Thursday, June 4th, 1992
The best things about school trips are – no work and no school uniform so I was wearing me Man U shirt. Nine-thirty sharp, we all piled onto the coach. Ryan, me best mate, made a dash for the back seat and saved us places. Worse luck, Kylie had the same idea, so I ended up sitting next to her best friend, Rebecca.
Rebecca Taylor and Kylie Richardson, what can I say, the two most annoying girls in my class. Miss Vincent, our teacher, was still counting heads (guess she thought we might have got lost between the school playground and the coach) when Rebecca starts babbling on about the pink suede boots she got for her birthday and her famous gold and silver marker pens – the ones she’d only lend to Kylie, Maxine and Charlie.
‘Give it a rest, Rebecca,’ I said, ‘the whole world knows it was your birthday last week.’
She was still wearing the huge, shiny badge with eleven on it, I ask you.
‘Mind your own business, Owen,’ she said, elbowing me in the ribs.
So I stood on her foot, leaving a dirty mark on her pink trainers. She kicked me on the shin so I kicked her back. Course, she started howling.
‘Miss Vincent, Owen Dunne kicked Rebecca,’ yelled Kylie.
But it wasn’t Miss Vincent who came to the back of the coach; it was Mr Daniels, the deputy head.
‘Anymore fighting and you’ll both be in detention tomorrow lunchtime.’
‘Sorry, sir,’ I mumbled.
‘Miss Vincent and Mr Daniels are going on a date tonight,’ said Kylie as soon as he’d returned to his seat.
‘You making up stories again, Kylie?’ I asked.
‘I don’t make up stories,’ whined Kylie. ‘I heard him ask her out yesterday afternoon when Mrs Murphy sent me to the office, ‘cos I was feeling unwell.’
Funny, how Kylie always gets a headache on Wednesday afternoons when Mrs Murphy takes us for games.
‘They were by the photocopier,’ said Kylie, ‘and Mr Daniels said he’d call round her flat just after six. And she laughed and said she was looking forward to it.’
‘That don’t mean a thing.’
‘Shut up, Owen,’ hissed Rebecca, almost flicking her ponytail in me face, ‘Kylie wasn’t talking to you.’
Maxine Baker looked through the gap in the seats.
‘Did you say Miss Vincent and Mr Daniels are going out together?’
‘Keep yer voice down,’ said Kylie. ‘Miss Vincent’ll hear.’
As soon as the coach pulled away from school Joseph and Charlie started singing, ‘Here we go, here we go, here we go…’
Me and Ryan joined in.
Soon, we left the city behind and were out into the countryside. The coach turned off the main road and I could see patches of boggy ground mixed with green moorland.
‘Look at the horses,’ said Rebecca.
‘They’re not horses, they’re New Forest ponies,’ I said.
Maxine poked her head through the gap in the seats again.
‘I feel sick,’ she said. She did look a bit white.
Ryan took a packet of cheese and onion crisps out of his jacket pocket.
‘Have a crisp,’ he said, offering the pack to Maxine.
‘You’re not supposed to eat food on the coach,’ said Rebecca, ‘Miss said.’
‘I won’t offer you one then,’ said Ryan.
We took the signpost for Beaulieu; course I never came this way ‘cos Mum didn’t have a car. I always took the ferry from Southampton pier over to Hythe and caught the local bus. I really didn’t want to be in Beaulieu again so soon.
‘You been to Beaulieu before?’ I asked Ryan.
‘I have,’ said Rebecca. ‘Mum and Dad took me to the motor museum at Easter.’
‘Course, Mummy and Daddy always take you everywhere, don’t they?’ I sneered.
‘You’re just jealous,’ said Rebecca.
‘Just shut it.’
‘Loser,’ said Kylie.
Rebecca started giggling.
We got off the coach and stood in the car park.
‘You’ll be working in pairs,’ said Miss Vincent.
‘Can I be with Rebecca?’ asked Kylie.
Miss Vincent read out the list of names.
