One of the castles we went to was not from Longshanks' time. Bodelwyddan Castle was built a bit later, in the 1400s. It went through various hands over the centuries and eventually became a ladies' college from 1920 to the early 80s. It is now a beautifully restored attraction with acres of grounds and gardens.
Ethan and Martha are pretty good when it comes to tours of stately homes and the like. Give them an audio guide or a children's quiz and they will happily wander around for a couple of hours. Bodelwyddan has both so we had no problem keeping them amused.
At the end of the tour is a room full of Victorian toys and games, mostly replicas, that kids (and their parents) are allowed to play with. Next door to that is a room with some period outfits and a green screen. You can dress up, press a button and an automated camera takes your photo. You then go round the back to a computer and play around with backgrounds and props to create an amusing image, as you can see below. Once you have created your image you email it home, or to a relative or whoever. The picture then vanishes from the computer display.
When Martha and I discovered this room we quickly took some snaps. Sitting down at the computer I saw that along with our pictures was one of an elderly woman in Victorian costume. I assumed that she was the last person in the room and had simply forgotten to email the picture. There was no way to delete it or file it away so I just ignored it and concentrated on selecting some suitably daft props for my own portrait.
After a few minutes of farting around we could hear another party of visitors making their way towards the room. One of them, a woman, was animatedly explaining that she had been here the year before and taken some hilarious shots. She was encouraging the rest of her friends to do the same, which they duly did.
By now, Ethan and the new Mrs Pack had turned up and, laughing at our pics, decided to join the queue and take some of their own. I sat down in the corner waiting for these other visitors to edit their shots before we did a few more.
This is where things get spooky.
The talkative lady sat down, ready to create her Victorian portrait. The pictures she and her friends had just posed for were sitting in the screen waiting to be completed. Like me, she noticed the unclaimed picture of the old lady.
And then she burst into tears.
The picture was of her mother who had died seven weeks earlier.
Much chaos, sobbing, exclamation and dramatic pausing followed. She and her friends were clearly stunned.
I tried to make myself inconspicuous while the rest of my family cheerfully dressed up in silly costumes on the other side of the screen.
As far as I could make out, the woman sitting at the computer had visited Bodelwyddan the previous year with her mother and some friends. They had posed for a few snaps and then moved on.
But here's the thing. She swore blind that she had emailed all the pictures home and, more importantly, that her mum had not dressed up in costume.
And yet here was her dead mother staring back at her in full Victorian get up.
They were still gobsmacked and chatting about it a good hour or so later when we saw them in the tea rooms. And understandably so.
Here's what I think happened.
Everything had transpired more or less as the daughter thought. Her party posed for snaps and then went on their way. But her mother, presumably filled with a childish urge to dress up, goes back into the room without anyone noticing, puts on a silly costume, presses the big red button and says cheese. Then, being a tad elderly and all that, she cannot work out what to do next so abandons the computer to catch up with the rest of her friends and family.
Leaving her portrait unclaimed until her daugher returns a year later, seven weeks after her mother's death.
Sleep easy tonight, won't you?