[first published 2nd May 2012]
Sometimes it seems you have to travel all day to get back to where you started. After the epic (and in terms of Homeric storms, I rather think it counts as exactly that) journey from Brighton to Otley, I set off yesterday to the boarders. Eschewing perhaps the quickest route, I barrelled up the A68, a quite fantastic road, stomach-churning and beautiful with its mixture of long undulating straights with any number of blind summits and great sets of z-bends. It was only sad the weather refused me permission to drop the top. I arrived in Greenlaw, a small boarders village, just before six and, having been guided to my place of repose by Donald – following his bike through the village centre, I was embraced by the entire family at Mansefield. We talked and talked and cricket was mentioned and Pippa, my hostess, askd if I fancied visiting the oldest cricket club in Scotland, Manderston – on the Palmer estate. Off we drove.
As we sidled up the drive, she mentioned that this was where the Edwardian Country House was filmed. A sort of reality-tv island show where a bunch of people went to live as Edwardians for three months. I had a flashback. I was sure my mother had mentioned visiting it at some point …
I utilised the telephonic communicatory device. I mentioned the word. And then my mother launched into one of her extended stories.
Turns out she was there on March 23rd 1963, visiting one Nancy Bailey (if I get it right – her stories fly by with a slew of names and it’s hard to keep up), who was resident and cousin to Geoffrey Grindle, aka my grandfather.
This phenomenon, namely being beaten fair and square by years to some place you expect is safe from deja-visite, is not unknown. In fact, the usual culprit was my grandfather, who seemed, at some point, to have crossed pretty much every square foot of this delightful earth. And each location carried with it some story or other, most of which are now lost to this dimension. Some I recall, though their accuracy is perhaps somewhat dubious. An example.
Many, many moons ago (256 or thereabouts) I was playing with a rock band from Atherton, outside Manchester (a couple of tunes can be heard here). I mentioned that I had been in this most exciting of towns and the usual happened … ‘I remember Atherton, though it would have been very different then …’
I won’t try to mimic his voice, because I have not the gift of mimicry, but I will give you a clue or two. He bumbled through his sentences, ending most phrases with either ‘wot?’ or ‘hmm?’ The posh equivalent of ‘you know’ and ‘innit’. There was also the smile. It was capable of drifting down phone lines. I once phoned him to say I’d be in Norfolk that weekend, and that I might very well pop in for tea. At that time I was living with the delightful Anna the Swede. Grandpa was most fond of Anna (as were most men). ‘Is Anna coming with you? If not,’ he continued, not allowing me to get a word in edgeways, ‘don’t bother’. I never could work out how serious he was.
He continued. It was in the twenties, and he was driving through the area (which tells you something about him) when he came across a lorry in a ditch. The driver was unconscious. He dragged him out of the wreckage, slid him into his car and drove into what would have been little more than a village, stopping at the pharmacy. This posh boy pulls up in his car, pulls out a working man (though he himself was an engineer), and presents him for treatment. Plainly, he’s run him over. He’s treated quite rudely, but isn’t bothered overmuch. The lorry driver suddenly regains consciousness, and explains that he ran off the road, exonerating my grandfather – in fact, changing him into a sudden hero. All of a sudden, the crowd which had gathered vanished, and then the women reappeared, clutching buckets and soap and scrubbing brushes, and scrubbed his rather muddy car clean.