I got out my AA Big Easy Read Britain giant two-and-a-half miles to the inch map book which I’d bought to navigate my daughter, me and the four grandchildren to the cottage in Wales in May. Oh yes, I had a feeling it would come in handy later, but why oh why is the place you need to get to always either very close to the ring binder bit in the middle or at the very edge of the page. Are you really expected to turn over while driving along? I don’t think so. Ok, ok, I know I should have a satnav, but I fear that setting the thing up would send me over the edge – literally.
You see my daughter had phoned me before I’d left her in the lurch and legged it to the Outer Hebrides for some peace and quiet. ‘Mum, I need to show you the country roads way to get to the secondary school before the beginning of term, just in case of emergencies.’ She and her partner had decided to forego the school bus option for granddaughers 1 and 2 (it costs an arm and a leg for one), had investigated option 2 – sharing the school runs with other parents (tricky to organise in this hectic day and age with parents heading off in all directions with cars already full of pre-teens and teenagers) and plumped for option 3 – doing the school runs themselves -so that means me too then. But no, on my watch the two secondary sisters were to come home by train and tube via Stratford and I’d only have to pick them up from Epping station – well, I know my way there, no sweat. What my daughter was thinking of was the occasional trip to school if one of them was sick or injured, perish the thought, when she was in London or somewhere – things such as a migraine in granddaughter 1’s case or something acrobatic in granddaughter 2’s – she has this penchant for turning upside down. Oh god, do I need to know the way to A&E from the school too? I’ll try not to think about that. ‘Going on the train’d be really good, gran,’ granddaughter 1 told me later. ‘We could just pop into Westfield Shopping City before getting the tube.’ She saw my face: ‘No, gran, really, it’d be so handy – I could go to the bookshop to get books I need for school.’ Hmmm.
Anyway, I was rather keen to get to know the run in daylight – autumn is a-drawing in and finding my way in the pitch black down narrow country lanes is not my thing. My daughter had given me a run down over the phone with her usual sales pitch. ‘It’s very pretty mum, there’s a village with a duck pond and a co-op.’ Very scenic. But, I was thinking, the school is on the other side of the A12, which to me is a motorway mascarading as a dual carriageway. ‘Do I go under it or over it?’ I asked hopefully – well, I wasn’t going on it, defo, such roads are not for wimps like me. ‘There’s a bridge,’ she said. Phew.
So it came to pass that last Sunday, she invited me over for a family chicken dinner and suggested we do a dry run together then, but in the general melé it sort of melted away. So it was decided that the next day, after picking up granddaughter 3 and grandson from primary school, I would head off to pick up granddaughters 1 and 2 from secondary school and learn the route that way. ‘Don’t worry, mum, granddaughter 3 knows the way,’ said my daughter. Fantastic. I remember a certain trip she made from Hay to the cottage down leafy lanes in Wales with granddaughter 3 doing the map reading – I got the impression it was a bit stressful. But then I thought, granddaughter 3’s into forward planning big time – she’s going to the secondary school in September 2016 so she’s probably printed out the route from the internet already. Maybe I shouldn’t fret.
But leaving things to chance is not in my dna, so – you’ve guessed it – I decided on a dry run all by myself on Monday morning. And anyway, on Sunday there’d been road works in Epping and it took over half an hour to get through the High Street and I knew I’d have to leave extra super early to do the primary school pick up. My partner, aka mapman, was away so mercifully wasn’t able to confuse me with directions featuring north, south, east or even west – like my daughter, I’m a turn right at the duck pond kinda gal. In my map book the route to the secondary school looked a long way – well, it went onto two pages and I reckoned I’d need provisions.
So I made some sardine sarnies and off I set. The other side of Ongar, I turned off the main road at the point instructed by my daughter and drove off into the unknown. Through villages with names ending fetchingly in Hatch or Green or, ominously, End, intrepidly I travelled, through miles upon miles of deep dark woods with Private Keep Out signs and the odd gruffalo. And after more than a few three point turns and sardine sarnies consumed, halleluya, lo and behold, a co-op, a ‘Slow – ducks crossing’ sign followed by a bridge – no, not over troubled water, but over the A12 – euphoric doesn’t cover it. But, bloody nora, returning the way I’d come to go and pick up granddaughter 3 and grandson was a different kettle of fish – I must have covered most of Essex and – who knows? – some of Suffolk too before arriving in familiar surroundings – not quite Ongar, but close – Chipping Ongar, hurrah! A bit later, with granddaughter 3 installed in the front seat to navigate and grandson on the booster seat in the back to give me useful info on the underwater world courtesy of the Octonauts, off I drove again.Wow, was I grateful for granddaughter 3’s ‘Go that way, gran,’ and the occasional ‘No, no, gran, not that way, THAT way’ as she held up her hand to point the way. We arrived at the secondary school in only half an hour! Yippeee! Like Dora the Explorer and Boots might shout ‘We did it, we did it, we did it, YEAH!
So if you live in a little picturesque village somewhere out there in the wilds and you see an older person hunched over the steering wheel peering about, or they stop, wind down the window and ask you where the duck pond is, worry not. They haven’t gone doolally, honest, they’re probably just doing a reckie of the route before doing a school run – it’s just that grandparents are notoriously conscientious. You could say it goes with the territory.
*Granny on the frontline is Jill Garner, grandmother of six.