained. They were both staring at me.

‘Oh, hello Little Britches’. He towered over me. He sounded like a cowboy. I blushed.

‘That’s a lovely shirt you’ve got on’.

‘It was my brother’s football shirt. It’s Chelsea’. I said proudly, more because it had been Andrew’s. I didn’t like football much.

‘Chelsea … the woman said wistfully and she turned and gazed at the ripples on the lake.

‘Nice meeting you’. I said and grabbed Ben’s collar. I felt I shouldn’t be there.

When I got to the rocks I turned and saw the couple walking away from me, hand in hand along the edge of the lapping water. He held the saxophone over his left shoulder. The sky was cerise now and the lake drank in the colour.

Ben and I set off to find the others. I could see them by the gate leading up to How Hall. They were on their ponies and Beth was holding

Copper’s reins. He was trying to bite Lady’s neck. Sarah shouted at me impatiently. So, I hurried. It would take us an hour to ride home and mum would be worried. It was Shepherd’s Pie and Apple Crumble for supper. I’d helped her prepare the potatoes, carrots and apples, in the hope that Copper could have the peelings.