This old man, when I see him limping, crooked and slow, reminds me what the finest athlete in the world is liable to through no fault of his own, in this case in particular, for a quieter man or a more sober man I do not know. He has been a honest hard worker from his youth upwards, has brought up a respectable family, and one (Frisk) I know well as a cheerful, good-natured, and strong man, fondly attached to his mother, and who can or could ride a bare-backed donkey standing up with the ease and comfort of a first-rate artiste at a circus, going full speed; but, alas! like his poor father, now stricken with disease. The father did not shine in great deeds, but was a most noted man as a dancer when Slaithwaite was a little seaport town. He was a boater in those days, of steady habits, and for single-step dancing (then in full swing) he had no equal in the neighbourhood. The large number of boatmen who came into the town sometimes used to try conclusions with this marionette, for he simply was just as if his body was held up by strings, so lithe and active was he on his pins. No matter where they came from, they had no chance with Tom. Dan Leno himself could not have beaten him at this job; but, then, every young man could do a little at step dancing. What would feasts and fairs have been without it? The public-house was the areola where the village swains showed their prowess.
Many are the times that one has seen these contests. The Commercial, the Shoulder, Dartmouth (Tidings), and the Globe (Ephraims) were the hotels situated near the canal, and here the contests waged fast and furious. A young man and his maiden would go — the former to contest his skill, and the latter to admire and encourage. It was not so much drinking, as one of these things a young buck should be able to do. I have, in later life, seen old Mr. Joe Lumb, Folly Hall Mills, give a step at Thornton’s Hotel to let them see what old men could do.
But to come back to Tom Kirk. He was a clipper and never beaten. Dwell on those happy day dreams, old man, and think — if your limbs are stiff to-day — there was a time when none were more active, spirits more high, or hopes more unbounded. These feelings will help you on many a lonely day, and spread a flower or two to sweeten the road to the great unknown to which we are all travelling. Poor Frisk is now dead and gone before.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden