“A Summer to remember” he said, describing all that has happened so far. What an accurate description.
Camp was a great success. Rich Tea Boy loved it and talked and talked and talked (he’s good at that) about everything that had gone on. He loved the team he worked with and learnt lots. He also fell asleep in one of the team meetings! 11 pm bed time and 6 am dawn rising took its toll. My parting words to him when he left had been “Don’t forget to shower” and the excuses on his return were elaborate blaming flies and other things for why he didn’t shower all week. It was the first thing I made him do, even before his clothes went in the washing machine – and he stopped talking while he showered!
The girls enjoyed camp too. I asked Miss Puddleduck what she enjoyed most and she rattled off a long list but top of the list, the first thing she said, was hot chocolate. Every night before bed time they had a hot chocolate. It must have been a cosy time with warm hot chocolates in their hands ready to settle for a late night on an unforgiving roll mat. They were tired when they got back but not as washed out as I had thought they would be.
While they were at camp Janet Williams (Area Commissioner for the British Driving Society, North East Wales) and myself went with Longshanks to Red House Stables in Derbyshire. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful place and a beautiful drive – kindly driven by Janet who has a remarkable relationship with the Sat Nav narrator frequently arguing with and rebelling against the instructions given.
Longshanks revelled in his learning at Red House Stables while Janet and I went for a leisurely stroll at Chatsworth House. The gardens were busy, full of people and full of much to appreciate in the world of quirky aristocratic antiquity. The sun shone and we hunted out shade to eat our lunch in. When we later collected Longshanks his only complaint was of being sweaty but his eyes were bright with the knowledge he had gained. He had caused a stir by getting on his vehicle in the manner of a tradesman and by being scant in his knowledge of full collars. Unless you know, who would have known? A whiz around the museum there had revealed a genuine Holyhead to London mail coach – information and observation I stored up for my own personal use. Of traditional vehicles Longshanks came away much better informed. The harness room was an amazing leather-scented feast for the eyes.
I had never seen anything like it, but the following Monday found us in a similar room after a long drive to Norfolk (again Janet and the Sat Nav had it out with each other, throughout the journey), a stay in a B&B, and a full English Breakfast provided by incredibly chatty hosts. Longshanks was being tested for the Brian Sims Award, a scholarship given by the British Driving Society. On this day, Janet and I were again able to leave him to work hard for the day while we went off and explored. Janet very kindly took me to revisit some old childhood haunts. We went to Framlingham Castle, Thorpeness, Aldeburgh (where we found a Gimson Engineering plate in an antique shop) and Granny’s childhood home. The gardener there was delightfully chatty and said his parents knew the Gimsons living there. He let me take photos all around the outside of the house. It is a private home again.
We were well travelled through little hedge-less lanes and huge arable fields by the time we returned to find out how Longshanks had got on. The scholarship candidates were more relaxed and chatting amongst themselves in contrast to the tense and pensive, silent youngsters we had left in the room that morning. Longshanks was nowhere to be found and I sat and waited. Eventually, he came in booted, gloved and aproned. He and the lad from Northern Ireland had been the last to drive.
“How have you found it?” I asked him.
His “OK” response did not give me much of a clue. But he didn’t stop there. He then elaborated on some things he had found really tough and began to paint a negative picture, the hue of which got darker as we went around the traditional vehicles and harness room with one of the examiners showing the correct answers for the written work they had done. He was asking for verbal answers as he went through each question and Longshanks didn’t answer once. The other candidates gave accurate answers and excited whispers of “I got that right” to their mothers while my hopes that Longshanks might have done reasonably well began to fade. He instead told me the things he didn’t get right. I had very few answers for the questions asked myself and the detail of knowledge needed to do the scholarship was deep.
While we had our tour of correct answers (fascinating in itself) points from the day and each individual were added up. Apparently they had to be checked again as the two leading junior candidates had only a 1.5 point difference. We’d gathered again in the room we first went to, to hear the results of the day, and there was no pomp or ceremony given to announcing the senior winner, nor the junior – amongst whom competition had been stiffer as there were more of them. The gentleman announcing the the winners said he wasn’t sure how to pronounce the junior winner’s name. I was shocked to hear him attempt to say Longshanks’ name, giving it the mispronunciation he commonly gets given. Longshanks himself says that he was so shocked he felt dizzy when he stood up to shake the gentleman’s hand. Not only did he get awarded the junior scholarship, but best driver of the day and candidate with the highest number of points for both junior and senior participants. We sat surprised for a number of minutes after the trophies had been given, while everyone else disappeared, allowing the news of success to sink in. I was sad we did not get to say well done to the lad from Northern Ireland who was 1.5 points behind Longshanks. Apparently, the boys had shown a lot of promise from the outset of the day, in each section and that the overall scores were high in comparison to some years. Well done, lads!
It was on the journey home was that Longshanks unpacked all the detail of what they had been tested in and how their knowledge was tested. I was impressed. As one who home educates, it has been wonderful to see Longshanks excel in an area of which I have no expertise and am so grateful for the dedication and willingness other people have shown in investing time, knowledge and opportunities in him. It’s amazing.
The Wednesday after was the Nantwich Show, where Longshanks and Miss Friendship competed against each other. Both drove very well. The class had more entries than I have generally known in the Junior Whip class and the judge scrutinised their skills carefully. In the end, he awarded first prize to Longshanks and second to Miss Friendship. It was the first time she has driven an individual show.
The following Friday we drove Dapple-bum and carriage five miles to stay overnight before his first show. Saturday morning was a chirpy early start discovering the joy of blue shampoo on a grey pony. Forecast to be a very British wet summer’s day, our little local village show day defied what had been foretold and turned glorious. “Like a raccoon gone wrong” was the description Tim gave to my sun burn when I returned home. Longshanks learnt from his mistakes as to how to show in-hand and the following day enjoyed another show in Penmaenmawr with the BDS North West Wales, where Dapple-bum was also entered in a class where he was long-reined in harness. They did well. Monday morning, was another early start. Longshanks and his Taid drove Dapple-bum and carriage home across the lanes before the day got busy.
In the evening, we welcomed family from Germany and Zimbabwe. Splendiferous days of castle tower climbing, steam trains, streams, welsh mountain spotting, walking, football playing, chatting, sandwich sharing, ice creams and laughter followed. Stopping to enjoy the best of what is around us is not to be under-rated. Why can’t it be holiday time, all the time? Yes, time! It matters. I love time with family.
Longshanks and I slipped away for a day, down to London where we were treated to a privileged tour of the Royal Mews by kind invitation of her Majesty and the Equerry. Wow! What a day. I learnt so much and Longshanks found it very inspiring. We were in the harness room.
“I’m in heaven!” says Longshanks. Two minutes later,
“Mum, have you got any deodorant on you? I forgot to use mine this morning.”
Having been up to catch an early train, I guess he can be forgiven and fortunately in preparation for a hot sweaty day, I was able to help him out of a sticky spot of absent mindedness.
What I found amazing was the sense of splendour and exceptional circumstance balanced with a big proportion of ordinariness that we found at the Royal Mews. This was perhaps created by the fact that we met with people whose everyday job it was to work there.
Splendour + ordinariness = A Summer to Remember