One Year Before
When the snow falls and buries this wild and rugged Yorkshire earth in a blanket of white, when a hoar frost glistens diamond-like on the bared branches of the lonely trees and a pale, timid sun peeps uncertainly down, the lightning tree thirsts to be loved and nurtured?
We cracked the harsh frozen snow with the heels of our boots, Steve and I, laughing, shoving one another like children.? We lifted a large jagged piece of ice into the tin bucket and, slipping and sliding, we carried it between us to the farmhouse and set it before the roaring fire, kicking off our shoes so as not to incur Slugger?s benevolent wrath, falling clumsily into each other as we tried in vain to negotiate the uneven floor, crying with laughter as we slid downwards, where twenty minutes later still we sit, still soaking wet and helpless with laughter.
?There?s some not right in ?ead wants to watch what they?re doin? or else summat?ll ?appen, summat will,? Slugger mutters darkly to the large pan of stew he?s stirring, tiring at last of our giddiness.
?Wotcher, Slugs!? You gonna poison our lovely Dora and our Stevie boy then?? Aw, no, wait, looks like you?re gonna try and poison ALL of us!??
Flakes of glittering snow fall from the speaker as he enters, leaving the door wide open (?born in bleedin? barn like bleedin? Jesus?
, Slugger complains to the stove) and the snow to blizzard inside.? Ignoring, or oblivious to, Slugger?s remark, he stomps about in heavy motorbike boots, trails of muddy, watery footprints marking every step, grimacing at the pan of stew,? snatching up a pickled onion to crunch between his teeth (Slugger reckons he can?t eat anything without pickled onions so there is always a jar of home-made ones), dodging the potato Slugger aims, switching on the old black-and-white TV to squint appreciatively at the weather-grainy image of the sexy, long-legged blonde in mini skirt presenting the music show, turning up the sound, singing along to Sweet?s Wig Wam Bam
And as I leap to my feet to kick shut the door, he pulls me into a dance half in fun, half because he knows it will annoy Steve.? Kind-hearted, sarcastic, sometimes mean, sometimes caring, Ron can be ten people in one room at a time and ten different people all at once.?
?I can?t dance!??
But, unable to resist his joie de vivre
, I swing my arms and hips vaguely, giggling like some twelve-year-old at her first ?grown-up? disco, my statement a lie because I can dance and well, to waltzes and ballroom and all the other dances I?ve been classically trained in at the exclusive academy.? But these glitter bands, this glam rock, I don?t know yet how to lose myself in the music.?
Ron falls purposely on my shoulder, pretending to be a leering drunk, mumbling in my ear with authentic-sounding slur:? ?Don?t matter, darlin?, I?m only after getting? in your???
?The ice is thawed,?? Steve cuts in tersely.
?Oh, we?ve well and truly broke the ice, thanks, mate,?? Ron guffaws at his own wit as he breaks away, flashing a matey grin at Steve, who?s frown flies away as quickly as it came, shaking his head in amused pity at Ron?s feeble joke, retrieving one shoe and looking round in bafflement for its twin.
?Broken,? I correct automatically, unable to bear bad grammar, a habit from years of expensive private education, hobbling round to pull on my carelessly discarded boots, chucking Steve?s missing shoe from under the old sideboard where it landed, a pang in my heart as I notice the scuff marks and worn heel, realising he must have been sending all his wages to his leeching mother again, who?ll waste it on ?booze, fags and blokes?,
as Ron puts it, and then demand more.
Ron only pulls a comical face as he flicks back his shoulder-length red hair and, hand on hip, minces his way towards Slugger to tap his shoulder and give a sweeping bow.?
?Me bird?s jibbed me!? May h?I ?ave the plezzure of this dance??
?Don?t mind h?if I do.??
Slugger chortles, showing a mouthful of yellow, chipped and broken teeth, sad tribute to his early days as a boxer, moving the pan off the heat, twisting the corners of his stew-splattered apron to curtsy, and quite how Jeepster
can translate itself into a wild, high-kicking, storming barn dance only Slugger and Ron themselves can know.
?Back in a jiff!? I promise.
?Back in a jiff, she says!? Stew all ready and back in a jiff, she says!?
Slugger yells back, still dancing like a madman, glancing at the time on the battered, green-tinged carriage clock that once sat gleaming on a different mantelshelf hundreds of miles and many years away, a wedding gift that, together with the grand sum of ?50, was presented to him and his late wife Betty ?Tiny? Jones nee Mulholland by their friends at the Sword and Dragon where she worked as barmaid and could, when she had a mind to, drink anyone, even he, under the table, and every Thursday turned into a small bundle of tattooed fury in the local wrestling ring, Slugger tells us proudly, when a tot or two of rum has made him maudlin and tears dim his rheumy eyes.
But this is home now, to all of us, this draughty old farmhouse, this Follyfoot, with its ghosts and its memories, with its laughter and its tears, with its unwanted horses and motley people.
There is a magic here.? I know.
One snowy day, long after the balmy summer when I first arrived, I stood at the very top of Whistle Down Lane where the old wooden signpost rocks unsteadily in the whistling wind.? To the right where quaint little shops and houses dot hills and slopes is the ancient village of Whistledown, to the left fields and farms and, hidden far beyond, is the road that leads to other places, other lives.
But something called me, called all of us, to follow the zigzag footpath to Follyfoot.Where dreams are born.
To be Continued [/cent