Today is wet. It rains a lot in the Lake District, which is one reason it is so beautiful, but a cross that its residents have to bear. I don’t mind the rain; my friend Georgie says it suits my nature. Simon does not like the rain, though. It sits uncomfortably with his plans. Droplets of water beat rhythmically against the little square window in the pale blue wooden door that leads from our kitchen to the back garden. Simon peers through the window and tuts.
“Couldn’t you go tomorrow instead?” I ask, regretting the words almost before I complete the question. My shoulders tense to prepare for the response.
He pauses, his long waterproof cycling pants mid-way up his right leg as he looks up at me, a frown growing on his brow.
“No,” he insists. “Sundays are for lie-ins, cooked brunch and reading the paper. Come on Rebecca, you know that. I’ll just have to deal with it, as usual.” He gets grumpy if it rains on a Saturday, like it is some personal slight on him.
I should have known better. Why do I always seem to say the wrong thing? I know that not even the rain can stop his Saturday morning cycle ride, nothing does. It is important to him to blow away the cobwebs of the week that bind him and clear the fogginess of his mind, and he’s done it every Saturday since he moved in just over a year ago on a wintry Tuesday afternoon. I hadn’t planned on the move. I was happy with my little space at The Cottage in Bowland Bridge. It has always been my haven, but Simon and I had been going out for almost two years and he was charming, if perhaps a little insistent, in his suggestion. The twinkle in his blue eyes softens me to melting point, so I find him difficult to resist. Now that he is here, it’s hard to imagine the place without him and the comfort he brings settles me when my heart is heavy.
“Well then, try to have a good time.” I call as he disappears out the door.
I hear the familiar creak of the little iron gate at the side of the house as he wheels out his mountain bike, grumbling at the rain as he cycles away up the hill. Once he’s gone, I gather my teal and black archery kit bag and pull on my boots and jacket. Pausing, my hand on the door handle, I take a breath, open the door, and look out at the darkening sky. I wonder whether to stay in the warmth and shelter of The Cottage, or brave the elements and go, anyway. Grateful that I don’t have to battle the elements as wildly as Simon, I travel to the forest by car comforted by the knowledge that the canopy of the trees shelters me somewhat from these damp mornings and I love the sound the wind makes through the tops of the tall pines.
During the drive, I smile as I think of the barrage of complaints the weather will be getting from Simon right now and I picture him with his head down to shield his face from the rain, hair dishevelled and as wild as his mood as he peddles furiously up a steep hill. Somehow, even in this state, he still finds some enjoyment in his ride.
By the time I enter the archery club car park on the edge of the forest, the rain has become a pounding thud on the windows and bounces off the ground, already forming puddles around the rough gravel. I sit for a few moments waiting for it to ease, but instead it grows heavier, so instead I push my face close to the windscreen so that I can see the trees through the stream of water running its winding path down the glass. The trees stand strong and straight, demanding respect with a glimmer of magic within their branches holding a dramatic sense of something ancient which is waiting to return. The rain eases just enough to allow me to dash across to the wooden lean-to that runs the length of the club building, allowing us to assemble our bows under cover before heading to the targets to shoot. There are about ten of us that come every Saturday morning, another group that comes in the afternoon and about four or five that always come on a Tuesday afternoon, the retirees, we call them. The Saturday group is a friendly bunch. A couple of them keep themselves to themselves, just nodding a polite hello when anyone arrives, but not wanting to engage in conversation. Three, we call the Pros, because they do all the competitions and even compete between themselves every weekend if there isn’t a competition to go to. Then the rest of us, myself included, are the hobbyists, just there for the fun, fresh air and to improve our skills for our own amusement.
I approach the targets to shoot my first round. The rain eases a little and the trees help to break the worst of the downpour, but still it proves a challenge. I have my hair tied back and a baseball cap on, but strands of my hair are dripping on the sides of my face and at times the rain appears like strips, hindering the view of the target. I battle through a few rounds before retreating to the dry solace of the club building to make coffee.
The club building resembles a small log cabin, the wood stained to a dark oak colour to blend in with the trees that surround it. One small step leads into the building through a heavy, green door. Inside is one large room, with a small kitchen, just enough for a small fridge, sink and a couple of cupboards to store cups, tea, coffee and biscuits. Next to that is a large table with shelves above it, with various items and tools for fixing bows and arrows. At the far end is a large locker which contains spare bows and equipment and next to that a small bathroom.
