There follows the awkwardness of strangers speaking different languages. A slow thick muffler of voice: soft, lazy-sounding, losing vowel stresses; slipping and sliding into consonants. Losing syllables.
Mum gave up. I could tell from her panicked glaze-y stare. Dad hadn’t a clue what was being said and was nodding at the wrong bits.
Yoew foun’ us sen? said with a knowing smile…he’d been watching all the while we’d been reversing across the valley… App’n yoew wer los’…ee? another smile.
Reet gran’ de fereet. Tha’ mun cum Mundi. ‘Tit reined n reined… ‘ave thou bin long? In’t’car leik?
Deep breath, I thought. Listen. And watch. For the cues of smile and eye glance; the tilt of head. The Glottal stop.
I was going too fast. I was on Glaswegian time. This man, this gentle smiling man, needed my ears to slow down. Slow down. 45 rpm v 78 rpm…
But there’s an international language of smile which serves for the absence of known words. Buying time.
And finally…the steady even rhythm of meaning got louder…became clearer. Was heard through the din of unmet expectation. The thick soupy fog of ‘wrong’ syllable accent and lost ‘t’ cleared. I could see him. I could hear the words. The everyday greetings. The courtesies.
Bedrooms up there. Three bathrooms. Don’t drink the tapwater – it comes from the hills and isn’t safe. Here are the keys. Two sets. If you need anything we’re just there. Our lass n mesen.
We’d come to the end of introductions. There was a small silence. He turned to go. And out of the silence Ana piped up, Iz that man German or somethin’….
*apologies to my pals from Yorkshire….
In reality we weren’t far away.
We back-tracked, reversing carefully to avoid the ditch either side of the track. About a mile up there was a right hand turn dipping deep into a copse of trees and disappearing. But there was a huddle of farm buildings on the other side of the moor valley and it seemed sensible that this ribbon of road led to them.
We followed the dip through another ford and climbed up towards the houses.
The car was weighed by a heavy defeated silence. A glum air of we will never get to this place. Broken only by the fricative tug of air through Ana’s mouth as she sooked her sooky-fingers.
Finally, emerging from between tall hedgerows, we arrived in the middle of what would have been a farmyard. At one time. In the distant past. I think.
Is this a scrapyard Mum? asked Jamie.
4×4’s; motorbikes; a rusted mitsubishi; a Y reg Passat; an old mini; a tractor (small); another old mini. And atop it all – the tiara, the crown – there was an eye-nippingly bright yellow ferrari…
We were in Papa-Heaven.
A deep-tanned outdoor face appeared at my driver’s window. Derek the ‘farmer’ (he told us later he did no farming now) to welcome and direct.
I put the car window down and Derek nodded – yes, this was the cottage – and he pointed to our left.
I heard Jamie in the back say thank God – an exaggerated stress upon God. Ana stopped sooking and started unbuckling.
Wait til Dad sees this Mum… and I thought, I can’t wait…
Thirteen miles. 13 miles. Thir-teen miles. 1 – 3 – miles. I tasted the numbers with my tongue, ennunciated the syllables saying them over and over. I thought of the normal meaning of the ordinary words. I pictured the 13 mile long journeys I had made up til then. I despaired.
Jamie and Ana despaired.
The car fell silent. Punctuated by an occasional oh for fuck sake Mum, where are we go-ing? from Meg. Answered by my despairing don’t swear and (more quietly) I don’t know…
At one point the satnav indicated that 13 miles had become 18 miles. And Meg and I decided we’d been abducted by time-travelling aliens with a poor sense of direction.
Somewhere – maybe as we crossed the ford, or climbed the hill side, or even, perhaps, as we turned off the main artery and onto that branch – just somewhere, the ordinary meaning of the distance; the everyday experience of a few miles had become as remote and as unimaginable as the moon and the stars. We had entered a parallel universe of sheep and moor side. A place where miles just grew and grew. Where journeys never ended. Where cars trundled along at 20 mph.
There was an eternity of road. Dotted with roadkill rabbit in various states of decay. Punctuated by sheep who seemed utterly oblivious to the car and to us. Infinity was called tarmac.
Those ’13’ miles took as long as the journey from Carlisle to Scotch Corner. They ended in the steepest dropping road I had ever driven. A road which terminated in a 270 degree bend…the bend which took us onto a track…the track which took us through 4 farms; a ford; down a gully and up the gullyside and finally to a dead-end halt between derelict farm buildings.
The satnav… yes, the satnav… had taken us
The Wrong Way.
Are we nearly there?…when are we going to get there Mum?…How much longer?…Are we there yet Mum?…
I remember a time when I thought this was the child/parent equivalent of water torture –
The endless repetition of how long now, accompanied by pitiful snivelling I’m bored…this is bo00-oo-rring…
By the nipping, pushing, pulling and general torment of a sibling. Jamie hit me…Ana made a face at me…he’s looking at me now…she’s looking at me now…
Followed by noxious odours and sudden wind-tunnel window-openings. Jamie’s farted… Ana smells…
I developed immunity sometime between Evan and Jamie. All it takes is the occasional screaming injunction will you two be quiet! I am warning you! And the ability to simply retreat into a virtual reality where noisy obnoxious bored children do not exist…
Meg of course – newly returned to the family fold after a 2 year absence – has the tolerance threshold of a demented Victorian nanny. Each are we there yet is an ever-increasing and deliberate insult to her powers of subjugation. As she increases the decibel level of her attempts at sedition-suppression they discover the unfathomed joys of big sister baiting.
In the end I scream at her. You are worse than them! For gods sake! What bloody age are you?
She then goes into a major huff with me. I knew I shouldn’t have come on this holiday!
And for the first time since joining the M74 at Abington I catch a glimpse of Ana and Jamie, in my rear-view mirror, smiling at one another…