Monday, 26 September 2016

The gremlins of departure.

Buxton to Canterbury, 233 miles.

Ready to go...
On the whole life hums along at home without incident in its own mundane fashion enlivened only by more frequent visits to Morrison's than can ever be good for our equanimity and mental well-being. Equally, when we travel, though our life may be more varied and interesting, we do like peace and quiet and live happily day to day, carefully avoiding the stresses of any untoward moments. 

The tricky part is the bit in-between, the transition between home life and our itinerant existence. This always seems far more complicated than it should be. With Gill's elderly father living near South Shields and our kids in London and Oxford then pre-trip family visits involve tearing about 800 miles in less than a week from one end of the country to the other. This year's escape shenanigans were further complicated by convoluted negotiations with a local roofing contractor about a repair to the house gable. I had been phoning a few times every week since mid July to enquire when the work would commence, impressing urgency upon the locally renowned roofer because on the 26th September we would be disappearing off to Spain for two months. Each of my phone calls was met by one of two responses, either his lads would appear tomorrow, or they were on their way right now and he would phone them to find out where they had got to. This went on repeatedly for six weeks until two days ago, as my frustration reached steam-out-of-the-ears levels, the 'lads' magically appeared with truck and cat ladders and fixed the gable in less than half a day. I should have been furious over the delay, but my spirit had been broken; instead I was overwhelmed by relief and gratitude and became positively effusive in my praise of their skill and craftsmanship. Pathetic. 

Another feature of the transition between home life and autumn escape are the rituals of re-entry surrounding our youngest's return to university. This involves an expensive trip to IKEA, a clothes shopping spree at the Trafford Centre, and moral support in a CEX technology pawn shop in Leamington Spa as she brokered an awesome trade-in deal swapping her iPad for a Play Station 4. The deal done, Laura's final few days at home were accompanied by a post-apocalyptic soundtrack as she connected the snazzy new games module, to the hi-fi and proceeded to blast revenants, zombies and all other sundry undead assailants at ear-splitting volume through our long suffering vintage Wharfedales.

All of this of course can be regarded as perfectly normal pre-trip aggravation. However, malevolent interventions by the gremlins of departure conspired over the final couple of days to raise stress levels to the blown gasket stage.

1. The gremlin of unforeseen crises. 

Two days ago Gill's sister rang to say that her partner's routine cardiac procedure had been cancelled as the specialist had decided that Edmond was at imminent risk of having a major heart attack and had been admitted to the regional cardiac unit for a bypass operation early next week. Being wholly rational about this, Edmond is fit, and otherwise in good health, the problem has been picked up prior to a heart attack and by-pass surgery, though a major op. is routine these days and low risk. However, it's the kind of unforeseen health crisis that is quite difficult to be entirely rational about, so there is much finger crossing and mutual buoying-up happening right now, and nobody is going to be really OK until after the op and Edmond is on the road to recovery. 

2. The gremlins of maladministration

In July Laura agreed with the university that she could resit a second year module along side her final year course changing it from 3D Animation to Screenwriting. In late August the university admin sent a number of contradictory letters listing her programme as a whole range of differing options, none of which resembled the arrangement that Laura had agreed. Of course numerous phone calls to differing departments resulted in more confusion and as it stands she has returned to Greenwich with no idea what her timetable will look like and is unable to register, which is critical to drawing down her student loan. Upset offspring = anxious parents; I know we should be more laid back about it, but we're parents - worry is what parents do. 

3. The gremlins of minor buggeration.

The thing is about gremlins is they hunt in packs. They are like school bullies, the big nasty ones have an entourage of gremlin wannabes who are merely mischievous hangers-on, and they had a field day this morning as we attempted to make an early getaway. They mounted a two-pronged attack, Gill being assailed outside the Post Office while posting Edmond's get-well card by the gremlins of Italianate parking, and I spent the entire morning pursued by gremlins of impromptu farce who gifted me a series of Mr Bean moments by stealing the moho keys and hiding them in ridiculous places. The cunning little bastards must be telepathic because later they ganged-up against both of us. 

As soon as I stepped into the shower the home phone downstairs rang. These days the time you have to answer it entirely depends on the callers' DOB. If they are over 50s then you will have plenty of time, because their mental image of a telephone is of something attached to the wall by a wire, so grey haired callers allow plenty of time for recipients to pick-up, concious that they may be making a souffle, dressing the baby, painting a ceiling or even having a shower. 

Millennials, conversely, think of phones as small rectangular things never out of arms reach day or night. Consequently, on the rare occasions that they ring a domestic landline they seldom wait more than 15 seconds before ringing-off. To have any chance of catching a call from your kids on the home phone requires the acceleration of Usain Bolt to reach the device before they hang-up. So while the first 'bwing' was still echoing around the hallway I had leapt out of the shower, seized a towel from the rail, flung open the bathroom door and streaked downstairs and grabbed the phone. 

