I was (delightfully) tasked with looking after Harrison (our first grandson) for the day, which was a change from Judith (my wife and their loving – and dearly loved – step grandmother) looking after him and his brother Joey (our second grandson) for an overnight stay, before returning them home to their parents the next morning.
This time was different because I had Harrison (aged nearly six years old, as he so proudly reminded me) on my own – not just overnight this time, but for the whole of the next day: from 8:30am till 4:30pm. Now, as proud and (inexperienced) a grandfather as I am, I had to ask myself the question "What on earth am I going to do to entertain him all day long?" – for 8 whole hours? Turned out he entertained (and educated) me actually.
We dropped little brother Joey off at his nursery school and I took him back to up the road to his house. 'Turn on the TV? Not blummin likely – he'll be stuck there for the rest of the day if I do that.' "Right Harrison, keep your coat on, we're going out for a walk." And what a walk that turned out to be.
Now we began our walk
"Turn right Harrison."
"I've never been up to that end of the road Pop."
"Well, let's go and see what's up there shall we?"
So off we set on our journey of his (young) lifetime. To his surprise, the other end of his road – on the north western extreme of the boundaries of Hereford – was... countryside!
Harrison never realised he lived so close to birds and fields
Harrison had never (in his short, young life) realised how close he lived to the birds and the bees and the fields and the streams... He thought he lived in the middle of traffic and roads and people and noise and... Because of the necessities of life, this meant that his (very busy, hard-working) parents always strapped him (and Joey) in the car and shipped them off to nursery and school for the day, whilst they went off to their (very necessary) work. And so, on this very special day – when Mum and dad were at work and little two-year old brother Joey was at nursery, Pop (me) and nearly six-year old Harrison set off on our journey of exploration.
We were to find a hidden footpath
OK, I was making it up as I went along, but my fall-back plan was to take him straight back home and switch on that dreaded TV. After 10 short minutes of walking, it became blindingly obvious that there was no way Harrison was going to allow me to do that. And why? Serendipity of course! So off we marched into the unknown and – to Harrison's great delight – within the first few minutes of turning right (as opposed to his usual car journey to the left), found ourselves walking straight onto a hidden footpath, and straight into a wide-open field. We crossed the field and found a gap in the hedge and came across another field – of maize (American sweetcorn). Amazing! With a footpath right through the middle. Harrison was amazed (at not being able to see where he was going) and excited at the mystery of it all at the same time. After half an hour we retraced our steps (with Pop pretending he was lost and Harrison leading the way back). But back to where? Right back where we had started from of course – but it was still only 9:30!
We caught a bus into town
Trudge back to his home and the inevitable TV. Not blummin likely! A countryside 'hopper' bus turned up just as we re-entered the beginnings of the built-up area. So on we hopped, and off we went to the city centre ('might keep him occupied for another hour or so I thought'). Our sojourn in the city centre (Hereford is a beautiful, but little, city) took another unexpected turn (or two).
The Den in the evening
First off, we visited a delightful little restaurant (OK, my youngest daughter's by the way - 'The Den') and I had a coffee (Harrison had ice cream of course). Big deal. So what do I do with him now I thought (in the nicest possible way)? But Harrison wasn't finished with me yet – not by a long chalk!
Well, I'd heard about this new bridge that Hereford Council had had built (reportedly to the tune of £8million pounds of taxpayers money), but no one – and I really do mean no one – I know knew where it was or why it had been built in the first place. And so I had a brainwave:
"Let's go down to the Town Hall and get a map Harrison".
"What's the Town Hall Pop?"
"It's where we can get a map of Hereford from, and there is a new, special bridge that has been built. I want to find out exactly where it is."
"Are we going there Pop?"
"Yes, we're going to the Town Hall."
"No. I mean are we going to the new bridge Pop?"
Harrison wanted to walk and walk!
He couldn't walk that far. He was too young for that sort of distance. But – but, but, but – what was I going to do with him for the rest of the day? And I really wanted to find out where this new bridge actually was. As soon as I got the map, then, at Harrison's insistence off we marched. (If you really want to know where it is/goes to, it starts just next to the sewage works on the western side of Bartonsham meadows and takes you over to the empty/roadless, trackless/meadows of Rotherwas on the remote eastern side of the River Wye – but don't bother trying to find it unless you are a long distance rambler, or lost – or with your grandfather).
Regardless, there was no stopping Harrison now.
"Let's go Pop".
"Where to Harrison?"
The bridge - Hereford's new cycle path to Rotherwas
We tramped over field and field and, just before Harrison was about to give up (it was getting on for midday by now, and we had walked at coming on for 3 long miles by then) I spotted it in the distance – well, the upper part of the support structure anyway. Harrison had given up, he was tired (but what could I do – we had to walk as far as we had come just to get back to the city centre, never mind getting him back home).
"There it is Harrison"
And that was all it took. The sight of the support structure spurred him on so much I could hardly keep up with him. He was impressed with the bridge, as was I, but became more impressed with something far more mundane, as I found out later – and I was far, far more impressed with something else also.
Leaving 'The Bridge', we set off on our long, reverse, journey back (from the extreme outskirts of southeast Hereford to the other extreme of the northwest of the city outskirts). As we walked along, I noticed something that triggered a memory – from long, long ago (61years ago to be exact, when I was the same age as Harrison): 'dart grass'. I don't know its official name (OK, I should have looked it up – but you can do that if you want to). It's the kind of grass that you can snap the upper end off and throw it at your friend and it will stick into his/her woolly jumper. If you can't remember that then you're younger than you think). This silly little childhood memory – or, rather, the pieces of 'dart grass' that he collected - fascinated Harrison far more than the experience of the bridge for the rest of our long, long trek back.
We had walked six miles!
"Harrison, how old are you?" (I knew, of course).
"Do you realise that you have walked as many miles today as you are nearly old? Six miles!"
He gasped in amazement when I said that (and so did I). But what he said later made me think of that old saying 'Out of the mouths of babes...' When asked by his mum and dad where we had been all day and what he had seen, his comments included:
"To the new bridge."
"And where does it go to Harrison?"
"It starts in a field and it ends in a field."