Personal view Jill Segger
Tt was half a lifetime ago. We hurtled down Longtail hill, freewheeling _.,...past a sign advising that the wait for the ferry from that point would be 15 ..ninutes, to where the Mallard, drawing its cables out of the grey waters of Windermere, would winch us across to the lake's western shore.
For children of a class and generation which did not take foreign holidays, the excitement generated by crossing water was intense. Once across the lake, we pedalled on, declining to stop in Hawkshead. The Beatrix Potter industry had not yet taken over the village and as we were too old and yet too young to acknowledge the timeless delight of her tales, there was nothing to delay us.
We would make our refreshment stop on the shores of Coniston Water within sight of Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin. Coming from the ambitious artisan class. we had been taught to revere Ruskin as the champion of education for working people and the proximity of the great man's house seemed to bestow a blessing on our sandwiches and barley water.
Those were blithe. happy days and something about the turning of the year filled me with a desire to return and attempt an understanding of my present in the light of that particular small slice of the past. So, in a cold and brilliantly clear dawn, I loaded a bike on to the back of the car and set off for southern Lakeland.
The ferry, and the frisson of excitement that I
experienced on embarking, were unchanged. The passengers on this cold January morning were largely motorists.
Cyclists and walkers gathered together with a shared air of superiority which must have been slightly irritating for those travellers who declined even to get out of their vehicles to watch the landing stage draw nearer. Some children, sticking their heads out of car windows, demanded in aggrieved tones to know where the shops were. They would not need to wait long. Hawkshead seemed to have turned into a tourists' shopping mall and I felt no more inclined to stop there than I had done when I was 12 years old.
By the time I dismounted and unpacked my lunch at the old spot within sight of Brantwood, a few flakes of snow were beginning to fall and the surface of Coniston was ridged and fretted by a bitter east wind. It was difficult to avoid a mood of melancholy introspection.
I was no longer the carefree child. The firm certainties learned from my parents had given way to questions, doubts and insecurities; the world stands on the edge of war; gun-crime and random violence seem endemic in our inner cities whilst the flaky science of the Raelians reminds us of how rapidly technical expertise is outstripping our ethical maturity.
Hope seemed outworn, loss insupportable and despair seductive. But as I finished my lunch. more positive thoughts began to offer themselves as points of light in the gloom. I realised how much I owed to a childhood passed at a time before moral constraint and physical freedom had changed places and in which pleasure did not depend upon consuming.
I gave thanks that the four dishevelled little cyclists who had peered through the gates of Brantwood in 1963 all went on to receive the university education which had not been possible for their parents. Then came one of those small. epiphanies that sometimes bless us when the spirits are low and the need great.
I realised that God is not behind us, drawing us deeper into our past to cocoon us in nostalgia and regret — he stands straight ahead, beckoning and using the dis-equilibrium of doubt, uncertainty — even of fear — to ease us free of the outgrown and nudge us forward into the unknown.
If it were not so, he would be neither the God of surprises nor the God of a pilgrim people.
As I strapped the bike back on to the car, Nearest and Dearest phoned to inquire after my day. We have known each other too tong for the benign falsehood to be effective. "Told you so" he said gently. "Hurry home; tomorrow's another day."