The hippopotamus amphibious walsallus is not, strictly speaking, nomadic, but occasionally likes to occupy a different stretch of open water. Wishing for some respite from the noise of chainsaws butchering healthy trees in the Arboretum, the pod of hippos plodded north for the half-termly migration to anywhere but Hatherton Lake to wallow in the cool glory of Ullswater.
The hippobus, already overloaded with food, walking boots, kagools, OS maps and hippos, groaned under the additional weight of CD players, Nintendo DS, the lap top and the mobiles. Not, mind you, the mobiles of infancy displaying bi-planes, sheep, stars and moons, but the mobiles that bleep the irritation of connectivity. “What?”, exclaimed the incredulous younger hippos, “no phone signal, no internet, are these people savages? Do they not understand electricity?”
Upon reaching our humble bothy on the northern shore of Ullswater, hard by the basic dwellings of Pooley Bridge, we took stock of the provisions we were lacking. Damn, we forgot the dishwasher tablets and the fine Columbian blend left back in Walsall was destined never to grace the percolator. The in-house DVD collection was also a disappointment. For goodness sake, Mamma Mia and a boxed set of Midsomer Murders. To survive, it was clear that we were were going to have to rough it.
The following morning, booted and wet-suited, we set off down the lake to take in the magnificence of Aira Force. Wordsworth liked this place and it was easy to understand why as Aira Beck leaps 60 feet down the gorge about a click from the lake shore. Then, on to Glenridding for bacon butties and a pint of Jennings at the appropriately named Ramblers Bar. We took the “steamer” back to Pooley Bridge. Not actually a “steamer”, the MV Lady Wakefield chugged through the drizzle powered by diesel as the largest hippo adjourned to the well-stocked bar situated below decks.
Back at the bothy, with muddy boots in the porch, crumpets and cake were enjoyed in front of a crackling log fire as darkness fell with the hooting of owls.
The following day we took to the high fell east of the lake and trudged the Roman “road” that once supplied Ambleside from the fort at Askham. High Street is so named because it is high; the Romans wishing to avoid the possibility of ambush in the lower, forested and marshy valleys. Like other high streets, there was an absence of open shops up in the crags. We descended from the fell into the hamlet of Howtown hoping for tea at the only hotel. Sadly, it was closed for the winter season but a helpful notice informed us that internet connection was available at Penrith. We took tea at the steamer jetty café and watched the floating boats, their hatches battened down until spring.
By day three, cold turkey had set in. Still no phone signal and the equivalent of light years away from the internet. On the lower slopes of Skiddaw, to the north of Keswick, there was half a bar of signal and a hope of connectivity. The urge to call anyone just to say I am here amid the snowdrops and ewes heavy with lamb was worrying. The addiction was quelled with bites of Kendal mint cake.
Later, in Keswick, and with the habit broken, we eschewed the coffee bar that doubled as an internet café and resorted to the Oddfellows Arms for chips and Cumberland sausages and a pint of Hartley XB. The news of some others lunch brought by Twitter could wait.
After a week away, it took hours to catch up with the computer and its e-mails and news. On reflection, the hour spent watching the floating boats at Howtown was a better time. Who needs the internet? Well, today of all days, we do. The biggest miss of the week was TheYamYam. It did not report the imminent closure of the public toilet in Shap or the invitation issued to Barack Obama to visit the pencil museum in Keswick. It did, though, give us news that is important. Walsall today is a bleaker place than low cloud on snow covered Helvellyn without TheYamYam. Sun, moon, stars, rain.
“anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more
when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her
someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream
stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)
one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was
all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
with by spirit and if by yes.
Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain”
e e cummings (1894 – 1962)