The Holiday – Part 7

Finally Mum said we’re taking the scenic route then.

Dad just said Bloody rabbit back there – had to slam on the brakes…

…and then your Father stalled of course and the handbrake wouldn’t hold us… added my Mother.
I had a sudden picture of the two of them, point-scoring and squabbling (lovingly as my Mother described it; with feeling as my Father would add) right to the end, as they careered backwards off the road and into oblivion.
This was why I loved them. Their absolute adherence to what mattered: getting the last word in.
As the sheep had decided to move – and as Jamie and Ana were unstrapping themselves, intent on escape – Mum suggested I get back in the car and start driving before those two made a run for it. The truth was, she was bursting for a wee; refused to pee in a ditch and we all knew (from the holiday where Mamie pee’d herself) that she had limited powers of retention…
The satnav said 13 miles to Rosedale. Wouldn’t be long now…surely…

The Holiday – Part 6

Proceeding on the basis that it is always best to surprise your opponent, I smiled and said fun, isn’t it…

I detected the faintest trace of frost melting.

Well, it could be worse, I hazarded, at least its not the Dales at the height of foot and mouth…those sheep could be dead and we could have crossed through 3 army checkpoints and a ton of disinfectant by now…

They started to laugh.

Ah…such is the joy of our family holiday back catalogue… each year a rich seam to be mined for such unique little gems as the one where the toy train nearly killed Louis but he was saved by his Doodles shoe OR the one where Robert opened the caravan toilet door and saw Mum wiping her bum (and he said he had seen the future – and it was not good) OR the one where we ended up in the middle of the Belfast Orange Walk and someone from the marching bands shouted “Hoi, that you Big Stu!”…

For the record that last was so very not meant to happen – and certainly not to happen to my vehemently anti-sectarian husband – a man who (known in his youth as Big Stu) had objected all the way from Strabane to Belfast but had given in to my pleading that my relatives (wonderful educated Belfast folk) would be offended if we didn’t attend that day for dinner and that anyway, no one who knew him would see him there...

The Holiday – Part 5

Torn between healthy respect for the still stationary, road-hogging sheep and the knowledge that my father required me to grovel for at least a few minutes (though more likely the entire holiday) – I side-shuffled and shimmied out of the drivers door.

I needn’t have worried. The sheep simply did not care. For the second time that day, I found myself envying them.

My mother gave me that look. The special look she saved for me when I had clearly done something wrong. The look she used to give when I was a child – as I passed her in the doorway after she had bellowed herself hoarse, shouting over scheme rooftops for me to come home. She – large adult with malevolence in her eyes – Me – small transgressor with stubborn determination not to admit I might have done something wrong… Back then I would duck, just as I imagined her hand coming up to slap me – and she would miss and be even more infuriated that I had ducked. Oh happy days.

I was too old now to duck, I reflected. Anyway I was standing at the driver side – she wouldn’t be able to reach.

The Holiday – Part 4

In the event I was brought forcibly to a halt, about 100yds after the summit, by a couple of sheep – whose insouciance I could do nothing but envy.

Jamie and Ana – whose attention had previously been entirely taken by the apparent disappearance of Papa and his car – switched their attention to the sheep. Sheep!

Whilst the kids compared notes about the merits of their respective sheep (for they had decided ownership of said sheep within seconds) your sheep is scabbier than mine…your sheep has funny eyes…yeuch! your sheep has poo on its bum…(you get the drift) – Megan and I debated who a) was going to brave the sheep and b) the possibility that Papa and Mamie had dropped off the last corner and into the valley below.

It occurred to us both that if option b) was reality (and if there were such a thing as the next world) then Papa and Mamie were no doubt watching us, cursing me roundly and worrying about the fickleness of their grandchildren…

We hadn’t resolved the issue of who was going to look down the hill when Papa and Mamie rounded the summit…Jamie casually greeting their appearance with hope they don’t scare my sheep.

Perhaps there is a salutary lesson here for any parent/significant adult-other?

You are only ever as important as the next road-hogging sheep.

Holiday – Part 3

The hedgerow gave way to a small hamlet of low, sandstone cottages. Picture book perfect. Walls become living galleries of honeysuckle and roses. Jamie and Ana had quieted – something to do with me shouting (unusually successfully) at them on the pre-hamlet bend that we were going to crash and we would all die if they didn’t shut up. We were then delivered into the gaping maw of the moorland from between farm buildings, trailing straw and muck behind us.

I haven’t yet mentioned I am afraid of heights?

