The man who met Yuri Gagarin

Don’t strange and amazing things happen when you travel on trains? Or in my case bus train bus train. They certainly did on my latest trip to Yorkshire to see my family. And here I am curled up in my eldest granddaughter’s bed – rather like Mama Bear sleeping in Baby Bear’s cot – tapping out these few words to tell you all about it.

The journey started in it’s usual peaceful way with me hopping on the 555 Stagecoach bus to Carnforth. I love this bus route, it has to be one of the best in the country. It was comfortingly familiar to be swirling through the glorious green countryside even if the impacts of Covid 19 are still with us. I particularly liked the sign on the open window, got to love a low tech solution to a world pandemic.

Getting off the bus I had a little wait at Carnforth railway station before my train. Time to take a few of my wobbly pics and feel a little sad that Carnforth couldn’t enjoy it’s celebration in 2020 of 75 years since the making of the film “Brief Encounter” in which the station features.

I did notice that Carnforth Station Heritage Centre has re-opened and seemed almost as busy as pre-pandemic. “Brief Encounter” is a film classic adored by many. I have a confession, I don’t like it! I love the station and the Heritage Centre which displays a wealth of social and industrial history. The film however leaves me cold. Perhaps I am being harsh “Brief Encounter” is a creation of it’s time. But controlling men and simpering women do nothing for me.

Moving on before the fans – some of whom are dear friends – turn nasty! I also had a chance to look at some of the posters that adorned the walls of my platform. They have been there a while and I had begun to overlook them. They are really good. Here are a couple. These celebrate the RSPB nature reserve at Leighton Moss. I will try and share the rest next time I am at the station.

So far so normal journey to Yorkshire. Things began to change when I got to Skipton and I hopped aboard my second bus of the day the 64 to Ilkley (the X84 no longer seems to run from Skipton straight through to my daughter’s village. Grrr). It was full of people and happy chattering filled the air. My phone rang. It was a call I really really had to take.

“Pardon? … What?” I mumbled to the caller, muffled by the face mask I was still sort of trying to wear. “Sorry I can’t…quite…hear you” I continued with my finger pressed in my free ear trying hard to concentrate on what the caller was saying. “ I HAVE THE JOB?!!!” I almost shouted with glee (frankly I am surprised that the bus didn’t give me a cheer as I was so loud everyone must have heard). Well I had got the job and I said YES straight away. It was a marvellous moment in the strangest setting.

What I am up to and who I will be working for will have to wait. But hopefully the coming months will be filled with wonderful information about my new employer. Don’t worry it’s not MI5 … although I would say that wouldn’t I?

This journey was definitely out of the ordinary. First the job offer then I met a man who had met Yuri Gagarin. Honestly I am not with MI5. Or am I?

As I got off the bus at Ilkley to catch the train to Burley In Wharfedale I got chatting – as you do – to a lovely man. He told me about how he had met his wife. For my money this was a much better romance than that in the aforementioned film. It all started when he met Yuri Gagarin.

In 1961 at the height of the Cold War Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin – the first person to travel in outer space – was visiting Britain. He crossed paths with my gentleman when they were both visiting an art exhibition.

Gagarin was a huge celebrity at the time and attracted very large crowds everywhere he went. During this visit he was threatened with being crushed under the weight of people wanting to touch the man who had been in space. My fine fellow had linked arms with the cosmonaut’s KGB guard to protect the spaceman. Gagarin had been pushed against him and thankful for his services had shared some time with him and even pressed into his hand his medal for space travel so my gent could have a good look at it.

Where’s the girl? We are not quite there yet. My friendly chap told me that meeting the Soviets made him realise that, despite the propaganda, the Russians were just ordinary people not the monsters they were portrayed as being. He became curious. But it was hard to find out anything positive about the Soviet Union in those chilly days so he decided he would have to visit Russia. Ah so he met a Russian girl and they lived happily ever after. Not so fast my friends.

Why did he share his tale with me? It was because of my connection with the Lake District. Didn’t see that coming did you? Before going to Russia this charming friendly man had gone hill walking in the Lakes and been talking to fellow hikers about the lack of information on the Soviet Union. He was pointed in the direction of a young woman. Unusual for the times she had spent some months in Russia learning about the people and culture.

