Howard Croft column: Day we were entrusted with ‘the handful’

Goathland station during the NYMR autumn steam fair. w163901t  Picture: Ceri Oakes
Goathland station during the NYMR autumn steam fair. w163901t Picture: Ceri Oakes

Daughter Helen and son-in-law Soren came for the weekend as they were booked in to the Malton Cookery School for a significant chunk of Saturday to be taught how to make chocolate. This left Mrs Croft and me in charge of two grandchildren, Maggie and Oscar, the younger of them best described as “a bit of a handful”, a generous description. We had not previously been left unsupervised in this position of trust and responsibility for more than a few minutes. This may be explained by the fact that the “handful” is always my helper when I light the wood burner and I allow him to carry the matches and tin of lighter fluid, essential ingredients when instant gratification is required on the fire front.

When the moment of separation approached feverish preparations were made. A back pack was stuffed with provisions: sticks of cheese, crackers, a flask of milk, raw carrot and, much to my consternation, six disposable nappies (none needed, thankfully). No chocolate biscuits at all. The only sign of separation anxiety came from my daughter – the children couldn’t wait to see her off the premises; they have all the insights of a bunco-booth trickster when it comes to spotting easy prey. Grandfather is a pushover. I was slightly nervous at the prospect of not having my daughter’s steady hand on the tiller but there we were – over top, to North Yorkshire Moors Railway with only our wits to fall back on.

So, off we went, full of bluff confidence with the children strapped tightly into child seats like a couple of oven-ready turkeys. Not so confident when we discovered that the release catches on these super-safe restraints were no mystery to these two, although I found them challenging. The first thing I did at the station, to establish my authority, was to buy them each a chocolate mouse – the sugar rush was immediate.

The train was busy, every compartment occupied but not fully, and several otherwise sensible looking adults on seeing these two little angels tried to lure us in to joining them and no amount of “no, no, you don’t want these, one of them is toxic” from me seemed to put them off. In the event it was fine; we joined a couple wearing stout shoes and those trousers with pockets down the legs (what do people put in them?), who were high on tolerance and low on sentimentality. Perfect.

We stopped off at Goathland for a spot of lunch before the return journey, which we almost missed because of a misunderstanding between me and the “handful” over the sugar bowl on the cafe table. That we made it was thanks to a kindly NYMR uniform who swept up our push chair (tansad I think would have been the word in my day) and sprinted with it over the foot bridge like it was nothing. In fact it weighs a ton empty and had been cleverly designed to take off the finger tips of unwary grandparents.

Back at Pickering station I was delighted to see an educational exhibition put on by “Peter’s Railway”, a company that publishes railway themed books for children, all written by the proprietor, Christopher Vine. It was, like all his books, excellent and informative and I heartily recommend both. Google Peter’s Railway. I have given my grandchildren several titles and they always top the list at bedtime, in part I think because the central character is Grandpa who is somewhat wayward and wholly unaware of the principles of Health and Safety. The “handful” is particularly keen on him.

You will be pleased to hear, if you didn’t already know, that the Pullman rolling stock that had been so mindlessly vandalised during the summer has been fully restored. In the efforts of the volunteers who run the railway we see the best of people, in the efforts of the vandals the worst. I have heard that the vandals have been identified, thanks to their boastful postings on social media.

We arrived home, proud but exhausted, to find that Mum and Dad were strangely vague about the techniques they had been taught, and offering round boxes of excellent chocolates. They looked suspiciously shop-bought to me. I didn’t say anything.

As my daughter was outside the house on Sunday, wrestling the “handful” into the car for their trip home, a passing gentleman stopped to say “I am looking forward to reading about your visit in the Mercury”, to her great astonishment. Well, whoever you are, this one’s for you.