“What do you mean, it must be that tree over there? That tree isn’t north of us..”
“It must be north, Mummy. It’s the way I’m facing, therefore..duh..it must be north!”
My father and I stared at each other for a moment and stared back at Mini-Me. Silent. He and I have very similar thought processes and we understood the silence between us and the slight, unintentional, shaking of our heads.
“Hmmm,” we both said at pretty much the same time, mirroring each other’s facial expression of slowly dawning realisation.
He was rethinking his encouragement of his granddaughter to become a surgeon. I, on other hand, was mentally composing a letter to Mini-Me’s Geography teacher.
“..whilst I appreciate that my daughter can correctly (and neatly) draw a diagram of the confluents of the Nile Delta and can name all the states in the USA and their capitals…she seems, however, to be under the illusion that she is perpetually facing north..”
We were standing on a recreation ground which was painted with the lines for football pitches. It was quite frosty, so the net-less goal posts were all that really gave a clue to where we were. You could tell we were in a posh part of Birmingham – the tree we were heading towards had coat hooks screwed into the trunk. No jumpers for goal posts for these players.
“You have to line up the iPhone so the map matches the way you’re standing. See? That road..it’s behind us, so you need to hold the phone this way..”
My father is far more patient than I, but even he seemed a little exasperated.
“So..what we’re looking for should be..over there!” Mini-Me exclaimed, marching towards a fence overgrown with grass and weeds, and full of litter and plastic bags looking suspiciously like discarded dog poop bags. I tried to ignore the fact that in no other situation would I ever encourage Mini-Me to ferret around amongst the debris left in a park and focused on the thrill of the hunt, trying not to question what on earth I was doing.
It was a really cold day in the school Christmas holidays. Mini-Me and I had travelled to the outskirts of Birmingham to visit my father and his wife for a couple of nights. The previous evening, my father, who is a self-claimed geek, had gingerly proposed an activity for the following day.
“..It’s called geocaching…”
“Absolutely! Yes!” My enthusiasm was way beyond any reaction my father could possibly have been expecting. “Loads of my friends are into that..it’s really trendy right now!”
My father looked very pleased with himself. Educational and trendy. Double winner.
Geocaching is pretty cool. The official geocaching website describes the activity as ” a free real-world outdoor treasure hunt”. It’s very simple. You try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS and then, once you have a log-in and can access the database, you can record and share your experiences. You enter your location, decide which cache you are going to search for from the list of caches located nearby , search for the cache using a GPS device or smartphone, find the cache and sign the logbook.
Just please don’t ask me why we do this.
I really enjoyed the whole experience. Mini-Me was in charge of the iPhone. I say ‘in charge’ when I really mean that she was holding it. Three generations of super-competitive players meant that Mini-Me was given little leeway for being only eight years old. Besides, she still doesn’t know her left from her right, so it was best for all concerned if my father or I stepped in and took charge.
The cache which we were hunting was located on the bank of the towpath of the Grand Union Canal, easily accessible from the lane where my father lives. I love Birmingham and the canals are my particular favourite feature of the city. Admittedly the claim that Birmingham is “England’s Venice” is absurd – I’ve been to Venice. The waterways, however, are inspiring and perfectly embody the history of the Industrial Revolution, which, as a Brummy (and later a Mancunion) is a period I find extremely interesting.
Even in the prosperous outskirts of the city, the feel is still very urban, with stretches of hedgerows bordering fields punctuated with bridges covered in graffiti. There is one particular bridge where my father takes Mini-Me’s photograph every year. Every year she reaches a different spray-canned tag.
Despite being somewhat distracted by trying to smash the ice on the canal with stones, we did find the cache. Mini-Me scrambled up the bank and found a bag made of camouflage material, inside which was a Tupperware box. Opening the box felt odd – we are constantly told not to touch packages when we don’t know what’s inside them – but I swallowed my motherly concerns and Mini-Me pulled off the lid. There was a very small spiral bound notepad, a little pencil and a Dora The Explorer figurine inside.
As Mini-Me opened the notepad to sign the log, her expression changed abruptly.
She turned the pad round and I started to laugh. In handwriting that I recognised, and that only a doctor could have, were the words ‘Hello, Bea!’
My father hadn’t wanted the experience to be a disappointment, so that morning had jumped on his bicycle and sped down the towpath with his iPhone to check out that there was actually a cache where there should have been. That’s what grandfathers do.
We decided to do one more cache, downloaded the information onto the iPhone and headed off. We did eventually successfully find a tiny metal box, attached by a magnet to the back of a plinth on a metal fence surrounded by litter in the field which may or may not have been north.
The Doctor called that evening to speak to Mini-Me. She enthusiastically explained about geocaching and what we had found. After they had spoken, he asked to talk to me and she handed me the phone.
“Don’t ask”, I said, pre-empting his question.
“No, but really…why?”