Going down the local for wisdom and water sports

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The Independent Online

"I see they've voted to introduce a 10mph speed limit on Lake Windermere," said the Major. "With effect from the year 2004. Wonder why they're waiting till then? If I were going to bring in a speed limit I'd do it wif."

"I see they've voted to introduce a 10mph speed limit on Lake Windermere," said the Major. "With effect from the year 2004. Wonder why they're waiting till then? If I were going to bring in a speed limit I'd do it wif."

"With what?" said the man with the dog.

"Wif," said the Major. "Stands for With Immediate Effect. Common army abbreviation."

I think I may have told you before that as all country pubs seem to have a regular called the Major, and ours didn't, we nominated this man as our Major, although he had no connection with the services at all. However, since then he has become more and more like an army officer every day. Promotion clearly goes to a man's head...

"Well, presumably this is to give all the ski-jet and power-boat and yacht people time to clear out and find somewhere else," said the man with the dog. "If you've got a water-ski school on Lake Windermere, you can't just up sticks and relocate to Ullswater. Or some innocent Lancashire reservoir. Or the Med."

"Ten miles per hour isn't very fast," said the woman with the blue hairdo (she's drinking Ty Nant water from Wales out of blue bottles this month, and the hairdo goes with it). "A man can run faster than that. Are they going to arrest anyone running along the lake at more than 10mph?"

"Only if he is on the water, apparently," said the Major. "Jesus would have had a shock if he had walked on the water too fast at Windermere. Just imagine!"

"And lo," said the resident Welshman, who being Welsh can always put on the Biblical lingo, "there was a certain Pharisee council official who came to the Lord, saying, 'Thou art exceeding the new water-speed limit as laid down in by-law 278, paragraph 34...' "

"Never mind about that, boyo," said the man with the dog. "I just think that a 10mph speed limit on a lake is rather draconian. What if you were sailing a yacht in a stiff breeze and it had just gone over 10 knots, and an officious Lake speed cop hove to, signalling you to pull into the side of the lake?"

" 'I say', said Titty," said the resident Welshman, going seamlessly into a bad Arthur Ransome parody, " 'but why is that man in that boat over there signalling to us to stop? Is he a German spy or something?' "

"The whole point about a speed limit on Lake Windermere is," said the Major, ignoring everyone else, "that it's against the entire history of the place. This is where Sir Malcolm Campbell set the world water-speed record. It's where his son Donald broke it again and again. It's also where Donald died at a speed of 300mph, trying to break it one more time. Now, what do you think would have happened if a council official had come out in a little boat to tell Donald Campbell that he was breaking the local speed limit by 290mph?"

"I'd have supported him," said the blue lady. "He would have had a point - 300mph is a dangerous speed. Donald Campbell killed himself."

"Tell you one thing, though - we had heroes in those days," said the man with the dog. "Thanks to the Campbells, we held the land-speed record and the water-speed record. People talked about Britain with respect back then. Not any more."

"What rubbish," said the blue lady. "If that were true, we would talk with respect about the nations thatnow currently hold the land- and water-speed records. But we don't. Because we don't know who they are and we don't care. It's only the country that holds the record that even knows, or cares. Anyone here know who holds the world speed records?"

"I'm sorry," said the landlord," but you're all wrong."

We fell aghast and silent. It isn't often that the landlord intervenes in a pub conversation. He is normally only too happy not to have to make small talk.

"I have just looked it up," he said, waving the Guinness Book of Pub Arguments, "and it wasn't Lake Windermere at all. It was Coniston Water where the Campbells set all their records."

We sat there even more aghast. So the whole conversation had been a total waste of time! We speedily changed the topic to genetically modified strawberries - yes or no? - and were off again on something that we knew nothing about. Yes, you can't beat a good British pub conversation.