Anyone who’s been married as long as I have knows it’s not always a walk in the park. In fact, sometimes you can’t even get to the park because your other half is driving you crazy over something ridiculous and all you want to do is stand outside the front door and scream. And anyone who knows the husband and me also knows that we’ve got about as much in common as Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn. Although that’s probably the wrong analogy as one of the things we do have in common is our political persuasion. The other is our sense of humour. Long live laughter in the Reidy household – it’s the glue that holds us together.
When the husband announces grandly that he’s taking you on a Magical Mystery Tour you’re never quite sure what’s coming. The best bet is to smile enthusiastically and prepare yourself for the worst. Anything better than that is a bonus.
So, today we set off from our cosy abode for a walk that was supposed to take two hours. Dave marched ahead. I followed behind, taking photos and, in the absence of a map, checking directions on my phone. We spent most of the walk like that, both quite happy in our own little worlds. Occasionally, I caught up with him, occasionally he slowed down and waited, but for the most part, we walked alone. Until we got to styles where he thought it would be funny to ‘help’ me over. From behind.
The husband doesn’t have a good track record for organising walks so when we had to cross a field that contained a bull I wasn’t surprised. Luckily there was no sign of it and we reached the other side unscathed, no thanks to Dave chasing me and pretending to spot a charging beast.
We were looking forward to a stop halfway for food and drink. The only pub in the village was our destination. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. We stood and stared in disbelief at the sign in the window “Closed for Refurbishment.” Never mind, the information with the walk informed us there was also a Post Office next door where snacks could be purchased. Not only was the PO closed, it was empty and up for sale.
Hungry and thirsty we plodded on, and finally found our way back to the start by Devil’s Bridge. My phone told me we’d done 10km in three and a half hours. The husband is apparently an expert in judging mileage and was adamant we’d only done 7km. I made a note to let the app designers know they’ve got it all wrong. We loped to the Sun Inn, beer for Dave, coffee and a salad for me.
We chatted about the day (well, mainly I chatted and Dave pretended to listen, whilst reading the paper and trying to make a bet on his phone). We (I) decided it had been a great day – warm and sunny, with lovely views, gambolling lambs and, for me, the sight of Dave’s back disappearing over the hills. I scrolled through Facebook and looked through my pictures. Dave ordered another beer and chatted to the barman about today’s races.
We might not have a lot in common but we’ve laughed (and cried) our way through forty odd years, and we’re not going to stop now.
Well, that’s it. Against all odds, I took myself out of my comfort zone, faced my fears and I did it.
It’s been quite a fortnight
Fourteen days, fourteen nights……..
Five Airbnbs, one Travelodge, four family homes
Fifty cups of coffee
Half a dozen sandwiches
Four Cuppa Soups
One cooked breakfast
Three fish and chips
One veggie curry
Thirty postcards distributed
Seventeen postcards received back
Sixteen pledge postcards sent
Five trips down memory lane
Endless hours of chatting
Fourteen blog posts
1500 Miles covered
£150 worth of incidentals
£200 worth of petrol
£180 worth of accommodation
3707 camera images
123 phone images
100 people spoken to
And at least three new friends
A few things I’ve learnt along the way….
Buying a large bag of popcorn and leaving it open on the passenger seat is not a good idea if you have to go round corners – not unless you’re happy to pick popcorn off everything you’ve thrown in the footwell for the past five days
You can’t eat sweetcorn with a biro* (well, you can, but it takes a long time)
Once opened, vacuum packed hard boiled eggs stink the room out *
A family sized pot of yogurt from PoundStretchers is not a bargain if you eat the whole lot in one go. With a plastic knife. Especially if you then feel sick for the next twelve hours **
There is a direct correlation between my mood and the level of the petrol gauge
Your Satnav is your best friend – don’t fall out with it.
And lucky jewellery really does keep you safe.
Travelling back today by a familiar route, has given me one last chance of thinking time. I’ve travelled miles and spent hours mulling things over in my head as the radio and satnav fought it out in the background. I’ve battled rain, hailstones, wind and blinding sun.
I’ve pondered on subjects from the meaning of life to whether I could make it to the next service station toilets. In the privacy of my car I’ve laughed and I’ve cried; I’ve panicked and stayed calm; I’ve berated myself and built myself up again.
I’ve been spurred on by support from family, friends and strangers who have heard my tale.
Above all, it’s been an experience I’ll never forget, and one that has given me more, much, much more than I ever expected.
Leo and his dad
Service Station in the Sun
Thanks to every single one of you who made pledges; suggested ideas; encouraged me to start this journey and cheered me on when it was underway.
