ROAD-TRIP DAY SIX: Home via Dorchester approx 180 miles
I spent some of my formative years in Dorchester and can vaguely recall a few things - like walking around the infants school playground singing: "who... wants... to.... play... football-with-a-stone" on the basis that we weren't allowed to take balls to school. I also recall my mother used to curse me when I arrived home. "That's another new pair of shoes all scuffed up and you've only had them a day. What happened?" She never did find out the secret.
I also recall riding my bike around the Dorchester Town football pitch while my dad watched a Western League game against someone like Welton Rovers or Bridport. I know, too, that I lived at 4 Shaston Crescent, over the road from my best pal Martin. We used to watch the Monkeys on TV, then go out and act like them. I was always Davy Jones, he was always Peter Tork. Don't ask me why, other than he was taller than me and I bagsied Davy first.
On the basis of these flimsy memories I decided we had to pay a visit to the county town of Dorset on our way back to Cardiff.
First, though, we spent a good hour in Poole Park where we watched grown and retired men taking a race between their electric-powered toy yachts extremely seriously. They were marching up and down the side of the lake, urging on their entrant, weaving in and out of each other while an electronic box ordered them about. "60 seconds to start..." said the yacht-dalek and they all jostled for position on the starting grid. Had to admit, though, it looked good fun.
We also saw the little model train which kids, and adults, can ride around the duck pond and admired the two sunk pedalo Swans in the middle of the big lake. It's a lovely spot and if you ever get to Poole it's well worth a look.
From there we drove on to Dorchester, opting to ignore Weymouth as we had seen our fill of seaside towns.
My first reaction to my old homestead was disappointment. The council have been busy, promoting it ruthlessly as Thomas Hardy Country, with everything being renamed Hardy's or Casterbridge. My Dad assures me it could be a bit that way in summer, but to me it now looked a complete tourist trap. To prove the point we visited the Terracota Warriors museum at Wren's request. Parting with £5.50 each we left about 10 minutes later. Rather than getting a feel for the immense Chinese discovery, the museum contained about seven replica warriors, a video of ancient Chinese dynasties - I couldn't help shouting "Ah, Monkey" into the dark room when one of the actors made an elaborate gesture - and cards that repeated themselves, telling of exactly how the warriors were discovered. I'm sorry, but that aint value for money.
The Dorset County Museum was better, with a fascinating exhibition about Hardy and an exact replica of his study, with his actual property still there. It gave me a yearning to read the books which I had dismissed with disdain at senior school, preferring to buy the "cheat" versions before O levels came around and swatting up on a few quotes the teacher had provided us with.
Wren, prompted by her four-hour alarm clock, treated herself to a pastie made in Cornwall, heated up in Dorset, containing spinach, ricotta, potato and pine nuts. Then it was time for a visit to my old house.
I found it quite easily and the memories came flooding back: like the time my four-year-old brother and his neighbour Jenny, who was roughly the same age, took her baby brother for a walk right the way into the centre of town. Both sets of parents were understandably frantic. They were eventually discovered strolling through the local park, having negotiated three busy main roads.
Following that I insisted we take a peek at the Dorchester Town ground as it is now. What a change! It is a proper football ground with stands, floodlights etc, and sits next door to the almost obligatory supermarket.
After that it was off home, via Salisbury.
Wren wanted to look around the Cathedral, and I needed the break, so we made another stop. She had read a fictional book set in Salisbury and I admit the size of the Cathedral is pretty awe inspiring.
More importantly, though, it was tea time. We had a nice meal in the Market Tavern in the centre of town. We started with a plate of Chilli Nachos (massive) and I followed that with plaice stuffed with a prawn and mushroom sauce. Can't for the life of me remember what Wren had.
Back to the car then and an interesting drive home, avoiding the motorways until we hit Malmesbury and Swindon and joined the M4.
When we finally reached the house at around 10.30 we were both pretty bushed. Like my old mum used to say: "It's nice to go away, but it's lovely to come home".
The road trip ended after our return from the Hotel du Pain, or whatever it's called. Final distance travelled: 887 miles. Well done, Basil.
Newsflash: I put a message in Boo's window on Wednesday. "Bargain Buy £100". I sold him the same day. Brill. Hope he's gone to a good home.