‘Oh, Miss,’ moaned Rebecca, ‘do I have to work with Owen?’
Did she really think I wanted to be within ten metres of her? Just my luck.
Miss Vincent took no notice of Rebecca and just carried on talking.
‘I’m going to give each pair an enlarged map of Beaulieu village. It shows all the individual buildings on the main street. Each building has a number. You have to write on the worksheet the land use of every building.’
‘What’s land use, again?’ asked Maxine.
‘What the building is used for. Is it a house, a cottage or a shop? If it’s a shop, what does it sell?’ said Miss Vincent.
‘Oh, yeah, I remember now,’ said Maxine.
‘And remember to look for extra information; some buildings have the dates carved on them, some of them have names. Write those on the worksheet as well.’
I gave Rebecca the clipboard, the map and the worksheet. What was the point of even arguing over them? She already had the pink, fluffy pencil at the ready.
Miss Vincent did the blah de blah thing about us representing the school, staying with our group and not going in any of the shops. Rebecca and I were with Ryan, Maxine, Kylie and Joseph. Charlie’s mum was in charge of us.
Miss Vincent asked. ‘Can anyone tell me what the name “Beaulieu” means?
I knew but I wasn’t going to say.
‘It means “beautiful place,” said Charlie, ‘from the French.’
Charlie’s mum looked all pleased.
‘Well done, Charlie,’ said Miss Vincent. ‘And it is a beautiful place. It’s an old, old village that dates back to Norman times in 1066. Later today, we’ll walk down to the river to have our lunch. It’s lovely down there.’
Miss Vincent smiled at Mr Daniels. She looked glowing. Maybe Kylie was right and they were going out. We set off with our clipboards. I heard Maxine asking Ryan who Norman was. Ryan grinned at me and shook his head.
We’d walked up one side of the village street. Rebecca had written down the use of each building. Mostly they were little cottages with tiny gardens at the front.
At the top end of the village was the pond with the two willow trees. When I was younger, I thought they looked like giants dipping their arms into the water. Two swans immediately started swimming in our direction.
‘They look fierce,’ said Rebecca.
‘They’re okay,’ I said.
‘I’m scared,’ said Rebecca, backing away.
‘They think we’ve got bread.’ I said. ‘They won’t hurt us.’
Ryan got out the packet of crisps and threw a handful into the water. The swans gobbled them up and waddled out of the pond, looking for more.
‘I’m not staying here.’ said Rebecca. ‘Come on, Kylie.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ I said. ‘I’ve fed these swans plenty of times.’
‘When?’ asked Kylie.
‘With my Grandad,’ I said.
Kylie stopped. ‘Who’s making up stories now?’
‘I’m not making up stories,’ I said. ‘My Grandad lived here.’
‘When?’ asked Rebecca.
‘Till two weeks ago,’ I mumbled.
‘Where’s he gone?’ asked Maxine.
I didn’t say anything.
‘Did he die?’ asked Rebecca.
How had she guessed that? The only person I’d told was Ryan.
‘Stop asking me questions,’ I shouted and ran off ahead of them.
They caught me up on the main street. On that side it was mostly shops, selling gifts and knick knacks. Charlie’s mum had stopped to help Maxine write something on her sheet so we walked to the sweet shop on the next corner.
‘Look at the chocolate animals in the window,’ said Rebecca. ‘It says they’re handmade on the premises.’
They all gazed in the window; I ducked into the shop. I bought an enormous bag of jellybeans and offered them around whilst we waited for Charlie’s mum and Maxine to catch us up. We munched; no one was saying anything much. Ryan scuffed his trainer back and forwards on the pavement. I could sense that Rebecca was looking at me, but when I looked up she looked away.
‘So your Grandad lived in Beaulieu?’ said Maxine.
Ryan started whistling; I said nothing.
‘Is that why you’ve been off school,’ Maxine asked, ‘cos your Grandad died?’
I wished she’d shut up. I said nothing, but just offered the bag of jelly beans around again. We stood munching. Charlie’s mum caught us up, the same time as Miss Vincent’s group.
