We get a short November break in Thwaite, and the cottage is beautiful. It’s far too couth for us. Pete and I get there first and Big Dave arrives within ten minutes or so, all the way from Edinburgh. He gives me a big hug, which is normally okay. Unfortunately I’m wearing my glasses on string around my neck under a sweater. They are crushed and useless.

‘Oh, hello, Dave, thanks for ruining my glasses.’

When I mention it to my younger son, he tells me I’m gay for wearing them like that anyway.  Gay I think is another work for weird middle aged person rather than indicating sexual preference.

It’s another two bedroomed property and we give Big Dave the double which he fills comfortably. Pete and I share the twin. I’m ashamed to admit it, I unpack. It’s pretty late when we finish eating, so we retire.

I get off to sleep pretty easily, but about two in the morning I’m disturbed by a motor bike roaring up the hill towards Keld. I drop off again, only to be awoken about fifteen minutes later by the same bike, presumably on its return journey. I turn over, restless and irritable.  Sure enough, the bike is soon back. Gosh, that’s close, almost under the window, except there’s a field under the window. The noise becomes so loud, it could almost be in the bedroom . . .  er, mm, my head clears and I finally twig. There’s a Harley-Davidson in the next bed.

I cat-nap. Somebody begins sandpapering. At four in the morning? No, it’s one of those rough drill bits that dentists use. It’s their slow speed torture. The one where your head feels as though it’s on a conveyer belt with a ton of coal. I come too with murder in my heart. The Harley has transmogrified into a Black and Decker. Eventually, as light peeps round the curtains, I give up even trying to rest, and go and enjoy the dawn.

I return to find Pete standing on guard next to the stove. No one can get near and his upper respiratory tract is on overtime. He wants to take charge of breakfast.

‘Erhum . . . Ssss . . .  I can’t sit still and watch others do it . . . Ssss . . .  ‘

‘Go and sit in the other room then.’

The cooking area can barely accomodate Pete on his own. My presence makes it a crowd, so there’s no chance we can fit in a giant as well. Big Dave arrives and for a while it’s mayhem, until I withdraw gracefully to the lounge. Breakfast is your standard compilation: bacon, sausage, eggs, coffee and bread. Big Dave, for some inexplicable reason, eats his with a raw onion. Now that’s weird.

Later that morning, Pete and I do the supermarket shopping whilst Big Dave visits the picture-framer. Big Dave, at his request has brought us down to Northallerton in his large BMW. Another picture? You can’t tell what pattern their wallpaper is now. It’s a mystery.

Pete and I mosey up the High Street. Big Dave joins us and then wanders off. Pete buys a pork pie.

‘I just need to pop in Boots, for some cotton wool.’

‘Righto.’ Pete doesn’t ask and I don’t tell.

Pete’s happily looking at Alma Cogan records when I return. It’s market day. He still doesn’t ask.

‘I’ve a full set of these,’ he confides. He hasn’t a clue that I’ve bought some ear plugs.

‘I’ll just have to pay a call.’

‘Same here.’

The toilets are at the back of the main store. Incredibly, when we get back on the high street, we spy Big Dave talking to a strange man. You can’t leave him alone for a second.

‘Amazing, we were in the mob with together. Haven’t seen him for years.’

That week, we introduce Peter to Hard Level Ghyll. When I struggle to get my boots on, Peter sounds like an exasperated parent,

‘Don’t you ever untie your shoelaces? You’ll ruin the backs.’

Big Dave walks in green tights – it beggars belief. There’s nothing physically wrong with Pete, but he does tend to drop behind and limp a bit. About three o’clock, we skirt the contours overlooking Gunnerside, preparing to walk over to Blades and down to Low Row. Now, Big Dave has supervised the route and so far so good. But, according to my estimate from the cockup with Dick and Helen, we’re descending too soon.

‘I think we need to carry on a bit.’

‘We’ll miss it if we don’t go down now.’

‘I did this last year and got lost.’

