Map of Lincolnshire Wolds; can you spot Somersby and Bag Enderby?
I swung my damp duffel bag onto my back and followed Jack across the A158 down the hill towards Harrington Hall and Somersby. We had already decided on Bag Enderby as the location where our gift to future generations (or alien explorers) could be safely hidden. First of all, it was hard to believe that you could get a better place name. And secondly, it was remote even for Lincolnshire.
On reaching the ford of Tennyson’s brook at the edge of the village, we dumped our bikes near the foot-bridge and rifled through our saddle bags. Withdrawing a light green Clarks’ shoe box (child’s size 6¾), I sat on the bank and tugged off the elastic band. I carefully placed the lid by my side and examined the contents of my time-capsule:
an old pea-shooter with cracked green mouth-piece
a recent postcard from Mark dated 20.7.67 of a hovercraft (Ventnor, Isle of Wight)
a Player’s cigarette card of a Dark Crested Norwich Canary (Aviary and Cage Bird Series)
two multi-coloured marbles
a Boston Athletics Club badge
a Will’s cigarette card of a Streamlined Propeller Railcar (Speed Series)
a World Cup Willy Sticker
a shrivelled, yellow conker, age 204 years (shoe-lace still attached)
a square inch of honeycomb from a bee hive
a riding-crop and horse-shoe tie-clip
the front cover from a ‘Look and Learn’ comic featuring a picture of a distressed explorer in a canoe on the Amazon river perilously close to some rapids
a razor shell
a paper thocker from ‘Wham’ comic
a creased postcard of the Beatles (bought from Woolworths in 1964)
At the bottom of the box was a Marks and Spencer plastic bag which contained a collection of footballing memorabilia:
a folded copy of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly Magazine (March 1967) featuring Jim Baxter of Sunderland on the front cover (Price 2’6)
a Boston United Fixtures List, Season 67/68, advertising ‘Batemans for Beer’
an England v Hungary programme, May 5th 1965 (fond memories of Jimmy Greaves scoring the only goal in front of hordes of screaming school boys at Wembley)
a Wembley 1965 Leeds United rosette
a sheet of Manchester United autographs.
The only other item in the box was a folded piece of blank paper (6” x 4”) which contained a message written in invisible ink (copper sulphate solution).
Greetings from Keith and Jack
Earthlings from the Year of our Lord, 1967
Make Love not War
Nobby for President.
Items from the time capsule
Having completed my inspection, I squashed down the lid and wrapped the shoe box inside three plastic bags (Cheers of Boston, Men’s Outfitters), finally tying the whole capsule together with a roll of sisal string and a couple of football boot laces.
‘You ready to bury yours yet?’
Jack was standing next to me, a plastic Tupperware box held under his arm.
‘I’m going to dig my hole near the Yellow Loosestrife, just over there.’
‘All right, I’ll go here then.’
‘Just above the Water-mint? Good choice.’
‘Is that what it is?’
I smiled indulgently.
We cut out our turf squares with old dinner knives, then dug out the earth with a rusty garden trowel which Jack had found in his dad’s garage. As we patted down the turf on top of our capsules, a shrill chattering of swallows suddenly flicked and swooped along the stream leaving behind them ripples on the water where they had brushed the surface for a drink.
‘Nobody will ever know what’s there.’
‘Too right. It’s our secret.’
‘Do you think we’ll ever come back and dig them up?’
‘What, like in twenty years’ time? Maybe.’
After a moment’s reflection, Jack turned quickly along the bank.
‘Come on, let’s go.’
The rest of the afternoon was spent following the loop from Somersby to Harrington Hall. We passed the white rectory where Tennyson was born, skirted the edge of Tetford, one of the highest points in the Wolds, then doubled back through Harrington towards Old Bolingbroke. It was after Sausthorpe, along the road to Raithby and Mavis Enderby, when disaster struck. Trying to keep up with Jack, my thighs had solidified into leaden lumps. I exhorted them to pump harder, pushing my right knee forcefully against the pedal. With each violent thrust, the bike creaked louder and louder. Suddenly, there was an explosive crack and I found myself stamping on the tarmac. Simultaneously, my coccyx slammed into the cross-bar and the handle-bars leapt towards my face. The chain had snapped.
I bit hard against the bolt of pain which surged through my stomach muscles into my mouth. I lowered my forehead onto the cold metal and growled. I could hear Jack’s bike as it turned back towards me and then the sudden squeal of brakes. I slowly opened my eyes. The smooth rubber of his racing tyre swam into view. I focused on the razor thin slits criss-crossing its surface.
‘That sounded painful.’
I gradually straightened and blew out my cheeks.
‘Shit, that hurt.’
The chain lay like a coiled snake on the road behind us. I dismounted gingerly and lowered my bike onto the tarmac.
‘Here you go, mate.’
Jack handed me the chain and rubbed his hands on his jeans.
‘You could say we’ve got a bit of a problem.’
I imagined the endless miles ahead of us. We could be walking into the small hours of the morning. The brushed cotton sheets of my bed floated before me then transformed into a cold, grey sky full of menacing clouds. Even worse, I could hear my mum’s voice:
‘Now what did I tell you?’
I was broken from my reverie by the grunts issuing from Jack’s prone form rummaging on the road.
