I found a strip of negatives the other day and realised that they portrayed the sequel to my previous story although it actually happened over a year later in reality. This was my first colour film and not great quality. It was so poor, in fact, that the lab didn't even print them all. Now with the wonders of PSP I have cleaned everything up and can show them to you here.
The story begins just before the summer at the art college I attended.
Six of us were talking in the common room about doing some sketching and painting during the summer and Doug mentioned a beautiful place on the moors which would be just perfect. He had come across it while hiking with a friend and had noted the location on his map. The three girls in the group had never been hiking and the boys had only been on the moors a couple of times but we were all young and therefore invulnerable.
We set a date and over the next few weeks managed to borrow enough equipment to make the trip. I asked a friend of mine who hiked the moors all the time if he would like to go with us but when he found out we would only be hiking to one location, setting up camp and then spending several days painting he bowed out quickly. I did manage to borrow his tent and rucksack, however.
And so it was that I arrived at Diane's house at 7 in the morning with a very heavy rucksack ready for a painting holiday on the Northumbrian moors.
The girls were already there and were attempting to pack their borrowed rucksacks. I had to point out that a whole chocolate cake and an apple pie would not be going with us. We would only have room for the army type rations we had all bought and very little else in the way of food if we wanted to stay more than a couple of days. I mentioned that we would be nourished but there would be no memorable meals on this holiday. . . . . .How wrong could I have been.
The boys arrived and we all dragged our gear out to the bus stop which was close to Diane's door and caught an early bus headed for the moors.
The Northumbrian Moors
Once we got off the bus things began to get a bit comical and I wondered if we were going to have to quit before we started.
Even with her rucksack trimmed down to the bare essentials Diane couldn't lift it to get it on her back. Emily was having trouble too because each time she swung the heavy rucksack onto her back it continued on and landed on the ground with her attached to it. Shirley was watching their antics before she even tried.
We finally came up with the solution making it a team effort. Two people hoisted the rucksack up and the third got into the straps. Once on the back a rucksack is much easier to control but I could see that it was going to be slow going hiking up and down hills.
As well as a rucksack each of the boys had a tent and, as it turned out, all of the painting paraphernalia too.
Doug set out leading the way and John and I tried to follow our route on the map.
According to the map we had to travel only 8 miles as the crow flies but I knew a little about the moors and guessed it would be closer to 10 or 11 by the time we avoided the larger hills and other various obstacles and that was only if we didn't get off track.
After many hours of hard slogging Doug got us to the top of a hill and admitted he hadn't seen a landmark he recognised for over an hour.
We called a rest break and everyone dropped their packs and sat down. This was only the second stop we had made.
I pointed out where I figured we were on the map although I certainly wasn't sure enough to have suggested a course change while I thought Doug had everything in hand. It looked like we were a couple of miles to the south of where we should be.
If Doug and I left our packs we could hike north quickly and see if anything came back to him.
I have a terrible memory for names and numbers but can always remember the layout of places so I just kept looking back to make sure we would be able to find the rest of the group when we returned.
For those youngsters reading this you have to remember that in the 1950s the most advanced piece of equipment we had with us was a compass. No GPS or cell phones in those days and although walkie talkies were available no one I knew owned a set and they were pretty heavy things to carry anyway.
We walked up hills and ran down them so in no time we came to the top of a hill and looked down upon a large valley that stretched all the way to the point I figured we should be. There in the valley was a lovely old farm house with smoke drifting out of the chimney and Doug remembered seeing it from the other end of the valley last time he was there.
We back tracked and got the others back up and moving and headed for the farm house. The idea was to ask nicely if we could fill our water bottles from their outside tap and possibly see if the farmer knew the area we were looking for.
Another hour later we dragged ourselves to the door of the farmhouse and knocked.
The door opened and there stood a lovely older lady wearing a pinny. She looked to be about the same age as our mothers, probably in her forties, was slightly plump with a rosy face with dabs of flour all over it. Out of the open door the aroma of fresh baking swept past her.
Well what do we have here? she asked with a smile in a lovely motherly way.
This surprised me because, although this was still the fifties, I can't imagine my mother would have managed that attitude having six scruffy looking kids, some not out of their teens, turn up on her doorstep. We thought we would have to be very nice just to prevent having the door slammed in our faces.