Yes you are right this was ‘the one’. They met and after what I gathered was a whirlwind romance he proposed to her on Cat Bells (a popular fell to the west of Derwentwater in Cumbria) and they did live happily ever after. Poignantly his lovely wife died only a short time ago. I think this is why he told me their beautiful story too. It was a way of remembering happy days and passing on his wife’s memory.

We did not exchange names and I hope that anyone who may recognise this tale will forgive me any errors I have made in the re-telling. It was a heart warming story of love and also of gaining understanding through learning about those we have been led to fear. This kindly man’s story further lifted my already high spirits. I hope it lifts yours too.

As I relate this I realise I had my own brief encounter! And on that bookend I will bid you adieu.

Until next we meet,

Moke x

PS I may have been ‘tipped the wink’ about the job offer as one of my fantastic references KC had text me while I was on the Skipton train to say she had been contacted by my new employer. Big thanks KC for what must have been an amazing reference. Mx

Village Life

Hello All

Feeling a wee bit blurry as I adapt to early starts once more. Strange how getting up at 4.30am makes finding the sleep you desperately need so elusive! But nothing like toddler sitting to keep a Grandma moving despite her natural inclination to sit in a cosy chair and snooze … oops … read. Don’t fret no toddlers were actually sat on during the construction of this post.

It is always a delight to see wee Peanut. She has a never ending supply of energy and curiosity. Yesterday she was brim full with excitement. Her village is in the midst of it’s annual festival and best of all

It was Dog Show day! No1 Daughter set off early to help with an Animals Asia stand. Meanwhile Peanut and I took our time toddling around the village investigating the scarecrows dotted along our route.

Scarecrow Festivals have become very popular over the last twenty years or so. Peanut’s village has joined in this fine tradition, a tradition that is only a blink of an eye in the history of scarecrows.

Scarecrows have been around as long as people have grown crops and birds have been hungry. Did you know that the earliest recorded reference to scarecrows is ancient Egyptian? a scarecrow is even to be found in Japan’s oldest surviving book “Kojiki” which dates to the 8th century. In medieval Britain young boys were used as ‘Bird Scarers’ but after the Great Plague of 1348 and the consequent devastation of the population young lads were in short supply so farmers started creating human-like forms from stuffed sacks and turnip heads to put in their fields.

Today they are not only agricultural aids they are also small works of art created by families and villagers to bring fun and laughter to their communities. Peanut’s village did not disappoint. We spotted scarecrows at the pub:

(Peter Rabbit! Yorkshire you are treading on Cumbrian territory here….)

At the church:

(Mr Men, pourquoi?)

And of course at the nursery where this poor family ain’t half having a struggle to pull out this recalcitrant turnip:

Even with the help of their dog, cat and … mouse!

I have discovered that the story of the giant (or enormous) turnip is a Russian folktale written by Tolstoy. The joke in the tale is that it is only with the help of the smallest creature, the mouse, that the huge root is pulled from the ground. The moral of course is that anything can be accomplished if we work together.

While we were looking at the nursery another happy little tale unfolded. I was admiring the nursery’s kitchen garden with Peanut when one of the staff arrived carrying a cabbage. I found out that she has been carefully plucking caterpillars from their vegetables, gently putting them in a small netted area and keeping them fed. She had brought along the cabbage as their weekend rations. Her kindness for the caterpillars (and the vegetable plot) will provide a wonderful experience for the children who will watch these wriggly creepy crawlies transform into butterflies … or … cabbage moths….

Do you know that it is only as I am typing this that I have realised there was a theme to the scarecrow tableaux, children’s stories! Now Peter Rabbit and the Mr Men make sense.

Skimming over this evidence of my dimwittedness back to yesterday. With many a wall to walk along (Peanut not me…although those low walls are very tempting) and scarecrows to spot our peramble to the field took some time. But Peanut soon picked up the pace when she saw her mummy happily wo-manning the Animals Asia stall:

Super supporter F had made a magnificent job of decorating the stall with goodies and information. She even sourced the small toys for the raffle. Doesn’t it look great? Her hard work was rewarded by raising funds and awareness amongst the locals who are now getting together to start a village supporters group. Result!

Peanut had her own rewards too. Not only did she ‘win’ a bear in the ‘everyone wins a prize raffle’ she also gained a second bear when a villager passed her prize on to Peanut too! Lucky little girl.

This is village life. What a wonderful happy day we had. Icing on the cake, Peanut’s daddy was home from work in time to help pack up the stand while I looked for that cosy chair… zzzzzzz.

Until next we meet,

Moke xxx