So, the first copies of the book have gone out and the first responses are coming back. This one warmed our hearts from CBTR contributor Frank Cottrell Boyce – it made me go hunting through my DVDs for Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure – I’m grateful as anything for being reminded how good that movie is. Cheers!
The book is beautiful! Thanks for sending me a copy! It’s a particular blessing to have a hard copy of River Man.
Roger Deakin’s piece on Fenland skating made me think of Tom’s Midnight Garden. The climax of the book comes when Tom and Hattie go skating on the frozen river Cam. A mixture of sheer momentum and absolute joy makes them go further and further – further than they meant too. They end up in Ely and have to get a lift back in a horse and carriage. The strange thing about this of course is that Tom is a sort of ghost – a visitor from the future. Only Hattie can see him. In fact, on the ride back, Hatty starts to lose that ability as she falls in love with the driver. It was loneliness that made her sensitive to Tom’s presence. But it was the skates themselves – not the kissy business – that really took hold of my imagination as a child. When Hattie tells Tom they’re going skating, Tom says he doesn’t have any skates of his own. So Hattie says that after the expedition, she’ll hide her skates under the floorboards and with luck they’ll still be there in Tom’s time – a hundred years in the future. Tom goes to look and there they are. So when Tom and Hattie go skating they are in fact wearing the same pair of skates.
It made my head spin at the time. It occurs to me now that the first Bill and Ted film has the same idea. What’s different in Tom’s Midnight Garden is how emotionally loaded those skates are. Their presence shows that Hattie carried on thinking of Tom, and believing in him, after she lost the ability to see him. And also because they show that some things survive even when great things – like the garden – are lost. These feelings all come to a head in the final scene of the book, which is one of the most powerful scenes I’ve read anywhere. Young Tom is about to leave the flat in which he’s been staying with his aunt, when the old lady who lives upstairs asks to see him. Tom goes in and realises that the old lady is Hattie. It’s an electrifying moment – and completely unexpected because until then you’ve assumed that Hattie is a ghost. When I read it as a child, I was appalled by the idea that the attractive young girl could become the old woman. Now I’m older I can see that the scene is full of joy. The old woman had carried these memories in her heart and now they were there alive again before her. Everyone who has had children knows that this is both commonplace and mysterious. You hold vivid, recent, precious memories of them, which to them turn out to be vague, shadowy impressions from a mythical past.
Of course the image is a great way of talking about that. Rivers – like the scene between Tom and Hattie – join times and places together.