After the excitement of the last couple of weeks today was a rest and relaxation day at Mareseybabes and Spamhead’s 5* Hotel (AKA mum and dad’s house/my childhood home.)
It’s always lovely to spend time at this ‘hotel’. It’s nearly fifty years since I last lived here but the sound of the birds singing in the garden still reminds me of the day we first moved in. The excitement of coming home from school to a different house and a bedroom with a window in TWO adjacent walls is a memory I hope I never lose. Even then, as a little eleven year old I loved solitary pursuits such as reading, drawing and writing. To be ensconced in my room, sat on the yellow candlewick bedspread with the radio playing and a plentiful supply of books, paper and pens was heaven. If I had chocolate my life was complete.
I still have the diaries that were secretly written (one with a tiny lock and key, totally superfluous when I read what I wrote) and the drawings and scribbled notes – poems, stories, plays that made up my life. Somewhere I have the reel to reel tapes of the interviews I did with my best friend (still my best friend today despite half a century of lives that went off in totally different directions) where we giggled and spluttered our way through chats on boys and pop groups, make up and fashion. I don’t suppose there would be any way of playing them now but it would be good to try.
Back to reality, and an invite from my brother and his wife to come and see the twin grandbabies they were looking after for the day.
I offered to drive but soon realised that Sally Satnav was a dream car companion compared to my mum. Before we had gone five yards I was being redirected, and if I thought Sally Satnav veered towards panic, she had nothing on Mary, who spent the whole journey warning me about red lights and approaching cars, with a foot pressing down on an imaginary brake at regular intervals. How I managed that thousand mile road trip without my eighty eight year old mum by my side for driving advice I shall never know.
Despite all hazards we arrived in one piece and were greeted by Geoff and Cathy at the door, a crying baby apiece. We had cuddles, gave bottles, oohed and aahed, soothed and smiled, danced with them to Queen, then, thinking (despite their undeniable cuddly cuteness) how glad I was that those days are over, we left as we’d arrived – Geoff and Cathy at the door, a baby apiece.
Ignoring mum’s ‘Whoops!’ as I backed out of the drive and off the kerb, we set off to Baskerville’s for lunch.
A three hour sleep on the sofa this afternoon, a home cooked meal of fillet steak and a visit from my lovely niece, Lynda (with hilarious teaching tales) all combined to recharge my batteries.
Tomorrow, I’m saying goodbye to all my London family, and (no doubt weighed down with enough food to keep me going for weeks) heading back up north to the Blackpool clan. I can’t wait for cuddles with all my favourite grandchildren. And the husband if he’s lucky…
In the bedroom, I check the flowers – daffodils, a taste of spring – and know that for now, all’s well at the 5* Hotel.
When I sorted out my original itinerary, way back in the depths of winter, Brighton was my final stop. So yesterday afternoon, as I left the Brighton seafront and set off for Worthing and my aunt’s house, I mentally packed away my cameras and prepared to unwind. Little did I know what Sandra had planned for me.
As an artist, herself, my aunt is involved in several local creative groups. It just so happened that the monthly Artists’ Breakfast was to take place the following day, so we were up and out this morning as the seagulls screeched and whirled above us.
Held in a local cafe, the Artists’ Breakfast consisted of a diverse group of interesting lively, colourful individuals. I immediately felt at home. For a couple of hours we drunk coffee and swapped stories, business cards and websites. When we left I felt I’d made several new friends, and having distributed the road trip postcards for them to return meant I would hopefully hear from them again.
The sun was shining and the cold wind had dropped. It was the perfect Spring day to stroll by the sea and walk the length of the pier, and no visit would be complete without a picture or two. The cameras had been taken out of hibernation and were once more slung around my neck. I was ready for action.
With only an hour or so before I planned to leave we wandered into the tiny shops, tucked in the arches. They were like Aladdin’s caves, crammed full of handmade goods. We chatted with one owner who made the most fantastic light fittings, then moved next door to a lovely man who sewed scarves and hats and all manner of fabulous outfits out of recycled materials. He told us he’d been making clothes since he was seven. I left them both with postcards, and we headed back for lunch.
As I packed up the car and hugged Sandra I thought how lovely it was that I’d been able to make this trip, and spend some time with a fabulous aunt I’d not seen for a few years. We’d chatted and laughed and cried and hugged and agreed we’d had the most fantastic few hours.
I started the car and thought about a conversation I’d had with Sandra fifty years ago. Undecided about teacher training or art college I’d asked her advice. She’d been to Leicester College of Art a few years previously.
