Yes We Can
I have a mountain in my house. It is carpeted in a mossy green. Nothing fancy - no swirls of colour or complicated weave. It is made up of fourteen steps and runs from my living room, up through the ceiling and onto the draughty landing stage beside my bedroom door. It has two sturdy handrails - one for each arm. Through the window are valley views, lit by summer sunshine and lakes shimmering in sunset orange and reds. I try to enjoy these when I gasp for air. In frames are photos I took in my youth - panoramas from steep-sided Cat Bells and vistas taken when precariously balancing on Striding Edge.
In those days, I took my instructions from Sir Alfred Wainwright, who, through his detailed guides, directed me onto the right path, and sheep trod. Warned me of sucking bog and gorging river. Many times I had urged my legs on, heavy in walking boot and loaded with rucksack. 'Just around the next bend' I had persuaded. 'Just over the next ridge.' My feet danced on shivering stones and my hands clung to angry faces cut into the rock. An eyebrow here - a nostril there. 'Just one small step at a time,' I had chivvied. A cairn at the top would tell me that I'd reached the summit and another Wainwright could be added to my memory bank.
Now, almost 50 years later, I stand at the bottom of my stairs. My own personal mountain before me. I look down at my wasting legs - legs that resemble suet pudding and feel like blancmange.
'We can do it,' I remind them. 'Yes we can. We can climb our Everest. Just one slow step at a time.
Can we recover from
frequent tempests that
have stacked walls
of snow around us?
Scenery is solely white;
wind whips up a frenzy
of flakes that shroud
landscape in solemn coverlets;
secret our shrubs
under ghostly mounds
which haunt our daily lots.
Does the groundhog seek
his shadow? He is safely secure
in his underground domain.
Awake and weary, we await,
with deep trepidation,
the next storm.
“No we can’t. We most definitely can’t,” thought Tilly.
She did not want to be here. She did not want to be forced and bullied into doing things she did not want to do.
She knew these things would hurt her. People, if they took any notice of her at all, would just laugh or sneer. And it would be really embarrassing.
She did not want to be here in the bus, with the other girls, rattling through the snow and the rain and the cold to something she would rather not imagine.
She did not want to be sitting next to this strange girl with the funny glasses and funny teeth, who had taken Tilly’s best friend’s seat.
Tilly’s best friend had had to move over and was now squashed between this strange girl and Tilly.
Tilly was trapped in the seat next to the window, its cold glass close to her side. She tried to ignore the rain lashing against the other side of the glass as if someone was throwing buckets of water at her.
The strange girl turned to Tilly and said something unintelligible. Tilly wasn’t sure whether it was the girl’s teeth or the strange way that people spoke here that made it so that Tilly couldn’t hear what she said.
“I beg your pardon?” she said politely.
The girl looked at here, puzzled, then repeated whatever it was she had said. Then, again, just one or two words; then gave up, looking the other way.
It had been the same with everyone else. Everyone spoke in such a funny way here. Tilly’s Mum and Dad had moved house a couple of months ago. Tilly had left all her friends behind. She was alone, except for her best friend Leia. Leia was always there for her, always at her side. She sat there now, looking at the girl squeezed next to Tilly. She hadn’t understood a word this other girl had uttered, either.
When Tilly joined the class, a couple of girls had smiled at her and asked her questions, but apart from that nobody spoke to her except to make fun of her own accent. Tilly could not understand that and found them very rude. She did not have an accent. It was only them. They just ambled around in little groups, talking and giggling. “We don’t want to talk to them anyway,” Tilly had whispered to Leia. Leia had looked at the other girls and nodded her head in agreement. The two of them were happy together, they didn’t need others to be friendly.
Tilly was glad that Leia had been able to come with her when they moved house. Mum and Dad didn’t see that Leia had come with her, but Tilly had shared her food with her and kept Leia warm when they went to bed at night. Tilly would tell Leia all her secrets and Leia would laugh with her or cry with her. They were best friends.
Mum and Dad had shown Tilly the Primary School where she was going to go. It was large and old and had big blank windows. Then they showed her the Big School where she would go when she was a lot more grown up. That was even bigger. There were lots of big girls wandering around and Tilly felt even smaller than she already was.
Tilly felt the bus journey took forever, though she had hoped it actually did, because that would mean she might not have to face this ordeal.