‘I’ve found the missing link!’
A chill gust of wind tousled Jack’s hair as he slowly rewound the broken length of chain onto the cogs. Once achieved, he flexed his fingers like a surgeon about to carry out a delicate operation. Holding together the two ends of the chain with one hand, he cautiously guided then clicked the missing link into place with the other.
‘It’s not perfect ‘cos a bit’s sheared off, but if you’re careful we should be able to get to your uncle’s garage.’
I remounted and pushed myself off. Warily, I applied pressure to the pedals. It was like trying to walk over a baby’s fingers without waking it up. I became acutely aware of the slightest of vibrations and the faintest of creaks. I bit my lip at each sudden bump and murmured encouragement as we crept towards the crest of the hill which would signal a free-wheeling release into Old Bolingbroke.
An hour later, we flew into the village and skidded to a stop in front of my auntie’s back gate. My uncle was just stepping out of the side door of the garage, vigorously wiping his hands on an oily rag. As pleased as I was to see him, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed that he was wearing a blue work coat rather than overalls. I wanted Jack to see a pit-stop engineer rather than a manager of a hardware store.
‘Well, I never. This is a surprise.’
As we sat down to a cold meat salad in the kitchen, my uncle applied hammer and blow-torch to the chain in his workshop.
‘What time did you tell your mum you’d be home?’
‘Not much chance of that. It’s nearly six already. Is there anyone you can ring?’
‘Next door. They can pass on a message.’
Holding the big black telephone receiver in my auntie’s hallway was a novel experience. Apart from making a call from a public telephone box for one of my cub badges, I’d never actually rung anybody from a house before. It was Chris’s mum who answered.
‘Hello, can you tell my mum I’ll be late.’
‘I’m sorry, who is this?’
‘CAN YOU HEAR ME?’
‘There’s no need to shout.’
‘I think you might have got the wrong number.’
‘No, don’t go. It’s me, Mrs Harper.’
‘Is that you Keith?’
‘Yes, and I’m in Old Bolingbroke.’
‘Well that’s nice for you, dear.’
It took another couple of minutes for me to establish our present predicament and to articulate the message I wanted her to convey to my mum.
‘Yes, I’ll tell her. Mind you take care. Bye.’
My auntie was at the back gate, ready to wave us off. She looked up at the sky and sucked in her breath.
‘You’ll have to be quick if you want to beat the weather.’
My uncle nodded.
‘Umm, the light’ll be going soon as well.’
It took a good fifteen minutes to push our bikes up the hill we had raced down in the morning. By the time we got to East Kirkby, we had begun to feel the first spots of rain. As we descended onto the plains beneath us, a fork of lightning arrowed into the horizon followed by a soft thud of thunder which rumbled towards us.
Without dismounting, Jack swivelled around and reached behind him, extracting an orange draw-string pouch from his saddle bag. As he unfurled the vivid yellow cape, he glanced across at me, a quizzical look on his face.
‘You have got yours, haven’t you?’
‘No, it was ripped to shreds.’
‘Can’t have been a genuine oil-skin, then. This was my dad’s. Beats that cheap, thin plastic every time.’
I couldn’t believe it. A bloody cape. I was going to get soaked because I no longer owned a bloody cape.
‘Even better, mate. Fetching, eh?’
He was now wearing a sou’wester. We both knew that he looked like a complete tosser, but we also knew that I was the only one who was going to get wet.
By now the rain was pouring down or, rather, power-hosing us horizontally. As the rain lashed into my face, I could just make out Jack in front of me, a trawler captain steering through the waves which cars and lorries were ploughing over us. It was now getting darker and the honking traffic horns were a clear indication that it might be safer if we continued on foot.
‘Bollocks! I’m sorry. I didn’t think we’d need lights.’
‘That’s all right. Only a few miles now.’
We were sliding in ruts of mud at the entrance to a field.
‘I tell you what….’
Jack was shouting from beneath the peak of his sou’wester.
‘You go in front. I’ll keep my dynamo on. It’ll make my back light flicker a bit.’
I wiped my hand across my face. I could smell the washing detergent from my jumper cuffs.
We squelched onwards, our bikes on the tarmac, our feet in the verge. We had decided that we would rest once we had reached Sibsey. Collapsing against the churchyard wall, we found shelter under the dripping trees.
‘Did you know, the Yew tree was worshipped by pagans?’
‘Look, if I push down on my shoe, the water squirts through the lace-holes.’
‘Funny that, them growing in a Christian churchyard.’
‘And if I jump, you can get a fountain out of both shoes.’
Five minutes later, the headlights of a Wolsey Hornet heralded the end of our adventure into the Wolds. We lowered our bikes over the wall then clambered into the back seat.
‘Don’t worry. They’ll be safe. You can pick them up tomorrow.’
The heater in the car whirred aggressively as we turned back towards Boston. As we entered the town, I could see my jacket and jeans steaming in the light from the street lamps. We both got colds, of course, and I had to suffer bouts of triumphant fatalism from my mum, but within a week we were planning our next excursion into the wilds of Lincolnshire. And this time, we had decided, it would be on a tandem.
As it turned out, we had to wait until the next year for the tandem to play a significant part in our lives.
Keith in the famous Tennyson tree