The plan for our third day was to head out, via a stone circle, all the way to the coast, and catch a small steam-train up into the hills. From there, we would take a short walk up to an old Roman fort, enjoy the view, head back down, cut inland, and be back in time for dinner.
The plan was ruined before we had even got up (at six) by the weather, which had become drizzly, with very low cloud. Perfect for tramping the wastes and hanging out of a small, unenclosed train carriage!
The plan was further ruined because we were too pushed for time to make it to the stone circle; we missed a turn and my mother screeched to a halt on the verge, demanded to see the map, managed to snap me right on the nose with it twice while pulling it about, and raced off again in a fury, while I quietly texted the Bossman to inform him that if I didn’t push her off a cliff before the day was out, it would be a bloody miracle.
Sadly, this turned out to be way more prophetic than I had intended.
I organised things at the train station – which we made with about five minutes to spare – pretty well, and managed to get out of the tiny compartment me, my camera, my mother and her wriggly elbows were sharing, into something a bit more spacious. And the train was very cute and a lot of fun. I bet the Bossman would love it! (Or alternatively, have seen it all before). And when we got out, I managed to have my very own conversation with a stranger, who said if he lived round here, he would spend his weekends hiding in the bushes in a gorilla suit, waiting to jump out and shock all the tourists on the train. A noble sentiment.
Sadly, right after that, my mother demanded I put something away in her rucksack for her, and while I was still doing so, suddenly swung round and batted me so hard in the camera with her elbow that the lens cap went flying across the platform and nearly under the train.
‘Oh do be careful!’ she told me with some exasperation.
I did not push her under the train. (Unlike the lens cap, she would easily have gotten out again.) But we did not set out as the best of friends.
However, there were several examples of different rare breeds of sheep along the way, which made my mother happy, and the walk up into the fog, while steep, was not unmanageable. I have no idea how the Romans kept control of anything from up there, because most of the time you wouldn’t even see an army until it was ten feet away. There was some discussion of whether we had gone past the site of the fort or not (I felt the plaques saying, ‘You are now near the fort’ were some indication, but my mother was having none of it), and we continued upwards for some time before I thought to question whether the fort really was at the top of the pass as she said (nope, and it went on for sodding miles). But we went back down, poked around in the bogs and mud and finally found the foundations of it, and she became quite excited, especially when she reckoned she had found a second entrance. Yes okay, we will go over and have a look, then.
Sadly it was not a second entrance, and was twenty feet from the edge of the cliff. This settled it for my mother; I had tried to lead her over the edge of a cliff. (As it happened, doing so would have been the last thing I needed, what with such an incriminating text as my last message to the outside world, although she didn’t know that part). She took great delight in telling this to absolutely everyone we met; on the platform, on the platform at the other end of the journey, to the guy on reception, and to every guest in the vicinity at dinner.
(So while I am totally doing my share of badmouthing here, and thus have no leg to stand on whatsoever, I am at least not doing it while she stands around like a bump on a log, wondering what sort of response to make that won’t show her up as a humourless shrew with no sense of gratitude. Besides, nobody actually reads this. Right?)
We got stuck behind a guy having a go at driving a steam tractor on the way home, it was awesome. And we found the stone circle on the way home, just before the day turned to dusk, and the clouds had actually lifted so it was a lovely and scenic place, if in that very watery, bloodshot, ‘gonna-pee-it-down-any-minute-just-you-wait’, way. There was even a view all the way to the sea, which we had not seen at all for the weather, despite driving along right next to it for a couple of hours.
And all was well. Until we got down to dinner.
The problem mainly is, there is a lot of history in my family, most of it of bad feeling on all sides, and while my mother has managed to wipe a lot of it from her mind, I haven’t, and even with that, there’s a lot she’s still bitter about too. So when we sit down to dinner together, there’s also the ghost of her divorce from my father, and the ghosts of all the things she was furious about because their marriage was a disaster for both of them for at least as long as I’ve been alive, and the ghost of all the things I’m still furious about from way back when (I thought I wasn’t! until this holiday! total revelation!); and with all that, a table for two is a bit cramped.
Plus, she was still on about how I ‘tried to lead her over a cliff to her death’.
I made my excuses about charging my phone so she could call her boyfriend, and slunk out for a ciggie. While sitting in the dark, enjoying the breeze from the lake, someone suddenly cranked a stereo, and the guitar break from Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb came floating over me. Thank you, anonymous stranger, you will never know how badly I needed that. At least it gave me the strength to return for coffee without making any unhelpful remarks whatsoever. Bringing my total of unhelpful remarks for this holiday to… still zero! WOO!