‘Whose sweets are those?’ asked Miss Vincent. ‘Has one of you been in the sweet shop?’
No one said anything.
‘I asked you all, who bought the sweets?’
I was just about to own up when Rebecca said, ‘They’re mine.’
I was amazed; why was she taking the blame for me?
‘Then why is Owen holding the bag?’
‘Cos I’m holding the clipboard,’ said Rebecca.
Charlie’s mum said, ‘I sorry I don’t know who went in the sweet shop.’
‘Owen, did you go in the shop?’ asked Miss Vincent.
Rebecca answered before I could say anything.
‘He’s upset about his Grandad.’
‘Okay,’ said Miss Vincent, looking worried, ‘give me the sweets.’
Mr Daniels arrived with his group. ‘Is everything all right, Miss Vincent?’
‘Yes, thank you, Mr Daniels, these are for you.’
She handed him the jelly beans. He looked puzzled, but took them anyway, saying, ‘Thank you, they’re my favourites.’
‘We’ve got fifteen minutes to get this work finished.’ said Miss Vincent. ‘Everyone hurry up and no going in the shops.’
She whispered something to Mr Daniels and they both looked at me.
We’d almost finished. The others were a little way behind us.
‘Only numbers forty to forty-four to do,’ said Rebecca. ‘Number forty, it’s a cottage.’
I stood looking at the small front garden. The roses were still flowering; pink, white and the yellow ones he liked the best – said they smelt like heaven.
‘It looks empty,’ said Rebecca. ‘The curtains are drawn.’
She opened the gate, walked down the front path and looked in the window.
‘I’d love to live in a cottage like this,’ she said, turning round, ‘And the garden’s beautiful. Look at the roses.’
I just stood by the gate, not knowing what to say. I wanted to cry.
Rebecca walked back onto the street. She looked at me.
‘What’s the matter, Owen? Is it your Grandad?’
‘He lived here. I used to catch the Hythe ferry here every weekend, when mum was at work. We’ve got to give the keys back next week when we’ve sorted out the last of his things.’
‘You stayed here every weekend? But, it’s beautiful here. Oh, Owen, I’m so sorry.’
I couldn’t believe I was telling Rebecca all that stuff about Grandad.
The garden had started to look a little overgrown with dandelions sprouting between the yellow and pink snapdragons. I leant through the fence and picked one of the flowers.
‘Put out your finger.’
I opened the flower head and pretended to bite the tip off her finger. Rebecca giggled and pulled her hand away. I didn’t tell her it was a game Grandad used to play with me when I was really little. Rebecca laughed. She took the flower from me.
‘Sorry about your Grandad, Owen.’
Back at the coach we put our clipboards and worksheets in a blue plastic crate.
‘Make sure you have your names on your worksheets,’ called out Miss Vincent. ‘Joseph, Kylie, Sarah and Charlie, can you carry the red crates with the packed lunches? Now class, we’re going to walk along the path that runs by the river. You are to stay away from the water. Is that clear?’
‘Yes,’ we all chorused.
‘Rebecca. Owen, are you two listening?’
‘Yeah, Miss,’ we said.
We had lunch on this big, green field near the river. There was a little wooden jetty stretching out into the water. It would have been good to stand on it and throw stones into the river, but Mr Daniels and Miss Vincent had sat themselves like guard dogs where it started so there was no chance.
Grandad and I never walked as far as the river. We always stayed by the pond in the village.
I lay back on the grass and shut my eyes. Fatal mistake – something landed on me face – soggy grass.
‘Who did that,’ I yelled.
Joseph was laughing. I tore up a handful of grass and stuffed it down the back of his sweatshirt. He grabbed another handful and threw it on top of my head so I pushed him backwards, sending him sprawling into Kylie.
‘Get off,’ he shouted.
‘Missssss! Joseph’s made me spill my drink.’
‘Weren’t my fault,’ said Joseph, ‘Owen pushed me.’
