27 August 2013

You take the high road and I'll take the low road

I hate motorways. Not just an "I prefer other roads if I can help it" sort of hate, but a full blown "I'm never going to go on another one ever again" sort of hate. I NEVER go on one as a driver and I avoid where at all possible going on them as a passenger. I think I'm a reject from another era and deep down prefer horse and carts to fast speeds.

I can pinpoint exactly where my hatred of motorways stems from. When I was newly married to Greg, I lived in Germany and used to bomb up and down the autobahns to explore other places. I confess to being a bit nervous even then of the lack of speed limits and the sinking feelings when someone came bombing even faster up behind expecting you to pull over even though it would mean swerving into a ten-ton truck you were overtaking, just so they could get past. But the big moment came one early evening in October 1978.

Greg and I had been out visiting another town that day and were on our way back home. It had been a real autumnal sort of day and now it was 6pm, dark, foggy and crisp. The roads were relatively busy and we had overtaken a fair few lorries and other traffic when we came up over a rise and the dark autobahn stretched ahead of us.  In the middle distance there were no cars and everything was swathed in darkness, but in the far distance we picked out a few cars that that seemed to be stationary with their flashers blinking. Greg slowed down as we drove into the dark middle ground between us and them , anticipating there may be trouble ahead. Suddenly Greg slammed on his brakes and swerved to the hard shoulder. There before us, in the dark empty space was the dead body of a horse, lying between the two lanes (this particular motorway only had two lanes as a lot of German motorways do/did). It became apparent very quickly that the horse had been decapitated.

Greg knew that we had overtaken a lot of bunched-up traffic and that they were probably less than a minute away from coming along this bit of road too, so he was fearful of a multiple pile-up. He jumped out of the car, ordering me to stay put, while he took the obligatory emergency triangle out of the boot and headed off on foot back down the motorway in the direction we had come, waving the emergency triangle at passing cars as he went. Fortunately he was wearing his favourite clothing which nearly always included a white Aran sweater, so he hoped to be spotted in people's headlights.

Meanwhile I sat in the car on the hard shoulder, dark fields to my right and a headless horse to my left which was beginning to steam in the cold of the evening. I was terrified Greg would be run over as he tried to do his good deed. What seemed like an eternity passed and Greg returned to the car having eventually got the traffic to slow and stop, aided soon after by the police doing the same. As we eventually set off again gingerly along the slow lane, we soon pieced together what had happened, because there in the throng of cars  we had seen ahead with their lights flashing, were a few people restraining a foal. It would seem the foal had run out onto the motorway from a field, its mother had followed and a car had hit the mother. It was a very sad way to end what had been a lovely day out for us.

After that I started to get very nervous on motorways and hated the speed, the way lorries would pull out, often without indicating and spent the entire journey digging my fingernails into my palms. Journeys between home in Germany and relatives in England would involve at least 8 hours on motorways and I hated them. Once we returned to England, any holidays in Britain began and ended with a nightmare journey for me.  Since Greg has died, I have studiously avoided motorways altogether and if I have had to travel long distances, I have opted for the train.

So it was with great pride and utter terror that I waved Kay off on Saturday to return to uni. She had passed her driving test a few months ago and we had bought a car about a month ago. Because she had been in Borneo she had little chance to drive it or practice in it. Greg's sister volunteered (without any prompting from me) to  come down from Lincolnshire and sit as a passenger with Kay while she drove it ooop north. My heart was in my mouth at the thought of my only-born hurling herself into the mayhem of the M25, then M11 and A1(M) northwards. To start on the M25 as your first ever motorway experience was more than a little brave, I thought.  To crown it all, the weather was typical Bank Holiday weather and the heavens opened with rain like stair-rods from morning to night. The whole world and its granny was on the move too, so that in places motorway speeds were reduced to 20mph or crawling. However, Kay also managed to get up to 70 mph (she said rather too gleefully) and even managed to overtake things too. They broke the journey in Lincolnshire, so Greg's sister could collect her own car and then do the second half of the journey on Sunday with Kay driving in her car behind, thus giving Kay the experience to cope with the drive entirely on her own, albeit following her aunty's car.

