I like taking school visits to places where the kids get to see the magic and mystery in their own everyday lives, even more than taking them to places they don’t get to experience often. Both are important and valuable but my proclivity towards embellishing the mundane with meaning stems from quirky adventures with my grandad when I worra lad.
My grandad had to take early retirement due to ill health, so growing up we got to see a lot of him. Every Tuesday we would pick us up from school and provide me and my brother with a lumpen sack full of sweets, to the visible envy of classmates. Then, in holidays and weekends, we would visit their house.
Grandma and Grandad live, as they always have, in Tickhill, a market town just outside Doncaster. We were in Donny, so it is only about a fifteen minute drive – ten minutes if mum was asleep in the passenger seat, freeing dad up for his quiet rebellion – but Tickhill became a different world.
Whenever we visited, Grandad would take me and my brother ‘out for a walk’. Behind those words lie mountains of nostalgia. These walks would see the three of us smacking each other with bulrushes on private farmland, it would see us jumping through muddy streams, it would see us kids being chased by screaming Grandad through the park as part of an actual stick fight.
Although there were some actual dramatic adventures, such as invading a private meditation retreat and having to hide as South Yorkshire Buddhists searched for us in their forest, and such as being set upon by a guard dog, the core of the adventure was in this bizarre fantasy world that Grandad had created.
As we walked around his familiar streets, he would warn us about the borough of Umdingerland, which we were entering, where the people were half humans with no mouths. He told us of the Dingerdinger Bird, which we could hear calling as we walked down an alleyway, and that it was the jewel of the Umdinger People.
He invented narratives so strong, as we just walked about, that they still chill now. He always pointed out an old house he told us was haunted by tree different rival families of ghosts, after a history of haunting caused successive waves of tenants to take their lives.
We wouldn’t need to do anything else to keep us entertained – just by being a mischief maker through his stories provoking us kids to believe in his weird Northern dystopia of Umdingerland, our interest was his and we always wanted to spend time with him.
Driving through Tickhill is strange now, as flashes of the tropical Umdingerland flash up from the subconscious. Seeing a particular alleyway triggers these vibrant memories of menacing enemies pursuing us, while we nervously ate bonbons, pretending to be brave.