‘Go there,’ she advised, you’ll love it.’
I went, I loved it – and I met the future husband. The rest, as they say, is history.
I know this will come as a huge disappointment to those of you waiting with bated breath for more tales of grubby bedding, wonky baths or dirty cups, but as the main participant in all this, I can tell you I was mightily relieved to find my room in last night’s Airbnb in Ramsgate was clean and comfortable, Kaz was the perfect host, and the house was packed full of colourful and interesting bits and pieces.
At least, I think that was the case. Half an hour after I arrived I opened my bedroom door to be hit by a smell so strong and evocative that I wonder if I actually spent the rest of the night stoned. Believe it or not, as a sixties art student, I never once smoked a joint (and I’m not just saying this because I know my mum’s reading it). When the joint came to me I just passed it on, like some adult game of pass the parcel. For some reason though, unlike cigarette smoke, I always loved the smell of dope. And last night it took me right back.
So when I went out on the landing and smelt that old familiar smell I sniffed hard, took a few deep breaths and with a smile went back into the bedroom.
As I went to leave this morning Kaz was still in bed. We had a bit of a shouted conversation between bedrooms before I asked her if she’d write one of my postcards . We ended up chatting for about half an hour – she from her bed, me in the doorway – about all sorts of things: my road trip, her house, other Airbnbs teenagers, politics – all very interesting.
Then off I went Brighton.
Apart from a missed meeting with a friend (she was at a funeral – I hoped my repeated texts and calls hadn’t interrupted the service), the extortionate cost of parking (£10 for two hours!) and the fact that I couldn’t remember where I’d left my car (and I was edging up to the next £5 increment) Brighton was pretty uneventful.
I wandered along the front, looking out for likely shots. The sun was shining and the sea was sparkling. Brighton’s appeal was obvious.
The town was a lot bigger than I remembered from my previous two visits, the first being forty three years ago when the future husband and I had just left art college, and with the optimism of youth (and no jobs or money) had decided we would live in Brighton. I don’t remember what brought us to this decision but I do remember hitching a lift in a lorry, going to look at a fabulous flat in a huge mansion, a row and heading home again.
The second visit was when I was quite ill with post natal depression and we’d left the kids with my mum and dad in London. I think it was supposed to be a nice little break for the two of us. I must have been more ill than I thought because somehow the husband persuaded me to strip off on the nudist beach and go splashing in the waves with him. Somewhere there’s a picture of the back of me in the sea, mercifully only my shoulders visible.
I walked along to where I thought the nudist beach used to be. I wanted to ask if it still existed but decided that to do so whilst sporting two large cameras could easily be misconstrued. I must admit it brought back a few memories though.
In my panic to find the rip off NCP car park and avoid a further charge I found myself rushing past one of one of the big posh hotels, narrowly avoiding the big posh doorman, who was hailing a cab for an equally big posh guest. He looked at me aghast as I lurched on, cameras banging against my chest, and mid bite of a cheap cheese and pickle sandwich. That would have been bad enough but due to my disorientation and panic, I went back and forth FOUR times before finally identifying the correct road.
My final call was to visit a friend of a friend who I’d not yet met. We’d been introduced to each other online by mutual friend, Buzz, who must have had a sixth sense that we’d get on. We were both on time limits so we sat in the kitchen, drinking tea and chatting as fast as our tongues would allow. I don’t think there was a second’s pause. By the time I was leaving, an hour later, I felt as though I’d known Liz for years.
Strange how you just connect with some people.
Finally, I steered the faithful Smartie towards Worthing and my bed for the night. My auntie (who’s my age and not old enough to be my auntie) has fed me and watered me and chatted and listened, until we could chat no more.
This morning, I woke with a start, suddenly realising that my Facebook posts were set to Public. Which meant that if Julie (of the filthy Airbnb) knew my full name she would be able to see them. I wasn’t so concerned about that, as I do think she needs to know. What I was bothered about was that she would see the posts before I escaped, and set the sniffing dogs on me. I hurriedly changed the setting to ‘Friends Only.’
As it happened, I was up by 7am, desperate to leave. Although I like a shower in the mornings the handwritten instructions, pinned to the wall, looked as though you needed a degree in physics to be able to follow them, so with Julie’s words ringing in my ears (‘There’s always plenty of hot water’) I ran a bath. Or should I say, I ran half a bath in every sense of the word.
