Here are the cars pulling into the car park at Elsecar Heritage Centre; here are the cars slowing down and looking for a place to park that’s not too far from the cafes. Look at the drivers; he or she has white hair and a face that brims with experience. Look at the person beside them in the front seat: their faces are similarly full of years and decades. In the back a toddler sleeps but it woken up as the cars slow to a halt. Welcome to the Grandparents of Elsecar, that growing tribe of people who creak a little as they get the buggy out of the boot but ignore that creaking as they ignore the creaking in their bones that are, let’s face it, quite a bit older than the buggy they’re putting up.
The toddler is wide awake now and would rather walk than go in the buggy, or actually they’d rather toddle as the name implies. Grandad (and yes, that’s me) holds hands with the toddler and grandma pushes the buggy with the football. After a few steps the toddler doesn’t want to toddle any more and still doesn’t want to go in the buggy so good old Grandad has to carry the toddler, pointing things out to the toddler as he goes. ‘Mind your back’ says Grandma, but Grandad still thinks he’s 47 or 57 not 67; there’s a vague twinge in his back but a dollop of Deep Heat when he gets home will soon put a stop to that. Grandad hopes.
They go into the park, the wonderful park at Elsecar that deserves every award going and a few more besides. A grasscutter rumbles by with a winking light and top and the toddler is transfixed. ‘Tractor’ he says gleefully, or his version of tractor which is more like ‘Tic tac’. Grandad and grandma and the toddler stand and watch the person driving up and down the golf course cutting the grass and the toddler points and grandad’s shoulder ache a little, just a little.
Soon more grandparents join the watching of the grasscutter so that it becomes a fully-fledged spectator sport. Then, to the joy of all the toddlers present, another tractor-like machine appears, carrying two workers around the litter bins so that they can change the bin bags. The toddler in grandad’s arms is in tractor heaven; it’s as though all his tractor dreams have come true at once.
Then the grass cutting tractor heads off to the far end of the golf course and the litter-picking tractor disappears over a hill so for a moment the toddler is bereft but then we hear some ducks quacking and we walk down to the reservoir to see the ducks and the geese and the swans. Down by the water there are flocks of birds and flocks of grandparents and grandchildren. A grandad (not me) is trying to get his phone to make a video of his grand-daughter reaching out to feed a duck but he can’t get the hang of the device because, like me, he was born in the wrong century. ‘Just keep feeding it!’ he shouts as he tries in vain to get his phone to stop showing him the weather. His grand-daughter could probably show him how to do it but she’s too busy feeding the ducks.
Then it’s time for the herd of grandparents and children to move at the same time, like wildebeest across the savannah, towards the park. The toddler is transferred from grandad’s arms to the swing and he laughs as he’s pushed higher and higher. And then, beautifully, both the grasscutter and the litter-picking tractors reappear at once and the toddler in the swing and all the other toddlers in the park are really happy and pointing at the tractors as though by pointing at them they will make them never go away again.
As the toddler is being pushed in the swing by one grandparent the other grandparent goes to the café for a couple of takeaway coffees and maybe, just maybe, because we’re grandparents and we deserve it, a bit of cake. And look, he’s nodding off in the swing, dreaming of tractors. Time to sip the coffee. Time to munch the cake.
I love being part of the army of grandparents of Elsecar; it’s sheer joy. Look, there’s a tractor. Time to finish the coffee and go and look at it…