Dear Aunty Ice Axe

Is it true that every cloud has a silver lining?


Dear Doubtful

As a trained agony aunt, and moreover being unusually sensitive to the subtle nuances of the human condition even for that most perceptive of breeds, the tramper, Aunty senses that there is more to your question than meets the pince-nez. However, the current rate of agony-remuneration (ten and a half cords of wood - for boiling the cauldron) is not exactly generous. It seems that the agony-aunt market is flooded with returning US generals convinced that having dealt with the Middle East so convincingly, they can now turn to all the other problems in the world. Therefore Aunty does not propose wandering for long in what might be termed the emotional-minefield aspects of your enquiry. Sufficed to say that it is indeed very common to find, after he she or it has suddenly departed one's life, the manifest flaws and weaknesses of the said he she or it, and to see that hitherto undreamt-of heights of ambition can now be achieved as a free agent. If this is the lining that you refer to then by all means consider it the most sterling silver this side of a Nigerian bank account.

Instead, Aunty would prefer to address the practical points raised by your enquiry. As any desert traveller will know, after the 23rd day of burning heat and hallucinations of giant pots of tea shimmering across the horizon, a cloud can be as unlined as a baby's bottom and still be a sight worth pawning one's camel's grandmother for. Milton waxed poetic on the subject of clouds and linings - 'Was I deceiv'd, or did a sable cloud/ Turn forth her silver lining on the night?' (Comus, 1634). The fact that he was blind rather detracts from the authority of this as evidence for a meteorological phenomenon but it still gives Aunty a much-needed opportunity for pretensions to literary grandeur.

No doubt there are clouds whose reverse sides are the equivalent of a good thermal lining on a curtain. And who could resist the appeal of describing something as an 'altocumulus mackerel sky'? However, poor Doubtful, it seems that the standard tramper-view of a cloud is something black and lowering, moving with the speed and goodwill-toward-man of a herd of stampeding rhino, and with a particular attraction towards Christmas trips. Aunty remembers vividly one occasion when clouds well-lined with the not-inconsiderable leftovers of the Biblical Great Flood decided to join an ambitious yuletide epic, resulting (insert confused splashing noises here) in the entire party being washed out of their tents and only quick thinking and a flotation device of thermarests saving the 10lb plum pudding from foundering in the depths of the Landsborough. It is difficult to reflect on possible metallic-coloured beneficial side-effects in such circumstances. No - Aunty feels that it is her duty, as a tramping agony aunt, to counsel against the silver-lining theory and to remind you instead of that invaluable Czech proverb 'hope is a good breakfast but a poor dinner' and an even worse substitute for pudding and custard.

Yours, Aunty Ice Axe.