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Well, we weren’t aiming for Paraguay, just Ross-on-Wye. For two nights in a Premier Inn. Granddaughter 2 was mega-excited (she was hoping to meet Lenny Henry), had packed eons ago and wanted to leave at 4am. But something threatened to scupper her plan: it was half term and granddaughter 1 wouldn’t prize herself from her pit until around 1pm. My daughter, an expert in diplomacy and negotiation, had reached agreement for 11am. As a deal clincher, I was instructed to buy a packet of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers on the way to their house. Granddaughter 3 asked me to pick up the latest Jacqueline Wilson magazine so of course I had to get one each for the others. Granddaughter 1 is too cool for teen mags and maybe not quite adult enough for women’s ones so I scanned the shelves desperately (I was running late) and plumped for a music one with Jessie J on the front. I arrived at their house at 11.05.
Granddaughter 2 (she said she woke up at 4am), granddaughter 3 and toddler boy were already in the car. My daughter was struggling to heave a red polka dot case on wheels with three large sparkly bags dangling from it and a fluorescent pink hardback folder with handle (Granddaughter 2’s luggage) into the back of the car which was already half full of a pushchair and two Mary Poppins umbrellas. On the ground was a big bulging YUUbag, the ultimate in mobile organisation, with pockets (including a secret one) for all those storage eventualities, an unzipped bag full of books (granddaughter 3’s luggage – ‘I’ve brought eight library books, gran’) a large rabbit called Ellie and a panda called Polly. They gazed up optimistically at my daughter who was muttering somewhat.
A bit later, granddaughter 1 slunk (but stylishly) into the car, a cord dangling from an ear, mobile in her hand, bag on shoulder. Other essentials, coats and bags of snacks, were squeezed in, some between seats, some between children, while I inserted myself in the front, feet wedged into a crack between my stuff and my daughter’s bag. The latter was naturally weighed down by a range of things vital to a mum juggling work and childcare, e.g. a note-pad (for work), wet-wipes, a pen (ditto), nappies, maybe a chupa chup or two, a Blackberry (ditto) and some stones, probably precious to one of her children.
Off we went. ‘Sorry mum, we’re going on a few motorways’ said my daughter and listed at least four. As a general rule, I don’t do motorways. Efficient to a fault, she had gone into the online Premier Inn Route Finder. ‘It takes 3hrs 10 mins’ she said confidently. The children were strangely quiet. Had they, in my daughter’s words, ‘peaked too early’ and gone to sleep? No, they were reading their magazines. She put on a Dionne Warwick cd and sang along lustily. ‘I’ve got Tesco vouchers for a picnic lunch,’ she announced triumphantly – her children are partial to the meal deal option. Well, we hit the M-something where there was a lot of traffic going at my favourite speed – 45 mph – hurrah! Toddler boy shouted ‘ Mum, mum, read my book, please, mum.’ That boy is so polite! I grabbed the alphabet book waved at my daughter’s left ear and held it up open over my shoulder (he was sitting behind me) fearing the crick in my neck might be permanent. ‘A is for crocodile,’ he said firmly. Of course it is.
We arrived at a service area and Eureka! we found a Tesco’s. A picnic in a service area isn’t quite as picnics should be – in a field of flowers with parasols and hampers like in a Jane Austin film. However, the grandchildren, reinvigorated by Tesco’s chicken and stuffing sarnies, showed they know how to enjoy the simple things in life. Toddler boy, maybe suffering a little from cabin fever, ran round and round in small circles under the watchful eye of his mum. She then started hopping for some reason and everyone (except granddaughter 1 who had draped herself disdainfully against the car) joined in whooping, laughing and hopping like kermit on a caffeine high. Well, all that hopping had made me need the loo and, Bless my soul, behold the golden arches of McDonalds! A child of the 50s, I wouldn’t use the loo without buying something so we went for four McFlurries and I got to finish up the chunks of chocolate at the end that refuse to go up the straw (waste not, want not, my mum used to say).
We set off again with bags sliding skew-whiff, empty snack wrappers lying about in the car like leaves in autumn. Granddaughters 2 and 3 started a ding dong of ‘You’re in my space’, ‘No, I’m not’, ‘You hit me’, ‘No, I didn’t’, ‘You’re breathing too loudly’ ‘No, I’m not’, and I somehow ended up with the pink box file on my lap, another bag on top, with the map on that, just about able to peer over the top. ‘Shouldn’t the Chilterns be around here?’ asked my daughter, gazing at the distant flat horizon. ‘Pass,’ said I, squinting at the map with the wrong glasses on. ‘I made a note of the last bit of the route,’ she said. I scrabbled about in her bag and found a bit of paper with Arabic-like writing round the edge which I tried to decipher. ‘Aaaah, yes, X23, A449’ she said, mysteriously. Dionne Warwick was singing ‘Do you know the way to San Jose?’ Well no, but the way to Ross-on-Wye would be good.
Well, we got there! Six hours it took, but the driver and the children had been fantastic! Spirits were high as we went forth into the Premier Inn, my daughter and I laden like sherpas in the Himalayas. Sadly, Lenny Henry was busy elsewhere, but he was forgotten in the excitement of exploring the rooms – toddler boy was particularly taken with the tea trays and soap dispensers. The bags lay all around. And, oh joy, in two days’ time, we’d have to pack up again and drive all the way back.