Miss Vincent came over to investigate.
‘Miss, I’m all wet,’ whined Kylie. ‘Ugh, it’s sticky.’
‘Kylie, you’ll just have to live with it,’ said Miss Vincent. ‘It will dry out.’
She walked back over to where Mr Daniels was sitting. He grinned.
‘School trips, don’t you just love them,’ he said.
‘You just wait,’ whispered Kylie, screwing the top back on her flask, ‘I’ll get you both back.’
‘Put your lunch boxes back in the red crate,’ said Miss Vincent, wearily. ‘Then line up in your groups.’
We carried on down the footpath; it took us away from the river. After about ten minutes, we turned off onto a tiny track, towards the river again. It was getting hot; you had to walk careful ‘cos there were bushes on both sides.
Joseph and Kylie were behind me. Just as we passed a big patch of stinging nettles, Joseph came crashing into me, so we both fell sideways. I put out my right forearm to break my fall. It felt like twenty million wasps had stung me.
‘Ouch!’ I shouted.
Joseph screamed with pain and the whole line stopped. Mr Daniels came rushing up.
‘So you two have managed to fall in the biggest patch of nettles you could find.’
‘I didn’t fall, I was shoved,’ said Joseph. ‘It was Kylie.’
‘It was an accident,’ said Kylie, ‘I tripped.’
Mr Daniels stooped down near the footpath. ‘Dock leaves,’ he said. ‘Rub the juice into the stings; it will help take the pain away.’
He stood up. ‘No more pushing, no more incidents,’ he said. He looked hard at us all. ‘I don’t want to spoil the trip by having to send home behaviour letters.’
The line moved on.
‘Said I’d get you both back,’ whispered Kylie, once Mr Daniels had gone to the back of the line.
The bushes opened out. We clustered around Miss Vincent. There was a small redbrick oval building behind her half-covered in ivy.
‘There used to be a brick works here,’ she said. ‘Not a great, big factory like you’d have today, but a small business making bricks by hand.’
‘But Miss,’ said Charlie, ‘bricks are made out of clay aren’t they? Where would they have got the clay from?’
‘Good question, Charlie,’ said Miss Vincent, ‘They’d have dug it out from the land all around this area, but the brick works closed almost sixty years ago so the grass has grown back over the clay pits.’
Rebecca put up her hand.
‘My mum goes to pottery class. She makes pots out of clay and they put them in these big ovens called kilns. It makes the clay go hard.’
‘The building behind us is a kiln, much bigger than the one your mum uses at pottery class. It will be dark inside so take care.’
The building looked like a giant igloo only it was made of red, worn bricks. The ivy had grown up around and over it all the way to the top. There was an arched doorway. We all filed in.
‘Aah, it’s dark.’
Rebecca clung onto my arm.
‘Spoooooky.’ I heard Charlie’s voice.
It was shoe polish black at first, but after a few moments I could start to make out the shapes of the other kids.
‘Quiet,’ said Mr Daniels.
‘Now,’ said Miss Vincent. ‘This is called a beehive kiln because of its shape. Can you see the hole in the roof?’
I looked around. The building was circular with a domed roof like an upside down porridge bowl and it was all made of bricks. Even the floor was paved with bricks.
‘Close your eyes all of you, what can you smell?’
I shut my eyes. I could smell damp leaves, mould and a whiff of old smoke.
‘Ow,’ I yelled falling sideways into Rebecca.
Someone had grabbed my right arm right where all the stings were. Rebecca and I ended up against the inside wall.
Rebecca screamed, ‘I hate spiders.’
She was frantic, crying and trying to wipe the cobwebs away from her face. My hands felt slimy and my arm was stinging like crazy. Mr Daniels came over and helped us to get up.
‘You two go outside the door and get some fresh air,’ he said, ‘quickly, now.’
‘Don’t like it in here, anyway,’ said Rebecca, ‘too many spiders, yuk.’
‘Stay there you two,’ said Mr Daniels, ‘so I can see you from the doorway.’
