Carmaggedon? No problem! We were heading for Brighton by car on Bank Holiday Saturday and the family were well prepared. Ah me, things have moved on apace from the olden days when family in-car entertainment was I spy with my little eye or, more recently with my daughter’s family, the Flags of the World board game. This trip granddaughters 1 and 2 had whatever gadget you get music on these days and granddaughter 3 had a laptop – they’ve got this new gismo thingy and you can connect to the internet travelling along in the car – oh god, is there no escape? And grandson had his mum’s now simcard-less cast-off phone for Cut the Rope 2, Temple Running etc. There were also various cds knocking about, a bit old-tech perhaps, but, hey ho, grandson and his mum are partial to a singalong and, when stuck on a motorway, a singalong can be quite effective when trying to take a child’s mind off being desperate for a wee.
I was sitting in between granddaughters 1 and 2 (aka the veggie sisters) as a kind of buffer zone – they’d had a falling-out the day before. It reminded me of sitting between my two big sisters yonks ago – they got the window seats because they were older than me so I got a view of the two-lane Great North Road on the way up to Scotland. This time I could see the six lanes of the M11 and then the M23 – not exactly my current vista of choice. From a back seat behind me came on-a-loop jingly music from grandson’s phone together with those buzz buzz boings that sends me reaching for the booze. Then my daughter’s partner put on a heavy rock cd. ‘This is the Happy Mondays,’ he said – Shaun Ryder, their lead singer apparently, was on Room 101 the night before and I’d gone and told him I didn’t know their stuff. So the heavy rock was for me then – how thoughtful.
After a few tracks of the Happy Mondays, grandson shouted ‘Mum, mum, can you put on the Queen album, please.’ Now you’re talking – but his mum was in cd player pole position and is an Abba Gold fan. ‘Number 1,’ shouted grandson, ‘and then number 11, mum.’ A master at multi-media-tasking, he started singing lustily without turning off his game and I joined in: ‘You can dance, you can sing, la la la la la la la, etc, ooooh, the dancing queen.’ Well, I try to remember stuff, but things get a bit fuzzy these days. My daughter was rooting around for other cds: ‘Aaah,’ she sighed nostalgically, ‘Ra Ra Rasputin – Boney M – you don’t get pop groups these days that teach you about Russian history.’ Or about anything else, I was thinking, more’s the pity.
Wow, masses of people were milling about in Brighton under a hot, sultry sun. After a pitstop in Pret a Manger which fortunately caters for most family food needs, we picked our way between the hordes of glistening bodies on the beach to a small space near the water’s edge. We sat down and, while the pebbles dug into my bony old bottom, grandson made fearsome faces and waved his arms about menacingly at the sea. ‘I’m Poseidon,’ he cried, inspired, no doubt, by Percy Jackson (who’s father is, of course, Poseidon, God of the Sea) and the Lightning Thief. But the sea wasn’t listening. Meanwhile, grandson’s dad, who’s Spanish, was taking photos of the British seaside: deckchairs, candy floss, sticks of rock etc on Instagram, Whatsapp or Snapchat (I’m showing off now) and went off with granddaughter 3 to get some fish and chips, not just to eat, I guess, but to post on Facebook, as you do. Granddaughters 1 and 2 were sitting, both with one earphone in and one dangling down, looking bored.
‘Time for the pier,’ said their mum as granddaughter 3 and her dad came back. God, it was hot as we wove our way along the prom. At the end of the pier was a fun fair – whoopy do – going fast, high, sideways or, perish the thought, upside down, has never really been my thing. And, as the sun beat down, the music belted out and under our feet the hot planks of the pier vibrated to heavy metal to the left of us, One Direction to the right, there I was, stuck in the middle with them, as Stealers Wheel might’ve sung back in the 1970s. But, hell’s teeth, all the grandchildren wanted to go on a different ride. We hung about a bit but, in the fullness of time, thank the lord, grandson climbed on a giant cockerel with his mum and went sedately round and round and up and down on the carousel (like in Mary Poppins), intrepid granddaughter 3 sped at breakneck speed down the helter skelter, and – praise be and halleluya! – granddaughter 1 agreed to go with her younger sister on the Crazy Mouse, a ride of mangled metal tracks poised forty feet above the ocean ‘famous for its g- and negative vertical g-forces’ – blimey! But everyone survived intact including me, surprisingly.
Then we were on the road again heading home. ‘I need the password to connect to the internet,’ said granddaughter 3, while granddaughters 1 and 2 plugged themselves into playlists with me between them as before, eyes front to the motorway. ‘Can I borrow your phone for Subway Surfer, gran?’ asked grandson and soon on-a-loop jingly music and buzz buzz boings filled the air once more – it was like groundhog day. After a while, my daughter slid Wham into the cd player – she’s a big fan. ‘Wake me up before you go girl, dumpty dumpty dumpty dum dum oh oh’ I sang along with grandson and his mum to the best of my ability.
Nearly home and suddenly grandson cried out ‘Mum, mum, I really, really need a wee’. I looked ahead – only motorway and countryside. ‘Is there a plastic cup lying around on the floor somewhere?’ his mum asked the assembled company calmly. ‘Here’s one,’ shouted granddaughter 3 triumphantly and handed it to her little brother. ‘I was going to wet my pants,’ explained grandson, sounding relieved. ‘I was really, really desperate for a wee.’ And even a singalong-a-Wham hadn’t succeeded in taking his mind off it.
*Granny on the frontline is Jill Garner, grandmother of six.