Sunday, May 18, 2014
“Oh where are we going,” asked the children, staring wide-eyed at the driver.
“Far, far away,” came his wicked-smiling response.
“Will there be sweeties?” they asked as one.
“Everything you always wanted. Just settle down and don’t ask questions.” With that he turned to the steering wheel and the doors closed with a metallic clang. The vehicle grunted into life and left the village empty of its young, silent save for the call of birds and the bleating and snorting of farmyard beasts. It was the one day in the year that tranquility eddied around their mothers while far below the rumbling tyres their fathers hacked away at black rock, helmet lamps barely piercing the gloom, a life-saving canary warbling dismally in a swinging cage.
The shiny red tube bounced along; out through the meadows and small, golden, cereal-waving fields, under the green gloom of interlaced branches and past the short ribbons of back to back housing. There was a swelling chorus of “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountains” with screeches of laughter and a gasping red-faced halt at the verse, “She’ll be wearing smelly knickers.” Notes were passed among the cargo, not one of whom was under five or over ten. “Will you be my boyfriend?” “Bruce wants to go out with you.” “Jenny says you stink.”
Then, after hillocks and mounds, gorse and broom, the conveyance topped a final rise to screams of, “I can see the sea.” There was a lurching halt in a potholed car park and everyone was made to sit still for a moment. “Make sure you have got everything with you.” Four adults, who seemed to have materialised suddenly at the front, and the driver, dismounted and watched beadily as boys and girls jostled down the aisle, lovingly prepared carrier bags of picnic food, towels and costumes clutched to bosoms. A straggly, jigging line made its way down and on to the sand.
I had no idea who the driver was and had only the barest inkling of the grown-ups. If you had asked me about where we were I would have stared at you in puzzlement. It was immaterial. This was the Miners’ Mystery Trip and its details remain just that, even today. My main memory was padding back from the water’s edge and finding I was lost. I had left my spectacles on my pile of clothes. There were blurred faces all round. A geyser of tears erupted from my eyes. I sobbed wildly, “I want my Mummy” and someone whose face I never saw took my hand and led me across the sand before passing my subsiding form to a life-guard who guided me to the lost children’s hut. Inside there were several children, becalmed. The only sound was the noise of placatory toffees being worked into fudgy balls. The silence, the gravity and the sense of being lost rushed through me again and I burst into more tears. The hut erupted as all the seated occupants started bawling in sympathy and it remained like that until one of the four grown-ups came to claim me and pluck me away from the purgatory.