Do other grandparents doing childcare for a working mum or dad, find that some skills they need are sadly wanting? E.g., each year I act as navigator when my daughter drives to the Hay Festival where she does a bit of work. Geography has never been my strong point, but by now she knows the way to Hay – it’s the last bit where we have to find our accommodation that I’m needed for. The deal is that her partner goes to Barcelona to visit his sisters, she goes to the festival to meet and greet people with granddaughters 1 and 3 (aged 15 and 10) and lucky old me gets to stay with granddaughter 2 (aged 12), who thinks the festival is the deepest pit of boredom, and with grandson (now 5) since they don’t have sessions on how to be a superhero as yet.
My daughter had booked a cottage in Wales which meant, hurrah, that granddaughter 2, grandson and me could hang out there instead of at the festival. It was on a farm – live animals and mud, I was thinking, always good value when passing time with the grandkids. But, oh god, it was down five miles of single track roads where my dodgy navigation skills would come into play – time to update my old road atlas then. But the new ‘giant 2½ miles to the inch’ one didn’t pinpoint the farm. ‘Aha,’ said my partner (aka mapman) and produced three Ordnance Survey maps with the farm marked on each. OS maps are not easy to unfold when wedged in the front seat with four grandchildren’s baggage, snacks and a mifi so I marked x is the spot in my new map book and off we set.
Grandson had an international flag game: ‘It’s black, orange and white and has a pyramid,’ he shouted from the back seat. ‘Djibouti?’ cried my daughter. ‘It’s B-I-L-I,’ spelt out grandson. ‘I don’t think that’s a country – try another word,’ shouted my daughter encouragingly. There are two hundred flags in the game – it was going to be a long day. We made it to Cheltenham, a city renowned for its elegant Regency terraces and Cheltenham Ladies’ College – very posh. ‘Look, Premier Inn, people!’ cried my daughter excitedly. The Premier Inn is renowned in our family for the fun to be had with its well-stocked tea trays and generous bottles of bath and shower gel.
On to Hereford, ‘Look out for the Cider Museum,’ said my daughter enthusiastically – not that we’ve been there, but it’s close to the Travelodge that got our custom last year – it was not up to Premier Inn standards – only two teabags to a family room and a paltry supply of bath and shower gel. Then we all looked out for dogs while I held my collar – well, there were lots of ambulances dashing about, oh dear. And no, wise old granny doesn’t know why it brings luck, but it helped to pass the time. Then, nearly at Hay we had a sing-a-long-a One Direction, ah me, still with Zayn – those were the days. Ok, I know the words to ‘You don’t know your beautiful’, but everyone else knew all the rest and grandson sang super-loud to: ‘I wanna save yer, I can’t be no superman, but for you I can be superhuman’ – well, any mention of a superhero is a winner to him.
We left Hay for the farm, me with six frozen pizzas piled on my lap and the map book teetering on top. My partner had marked a B road route via the Golden Valley – beautiful. But B road numbers didn’t seem to figure much on signposts and instead there were pretty village names like Ewyas Harold – but, hey, they do mark ‘Araf’ helpfully on the road a lot. Then, oh the horror, we entered The Single Track Zone. The hedges grew higher and higher – like the walls did when Alice downed the Drink me drink that made her go small. I peered at the map – but which way was up? We had the farmer’s directions such as ‘Turn left at the white cottage on the right’ – bloody nora. And remember, my long-suffering daughter had to do this all the way back to Hay the next day. Hmmm.
Friends, we made it to the farm. In the morning the three intrepid festival-goers drove off towards the uncharted, as far as I could tell the day before, Single Track Zone. Grandson seemed dug in for a day inside. ‘Gran, gran,’ he cried, ‘I’ve got two spiderman jigsaw puzzles, two spiderman cds and a ninja turtle one too.’ Oh joy. Then granddaughter 2, who’s very inventive, said: ‘Let’s go out and look for a McDonald’s’. I kept schtum, bad granny. ‘But I need to write a list,’ said grandson eagerly. He drew a huge M for the golden arches and wrote ‘Happymeeel, Chicke nbuger, Cheesebuger and frieis’ with a check box to tick beside each one. Well, they say the end doesn’t justify the means, don’t they? But soon he was breathing in the fresh Welsh air. grooving on down the farm track like the Tin Man after one too many Pepsi Maxes.
On a rainy Sunday morning we said goodbye to the farm. ‘What do people do here all day?’ asked granddaughter 2 gazing out of the car at the beautiful countryside. ‘And where would you buy a meal deal?’ asked granddaughter 3. ‘And you can’t get a phone signal,’ said granddaughter 1. OMG, are they all townies in spite of living in the Essex countryside? Maybe the bright lights of nearby Harlow Town have turned their heads. We caught sight of a road sign: ‘Caution Runners’ it said above a sign for a cow. ‘Pamplona-style bull run?’ wondered my daughter. No, soon we saw people running along the road and some jolly folk cheering them on. So that’s what people do in the countryside in Wales on a wet Sunday morning – very healthy.
A40, M40, M25 and the M11 – nearly home. I found a Beatles cd in the glove compartment and we sang-along-a John, Paul, George and Ringo – oh yes, I know the words to every single one of their songs. My map book was closed – it had been a long and winding road.