Finally the bus lurched into the car park. The girls jumped up and filed out, with Tilly last. It seemed a long way down and out for her. She had to go down the steps carefully as they were slippery and wet and very large for her small legs. Then the car park was slippery with the snow, so she and Leia carefully tottered across to the entrance. By the time she got to the front door of the hall she was last and had to push the heavy door open all by herself and squeeze through with Leia.
Inside, the corridor was empty, but she was able to find where the rest of the girls were with the noise they were making.
Everyone had already taken off their shoes and socks. There was a very loud woman shouting instructions. Her indecipherable voice was even more indecipherable in the echoing hall. Tilly hesitated, but not wishing to attract attention to herself, took off her own shoes and socks, carefully putting the left sock in the left shoe and the right sock in the right, then putting them neatly against the wall next to the pile of the other girls’ discarded footwear, thrown in a pile.
Tilly sighed inwardly. So did Leia. They stood there, silent, at the back of the group of girls, but eventually the crowd thinned and their protection disappeared. The loud woman saw Tilly, bore down on her, grabbed her arm and pulled her over to the nearest group of girls. Everyone had been split into groups, Tilly saw, and this little group were skipping with a rope. The rope seemed thicker than usual and the things they did were different. There was a woman, not much older than them, who was telling them what to do. Tilly stood and watched for a while with a couple of the others from the group, awaiting their turn. Then the other girls had a turn, then Tilly had to join in. She tried jumping over the rope, trying to copy what they had been doing, but tripping over the rope most of the time. And sure enough, when she banged her knee, it hurt. Someone pulled her to one side and put one end of the rope in her hands. She turned it when she thought she was supposed to, but this still did not seem to work very well.
Suddenly the whistle blew and they all moved on to the next task. Stilt walking. That was disastrous too. “We can’t do any of this,” Tilly complained to Leia. “I can’t either,” complained Leia “I want to go home.” Normally Leia was very brave, much braver than Tilly. Tilly admired her friend, but today she just did not want to do any of these silly things either. Tilly had fallen off the stilts several times, and each fall hurt even more than tripping over the skipping rope.
The loud woman stood there looking at Tilly. She asked Tilly a question, in a slightly less loud voice. “I can’t do any of this,” complained Tilly. “Yes you can!” argued the loud woman. Those words Tilly could understand. “No we can’t” shouted Tilly, running off with Leia in hot pursuit.
Then there was platespinning. Just as bad. Then the diabolo. That was diabolic. And so it went on.
Finally there suddenly seemed to be a break. Everyone grabbed drinks and stuff to eat from their rucksacks. Tilly found a place to hide behind the trampolines and rummaged around for the packed lunch her mum had given her. Cheese sandwiches. Tilly didn’t feel hungry. She rummaged around in her jacket pocket and found an old packet of nuts with just a few left in the bottom. She fell upon them like a miniature treasure trove and savoured them, one by one, putting each in her mouth and feeling the indentations with her tongue before crunching them into little bits and swallowing.
The other girls were round the corner, giggling and gossiping. Tilly was by herself, with Leia. Tilly tossed a nut into her mouth. She had another in her hand ready. She tossed that up in the air, then another. Humming to herself, she did the things her Uncle John had shown her, occasionally tossing a peanut into her open mouth. She wondered if she could remember the behind-your-back-trick and was pleased that she was still able to do it. This was better than any of those horrible circus tricks the rest were having to do. Now she had four peanuts in the air at the same time, juggling them around, under her legs, behind her back, into her mouth. She would be out of peanuts soon, but it would probably be the end of the break in a minute anyway.
Suddenly, Tilly was aware that the noise in the hall had disappeared – there was no laughing and gossiping. Had they gone home and left her? Surprised, she looked around. Everyone was silent. Staring at her. She remembered the peanuts in the air and automatically shot them all into her mouth.
“Wot?” she said, to the silent crowd. They were all grinning at her.
“How do you DO that?” one girl asked.
“Yes, show us how!” pleaded another.
They all crowded round her. “Please show us!” they were all shouting and pleading at once. Suddenly Tilly noticed she was able to hear what they said a bit more clearly.
“We love your circus tricks, Tilly!” someone else shouted “Can you show us how to do them?”
Tilly saw the loud woman standing at the back grinning at her.
“Oh” Tilly said quietly to Leia “Maybe we can do circus tricks, maybe we can . . .”