There was no post last week.

Some of you noticed. The other two were travelling and had other things to think about. Such as whether the fish lip soup on the menu was for real or just the Chinese equivalent of shepherd’s pie.

Anyway, to those who wondered if I was ok, the answer is…no.

I was in bed, under the covers, trying to recover.

Not from illness, mind you, but from having driven all the way to Manchester. And back. Half of it by myself.

Now, I realise that for many of you, driving 500 miles in one day is a piece of cake. But, you can probably drive. I, on the other hand, can not.

Well, that’s not strictly true. I can drive. Just as long as the road is straight, the sun is shining, and everyone else has stayed at home. Oh, and there’s something interesting to listen to on the radio.

None of those conditions pertained last Saturday.

My boy had finished his first year of university and was coming home, along with everything he had acquired over the course of the last ten months. His father was off on a Cub Scout camp, taking care of other people’s children while his own son languished in Manchester, leaving me to risk life, limb and Pericles (our car) to go and get him. Now, before you get the wrong idea, I’m not bitter about this. Or twisted. I’m just telling you the facts. That’s all.

I set off at 6am. I have no idea why, other than some vague notion that I would thus get as far as possible before anyone else joined me on the roads. Who knew that all those giant lorries would be out so early, or those suspiciously driven cars so late? Not me, that’s for sure.

Nevertheless, all went well for the first several miles. I stayed in my own lane, I minded my own business and I went fast enough so that no one would think I had broken down and was limping home. I started relaxing, a bit, and slowly, very slowly, began to think – ‘This won’t be too bad’. 

And then the wind kicked in.

I opened all the windows, figuring it would be better to let the wind whistle through the car rather than pick it up and deposit us in a field. I have, after all, seen the Wizard of Oz.  Several times. 

Of course, I hadn’t factored in the torrential rain. It’s amazing how wet you can get in such a short time. And so, not wanting to drown while driving, I compromised. I left the passenger’s window open and closed mine – thus letting the wind get into the car with no way of getting out, while getting one seat soaked. Looking back on it, it wasn’t my wisest decision ever.

To be honest, I wasn’t thinking too clearly by that point. But, my boy was waiting for me and I soldiered on. I was, however, the only soldier in the car and I soon got lonely, very lonely. So, I turned on the radio, secure in the knowledge that the BBC’s Radio 4 would keep me company, and calm, for the rest of my journey, and I looked forward to spending the next several, horrendous hours, listening to reassuring voices and interesting programmes.

Unfortunately, it was Bloomsday and the announcer soon informed me that I was about to take part in an historic event – Radio 4 was re-enacting James Joyce’s Ulysses, in real-time. Yes, the entire day was going to be devoted to following Leopold Bloom on his jaunt through Dublin. Oh, great.

Various commentators and narrators and people they found lurking in the pub kept remarking that Ulysses was a masterpiece which no one had ever read. That single fact, I thought, would have been a decent-enough reason for them to NOT go ahead with this idea but, sadly, it wasn’t. And so, over the next few hours, excited people – one of whom actually said ‘No, I’ve never read it but I did skim through it last night’ – introduced scenes in which characters with insanely thick Irish accents talked about breakfasts, and Martello towers, and funerals. Honestly, it would have been hard to follow this if I had spent all day sitting safely at home, with the plot summary. It was impossible while trying to avoid that crazy person in a Mazda.

Still, I kept going. Through Oxford, a city with a reportedly halfway decent university that even I could have easily driven to and from in a day, around some unbelievably complicated junctions near Birmingham, and past my turnoff. Twice.

Eventually I arrived and was happily surprised to see that my boy had not yet packed the kettle, a mug, a tea bag and some milk. I was less happy to realise that he had also not yet packed anything else, but that’s another story.

I sipped my tea and wondered if there was any way we could leave the car there and take the train home. He threw possessions into bags. Many bags. I finally noticed this and asked how much of it we were going to drop off at the flat he and his friends had rented for next year. ‘None, we don’t have the keys yet.’

After inhaling deeply, I reminded him about the size of our car, and wondered aloud why, when I had told him that I would rent a larger one for the day, he had said that that wouldn’t be necessary. Perhaps he didn’t hear me, because he certainly didn’t reply.

Several trips later and we had everything downstairs. The pile was larger than the car. Still, he thought we would be ‘fine’, thereby demonstrating that he is not studying physics, or engineering, or anything vaguely useful in a situation such as this. And so, not realising that he couldn’t get everything in, he got everything in. I have to say, I was impressed. I was also squished. And facing a five-hour trip home, in a small car, with a large boy, and everything he owned. Including a 10 pound bag of rice, an enormous suitcase he had offered to take home for a friend, and a bike.

Many hours later, we pulled into our driveway. My boy, being a non-driver and having a surprisingly large amount of faith in me, had no idea how many near-death experiences we had had along the way. They weren’t all my fault. After all, it’s really not easy to drive a small, overloaded car on wet highways, in high winds, with a bicycle on the back.

He went in and started watching football. I went to bed, after a small detour to the kitchen to grab a bottle of wine and a straw. His father was still camping. I tried, unsuccessfully, not to smirk as the mental image of tents and mud formed in my mind.

Sadly, though, that’s all it was – an image. The 1st Wandsworth Scouts were, as it turned out, in the only place in Britain where it was neither raining nor windy. In fact, said a very happy Cub Scout leader the following day ‘We were so lucky with the weather. It was great’.

Sometimes there really is no justice in the world.

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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10 Responses to Busted

  1. Ossie Agius says:

    Parenthood and by the way it does not stop when your kids leave home. Lovely turn of phrase.

  2. Adam says:

    What’s the plural of Pericles? Don’t cars have four Tyres?
    I especially like the idea of going to bed with a bottle of wine and a straw. At least Christopher didn’t meet you at the door and say he’d invited two friends and all their luggage as well because they don’t live too far away. That only happened to me once.

    • Eileen Riley says:

      Oh dear. If he had done that the three of them would still be walking. Poor old Pericles, survived the trip to Manchester but got side-swiped at Sainsbury’s. By someone who drove off without stopping. It’s a dangerous world.

  3. Imogen says:

    Ulysses was my dad’s favourite book but that’s another story …..Eileen you’ve started my day with such a laugh and what relief I feel that those days are over for me ….not only is it putting the junk in the car to bring home it’s having to empty it at the other end knowing that all the unwashed clothes and dirty cooking pots etc. will stay in the hall unless you deal with them. Enjoy having your boy back!

  4. Marty says:

    Hi Eileen, I didn’t have to drive 500 miles this weekend to pick up the boy but I did have to finish building his tree fort I promised. A desk jockey such as myself is not meant to build things anymore. I’m sore. Maybe a bottle of wine and a straw would be the thing to put me right. Thanks.

    • Eileen Riley says:

      Hi Marty. Bet he loves the tree fort though, which makes the muscles a bit less sore…Oh, and here’s a tip – make sure you get the bendy kind of straw. Otherwise it’s hard to get the angle right while lying under the covers.

  5. james Riley says:

    Eileen, this is really good. I could picture your journey. The imagery reminds me of “A Confederacy Of Dunces” by James Kennedy Toole, which I strongly recommend to you.

    • Eileen Riley says:

      Thanks very much, Jimmy. Yes, I’ve read that. Think you just like the main character’s name (and that he came from Astoria). Sadly, didn’t Toole have to kill himself to get published? Don’t think I’m at that stage yet – either talent-wise or desperation level.

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