IT all started more than half a century ago, on a day trip to the seaside with Mum and Uncle Bert.

After building sandcastles on Saltburn beach, me and my two brothers were treated to a ride on the miniature railway to Forest Halt, where the stream comes tumbling round the bend, alongside The Italian Gardens.

Uncle Bert, up from London for a visit, took us to one side and let us in on “a big secret”. There was a magic fountain further upstream and there was a chance we could catch “treasure” in our fishing nets as long as we were patient.

Over the next hour or so, pennies, sixpences, thrupenny bits, and the occasional shilling, appeared in our nets, and we never guessed for a second it was dear old Uncle Bert, skillfully throwing them in when we weren’t looking.

It was unforgettably thrilling, and Mum went with the flow: continuing the tradition on subsequent trips to Saltburn, so that, over time, “the magic stream” became symbolic of a happy childhood.

When you’ve experienced that kind of happiness as a child, it’s natural to want to pass it on as a dad. So, as soon as they were old enough, our four children were taken on the same miniature railway ride to fish for treasure in the magic stream.

And now, the wheels have turned full circle again. Last Sunday, it was the turn of our little granddaughter, Chloe, to feel the magic too.

My wife and I helped her build sandcastles, complete with a moat and a carefully cultivated seaweed garden. Then it was fish and chips in the café overlooking the pier, before it was time to catch Prince Charles, the gleaming green diesel, through the enchanted forest to the magic stream.

“I’m so ‘cited,” Chloe declared as we trundled out of Cat Nab station, alongside the car park that was a boating lake in our day.

Upon arrival at Forest Halt, the ‘cited three-year-old – fully briefed about the potential to catch treasure – ran down to the stream and began to fish. Ganma’s job was to distract her every now and then, so I could chuck coins into her blue net, bought for £2 from the seaside shop before we embarked.

It’s fair to say my aim wasn’t quite as good as Uncle Bert’s and, when a £1 coin missed its target, there was nothing else for it but to whip off my shoes and shocks and paddle in after it. Had it been 10p, I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but a quid is surely worth braving underwater stones in bare feet.

Every time she found a coin glinting in her net, Chloe squealed with delight: “Look, Ganma! Look, Gandalf! I got treasure!” It was a touching picture of blissful innocence and joy.

Gradually, her little stash built up until it was time to catch the train back to the promenade.

Chloe was eager to spend her findings – almost £3 – in the shop near the pier. But before we left the magic stream, she looked up at me with a cheeky smile, and asked: “Gandalf, are you sure you haven’t got any more coins?”


ON the way home in the car, having bought a Princess Warrior sword and shield, Chloe informed Ganma that she had a secret to tell her.

“It was Gandalf who was putting the money in the fishing net, but don’t tell him,” she whispered.

IT’S nevertheless apparent that no matter how much money I put into fishing nets, I’ll never come close to experiencing the hero worship Chloe lavishes on my wife.

“Do you want a boiled egg or a fried egg, Chloe?” her dad asked her the other day.

“What Grandma have?” came the response.


“Me have boiled.”

“Do you want one egg or two eggs?”

“What Grandma have?” And so on.

When the eggs were finally boiling in the pan, Chloe considered them appraisingly.

“It’s like a hot tub. But for eggs,” she announced.

MANY of us have put on a bit of weight during lockdown, so my eldest didn’t take offense when Chloe eyed him critically and remarked: “Daddy… you’re getting quite fat, you know.”

Fearing such brutal honesty might find other, less understanding, targets, her mum quickly said: “That’s not a nice thing to say, Chloe. You should apologise to Daddy.”

To her credit, Chloe was quick show remorse, turning to her dad, giving him a cuddle, and whispering: “Sowwy… fatty.”