"Hi Pete," Gill said, "I'm in a bit of trouble here." 

I wriggled a bit in an attempt to wrap, one-handed, the towel around my waist, while making what I hoped were suitably sympathetic remarks as Gill explained her predicament. The on-street parking spaces near the Post Office are always in high demand, and her attempt to squeeze a Ford Focus Estate into a Mini-length space had resulted not exactly in a bump, but such a near miss that our car's tow bar had lodged itself beneath the front bumper of the vehicle behind. A real 'Oh shit, what do I do now?' moment.

"Don't worry," I said brightly, "I'll stick my clothes on and be there in five minutes." 

As I yanked tee shirt over damp torso the thought did strike me as to why I had been so fastidious about the towel loin cloth - why the need for decency in an empty house talking on the phone to my nearest and dearest of 38 years vintage? I mused over the peculiar long term effects of a Presbyterian upbringing on this self proclaimed ageing hippy. Now fully dressed, but slightly damp, mere seconds before I exited the house at speed on my rescue mission, the phone rang again. 

"No problem now," Gill said brightly, "A really helpful women passing by offered to sit in the back seat, it lowered the suspension just enough to get the tow bar free without causing any damage."

"That's great," I said, "People are nice."

"Yes,' Gill agreed, "she was great (a momentary silence) and quite... chunky."

Crisis averted, soon we were packed, rituals of house-locking performed and off we went about two hours later than planned. Facebook celebrated the moment, 79 'bon voyages' from the Motorhome Adventures group, 20 or more virtual friends hankie-waving from the main site. 

Drizzle alternated with more steady downpours as we headed south. By early afternoon we had only reached Leicester and pulled into the magnificence which is Leicester Forest East Services for a late lunch. No need to pay-up for the crap fast food on offer, Gill rustled-up some sandwiches and I brewed up a filter coffee. It must be said that English 'vintage' motorway services have to be amongst the most demoralising architecture ever devised.

Gill braves the downpour
It's important to mention that I don't share the general distaste for mid- twentieth century British architecture. In fact I quite like the utopian intent of high-rise and 60s shopping malls so often dismissed as concrete 'carbuncles'. However, I don't see the even most ardent enthusiasts for Brutalism, such as Owen Hathersley or Jonathan Meade leaping to the defence Leicester Forest East. It's not so much a celebration of raw concrete as a crumbling remnant of a portacabin-plus style of 60s building much loved by the architects of new town primary schools, Post Office sorting offices and yes, bright shiny new motorway services. In the latter case the 'piece de resistance' is to raise an elongated section of the prefab on stilts, like the innards of a giant Jacob's cracker packet, over the motorway to form a bridge. I don't know which is worse, the original crumbling structure or latter-day efforts to jolly the thing up with garish attempts at refurbishment. I think it is astonishing the place is still standing after half a century, and though it may not appeal to my liking for architecture of the 60s and 70s it does strike a chord with me as an aficionado of the naff, in the same way you might develop a ghastly fascination with 'The Bachelors' or 'Herman's Hermits' or regard Paisley kipper ties or beehive hairdos with a mushy, ill-founded nostalgia.

The magnificence of Leicester Forest East (southbound) services in the rain.
And no, jollification with flowers and a waving Pugsy does not improve things...
nor does a splash of lime green brighten things up, it merely creates a bilious pallor
Before we leave the question of Leicester Forest East a short apology to the startled souls exiting the toilets are around 2.12pm on the 26th September 2016. The grey haired git who inadvertently took your photo was not being weird in a creepy way, but simply delighted by the bilious light effect created by the new luminous lime green paintwork. Weird, maybe, but not creepy.

South of here road works stretch for miles, new junctions are being created and smart signage with variable speed limit installed. I hope it all helps, because right now the density of traffic, particularly the nose to tail trucks render the M1 and M25 almost unusable. The average speed of our journey from Buxton to Canterbury was 31.7mph., no major hold-ups, but stop/start for 240 miles.

Seven hours later...Canterbury's New Dover Road Park and Ride.
One very grumpy driver arrived at New Dover Road Park and Ride motorhome aire, thankfully it was not busy and we settled in for the night. A quick phone call with Laura ascertained that she was no further forward in resolving the admin tangle with the university. Even worse, she lost her debit card. Now that is really tricky, because Santander insist on sending it to her home address, and of course we will not be there to forward it. A quick phone call to our neighbours who hold a spare key resulted in crackling static, a fault on the line... The gremlins of departure are not yet done with us, when will we escape their malign clutches?

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