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‘Renishaw Hall Reunion’, by Charles Parkes

Short stories
Renishaw Hall & Gardens water fountain

“Dan!…You were born at Renishaw weren’t you?

“Aye, nearly seventy years ago in a police house next to the station and courthouse. Why do you ask?”

“Did you ever go to Renishaw Hall?”

“No. We left when I was about four. Dad was in the police and we moved to Glossop. I returned there in the late 70s as a Detective Constable, like father like son eh? But I never went to the house. I recall Dad talking about it having the most northerly vineyard. That’s as much as I know about it. Why the sudden interest? Shall we have a day out?”

So it was that we chose a sunny Spring weekend for our first visit. Living in Derbyshire it was a short journey and being local we never appreciated the treasures on our own doorstep. First stop was coffee in the stable yard to get our bearings and decide what to look at first. The fine weather looked set for the day so museum and house first and gardens later in the warm afternoon sun.

My ancestors were agricultural labourers turned coal miners, hard lives in hard times, so I do enjoy estate museums reflecting on their existence and to what extent their characteristics form part of my make-up.

“Lunch I think dear. Al fresco?”

Back to the stable-yard but only after a visit to the Rex Whistler room adjacent to the cafe, reviving memories of our first experience of his mural in the dining room at Plas Newydd.

I cannot say that I find gardening to be a passion. Tidy, easily managed and colourful at my time of life is enough. Somewhere to relax and enjoy the sun or dappled shade, a trickle of babbling water, a pot of tea, a scone, the grandchildren and when peace is restored the paper and crossword. Liz and I visit a lot of properties, as Liz would say,

“They usually have nice toilets and a cafe.”

But we enjoy looking for ideas, buying the odd plant, something unusual. We especially like walled gardens. I think it is the romantic idea of the “Secret Garden”, and what lies behind the paint-peeling, weather beaten door.

Italy is our other love so it was no surprise that the 19C Italianate Gardens were first on our itinerary. The gardens at some publicly owned houses can be rather plain when no longer occupied by the original family as they lack investment. However, Renishaw Hall remains the Sitwell family home and the garden reflects their interest and commitment. It has all the usual things one expects; terraces, yew hedges, pools, fountains, statues, ornate symmetrical beds, woodland and a lake. The sun and lunch were taking their toll as we wandered along the avenue of Lime trees to view the Angel of Fame, a gloriously gilded statue playing a fanfare on her trumpet to an audience of daffodils.

The guidebook advises taking a moment to “Relax on one of the benches taking time to take in the beauty and tranquillity of the gardens.” Liz is far more energetic than I am and loves the obligatory visit to the shop for chutney and a greetings card.

“See you in the courtyard for a pot of tea then dear.”

I sat with the warm sun on my face watching a jackdaw strutting his stuff on the grass before me. I was feeling a little drowsy, normally associated with the soporific effect of the crossword, as the eyes struggled to remain open, my hands slid to my side and I drifted into a world of semi-conscious dreaminess. Liz always says,

“You were fast on.”

However, I always feel that I am still aware of some stimuli around me, often the television in the background. Not quite with it, but not solid gone.

An older couple, in their late 70s, walked arm-in-arm along the avenue towards me. The old gentleman wore a Royal Artillery tie and a light cotton jacket. A short, knobbly-headed, Hazel, walking stick aided his rolling gait, and a panama shielded his bald head from the sun’s rays. The woman, his wife perhaps, wore a knee-length summery flowery dress and a short jacket. I paid scant attention initially waiting to exchange a courteous greeting, observations on the weather, the delight of the gardens, “Was I local?” etc. There was however something familiar about them. The way the old man walked, heavily built, stooped, his left leg bent and bowed, from an injury perhaps.

I averted my gaze and waited for them to make the first contact. I heard the tap of his stick and the crunch of the gravel as they grew nearer.

“Hello Dan.” My brain struggled to break out from my stupor like a drowning man surfacing to gasp for air. My “file explorer” scanned my hard disc for matching data.

“Hello Dad! Mum!” I blurted.

Both had passed away decades ago, father went suddenly and unexpectedly while I was abroad. Mother was the creaking gate that we expected to depart first but she carried on for several years. Father’s early demise ended any chance of saying those things we always wanted to say and they both missed the progression of our lives and careers and their great-grand children. I did not jump to my feet and embrace them so I must have been dreaming. What should I say to them?

“Are you following the cricket this season?” It seemed a stupid thing to say but that is what came out.

“Oh yes, we’ll be at the County Ground and perhaps at Queens Park.” Dad replied.

“So how are the children?” Mother asked.

“Oh well. Thank you, Kathryn has two great children, Charlotte and William and they live just down the road from us. Christopher gets married in February. We are all happy Mum. We have done well for ourselves really.” Mother nodded her appreciation with a smile.

“You were a Sergeant at Headquarters when I left you.” Dad stated but seeking to know what I had done with my life.” I raised two fingers of my right hand in a V and tapped the top of my left shoulder.

“Two pips. You made Inspector then.” He said proudly. I raised a third finger.

“Chief Inspector!”

“Yes I finished in 2000. It was the same year I was awarded the OBE and took Liz and the kids to Buckingham Palace.” It was always a regret that mum and dad had not known of my promotions and Royal recognition. They would have been delighted.

“So you have a good life, made the best of what you had and looked after your family.” Dad observed approvingly. I nodded.

“I suppose I have.”

“And now here we all are at Renishaw where it began for us 70 years ago……” Dad mused.

“ Mum, Dad, I just wanted to say that I mi……”

“I thought you were coming for a pot of tea. I bet you’ve been fast on again!”

“No dear! Just reflecting on life and all its mysteries.”

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