We sat ourselves on a broken down wall near the entrance of the kiln. I picked up a stick from the ground and started making a hole in the earth.
‘What yer doing?’ asked Rebecca.
I thought about Grandad; how he loved to dig in his garden. When he dug a hole, he’d say he was digging down to Australia. My hole was getting bigger. I’d disturbed some ants; they were scurrying towards the wall, where there was a loose brick at the base.
‘Get me that stick from over there by those bushes,’ I said, ‘that thick one.’
‘What did your last slave die of,’ said Rebecca, laughing and getting me the stick.
I dug down under the wall, levering the loose brick up with the stick. The ants ran out from underneath. I poked about; the earth was quite soft. Rebecca came closer to look at what I was doing.
‘I think there’s something under here,’ I said.
‘It’ll only be another bit of old of brick.’
I scooped away the soil, scrabbling at the loose earth with my fingers. I could feel something soft. I pulled out a brown leather pouch with a drawstring. It felt heavy.
‘I think there’s something inside it, maybe money,’ I said hopefully.
‘Open it,’ said Rebecca.
The string was tied tight; I couldn’t undo it.
‘Here, let me try,’ said Rebecca. She worked away at the knot; it seemed to take an eternity. Finally, she got it to loosen. She held the pouch out to me.
‘You found it,’ she said. ‘You open it.’
I took it and fumbled with the strings and felt inside. There was something hard and smooth and flat.
‘What is it?’ said Rebecca. ‘Show me.’
It was an old pocket watch; I pressed the catch at the side and it opened.
‘Let’s see,’ said Rebecca. I handed it to her. ‘It could be worth money,’ she said.
‘What have you got there?’ Mr Daniels was standing over us.
‘Owen found it,’ said Rebecca.
‘It was buried under an old bit of brick.’ I said.
‘So I see,’ said Mr Daniels, smiling. ‘Can I have a look?’
Rebecca gave him the watch.
‘It’s silver,’ he said. ‘See these tiny marks on the back of the case, they’re hallmarks. That’s how you know it’s made of silver.’
The rest of the class were piling out of the kiln.
‘Miss Vincent, look what Owen found.’ He gave her the watch.
‘Where did you find it?’ asked Miss.
‘I dug it up,’ I said pointing to the hole.
‘Give us a look,’ said Ryan, but Miss Vincent held the watch up for all the class to see.
‘This is amazing class. Owen has dug up this watch from the ground.’
‘It was in this pouch,’ said Rebecca holding it up in the air.
‘Will I be able to keep it?’ I asked.
‘We’ll have to find out the rules for treasure trove,’ said Mr Daniels.
Miss Vincent put the pocket watch back into the pouch.
‘Shall I keep this safe for you in my bag?’ she asked.
‘Can’t I keep it?’
‘It’s best if I look after it; I’ll guard it with my life, Owen. We’ll find out what the law says about finding treasure and whether you have to hand it over to anyone.’
‘Does that mean I might not be able to keep it?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know,’ she said.
‘But Owen found it, that’s not fair,’ said Rebecca.
‘We’ll find out,’ said Miss.
We carried on walking along the footpath by the river towards Buckler’s Hard. Miss explained that it was a village that had been important in the eighteenth century when they built ships on the Beaulieu River. There were two rows of old cottages either side of a big piece of grass, but no road. We went in them and saw how people used to live in the olden days. The maritime museum was the best bit; there was lots of stuff about Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar.
Course, Kylie had to start whining that she was bored so Miss said it was time to go outside and get ice creams. Mind, I was glad we didn’t have to walk all the way back to Beaulieu ‘cos I was tired. Luckily, they’d arranged for the coach driver to pick us up in the car park nearby.
‘Right,’ said Mr Daniels, ‘hurry up and get on the coach.’
‘I don’t want to be late back to school,’ said Miss Vincent.
‘That’s ‘cos she’s going out with Mr Daniels tonight,’ said Rebecca.