The water was tepid at best, and collected at the tap end like a sinking ship. Before I could run the water I had to remove the bottle of dog shampoo that was wedged between taps and bath, as though preventing the taps from turning themselves on. Trying not to ponder on the fact that the two dogs might have been the last ones to sit in this bath, I lowered myself with some trepidation into a kneeling position and rapidly washed myself in the cooling water.
As I left the bathroom, wrapped in a towel that just about covered my modesty, and took the two strides to my room I heard a door open behind me. I turned round to see the door closing. Dressing as quickly as possible I threw the last items in my case and prepared to leave.
Much to my relief, breakfast had never been mentioned (although it annoys me that these places are described as B&Bs) so I descended the stairs with my luggage to see a male figure kneeling down, bent over the two dogs and fiddling with their coats. His back was towards me but he must have heard me thumping down the stairs with a case, two rucksacks, a carrier bag and a coat.
‘Morning,’ I addressed his back.
‘Morning,’ he replied miserably, remaining on the floor with his back towards me. He didn’t turn round.
At this point I decided he’d either read my comments on Facebook or he’d been disgusted with me leaving the bathroom in only a towel. It did occur to me that it could have been the fact that he and Julie had spent the night in separate bedrooms, something she had been at great pains to inform me the previous evening. To be honest, their sleeping arrangements were way down on my list of worries. Or perhaps I’d pinched his parking space on the drive.
Whatever the problem, I was beginning to lose patience with this whole set up. I was in a filthy house with a mad woman, a miserable man and two bum sniffing dogs. And I’d paid £20 for the privilege. I’m sure there’s some sexual deviant somewhere in the world who would pay double that for the bum sniffing dogs alone but it sure as hell wasn’t me. The dogs stared at me with what looked like disdain. I wondered what the miserable man had told them about me. As for Julie, there was no sign.
I bumped and dragged my bags to the front door, with an overly cheery, ‘Right, I’ll be off now, then.’ As I tried to manoeuvre myself and heavy suitcase over the dog stair gate between front door and porch, Miserable Man finally turned round and asked sullenly if I needed a hand. I nodded and he picked up the case, marched outside and dumped it next to my car, then, without a word, turned and went back in, sliding the porch door shut with some difficulty, just as Julie’s head appeared over his shoulder.
‘Bye,’ she called as the door was slammed shut.
I was out.
If you’ve ever driven on a motorway when your wipers can’t keep up with the hailstones that batter your windscreen, combined with the spray from the lorry in front, then you’ll know what my journey was like this morning. Add to that unfamiliar territory, a mist that came down within seconds and the perils of Tunnels Dartmouth and Channel and you’ll have an even better idea of why my hands went numb from gripping the steering wheel so tightly.
As you know, Sally Satnav and I have developed a love hate relationship over the past couple of weeks. I love the way I can put in a postcode, then just sit back and let Sally boss me about and tell me off. However, I hate the way Sally can get it wrong occasionally (think M1 detour last Thursday) but never admit it was her fault.
It was all just about ok this morning until a sign flashed up telling me the Dartford Tunnel was closed. As that was where I was heading I didn’t really know what to do. So, I clutched the steering wheel, gritted my teeth, peered through the hail and spray and carried on regardless. Now I’m not sure what happened (and I’m going to google it shortly) but the next thing I knew I was heading for something called the Dart Cross, with big signs telling me I could pay online. It was like a toll road but without the toll.
Finally I arrived in Dover to see my best friend of fifty four years standing. A quick brew, a condensed chat and I was on my way again, back into the mist and spray, en route to another little walk down Memory Lane. For years our family spent holidays with cousins in Westgate, near Margate. I can remember the thrill of coming over the brow of a hill and seeing the sea for the first time.
Today, amazingly, as I came to the top of the hill the dark clouds parted and the sun and blue skies shone through. Every year as we neared Fitzmary Avenue where they lived my dad (in a reference to the actor, Fatty Arbuckle) would say, ‘What fits Arbuckle fits Mary.’ My mum, Mary, would roll her eyes, and I don’t think we kids laughed after the first couple of years. It was all part of the holiday ritual though, as was walking down to the Sunken Garden at the bottom of the road, and skipping across the seaweed covered rocks below. I thought my cousins were the luckiest kids on earth.
The Sunken Garden
At the end of Fitzmary Avenue
Today I stopped and took a quick picture through the car window of the house they used to live in, and thought about the happy times we’d had there. My uncle was a baker and I could still imagine him, coming round the back gate with a tray of cakes for tea. My younger brother and I were scared of him because he was big with huge feet and talked in a loud voice – probably years of shouting above the machinery in the bakery. We managed to overcome our fear to choose a cake from the tray though.
