Occasionally something prompts me to write a story I’m not being paid for. (Although I’ll happily consider writing for a charity for free). This story is my reflection on the ‘are we there yet?’ question.
“Eyes peeled, girls. Eyes peeled.”
I slowly prise my bare legs from the hot vinyl car seat. The sun’s been beating down for several hours and the air-conditioning in our Mark 1 Cortina is limited to the front window quarter lights. These are angled to benefit my dad, a not always patient driver who is tested by the heat. I have never seen him, even in the harshest winter, with his shirt sleeves rolled down.
My legs freed, I shift forward to scan the view between my parents. My sister does likewise. We’re separated from each other – aside from five minutes at birth – by a folded rug, on which is a magnetic chess set and a few books. These distractions are designed to make the journey go faster. If we get desperate, out of the glove compartment comes an ancient AA handbook. It reminds us that RV, BK and TP number plates hail from Portsmouth and we can while away a good ten minutes scanning for cars that, like us, have left their home turf for a holiday.
But right now we’ve another mission. On instruction from dad our eyes are peeled, looking for the perfect picnic spot. We know well the criteria. Simpler souls may be happy to set down on a grass verge a few feet from the carriageway (how we marvel at them), but not us. Our picnic destination will likely be down the narrowest lane, over a gate and into a farmer’s field. Essentially, for dad, there will be shade. For us there will be haystacks to climb and not too far to walk. For mum, a welcome release from map reading.
The rug, laid upon the resistant wheat stubble, hovers above the ground until we all pitch down. It’s part in shade, part in sun; everyone’s happy. We know the menu and to my taste, raised on healthy homemade fare, this is gourmet: orange Kraft cheese slices between white floury rolls, half a packet each of plain crisps (which seemed a lot, aged eight), milky coffee from the thermos and a choice of four cakes from the baker’s. Make that three: the Eccles is always for dad.
Somewhere, still a hundred miles away or more, is our destination: bed and breakfast at a farm in Cornwall, maybe Devon. But the holiday’s already begun.
Image: Rosemary Eatherden