We did ask very nicely if we could possibly fill our water bottles and she replied, You most certainly can but not before you sit yourselves down at the picnic table over there and let me get you something to eat. You all look like you are done in.
She was right. We were done in.
By the time we dropped our packs and sat at the table she was already bustling out of the door with a tray filled with buttered scones and a cherry pie which she cut into 6 right in front of us. We were aghast and all at once said things like No this is too much and We can't take your food but she brushed our remarks aside and told us she was still baking and would easily replace these few things.
We all ate and drank because we were all hungry and Mary ( that was her name ) joined us and chatted away.
It turned out that they had very few visitors at the farm which was pretty much self sufficient. They had sheep, cows, chickens and a large vegetable garden just around the back. The cherries were from their own tree. They even churned their own butter although I am sure none of us really knew what that entailed at the time.
She asked where we were going and John described the place to her.
Her face lit up even more and she called her husband Joe to join us.
Joe was a big strong looking man but with a friendly smile that put you at ease immediately. He came lumbering around the side of the house when called and Mary introduced him to us. She had already memorised our names which surprised me again.
Guess where these young people are heading? She asked.
Joe just stood there. I had a feeling he didn't waste words and knew she was about to tell him.
They are going to Bent Tree Falls she said.
Now Joe spoke.
It is a lovely place he stated and that was about as many words as I ever heard him string together.
Mary explained that she had met Joe while out walking and they had ended up by the little waterfall with the bent tree beside it. They did most of their courting around there because it was such a beautiful and peaceful spot and nicknamed the place "Bent Tree Falls". They were married, moved into the farmhouse with Joe's parents and after his dad died took over running the farm themselves.
We had told her what we were hoping to do and she said I am so glad you lovely young people are going there to capture some of that beauty.
I looked around and didn't see any lovely young people so I figured she must be seeing us from a different perspective.
After the meal we started to get ready to leave and Mary disappeared back in the house and came out with a large biscuit tin. There were a couple of kids,several years younger than us, playing a little way away and she called them over. This is our son David and our daughter Christine. She said and once more introduced us without getting one of our names wrong. Even my mother used to get my brother and me mixed up sometimes.
David will show you the way to the falls and I have made some sandwiches for you to have tonight
Where was this lady from because she certainly didn't act like any of the human beings I knew on this planet?
She still wasn't finished though.
I want you to bring the tin back on Sunday around noon. We will be having a roast and you will be needing some proper food by then.
She simply wouldn't take no for an answer so we left with the promise that we would indeed return on Sunday.
David led us out of the valley and soon we arrived at our intended destination. He was like his dad when it came to conversation so all we got out of him was that he was 14 and his sister was 12.
Setting up camp was easier than it would have been without having rested and eaten and soon we had the tents up.
The tents were all two man tents but I had managed to get a slightly larger one so my idea was for the boys to cram into mine while the girls shared the other two. This was before the hippie generation so there was never any thought of a boy sharing with a girl even though John and Emily were going out together, in fact especially because John and Emily were seeing each other.
The girls had other ideas, however, and when they put their logic to us I had to admit they had a point.
They would take the big tent, zip their sleeping bags together and then cuddle up for warmth during the night. They knew that the boys would never do that.
I guess boys have always been more uptight about that sort of thing than girls.
Sitting around a small fire that evening we discussed the wonderful people we had just met and wished we could do something in return.
It was Emily who came up with the solution.
We would each take a hand in producing a painting of their favourite spot.
It was a brilliant idea. Something we could all do that would be a lasting memento of our visit while reminding them of their courting years.
Emily was, by far, the best artist in our group so she organised everything and assigned different parts of the painting to those best suited. I would start the thing off with a pencil sketch because I could copy what I saw almost exactly but since it would be in oils the others would take over from there. I was a passable water colour artist but had never tried oils.
Emily would come in last and paint the details as well as painting the bent tree which would be the focus of the picture.
For the next few days we all did our own thing, painting different scenes of the moors and learning different techniques from each other. We didn't paint the whole time and had lots of time to wander around the area and even had the occasional swim in the river, sunbathing on the grass to dry off.
By the time Sunday came around we were all ready for the promised meal. The girls were making our rations much tastier than I ever expected. The powdered egg omelets were really quite good but one does get tired of the same thing over and over.
The painting was not finished yet so we wouldn't mention it. We could drop it off as we hiked out when our food ran out.