‘Davey, we’re already too far over.’ It’s Malham all over again. Pete, chatty and keeping up now we’re on the flat, decides to drop discretely behind again and keep quiet,

‘Ssss . . .  Erhum . . . Ssss.’

I actually have a moment of indecision even though I know I’m right. That’s what deafness and diarrhoea do for you.

‘I’m sure its this way,’ and I take off on my route.

‘We’ell, OK,’ Big Dave is not absolutely certain either. Am I pleased when we hit the main road two hundred yards from The Punch Bowl? You betcha.

‘Erhum. . .  Ssss, I thought you two were friends ?’

Geoff drives up to join us for our last night. We’ve planned a bar meal at The Farmer’s in Muker, and seeing as it still doesn’t open until seven, we sit waiting.

‘I called in The Bull’s Head at Reeth to ask the way’, said Geoff.  ‘The barman, you know the one with the beard and the loud voice, says whatever do you want to go up there for, you’ll never get back.’ Geoff smiles a big smile; he loves this kind of quirky insult. Bit like him really.

It’s obviously time for barman stories, so we tell him the latest from The Crown, in Hawes and The Punch Bowl. ‘Eh, you’ll never guess what’s happened to the butcher, you know Terry Dinsdale, the vegetarian and pig fat man. We meant to get some meat there and it’s shut up.  Notice on the window says its going to be a bookies. The bloke at The Crown says he went all yellerified, and within a fortnit he’d ‘ad a transplant, down i’ Leeds.’

Geoff’s jaw drops, ‘Never, you’re having me on.’

‘And its all change at The Punch Bowl. There’s a new landlord in, from South Shiels.  Previous one withdrew their stake in the business. Been quite a bust up. The afternoon drinking team’s split up. You remember there was an older lady with them. She was the landlord’s wife years ago when Robert Hardy stayed here, you know, the vet. She’s not well.  Her husband was a doctor before he became a landlord. He died a while back.’

‘Well,’ says Geoff, not quite knowing whether to believe us.

In The Farmers, Big Dave doesn’t need me to go to the toilet to talk to the barman. He’s played in Muker silver band forever and every time we call in, Big Dave exchanges band stories. I used to talk to Dr. Baume.

‘You had a doctor work here once,’

‘He owned it. His daughters still live nearby. They might be in later.’

I recalled my previous life, in the 1980’s, when I’d worked alongside him.  He was a genial chap, which is rare in the health service. As he only did locums, I imagined him as a visionary, achieving balance in life at a time when he could enjoy it. Then one year, Big Dave and I called in The Farmers and there was a new landlord. The good doctor had died. I felt as though I’d been hit by a large object. It all came out then; he’d retired to care for his wife who’d become mentally frail. Locums kept them going.

‘He was a good musician too. Many’s the night we’d play duets into the small hours up at his farm.’ New arrivals needed drinks. So that was Dr. Baume, bon viveur, tragedy or a triumph?

The domino team play in waves. Quiet studious muttering during domino selection and placement, the final snap and knock on the table as the winning domino is declared, and finally the hubbub of the post-mortem and the shuffle. A loser gets them in, joining us at the bar where for some reason we are discussing the antiquity of the dale.

‘There was a university bloke up here recently. He took your blood for that DNA test. He were interested in how many of us had viking origins. I offered mine but he wouldn’t have it.  Our family’s only been here since thirteen hundred. Still comers-in.’

The walk back is freezing. There’s no a sound above our footfalls. And it’s so clear. You would not believe how many stars there are in our night sky.

The morning we have to leave is usually chaos. On this occasion, however, I take a moment out. Peter’s cooking breakfast and I’ve just finished in the bathroom. I walk into the bedroom. One bed has a neatly folded duvet and the adjacent bedside table has an orderly array of books, wrist watch and spectacles. Drawers are shut. Not a thing out of place. The other bed looks as though a bomb’s dropped on it. Clothes hang from chairs and wardrobe door. Glasses, money, books, everything is strewn haphazardly across floor, bed or whatever space there is left.





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