I’m just getting the milk out of the fridge when I feel an odd sensation across my shoulders. Something between a shiver and a buzz, just for a second. It makes me whisk around and straighten, pinching my shoulder-blades together to try and dislodge the sensation. I remember the phrase my grandfather always used, “someone just walked over my grave”, something I along with most people, am familiar with, but this is more than that, much more and it is a little unnerving, the buzz returns just as Barry walks in.
“Sorry, love,” he says, smiling. “Did I make you jump?”
Barry is a hobbyist, like me. One of those straight up, meat and two veg sorts of men with a broad Yorkshire accent.
“Oh, hi Barry. No, I just had that… you know, the someone just walked over my grave feeling, that’s all. Do you want some tea? Kettle’s just boiled.”
“Please.” He shakes the rain off his shoulders and knocks his boots against the door frame as he does so then props himself against the counter and crosses one leg over the other as I find him a clean mug. “How was your round this morning? Damp enough for you?”
“Pretty good, thanks, despite this.” I nod towards the window, the view obscured by trickling rivers meandering down the pane. “Still, I beat last week’s score though, you?”
“Nah, not happening today. I could hardly see the target. Arrows were all over the place.” Barry gave a quick chuckle that sounded more like a tut. “Still, keep that up and you’ll be hopping across to the Pros before long.” He gives me a wink as he takes his tea from me with his rough, meaty hands.
“I’m a long way off that, Barry. I don’t think any of them have missed a gold all morning. Mind you, do they ever? I can’t recall the last time I saw it.”
“Happen you’re right there, love.”
“Right, lass,” Barry takes a last sip of his tea and places the mug on the side, “Ready for another go at it, then?” He steps one foot out of the door, holding it open, waiting for my answer.
“Okay, why not?” I follow him out.
The rain now eased to a light shower and the tree tops sway with a whistle from the increasing wind. I raise my bow, the dampness of the needles underfoot heightening the scent of earthy pine and filling me with added calm as I take my shot. After several more enjoyable shots, I pack up my things, marking the end of another challenging Saturday at the club. I am not yet ready to leave the canopy of the forest, though, and now the rain has eased a little, I pack my things in the car and wander into the forest, absorbing its quiet strength. I look up at the tops of the trees, blinking against the drops of rain that are forcing their way through the leaves to find my face. There is something strange about looking at trees from this angle. It is almost like they are leaning in toward each other above your head, like an enormous triangular tent. When I look back down, I stumble a little, disorientated. I close my eyes, allowing the water to drip onto my eyelids, and breath in the damp pines once more. It occurs to me that I don’t spend much time in the forest unless I am shooting. Instead, spending my free time at the lake or walking along the river. I love the openness of those places, the freedom that the landscape brings and the beauty of the calm water against the backdrop of the jagged and wild fells, rising high into the clouds almost inaccessible. This morning, though, I appreciate the power that is held the closeness of this place and I feel grounded here. I check the time and rush back to the car as I realise I am late.
Each week after archery, the girls and I meet at The Crumbly Cocoa, affectionately referred to as The Crumbles. Nestled in the heart of Kendal with its pretty bowed windows on either side of the door, each with twenty individually framed panes of glass. A few street-side tables and chairs placed outside in the hope of enough sunshine. As I open the door, the scent of fresh coffee beans wafts from the pots that line the shelf behind the counter. I stumble through the door as a gust of wind blows it almost out of my grip.
Our favourite spot is a low round table in the far corner, surrounded by comfy, mismatched armchairs. The surrounding walls are lined with bookshelves, holding some wonderful old classics and more modern gifts that regular customers donate.
“Hi,” I call over to Patti and Helen, who are already sitting at our table with their lattes, waving back. "Sorry I'm late." They don't even seem to notice.
As I’m queuing for my order, Janice bursts in with her umbrella dancing around her as she tries to close it, unsuccessfully, without drawing too much attention.
“Hot chocolate?” I call.
“Please.” She grins the widest grin among her fumbles.
Janice has been my best friend since we were teenagers. She burst into my life like a tornado and has been whirling there ever since. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and it isn’t easy to keep up. She tames her umbrella and takes a seat with the others while I get our drinks and join them myself.
“As if this rain isn’t bad enough,” Janice says. “Now the wind is blowing a hoolie too, and it was all I could do not to spin all the way down the street.”
“I know,” says Helen, “my hair is wild today.”
“Your hair is always wild, Helen.” I say, re-tying my own.
We are all laughing when Georgie arrives last, as always. In contrast to Janice, she strolls in with poise and barely a hair out of place. Helen leans into Patti and nudges her arm.