When Kay rang me on Sunday afternoon to say she had arrived at the other end safely, I was heartily relieved. She's made of sterner stuff than me. I am indebted to Greg's sister for doing the run with her. I do so wish Greg was still alive as I am sure he would be very proud of them both too.

19 August 2013


I've had one of those revolving door weeks - when Kay returned from a trip to the Far East, was home for a few days, sprinkled her belongings liberally throughout the house turning it into a tip, dumped her laundry and was back out again to the V-Fest music festival weekend.

She'd had a great time in Borneo, once known for its head-hunters. Far from being savages, she found the Malaysians very friendly, eager to help and not too keen on trying to sell you something you didn't really want. They didn't push their tourism on you but were full of suggestions when you needed them. She spent three days in the jungle under her own steam and visited this wonderful place, taking thousands of photos of macaques, proboscis monkeys, orang-utans, toucans, crocodiles and much much more. Although I bit my fingers down to the knuckles as I anticipated her flying from place to place by air or taking 7-hour bus rides and being dumped in the middle of the jungle on a quiet country road, she survived and came home to tell the tale and give me her dirty laundry!

The music festival was less successful. For a start, it had cost half the amount it had cost for a one-way ticket to Borneo. She'd staggered up there with not only her own luggage but our 8-man tent to house her and some of her mates. The main attraction on Saturday (let's just call it a woman with a name like B*****e) was rubbish, keeping them waiting for half an hour before she deigned to put in an appearance and then disappearing for copious costume-changes. Whilst standing shoulder to jammed shoulder in the throng, Kay had had some stranger's urine thrown over her from afar. On returning to the tent on Sunday evening, the girls found someone had decided to trash their tent - they'd jumped on it, bent the poles, made a large hole in the canvas and vomited on it for good measure. The tent was one of our best tents, but it's now been binned.

Now, tell me who the savages are.

16 August 2013

Ninety years young

My gorgeous mum is 90 years old today.  She doesn't want to be and is clinging on to her 80s with all her might.

As an 18-month old child in 1925, she saw off double pneumonia and whooping cough , which she and her two sisters all caught at the same time.  It resulted in her younger and older sister dying within a few days of one another and it left Mum considerably weaker.

She saw off a poor childhood during the Depression,  often having nothing to eat for a meal except mashed potato.

She saw off the Germans during the Second World War, although ended up marrying one who was a refugee here. He conquered her heart while they worked together on the land (she as a Land Army Girl and he driving tractors).

She saw off a happy 54-year-old marriage, when my Dad bravely fought leukaemia and lost the battle.

She fought (and often lost) against the crippling pain of arthritis and scoliosis which has curved her spine beyond all recognition.

She has even recently fought and survived cracked ribs.

However, time waits for no man and, despite her not wanting to celebrate her ninetieth, because she does not feel old enough, I give you my gorgeous mum at ninety...........

05 August 2013


I've always loved receiving postcards and have kept them from as long as I can remember in an old chocolate box. I didn't consciously start to do that, but it seemed such a shame to throw them away when someone had taken the trouble to send me one and the pictures transported me to places I had never seen, so I liked to look at them from time to time. I can remember in the Fifties when I was a little girl getting postcards from a great uncle and aunt who had ventured as far afield as Spain (that was a long way to travel in those days) and they sent me several postcards with flamenco dancers depicted on the front with real material tiered dresses. Whether the postcards were from within the UK or abroad, I still liked to keep them. Over the years, I must have gathered hundreds

Recently I got to thinking that people don't seem to send postcards any more.  With email and wifi, we seem to be more into electronic contact these days. Kay, just for example although not to single her out, will text or email or Skype from wherever she is, but she doesn't send a postcard. It's a real shame as a postcard is a visual reminder of what happened whilst away and can still be looked at in 20 or 40 years time, where an email or text most probably won't stand the test of time. Also, I know I can google an image of the place someone is visiting to get an idea of what the place looks like, but it is not the same as that postcard dropping on my doormat, having come hundreds and often thousands of miles to get to me.