I can’t believe how quickly the fortnight’s holiday has receded into the far distant corner of my memory. Is it really only five days that we’ve been back at school? Only another six weeks to go until the next break then… thank goodness. It won’t come a moment too soon!
I am not quite sure where the holiday days went. One day was a trip to the mainland, of course, to have my Dad glow radioactive. I’ve mentioned Smudgelet’s special day, well Tiddles had his special day last Saturday.
It started with Smudgelet, though, seeing as this worthy soul had his swimming lesson at 9.00 am. It was badge day and he is now the proud owner of an Angelfish 1 certificate and badge which has has proudly taken into school today to have presented in assembly. Not that he deserves it. How on earth can they justify giving him a certificate for which one of the pass criteria was “can swim 15 metres on his front using a recognised stroke with correct breathing”? This child doesn’t know the meaning of “close your mouth”! He swims with an inane open-mouthed grin which remains intact when he puts his head in the water. Thus within three strokes a third of the contents of the swimming pool have flooded his lungs and he is choking for England.
We deposited Smudgelet at the rendezvous site with his carer for the day – the local cinema. (The rendezvous, that is, not the carer!) Hmmm… bad news. The carer has been invited to a party and can only have him until 3pm ! Not good. The only good thing is that I’d decided against taking Tiddles to London for the day, which had been my first thought… and the film I’d planned to take him to see at the cinema in the afternoon is not being screened until the end of May, so I’d had to abandon that plan too. Thus it was, with a heavy heart, that I had to agree that it would be possible for me to have my youngest son returned to me at 2.45 and cut my special day with Tiddles short by about four hours.
Our venue for the day was Appuldurcombe House. It was delightful. The weather was just perfect, if a little too cold. Tiddles is mad about history and was delighted to discover where we were going as he’s always wanted to explore this shell of a mansion, ever since it was used as the backdrop to a performance of Treasure Island we saw last summer. He commented wistfully that he always feels a little strange visiting places from the past, as though there’s a sort of sadness there. He’s incredibly sensitive like that. He may not be able to remember dates and factual details, but he can “feel” a place and his empathy is amazing. But we were not just there to get a taste of the past, we were there to solve a mystery. So it was on with the thinking caps and off to work.
Appuldurcombe House hosts a Cluedo game through the summer, based on a rather salacious period of its own history, although as far as I know no real murder took place there. We were sent first of all into the cellars to examine the “body” – a cardboard cut out of Lady Bordsley who had sadly been murdered. We were to solve the mystery of whodunnit, by examining all the clues, thinking about all the alibis of the people in the household at the time, and exploring the layout of the house to decide who, how and where. It was great fun. Taxing enough to have us running back and forth between different sources of information (and sniffing the body to see if it smelt of woodsmoke or bath oils) and deliberating between the different options. “If it was the butler, then I reckon he’d have used a candlestick… but it’s more likely to have been her husband’s lover…. after all, she carried a pistol….. but would she have been strong enough to have moved the body?…….. ”
Our sleuthing paid off. We worked out whodunnit and how, and were only slightly out about where, simply because we were being too darned clever. We got a prize anyhow – a creme egg. Worthy reward for our endeavours.
Next on the agenda was lunch and a lovely film about the wild birds of prey that live on the estate – barn owls and kestrels and little owls aplenty. The perfect preparation for what was to follow. Because fairly recently Appuldurcombe has been gaining a reputation as an excellent centre for falconry. We toured the aviaries, talking to the vultures, bobbing at the harris hawks, and being screeched at most impressively by Vivienne the owl whose beak appeared tiny but whose open mouth seemed to cut her head in half! (A bit like Smudgelet, really). Then came the flying display – a breathtaking performance by several of the birds… apart from Chester that is. He didn’t really…well… how can I put this? It was the highlight of the show, watching the falconer (a rather lovely chap, and really quite fanciable to boot!) trying valiently to persuade Chester that, actually, American Bald Eagles are expert fishermen and take their food from the surface of the water in an elegant and powerful swoop. They are. And they do. Apparently…. unless they’re afraid of the water, that is. Yes, good old Chester is afraid of the water and refuses to take any food from there, no matter how hungry he is or how much his keeper tempts him. He studiously ignored all attempts to encourage him or entice him, just looked the other way and feigned total disinterest… until the falconer accidentally dropped a piece of food on the grass next to the pond when he was perfectly alert enough to swoop down and pounce on it before it could be thrown back into the water.
To be honest, our early end to the day wasn’t too much of a disappointment as both Tiddles and I were so exhausted from all that fresh air and enjoying ourselves that we were glad to come home and collapse in a crumpled heap in front of the telly. And we know we owe ourselves half a day… we just have to wait until Star Wars is released at the cinema!