By heights I am not referring to the Empire State Building nor even Blackpool Tower.

I mean anything, basically, that involves the realisation that I could drop from any distance higher than the top of my head. I get dizzy and feel certain I am close to death even just trying to climb stairs that as much as give a glimpse of the height they are scaling. I drive over the Forth Road Bridge in a sweaty fug of fear, staring intently at the bumper of the car in front, my hands grimly glued to the wheel – but always strangely and morbidly fascinated by the sight of sea glimpsed through the bars of the bridge.

I am forever convinced that I will be the driver who will drive into that black water so far below. When I manage to get to the other side I shout at myself for being quite as stupid – and wonder why on earth I would drive off the bridge into the sea anyway. But at the back of my mind is the knowledge that I have got that Bridge to face again on the return journey…and I shiver.

So, when the trio of signs said 33% gradient, engage low gear, and multiple bends I could feel that gut-churning start. I was suddenly aware of my bowels – and that’s just not normal.

I heard myself say, involuntarily. Oh no. I cannot do this. Oh fuck.


The bottom of the hill began in earnest with a ford. Another sign test your brakes assaulted me. What the f… test your brakes, when you need to be accelerating hard for the climb ahead? So, I pressed the accelerator and the leaden 1.5 diesel engine whined as it began the ascent.

Midway and I was welded to the steering wheel – gripping so hard my knuckles were white. The car was silent. Meg had started saying you’ll be alright – more, I suspect to reassure her than me. Just above midway, the thin road buckled to the left, the sign beware adverse gradient coming a bit late in the day to be anything but terrifying to me. The car was whining in 2nd and emerging from the bend, the valley below presented as a sheer drop. Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck. We are going to die.

Ok. Ok. I realise that I am a drama queen. The person you resolutely do not contact in a crisis. I understand that I am entirely and shamelessly the person who will wail and scream and you will get no sense from… but the fear is real. Honest.

I was aware of Dads car behind stopping. But aware of a more pressing need to just get to the top. So I just kept on driving. Jamie and Ana were shouting Papas stopped. Papas not there. But did I stop? No, I didn’t. If I stopped I was certain I would never be able to start again.

Holiday – Part 2

Admittedly it began innocuously enough. Hedgerow-lined just-wide-enough for two cars type of a road.

Megan was still scoffing. We all knew you’d do it again. Admit it Mum you just cant help yourself.

Jamie and Ana of course were fit to be scrapped off the roof. Bouncing in their seats. Trying to see over the high hedgerow to the other side. The other side, that is, where the vision of a road dipping off the known universe began and the comfort of straight flat tarmac ended.

Megs mobile rang. I didn’t need to hear my mother. Megs hysterical laughing said it all. Papa was apparently swearing at me already. Something about his bloody gearbox…gradients…and wont make it.

I shouted tell the old whinge that’s why he pays the AA.

Then the warning signs began. No caravans one said. Use passing places another said. Road narrows on both sides.. Double bend (right)… Double bend (left)…Multiple bends…Wild animals (eh? was this safari?)…Ford…Cattle grids… 33% gradient…

A world of signage was unleashed upon me. There were more warnings than there was road. I hadn’t read so many since passing my test in 1990…

Holiday – Part 1

It was at that point – the right hand swerve from the main A road artery, that branching single track, that we realised I had done it again.

It had been going well. The traffic was light, the day was good, we had had our mid-journey picnic and Jamie hadn’t once had to pee in a completely inadequate here, take this, this will do bottle of sorts…

Five minutes previous I had laughingly pointed at the single track that wound up and down the steep moor side to our right. It was a thin ribbon, undulating crazily up and down- disappearing into itself and the moors, seeming to double back – eating its tail, before reappearing dotted with sheep.Thats where we are going, l had said. Secure in my assumption that we most certainly were not going there.

Meg had said don’t act it – you know you cant wait to get onto that road – mostly because she is 20 and 20 year olds have to have a sarcastic response no matter what but also because she knows that what I like is the diametric opposite of that road. And because – if it were that road we had to take, it meant I had chanced upon yet another obscure and utterly isolated last minute holiday cottage rental…and hadn’t I just promised them all that I really had not done that this time – that they really should learn to trust me…(all said adamantly and with a slight emphasising pause between words).

It is obvious now to me that as soon as I had uttered those words the hand of God/fate/whatever power it is that says the over-confident (or arrogantly complacent) will get their comeuppance immediately irredeemably and let it really serve them right – was irritated into action against me.

For yes, it was that road.

(to be continued….)