Colour me blue in the Lake Dis­trict

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SHIRLEY JOHN­STONE TARRAGINDI, QUEENS­LAND

It was shortly be­fore Christ­mas 1950 when I first spot­ted the box of 12 Lake­land coloured pen­cils in the win­dow of my lo­cal newsagent. There they were, en­throned on a shelf dec­o­rated with fes­tive green crepe paper.

On the lid of the long box was a colour­ful scene of the Lake Dis­trict in Eng­land. The lid was slid back enough to tan­ta­lis­ingly re­veal the six pen­cils on the top row. Oh, such colours: aqua­ma­rine from the sea; a pi­geon’s-wing soft grey; blue like a sliver of sky; moss-like deep­est green; golden but­tery yel­low; and an amaz­ing colour called Amer­i­can Beauty, made from the rich­est pur­ple and the deep­est cy­cla­men.

Des­per­ately cov­et­ing the pen­cils, ev­ery day I vis­ited the newsagent’s win­dow just to linger, look and long for. The neat lit­tle price tag was marked 12 shillings and six­pence, a for­tune in those days when the av­er­age weekly wage was 100 shillings.

One af­ter­noon as I stood drool­ing, the newsagent’s hand reached into the win­dow, closed the lid, picked up the price tag and dis­ap­peared. I dashed into the shop to see him place the box into a brown paper bag and ac­cept a pound note from the ex­pen­sively gloved hand of a ma­tronly lady. It took ev­ery ounce of my en­ergy to pre­vent my­self from snatch­ing the pen­cils and cry­ing out, “They’re mine! They’re mine!”

They were gone and all my day­dreams of mul­ti­ple coloured draw­ings dis­ap­peared. Be­cause the coloured pen­cils were con­sid­ered such a lux­ury, the newsagent in our work­ing-class sub­urb or­dered only one box.

That was the last time I saw a box of 12 Lake­land coloured pen­cils un­til 40 years later my hus­band and I were driv­ing around the Lake Dis­trict and stopped for cof­fee in Keswick. Nearby was the Cum­ber­land Pen­cil Mu­seum (pen­cils have been made in Keswick, orig­i­nally us­ing Bor­row­dale graphite, since the early 1830s), which we de­cided to visit as it was start­ing to rain. Pass­ing through the mod­est lit­tle mu­seum (closed now for re­fur­bish­ment, but re­open­ing in June) I saw my cov­eted box of 12 Lake­land coloured pen­cils dis­played on a shelf in a glass cab­i­net.

I pleaded with the cu­ra­tor to sell it to me, but he ex­plained that box was the only one they pos­sessed and was part of their his­tor­i­cal dis­play. The same dis­ap­point­ment from decades be­fore clutched at my chest. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists will re­ceive a Braven 405 Blue­tooth speaker with a light­weight, durable and waterproof cas­ing, 15m wire­less range and 24 hours of play time; $129.95. More: braven.com.au.

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