Of picnics and medieval castles

Birthdays in our house were never about lavish presents – it was all about the party – the wackier the better.  I was asked to play the harp at a medieval castle today. My dad (his preferred name being pa pa – with French-pronunciation – after a visit to stay with some friends in their chateau where the children curtsied to their father every night before dinner) used do get quite cross with this particular castle because they beat us in battle way back in the 13th century. When I say they beat us I mean their castle beat ours …  theirs is now a large conference venue and ours was left in ruins only to be renovated a bit at a time with each different owner, each having their own ideas over the centuries.  It never left him however and another of his pet hates was modern music.  ‘Turn that music off” he would shout at my sister and I ‘it will ruin the foundations”.  He meant the vibration of course – what would he make of the harps I now play?  I love playing the harp in this particular castle because the whole building seems to sing along.   His favourite walk was to the remains of John of Gaunt’s castle nearby.   It stands on the top of a very remote hilltop and when I was a child the nearby Manor House was abandoned and we used to play in it.  As we approached teenage years our birthdays included our favourite walk then progressed to holding the party in the ruined castle itself.  In the midst of winter, after dark, we walked the 2 miles or so to the castle to find that Dad had been up and left a crate of Beaujolais Nouveau and a full picnic .  The walls of the castle were all lit up with candles in jam jars.  The ‘fathers’ of my friends always threatened to appear dressed in sheets for a laugh but we were left to scream by ourselves or collapse in hysterics when a stray sheep wandered into our party be mistake.  The dads never made it from their meeting place, The Queens Head, where we used to wander back to later in the evening.