Well do I remember one warm, sunny afternoon in Leeds when my grandma came to our house and took my younger brother and me for an outing to Roundhay Park. I don’t think that my older brother was with us on this occasion, but I am sure he will let me know if I am wrong. The walk to Roundhay was quite a long one. We had to go through Gipton Woods to Oakwood and then across the vast sports pitches of the Soldiers’ Fields to the Park itself. The park was and still is a most beautiful area. It was originally the grounds of a large stately home, now just called the Mansion. The park had sports fields and two lakes: one large, the Big Lake as we called it, (Waterloo Lake); and the other smaller, the Little Lake, (Upper Lake). Both had boats for hire: the Big Lake, rowing boats; and the Little Lake, small wooden paddle boats, which you powered with your hands.
Now as I have explained before, my grandma was a short fat lady, who struggled to walk long distances, but she was game and we trailed along with her. We arrived at the Little Lake and she paid the ticket for a boat. The attendant pulled one to the side with a long boat hook and my brother got in. The paddle boats were brightly painted and would hold three children or a couple of adults. The water in the Little Lake was only shallow and we used to use fishing nets to catch minnows to keep in a jar, but it was deep enough to cause difficulty if you fell in. Both of the lakes were man-made and part of the landscaping of the grounds, but over time the bottom had accumulated a lot of sediment and rotting plant matter and was definitely not something you would want to paddle around in.
The paddle boats were something that my brothers and I had used many times and we were quite capable to be let loose alone, but on this occasion, maybe because of the heat Grandma decided to have a go. She asked the man and he said it would be alright. My younger brother got in and the man held the boat with his hook whilst my Grandma took her turn. It was quite a step down and my Grandma had to hitch up her dress, revealing quite a bit of chubby pink leg and maybe it was this that distracted the man. She didn’t position her foot in the centre of the boat and as she lowered her weight, the boat rolled to the side and water started filling it. My younger brother feared for his life and scrambled to try and get out. The boatman panicked and pulled my Grandma to safety and I just stood there watching in amazement. My brother jumped for the wall of the lake and scrambled ashore, but in the process lost one of his sandals and it fell back into the water and no amount of searching with the boat hook could find it.
No one was injured physically, but my Grandma’s pride definitely took a beating and she was also worried about the repercussions of returning to our mother to explain what had happened. She had nearly fallen in and lost her handbag, but the boatman had discovered strength he did not know he possessed. She led my brother by the hand to the ice cream van that was nearby and we were bought 99’s (Ice cream in a cone with a chocolate Flake) to keep us quiet and happy, whilst she decided on a plan of action. The weather wasn’t a problem and the walk to Oakwood village could all be done on soft grass. She told my brother that she would buy him a new pair of sandals at the shops on the way home.
We headed back home with ice creams in hand, leaving a relieved boatman helping other paying customers. We made the slower journey to Oakwood and the sandals were replaced. I seem to remember the leather sandals were substituted with a plastic pair. Again, I could be wrong in this matter, but I seem to remember plastic was purchased. Looking back I can only assume my Grandma was devastated. My mother would think she wasn’t safe to be let loose with her children and I know money was tight, so the additional cost would have been an issue. I think, in the end, my mother was just relieved that we were all alright, but I am not sure what my father’s reaction was. For my brother and me, we just added it to the rich tapestry of growing up experiences.
On many other occasions when we were at my Grandma’s house we were allowed the button box. This was a biscuit tin filled with a vast range of buttons. I am not sure if they were cast-offs that my Granddad brought home from tailoring, or just what had been removed from old clothes, saved in case of some possible need in the future. I loved the button tin. It was magical. Not only did it have buttons of all shapes and sizes, but it also had jewels. Well, maybe not real ones, but glass jewelled buttons, some large and brightly coloured. They shimmered in the light as their prismatic shapes caught the sun and my imagination. Those buttons were treasure. A pirate’s hoard from some ne’er-do-well buccaneer and they were mine, all mine! I lifted handfuls and let them fall back through my fingers and the touch and sound took me even further from reality. I could play for hours with the buttons, in front of the fire and I was lost in ecstatic dreams and visions. The coal and the flames took me to a volcanic island and there I discovered the hoard. I can still feel their touch, their weight and their smell. What more could a young boy want? Well, maybe a real treasure hunt, but that will have to wait for another time.