Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Pack the cave outfit, just in case

We are heading back to Northumberland.

Calm down Grit. Only for a week. Dig cleared his diary, booked a cottage, and said, Next week, let's go and see the family. Before I leave for Hong Kong.

I don't know whether to ring church bells or throw myself in the canal. We don't normally holiday with Dig anywhere in England. We travel about, me, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, and find our own pathway. Now there's a lot to face, actually being with your own husband and children for a whole seven days.

Maybe the first panic attack will hit me about Junction 15 when the fancy of a lovely family holiday finally leaves me, and the true consequence begins to dawn. That I am locked in a melting tin box on the M1 with my own husband and kids for SIX HOURS. By Junction 16 Shark, Squirrel and Tiger will snap under the tension and embark on the mother of all battles because they intuitively realise there isn't enough room in the car for all five of our breathing bodies and bolshy beings.

At Junction 17 I will be sobbing, and shout that we are not buying a bigger car no matter what. The aliens will cry in echo that we don't have enough space. Or windows. Or plastic-coated flip-down trays. Or ventilators. Or sound waves emanating from the CD player. Or light beams. Or anything.

By Junction 20 the rebel army fight will take place and an epic battle of mighty warriors will finally clash in steel, over who gets the armrest.

To broker a fragile peace settlement, I expect around Junction 22 I tell everyone that I am now in charge of everybody and we all transfer seats. I will climb into the middle back seat to squat like a police officer with elbows, sat between Tiger and Squirrel, while Shark clambers into the front passenger seat.

Throughout all of this, Dig will ignore us. He will not speak a word but have his eyes set on the motorway before him. It will be just like that time he drove to Ullapool and only woke up when the road ran out and the car juddered to a halt at the edge of the harbour. I stared ahead at the Atlantic and wondered whether Berwick would have been a good place to talk. In Dig's head, stopping the car for anything will be unthinkable, and that includes wild boar and nuclear missile attack. It would confer a sign of failure and submission. So we will complete the seating transition manoeuvre at 80mph in the fast lane. Wave if you see it.

But my mood will change as we peel towards the A1. The further North we travel, the further I will tumble down into the sink of self pity and the more I will cry. That is my next problem. By the Angel of the North I will be inconsolable because the brutal reality is that we can no longer visit the Pile in Northumberland whenever we want. That is so unfair because now I want to visit Northumberland. But we cannot do that because we sold the Northern Pile. I will cry some more at the cruelty of life because we do not own two houses. Misery is made worse by thinking how I am spoilt and selfish because now all I want in the world is two houses and I don't see why we can't have two houses. Unfair it is that we can't afford two houses, couldn't maintain two houses, that one would fall to bits while we slept at the other.

If only the self pity would stop! Horrible, stomach churning memories, sorrow and loss, will flood back once past Newcastle. I will relive the trauma of the house sale. Uncle Eff living in the attic, Aunty Vee stealing the furniture, the funeral, the subsidence, the refrigerator, the last morning drive to tip the Swivel King at the dump.

Then there is the next big problem. I have to meet up again with Dig's extended family. Stop there, Grit, because that is not a problem, obviously. They are lovely, lovely, lovely people. Just a bit strange, that's all.

But it will be a strain. I will try and not mention stuff. Not reminisce about the refrigerator or the Swivel King. Then Shark, Squirrel and Tiger will fight some more, maybe on the windy beach, in someone's garden, or perhaps locked up in a tiny cottage graced with lightweight doors, lace curtains, beige carpets and pottery ornaments. Each of these moments will lead to disasters which cannot be washed away into forgetfulness with my bitter salt tears, although I will hope.

At the end of the week I will have to come away, come back home, and then I won't want to, because in a quiet, reflective moment I will enjoy being with the strange extended family. I'll want to make new resolutions; try harder and be kinder, nicer. I will have recalled some turntheclockback happy memories, when Dig loved me and didn't employ me to wash socks. And I will remember other joyful moments too, much better than the 15 minutes thwarted cycle ride round Kielder Water in a panic attack. So then I must resist the urge to stay here, in Northumberland.

Escape plans are rubbish, anyway. I only have one. Plan One: run away, grow a moustache, change my identity, eat berries, live in a cave.

Unable to see that one through, I will come home here to Buckinghamshire, sad and soul mangled. I won't travel back home pocketfilled with lyrical poetry of tilting sunlight soaking the moors, nor storytelling of heaving water breathing on ancient Lindisfarne shores.

No. I'll have tales of wasted hours, sitting shivering in the car while kids fight, watching the rain bash against the windscreen, sniffing mournfully into a medicinal brandy, sorrowfully clutching a seam-busted handbag filled with picked up lumps of wet sea coal.

We'll leave behind a smile and a wave goodbye. And a trail of snapped off plastic-coated flip-down trays, smashed ornaments, cut legs, broken cameras, lost maps, empty diary days, family stares, sad partings, regretful silences. Because after all my good intentions, I mentioned the refrigerator.


katyboo1 said...

I'm sure it will be lovely really. Hem hem. I'm glad I'm not the only one who is entirely ambivalent about family holidays.

You have an award waiting for you at your leisure, over at my place.

Deb said...

Do not despair, I have a solution.

Step One: Grit buys earpugs.

Step Two: Grit inserts earplugs and does the driving whilst Dig enjoys a nice long drive visiting with his daughters.

Big mamma frog said...

I guess that's what portable DVD players were invented for. I've been resisting for years, telling myself that these techno-parasitic mind-sucking boxes were only for BAD parents who couldn't be bothered to provide their children with stimulating conversation and brain-enhancing literature (which of course they will all want to read)on long journeys.

But then again...we're going to Scotland at the end of Summer.

Mud in the City said...

You might not be looking forward to the holiday. But after reading that I certainly am looking forward to hearing about it!

sharon said...

There's a lot to be said for traveling with children safely ensconced (shackled maybe?) in a trailer behind the car ;-) Although Deb's idea has merit too.

It will be fine though, think of the photo and subsequent blogging opportunities . . .

kellyi said...

Never go back.

We do it every year up to scotland to visit the relatives and every year is a head smashing against a brick wall kind of holiday where me and the husband spend the entire time whispering "why did we come here again?" to each other and blaming one another for the whole sorry mess.

Go to the bahamas instead, where, I presume, you know no one.

MadameSmokinGun said...

I am glad I'm not the only one wedged in the back feeling like a prize sucker.

Do you fill up all foot space with the remains of the fridge too? If the BBC did one of their graphic illustrations of our 'going on holiday' posture it would look embryonic.

And don't forget something to throw up in. Hope I'm not driving behind you when you pour that out of the window at 80 mph.

Happy holiday! I'm sure you will actually have a life-enhancing (or blog-enhancing) time.