A little reminisce then onto Margate where I was looking forward to getting pictures of Dreamland – another rare childhood treat. Sadly, the building was wrapped in huge banners and obviously under repair.
I walked down to the beach where the sky seemed to split in two, and watched a man relentlessly flying a kite in the wind and rain. It was freezing cold with an icy wind whipping round my ears. A father stood watching two young children building sandcastles, his hands jammed in his pockets. Twice I heard him pleading with them to come off the beach. I remembered that lovely feeling of being totally lost in play, oblivious to the cold, and thought about all those days fifty years ago when my mum had sat on that same beach whilst my brothers and cousins and I played endless games of jumping off the wall and making moats around castles, waiting for the sea to come in and eventually destroy them.
What happy, carefree, uncomplicated days, although my mum did say in latter years that she thought Auntie Jean had got the best job – staying in and cooking dinner while she (mum) came down to the beach with five children. With hindsight, she had a point.
I followed the road around the coast, savouring the names of my childhood holidays: Westgate, Garlinge, Westbrook, Cliftonville, Ramsgate, Pegwell Bay. I stopped at intervals to take pictures, all the while thinking about those holidays.
Now, at the Airbnb in Ramsgate, I lie on the bed writing this blog and think how strange it is that fifty odd years have gone by like five.
The days are all beginning to blur into each other. It’s Southend so it’s Saturday (and I only know that because I’ve bought the Weekend Guardian. Twice. But that’s another story, involving missing sections, found sections, great expense and lots of swearing).
The Travelodge was great last night, once Sally Satnav had stopped repeatedly telling me to make a U-turn, even as I drove past the Travelodge sign and into the car park. It was clean, warm and spacious. Perfect.
Unlike the Airbnb I now find myself in.
After a day striding up and down Southend prom with cameras and rucksack, only stopping for (yet more) fish and chips I was ready to relax. I’d had another little trip down memory lane when I spotted the cockle sheds that we used to visit when we came to see my grandma (the one born in Yarmouth, moved to London and ended up in Leigh on Sea). She would buy a bag of the smallest shrimps you ever did see and we’d have them for tea with brown bread and butter. When she passed away and the funeral was over, thirteen members of her family, all dressed in black, walked along the length of the seafront, reminiscing on her life. It moved me so much I wrote a poem about it.
But back to today. Following the (not so trusty) Satnav I found my journey leading me along a road which became increasingly undesirable (in reverse Estate Agent jargon). When the Satnav told me I’d reached my destination I pulled up and stared, open mouthed, at the depressing house that faced me. Dirty, run down and extremely unappealing.
After a few minutes hesitation I drove off, intending to stop along the road, book a Travelodge at great expense (thanking my lucky stars for Kickstarter) then let Julie (the Airbnb host) know that I’d had a sudden emergency and wouldn’t be staying after all. The first hurdle was that the local Travelodge was fully booked. The second hurdle was that there wasn’t another one for about fifty miles – and even if it wasn’t full it was going to cost me four times Julie’s rate. I clicked onto the Airbnb site and read Julie’s reviews. They all said how lovely Julie was. Nobody mentioned the run down house. I looked at her picture and decided she didn’t look like a murderer, an alcoholic or a drug addict. I turned the car round and reluctantly drove back.
Julie was very friendly, perfectly welcoming – and quite eccentric. The house was filthy. Her two dogs followed me up the stairs, sniffing my behind as though deciding whether I was a suitable guest. Julie showed me into a small, very pink bedroom, with a strange assortment of pictures on the wall. She told me it had been her daughter’s room but, by a strange coincidence, her daughter now lives in Blackpool with her dad. Looking round the room I could see why.
I am laid on the bed, looking up at James Bond, gun cocked. Behind me, Marilyn Monroe poses and pouts. To my right is Audrey Hepburn whose clock hands have read 6.05 for the past hour and a half. There is an iron, a toaster, a kettle and an empty beer fridge. And a purple TV which doesn’t work and looks like something from the 80s. I am in a time warp.
I’m beginning to wonder whether I need to review my standards. I’m really not a fussy person. I hate housework, I’m pretty untidy and I always fear our house reflects this. Having seen two of these Airbnbs now that fall well below even my low standards I do wonder whether they need stricter checks. My house is beginning to seem like a palace.
I was going to venture out for food but I really don’t fancy any more dog sniffing, and Julie has a man friend round on a Saturday night for curry and a film. As the way to the front door is through the sitting room I don’t want to disturb them. So I shall lay back on my creased pink duvet, read one of my two Guardians and eat the banana and two apples that now constitute my evening meal.