‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Adventures With My Grandmother: Sunken Ships, Buried Treasure, Crooked Spires and Locked In Kenilworth Castle!

David’s Bookshelf – Issue One Cup of Tea Tales

  1. David’s Bookshelf – Issue One
  2. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Lifetime of Global Successes, Disasters and Wonders! Space the Final Frontier.
  3. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hetchell Woods (Bardsey) and Crags – A Special Piece of God’s Own Country or County! One of my Favourite Places to Visit.
  4. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Wonderful Yorkshire Dales. Trollers Gill, a Place with a Mysterious Legend and the Hell Hole where I Diced with Death.
  5. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Labs and all Manner of Magic, Misery and Mayhem. What Must have been the Worst job for a New Teacher, Chemistry with Boys with only one Aim, to Make Your Life Hell!

I remember well 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. The walk to Roundhay was quite a long one. We had to go through Gipton Wood 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 paddleboats, which you powered with your hands. Waterloo Lake was built using returned soldiers from the Napoleonic War and hence the name Waterloo Lake, commemorating the English victory.

Now, as I have explained before, my grandma was a short plump 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 paddleboat. The attendant pulled one to the side with a long boat hook and my brother got in. The paddleboats were brightly painted and would hold three children, or maybe 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 manmade 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 paddleboats were something that my brothers and I had used many times and we were quite capable of being 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 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, at first, lost her handbag, but the boatman recovered the bag and discovered strength he did not know he possessed when he pulled grandma out. 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. 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.

It started with my elder brother, but then was handed down to me, and that was the annual Easter visit to my aunty and uncle’s house. Initially, they lived in Coventry and I remember both of the houses they owned with fond memories. Grandma and Grandad, Mary and Harry, would take the bus to Coventry and there be met by my aunty and uncle. My elder brother went for several years and I was quite envious of the two or three-day adventure. I had to wait until I was about ten or eleven before it became my turn. My brother was about thirteen or fourteen and he would have thought himself too grown up, so I was invited.

I am not sure what the reason was: anxiety, a bad experience of missing a bus or train, or just keenness, but the journey always started at the crack of dawn. We would catch the double-decker bus to Leeds City and from there go to the Wellington Street bus station, a short distance from the train station. Now we would arrive, probably at 8.30am, and the bus did not leave until about 11.00am. It was so early that the sign for the Coventry bus was not yet there and we would have to wait for ages before the sign was eventually displayed. We were always first in the queue. The initial excitement became utter boredom. There was nothing to do, or at least nothing that we were going to do, but stand and queue. Just before I was about to die, the bus turned up. We got on, found our places and still had a long delay before anyone else, including the driver, even arrived to board. The bus was not an express, and it stopped at six towns along the route. What could have been not much more than a two and a half hour journey was, on this bus, six hours. It was absolute hell for me and I can’t think great fun for my grandparents, dealing with a restless child for that length of time. There are only so my things your eye can spy on the route and only so many minutes a comic, Beano, Dandy or Topper, can last. Once you have seen Chesterfield’s crooked spire, you have seen it, and after breathing in diesel fumes, lead pollution and smoke from the rear of the single-decker coach, I can’t say I felt too well. The regular sweets and toffees helped a little, but if there is purgatory, then this bus route was it. Sisyphus would have enjoyed pushing the boulder up the hill as a bit of light relief in comparison.

Eventually, towards the end of the day, we would arrive, and after the obligatory hugs and kisses, we would be in the car heading to my aunt and uncle’s house. Initially, it was in Coventry and they had what seemed to me to be a lovely new semi-detached house on a new estate. They moved to Kenilworth after one or two future trips and Kenilworth was beautiful. Brookside Avenue was, again, a new development around a small village of thatched cottages, pubs, and small stores, in the shadow of a magnificent castle. Kenilworth was now a small town, and it was a feeder for the major cities of Coventry and Birmingham.

What more could a young boy want than a castle? It didn’t matter that it was ruined, blown up during the English Civil War, and maybe that made it even more exciting. It was once a magnificent building, greatly extended since its Norman origins to the scene of Earl of Leicester’s grand hosting of Elizabeth I’s court in 1575. The queen was canny enough to deal with any perceived threat from her lords, because of their popularity or wealth, by visiting with her whole court. In this case, there was the addition of romance and the Earl spent a vast amount on entertaining Her Majesty for three weeks. At one point, the water meadow was flooded so that mock naval battles could take place and water-borne fireworks could be launched from papier mâché dolphins.

My aunty, cousin Angela and I went to visit the castle. I was excited. Its massive fortifications were and still are, very impressive. Most of the structure was in a state of ruin, but there was sufficient for me to get a sense of what it would have been like and to ponder who else had trodden the same steps, centuries earlier. I was in heaven and the bus trip was very quickly forgotten. I am not sure if it is still the case, but you were allowed to scale the keep and the steps led to windows that overlooked the grounds and gave magnificent views of the wonderfully lush countryside. My cousin was a couple of years younger than me, but she appeared to have absolutely no fear of heights. I have always had a realistic sense of my own vulnerability and, as a result, have been safety conscious. (I must admit, some of my close calls have not obviously demonstrated this.) A single metal bar would separate the observer from a fall that would certainly have proven fatal, yet my cousin would lean right over the edge, as if tempting the fates to do their worst. I could barely stand to watch her, but my aunty seemed to share her lack of concern.

We had arrived in the afternoon and were enjoying the late sunshine. The crowds had thinned, and we were busy exploring. There was some sort of distant siren, but we paid it no heed. Maybe half an hour later, we were getting tired and hungry and my aunty led us back to the gate through which we had entered. We noticed that there didn’t seem anyone around, but it was only when we got to the gate and saw that it was closed and locked, that we realised the siren must have been the signal the castle was closing for the day. It was now closed and everyone had left. Castles are designed to keep people out, but they work just as well keeping people in. I think I saw my aunty panic for the first time. There truly was no one there, and it was getting dark. My goat-like cousin saved the day by scaling the wall near the gate and climbing down. I had no problem following suit, but I think my aunt struggled a bit. The alternative of spending the night alone in the castle, or suffering the embarrassment and indignity of the authorities being contacted and someone having to let her out, provided sufficient incentive and she followed suit. Once out, we had a bit of a laugh about it and made a note to check closing times in the future.

I always looked forward to the visits to Kenilworth and Coventry, and visiting relatives I only saw at Christmas otherwise, but the journey there was an ordeal.

For those who have read my first thriller, Dead Men Don’t Snore, then you may be interested to know that I am coming towards the end of the follow-up novel, A Trembling of Finches. This is another Gordon Bennet novel and should be published early next year. It is set in somewhere that most of you know well and the places will be very familiar. I will let you know when it is available.

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