“How does she do that?” she whispers.
Georgie takes her seat, her manicured nails wrapped around the cup as she places it delicately on the table and hangs her velvet tote bag on the back of the chair.
“Hello,” she says. “How are we all?”
I look around the table at our various states of messiness. The ends of my hair have caused a damp patch on the back of my shirt, and I can feel the dampness of my jeans clinging to my shins. Janice lets her hair down to shake out the tangles the wind caused. Helen shifts in her seat and tries to tame her strawberry-blond curls unsuccessfully with her hands.
“Oh, I have news,” says Patti with a big grin. “I’m growing fruit in my garden. I’m going to make jam.”
She beams with pride. Patti has one of those faces that just exudes happiness and comfort, framed by her short, dark bob, the ends of which now cling to her cheek accentuated by dark eyes and cherry-red lips.
“You’re going to make jam?” says Georgie, pursing her lips and tilting her head.
“That’s so cool,” Janice says, ignoring Georgie’s comment but giving her a side glance. “What fruit do you have?”
“Well, rather than get rid of that bramble I have on the back wall or let it get out of control, I’ve trained it so it’s less rambling and I’ve planted raspberries, strawberries, and a little damson tree in the corner.” Patti beams from her efforts.
“Ooh, lovely. So, do we all get a jar?” says Janice.
“Are you going to sell it? Like a cottage industry?” says Georgie, her doubts cast aside and her money-making hat firmly on.
“Steady on,” says Helen with a chuckle. “She’s got to learn to make jam first. Have you even made jam before?” she adds, turning to Patti, her chin resting on her hand.
“Well, no… but how hard can it be?” Patti says, then she turns to Georgie. “And, no, I’m not going into business. This is just for pleasure. And yes,” she turns to Janice, “of course you can all have a jar.” Georgie looks a little disappointed.
“But you could have one of those cute little carts outside your house. I reckon you’d make a ton of money. People love home-made stuff. I can ask Danny to draw you up a business plan if you like. Or there’s the farmers’ market, they’re always looking for new people to take stalls—”
“Georgie,” Patti says in gentle chastisement. “Stop. I’m not going into business. I just want to make jam. It’ll be fun.”
“Oh,” says Georgie. “Will it?” she looks around at the rest of us, looking for reassurance that she is not the only one who can’t understand the fun in that.
Georgie is not known as homely. She barely cooks, employs a cleaner and she and Danny either go out or get take-away most evenings. The concept of making jam, making anything for pleasure, is alien to her.
I glaze over as the girls continue the conversation. Part of me must know what they’re saying. I know I am nodding in the right places and even contributing at times, although I can’t tell you what words have come out of my mouth. I watch these girls who hold so much of my heart talk and laugh and chatter, and I am weighed by a growing feeling of heaviness within me.
When I get back home, Simon is sitting on the sofa with a glass of ginger ale, his mood already lifted.
“Hey, beautiful.” He looks over his shoulder as I come in. “How was your morning?”
I don’t feel beautiful. I’ve dried off now, but my hair is thick and straggly and my clothes are clinging to me. I can’t wait to get changed and back to myself.
“Good thanks,” I call back, trying not to let my dishevelment show. “The Pros were on fine form, as usual. I kept up, I think.”
“Are you talking about archery or the girls?” He gives a wry smile that makes me giggle.
“The girls were on fine form too, aren’t they always? I’m going for a shower.”
The warm water washes out the tangles from my hair and I wish it would wash away the heaviness I have. Images of the girls flood my mind. Patti with her buoyant enthusiasm, Georgie’s ever questioning nature and Janice with her unending support for us all, no matter what we do. How could I have found myself glazing over when mornings at The Crumbles are so important to me. Stepping out of the shower, my feet find the snug ruffles of the bathmat as I reach for a towel, my eyes closed to prevent the drips of water getting in. I can hear Simon tinkering in the kitchen as I dress and I shake off my feelings, telling myself to pull it together.
When I come back into the living room, Simon presents me with a fresh cup of coffee and a warm scone.
“You made scones?”
“I did. You haven’t eaten, have you?”
“No, just coffee.”
I take the plate and the smell of warm scone and melted butter mingles with fresh coffee as I take a bite.
“Thanks, Babe. You must have been back longer than I thought.” He nestles beside me, nodding.
“Was your morning okay?” I ask tentatively, not wishing to stir up any unnecessary tension.
“Yeah, fine. I got a bit wet, but I pushed through, made me go quicker if anything.”
“Oh, good. I was thinking about you out in all that.”