I am not a connoisseur of food. Normally I simply eat to live rather than the other way around but that day I had a meal that today stays in my memory.
Roast lamb, new potatoes and all the trimmings followed by more of Mary's wonderful baking for desert.
We all felt like part of the family and I am sure they enjoyed having the company too.
The kids even opened up a little asking us about city life. It seems that they only got into Newcastle a couple of times a year for special occasions.
We left with the promise that we would drop in on our way back and give back the tin which she had once more filled with sandwiches.
Back at camp Emily called a meeting.
She was about to finish the painting and had an idea she would like to incorporate.
She wanted to portray the wonderful feeling of solitude and privacy the area invoked in everyone and thought that a tastefully depicted nude would do the trick.
I pointed out that there was a 12 year old girl and a 14 year old boy in the house but she said they had a small statue of "Venus de Milo" on a table in the dining room so nudity in paintings would obviously not be a problem to them.
I had noticed it too but not thought anything about it.
Then followed a lengthy discussion but we all decided it would be a great idea.
Later a thought struck me and I realised I had a way for John to get his own back on Shirley.
Shirley had tricked John into modeling nude for the art class.
See Miniature Camera
I suggested to him to get Emily to say she needed a model for the painting. It was probably true anyway and I figured between us we could make sure that Shirley got the job.
Next morning after breakfast Emily asked us all to go to the tree. She wanted us to approve of the pose she would use for the nude.
"First of all should it be a male or a female?" she asked us.
We all agreed on female right away.
"OK. I am going to need a model. Shirley, Dianne, which of you would like to pose nude." she said.
"Can't you do it from memory?" Shirley asked. "You have already done a couple in class."
"No. I need to get the lighting and angles right otherwise it will look like I added it later." said Emily.
I could see Shirley getting uncomfortable but Diane had a slight smile on her face so I guessed she was already in on the plot.
"Any suggestions on who it should be then?" asked Emily.
We all made out that we were considering the question and then chose Shirley.
"Diane has a better figure." she tried but she knew she was grasping at straws and that wasn't even true.
At that point what else could she do but bite the bullet and say ok.
Emily wasn't finished. Although John's modeling had brought them together she still thought Shirley had gone too far in that particular joke so she turned to Shirley and said "OK. Get your kit off then and we can all decide on the pose to use."
Shirley blushed but couldn't find a way out. She had played enough practical jokes on all of us that she knew no one was going to let her off the hook on this.
Off came her clothes and we made her try all kinds of poses before leaving it to Emily and going off to do our own thing to give them some privacy.
I have to admit she took it very well even when Emily decided she should be standing in the water. Luckily it wasn't too cold.
When we left John told us that Emily had intended to get one of the girls to do the pose in underwear or a bathing suit but took no talking into changing her mind.
When we returned we all had a good laugh at Shirley's expense. The painting had turned out great so we all signed it across the bottom.
On the morning we ran out of food we packed everything up and set out for the farm house.
When we arrived we found a slap up breakfast of bacon, real eggs and toast waiting for us and I just had to ask.
"How on earth did you manage to do this, Mary? You didn't even know what day we would be returning."
"Oh, that was easy," she said "I just had David keep an eye on the far hill and when he saw you all come into view it gave me lots of time."
Before we started to eat we presented the painting to her telling her how much we appreciated her, and her family's, kindness.
She actually began to weep and I wondered if this had been a good idea.
She just kept saying "Oh my! Oh my!" but then she called Joe and through her tears thanked us time and time again.
Turning to Shirley she asked "Is this you in the picture, dear?"
Shirley just nodded and blushed. I had never seen Shirley blush before and this was the second time this holiday.
When Joe arrived she said to him "Look what the youngsters have made for us, Joe. We will hang this in the hallway where everyone will see it every time they come in the door. Then we can always remember our special place and these wonderful young people too."
She took it in the house and hung it instead of a picture that was already there.
"It will look even better when we put a frame on it." she said.
I took a photo of it in it's new position. Although the photo doesn't do the painting justice I have enhanced it as much as possible and included it here.
The hike back to civilization was particularly easy that day.
Although none of the paintings I did on that holiday were of a quality to survive I did have a hand in producing at least one which I am sure still adorns a wall in a home somewhere in the wilds of the Northumbrian moors.