Back to the Myddle: Day Five and a Half of an Ancestral Adventure
Old Beezlebub gallops ahead of me down the Shrewsbury Road, and his ghostly rider, on deciding that I have nothing of value in my Renault (sorry kids!), beckons me on for an adventure beyond. Beyond the Myddle, but not so far, that I am allowed to cross the borders into Staffordshire. My Renault stops short of Wolverhampton. Single Lane, Shifnal. My birthplace. Now my Uncle’s home.
My children scramble out of the car, relieved that we don’t have to complete the whole four-hour journey. Not yet. Excited to hear the familiar crunch of Single Lane gravel, and with my camera at the ready, I peer across the lane to pinpoint the exact spot of my birth. Identically ugly box-like new-builds glare back at me, all gutsy. I’m gutted. A long wooden building, Cosford RAF Hospital, was once, quite rightfully rooted in that very location. Now it’s roots are entangled only in the synapses of my brain, synapses which shift and sort through the silt, deciding what to keep and what to throw away. Keep it.
Niceties are exchanged with Uncle and, in turn, I am rewarded with some caffeine. The children are rounded up again and we nip up the lane. Boscobel House. Boscobel House, best known to some as the hiding place of the future Charles II. But I’m not here for Charles – I’m here for my ancestor William Careless – Charles’ best buddy and officer. So loyal was old Will, that he risked his all and climbed up into the oak tree to be with Charles in his hour of need.
Thoughts of an hour of need lead me to recall the last time I stood in the cold and rain under the leafy protection of an oak tree. And the memory isn’t pleasant. I was twelve years old, in the park, at Immingham, and the rain still poured down upon me. Only it wasn’t rain. It was urine. It wasn’t even royal urine, just the urine of a couple of teenage twits, who thought it was hilarious to relieve themselves upon the head of a ‘ginger’. I push the memory trace of the foul and acidic smell back into my synapses. It can be disposed of. Permanently.
Back to William. Did he have a good book with him or did he get distracted senseless by the beating heart of a would-be-royal psyched up on adrenalin? I can’t get up the oak tree, which is protected from a new and increasingly dangerous breed of genealogist obsessives by an impressive fence, so I peer up into the branches and try out some visualisation techniques, curtesy of a self-help book from The Works. It doesn’t work. It’s cold, windy and wet and my children whine: “Can we go back to the coffee shop now? Can we have some lemonade? A cake? Some crisps? A scone?”
“Anything else?” Do children ever get lost playing hide and seek? Refreshed, but not revived, I plan my next step – an opportune visit to one of Charles’ old hidey holes!
We enter Boscobel House and, floorplan in hand, I nudge (push) my children ahead and up a stairway to The Squire’s Room. Forget the four-poster bed – it looks like a mustard pot – and it’s only just about big enough for a Barbie doll. The Penderel brothers, once inhabitants here, must have been tiny! We go straight for the hidey hole, hidden beneath the floor of a small chamber, to the left of the fireplace.
It’s not much of a well-kept secret. With the help of a floorplan that would put Abbot’s Estate Agency to shame, we are there! I read that the hidey hole once gave access to a secret staircase, an escape route to the garden – a staircase which either no-longer exists, or one that has been subsumed into the moving, changing and munching structures of Boscobel House. My son’s face lights up. He loves small spaces. He’s in there! Mission accomplished. The hinges of the trap door call out to me. We need to be exercised! We need to be used! We’ve been stuck in this position for ages!
But my son looks so cute, with his little face and big-brown eyes, peering up at me. I am unable to resist the idea that he is Charles I and I am William Careless. I get down into the hidey hole with him. My daughter hesitates. But I can hear the hinges calling to her and her hand hovers. She steps back and looks down at us. She can’t do it.
And it is indeed very cosy down here, very cosy and very cramped – a great place for reading a book – alone! But I’m not alone, and this is only the second of the hide-outs, so we move up, out and on. And further up, to the attic. At the top of the stairs, my daughter locates our third and final destination, a hidey-hole beneath the floorboards. She looks disappointed. It’s inaccessible, only visible through a glass cover. She’d wanted to be the first to try this one out. It looks tiny. It would have been a good fit.
But we’re a family and my cousin William Careless had his mate Charles. So we leave the pair behind, and take ourselves off back to Single Lane. My Uncle makes a good mug of coffee and I need my cousin, a long-distant truck driver, to set up my Sat Nav. “You don’t need it, he say. It’s easy. Anyone can get from here to Suffolk. You just ….. ”
The Sat Nav? Please just sort out the Sat Nav for me. I need it. Please! How does he remember all those routes? What happened during the formation of his synaptic channels that didn’t happen during mine? I’ve been short changed.
He checks out the hotspots for traffic congestion on his mobile APP. “Even I wouldn’t go that route today. It’ll take you hours. Not four hours – six hours! No, no, no. I really wouldn’t.” But I see the twinkle in his eye. He’s exaggerating, of course. The old family humour! Just give me the Sat Nav. It can’t be that bad.
Eight hours, and two stops at McDonalds, later … and we’re back. Back from the Myddle.
Copyright owned by Jay Cool, May 2017
Disclaimer: Please refer to the ‘Who is Jay Cool?’ post for details.