By: 19 September 2017
Last of the summer whine

Patrick Walker soaks up the English sunshine and reflects on family polar bears and pizza

Henry James described ‘summer afternoon’ as the two most beautiful words in the English language.

He was wrong, but only because a summer’s morning takes the prize.

Sun shining on late corn, dew on the early blackberries and the hills cloaked in the deep purple of heather in its prime. I am sat in the garden among ripening apples and impatient clouds with my father who, despite a substantial stroke, derives great pleasure from the warm rays on his face and the cheeky pigeons which peck at the fruit that is almost within his grasp.

At this moment I am wondering why I am going to Russia next month. Obtaining a visa was a challenge of endurance and frustration – a traveller’s Tough Mudder.

After setting out every place I have been in the last ten years and travelling to Manchester to provide finger prints, retrieval of passports required a trip to the London embassy with instructions to arrive in good time before opening at 4pm. I arrived at 3.30pm.

The door was firmly closed and the sign read No passport collections before 5pm. The security guard’s guttural “you will wait” did not invite conversation, but I persevered by asking him about his home country. He was Bulgarian.

Having encountered little but bureaucracy and delay so far, I have no great expectations and so might be pleasantly surprised. Because I would like to see some of the wonders of Moscow and St Petersburg, I have not given up and the flights are booked. But every moment in this garden makes me question the need to travel outside Yorkshire, let alone our glorious Island. I guess I will need reminding of this when dark nights are followed by darker, wetter, and colder dawns.

In the meantime, my father and I duel with useless facts. His short-term memory is poor but parts of his mind are still sharp.

“If you are stuck on an iceberg, don’t eat polar bear liver because excessive vitamin A renders it very toxic,” surely trumps “twit describes a pregnant goldfish”!

He is unimpressed with the statistic that Americans consume more than 100 acres of pizza every day, and turns his attention to the dog. As he strokes its head, the Labrador slowly closes her eyes and imagines she is again on the moors in sight of splendid Penyghent, But then again, perhaps she is just pausing before darting under the wheelchair to retrieve the piece of cheese deliberately flicked from my father’s plate.

Photographs will probably provide an enduring reminder of the Hermitage or Red Square, but I know that all the megapixels in Microsoft could not preserve those few moments with loved ones.

I drink in the air and try to print the scene in my memory. I rejoice in being able to reach this destination without a visa and without communication problems – with the dog anyway!


This article first appeared in Leeds & Yorkshire Lawyer (Issue 147)