Skimming the Surface

Akin to many individuals, it’s fair to say my fledgling years were awash with scores of useful life lessons.

Procurement of knowledge such as, after failing to impress peers with the admittedly tepid trick, learning my double-jointed ring finger was unlikely to jettison me onto a meaningful and fulfilling career path.

Another snippet of wisdom indelibly etched in my erratic mind was employing caution when choosing projectiles for skimming across waterways. Sapience acquired on a mid-1970’s August afternoon following an impromptu sojourn with my brother Ian to Saltwell Park, Gateshead.

The Strachan brothers seeking a scenic diversion while heading home from a Low Fell grocers with carrier bags laden with fresh fodder. It’s comestible contents a shopping order procured by her eldest offspring for the familial matriarch.

Intent upon negating boredom consequential from our trek back to the Chowdene estate (where we lived), Ian and I came to a halt adjacent to the park’s impressive lake. Here we sought to while away time skimming stones across the pond’s rippling sun-kissed water.

Ordinarily such a pursuit would provide us with the thinnest of entertainment gruel. However, bereft of a football to indulge in our habitual default pastime of footy, GJ and IC Strachan were compelled to embrace an alternative activity in an attempt to augment brio levels.

Although relative newcomers to the ‘sport’ of stone skimming, Ian and I at least knew the projectile needed to be flat to attain maximum stone travel – This shape allowing it to skip gracefully along the water’s surface; as opposed to a rounder missile which ordinarily sank as soon as it came into contact with the wet stuff.

Scouring our immediate lakeside surroundings for a stone with necessary aerodynamics, it soon became clear locating a suitable projectile wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. This paucity of slim rocks moving Ian to spontaneously make up the adage ‘There’s never a flat stone around when you need one’.

Unfortunately for my younger sibling, though, like his other adage of the time ‘Buses are crap’, it never really took off. It’s final resting place the adage graveyard in the sky, a dark domain situated between a Threshers off-licence and the tomb of TV presenter Richard Madeley’s sincerity.

Undeterred at the dearth of suitable flat stones Ian and me increased the search area, however this task also proved fruitless. A disappointment leading to scouring our immediate locale for alternative projectiles to chuck; frustratingly, though, such items were also of a premium.

We did, though, manage to locate a duck feather, an empty flattened Skol lager can, a discarded page from the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and a rabbits foot. None of which, we quickly concluded, would make suitable skimming missiles…… Especially the rabbit’s foot which was still attached to a bunny which was lain dead behind a lakeside shrub.


Never one to give up on any scheme (regardless of how hare-brained) my brother put his hand into the carrier bag of shopping we’d just procured for mater and pulled out a box of eggs.

“What about using these, Gary?” he inquired enthusiastically.

“I doubt eggs will skim, Cheesy! (his nickname)” I replied disparagingly.

“Well they’ll skim better that a duck feather and the front page of the Chronicle, Gaz” Ian rightly argued.

“An anvil would skim more impressively than a duck feather and the front page of the Evening Chronicle, but it still wouldn’t be any use for skipping along the surface.” I retorted, beginning to regret raising the subject of filling in time with stone skimming.

“We haven’t got an anvil, Gary.” our kid observantly pointed out.

“I know, it was a deliberately sabsurd example I made to back my argument.” I countered.

“Even if we had an anvil, Gaz, we’d not be able to lift it to throw it into the lake to see if it skimmed. We’re only 11 and 9 years old” my brother continued.

“Look, Cheesy. I know there isn’t an anvil, I was trying to make a point of how stupid it would be to attempt to skim eggs.” I attempted to clarify in an ever increasingly annoyance.

“You’re a right boring get, Gaz!” my brother felt moved to proffer; feeding upon my ingrained childhood aversion to risk taking..

“The egg shells will crack as soon as they come into contact with the water, Ian.” I proffered, endeavouring to further beef up my anti-boeuf skimming strategy.

“They might not…… They might be hard-boiled.” Ian argued, with increasing determination to throw an egg into Saltwell Park lake.

“There not hard-boiled, we’ve just bought them from the grocer’s shop…… They aren’t hard boiled before he sells them!” I pointed out despairingly.

“He might!” Cheesy further argued; augmenting my annoyance further.

“Ok well, go ahead and do it…… Just don’t come running to me when the act flops horribly!” I responded with irk.

“Right, watch this then, Gaz!!” my stubborn sibling exclaimed, prior to hurling one of the half dozen eggs lake ward.

Sadly, we never got to find out if eggs will actually skim across the lake as my brother’s idiosyncratic projectile didn’t reach the water. Instead inadvertently striking a duck on the pond’s periphery. The bird in question looking less than happy at its glossy green and black down feathers bearing yolk, white and eggshell post projectile impact.

Concerned we’d get a rollocking from the park keeper, Ian and me ‘legged it’ onto Saltwell Road, heading south towards home.

Breathless from our escape and the long run, we eventually arrived into our family kitchen sweating profusely. After handing mum her bag of food we walked into the living room, our post-run exhaustion leading to us slumping inelegantly onto the sofa, where we started half-watched Blue Peter on kids TV.

However, our relaxation didn’t last long as within moments we scarpered out of the front door after hearing mum shout from the kitchen:-


As we both ‘legged it’ along Dorchester Gardens, I turned to my brother and asked “Where we running to, Cheesy?” My brother pondered for a few seconds and, as we headed down St Austell Gardens towards Saltwell Road, advised:-

“I don’t know about you, but I’m running back to Saltwell Park….. The rollocking we get from the park keeper for hitting the duck with an egg will be nothing compared to the one we’d get off mum!”

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