… and while the second holiday may not have had dragons and a Hoard and a whole bunch of quarrelsome elves, trolls and Wargs to get through, it did feature me, and my Chestnut-haired Old Mother, on a five-day holiday, Together – and we can go a maximum of three whole days without a ding-dong of a falling out.
But first, Work. True to form, everything had been left to hang while I was away, and I had a couple of eleven hour shifts trying to straighten it all out in time to… leave it all hang and sod off again. And I had to unpack, repack, ask my lodger if he wouldn’t mind watering all the plants again, and get the place nice and clean.
The first inkling of Strife To Come was when I got several texts from third parties informing me that my Chestnut-haired Old Mother (or, mother, as she will be called for short) had left her mobile at home – which was a slight problem, but not too much of one, as we were supposed to meet at Penrith station when I got off a named and confirmed train, at a specified and confirmed time. No problem. Except the specified time was twenty minutes after the train actually arrived at Penrith (approximately thirty seconds after it left Carlisle), so the stop caught me by surprise and I had to flee down the aisle, headphones flying everywhere and dragging the bin-collecting guy and his binbag with my suitcase, for he had of course stopped right by my seat at that precise instant, because if I got left on the train my mother would have no way of knowing.
And then the holiday would be wrecked on take-off and it would be All My Fault. Of course.
However, crisis was averted and we went to collect supplies for the holiday (including a surprising number of nectarines; and if I had realised we were shopping for the entire trip, as opposed to a single picnic, I would definitely have insisted on more than one seedy roll apiece).
On the way down to Ambleside, where we would apparently be staying in a hotel my mother had chosen, we stopped for our picnic at a stone circle. Now, bless, my mother knows I like stone circles and has spent the last few months calling me at frequent intervals to tell me the progress of her research into all the ones we can go and see, so I owe her muchly in terms of time as well as money for this trip. Sadly, this one was marred because there was an ice-cream van doing trade there, and my mother went beserk at the sight of it.
She also, while parking up, spotted a large stone embedded in the verge and summoned me to stand on it so she wouldn’t hit it.
This reminded me uncomfortably of the last time my mother summoned me to stand against something so she wouldn’t hit it – I was about fifteen, Aliens 3 had just come out on VCR and I was round at my mate’s watching it one evening when the river burst its banks and sent a flood of water over the fields towards my mate’s house.
Fortunately, my mate’s dad was an architect, and had chosen his site well – all the water just flowed into the burn in front of the house (from which it all flowed back into the river, hee). And in any case, there was a path up the hill at the back, which I would have just taken to get home (and usually did, it being several miles shorter than going round by the road). But my mother, bless, did not call or anything to check I was okay, but turned up in the car to collect me, having rolled through five inches of flood for a couple of miles. Said collection, she insisted on doing thirty seconds before the end of the film, and no she was not waiting.
Once outside, she told me to stand against the electric fence, so she wouldn’t hit it while turning the car off the bridge over the burn, in the dark. Which I did, in about five inches of water, thus ruining any point of her coming to rescue me, but it’s just quicker not to argue, okay?
However, while driving forwards, she managed to pin me against the fence with the car bonnet. Realising something was wrong, she quickly turned off the engine, opened the door, and told me she had hit something, and was it the fence?
Regretting the naivety that had led me to position myself directly between a fence-post and my mother’s driving – and by this time having my own realisation of all not being well – namely, that the fence was live – I informed her as calmly as I could that, no, she had hit me, so could she please back up. Fast. And carefully. Because the fence was on.
Alas, she spent the next ten minutes telling me I was mistaken on both counts, or indeed outright lying to her, and demanding I get in the car this instant; which of course I couldn’t, because I was trapped between what was almost literally a rock and a hard place. She wouldn’t get out to see if I was right, because her feet would get wet; and she damn well was not going to back up until I’d admitted she was right. However, I bore this as stoically as I could; mainly because I’d realised that if she got wound up and didn’t manage to get reverse on her first attempt, she would likely either crush me against the fence-post or knock both me and the fence-post down; whereupon I would probably end up drowning; possibly, while she stood and harangued my corpse rather than backing the car up. It would be the most embarrassing death ever* and everyone at school would talk about it for the rest of time.
(*In my defence, I was about fifteen, and Michael Hutchence was still alive. I had no inkling that far more embarrassing deaths are lurking out there).
Fortunately, nothing like that happened this time.
And so we arrived at Ambleside, via a light stroll through some woods by a reservoir – although as an omen of doom, being seized by the lip by a gigantic dragonfly with yellow and black markings the very instant I got out of the car takes some beating* – and we did not fall out even though there was some concern over which road to take, and we got it wrong.
(*My mother, ever concerned for my safety, cried out, ‘Don’t move! I’ll get the camera!’)
And we unpacked. Truly it was a scene like unto something out of Father Ted; the scene where lovable alcoholic Father Jack, despite being wheelchair-bound, takes half a second to drain two bottles of Father Ted’s wine without moving from the far end of the picnic table. I put my suitcase in the corner; I turned around and my mother had covered all available desk surfaces with her things. I opened the suitcase and retrieved my washbag; her bed was covered also. I bent back down to get a frock for the evening; my bed was covered in hair-rollers. Forget Father Ted, actually, it was like that scene from Poltergeist where the wife turns away for a second and all the chairs are stacked on the table.
I started to get the feeling that Nice would prove to have fairly flown by compared to this week’s excursion. Although I have to compliment my mother on her thoroughness – she had six hardback books on local history, at least a dozen Ordnance Survey maps, a guide to birds, a guide to trees, and a guide to identifying different breeds of sheep. (Which last surprised me, because for all her life, my mother has been heavily into breeds of cattle, so much so that she will slow down to look at each and every single one while driving. When I saw the guide to sheep, my joy at hearing this wasn’t really cattle country was short-lived).
We went for a short walk round the Roman ruins outside the hotel, and then we went in for dinner and even splurged on a bottle of wine. Apparently, any wine you don’t finish, they mark with your room number and bring back the next night. I very much approve. The food was lovely, the view down to the loch, whoops, lake, we are in England, was beautiful, and the beds, thank every god, were singles.
As I fell asleep, I determined to keep my mouth shut and keep smiling, so that silly squabbling would not ruin this holiday for my mother.
And then I realised what I had just done.