MY girlfriend Wren once spent six months travelling the world: she must have taken her own jumbo jet. I think she managed to pack the entire contents of her flat when deciding what she needed for our British road trip.
Originally we considered a short break abroad to maybe Amsterdam or Barcelona, but money dictated that staying closer to home was a better bet. Indeed, my new car Basil needed a good run and this seemed the ideal opportunity. There were other things to consider, too, like visiting the tennant in my house near Ilford, introducing Wren to the Fat Kid, Vin and the Big Boy, and paying a visit to her parents in Laversham in Suffolk. After that it would be all plain sailing.
I guess the title to this entry is a bit misleading but it should become self-explanatory as we progress.
SUNDAY: 200 miles to Southend-on-Sea
It's fair to say we both like a snack, so we set off for sunny Southend, the pride of the East coast, with a goodie bag containing mixed nuts, cashew nuts, a corned beef pastie, a spicy chorizo pastie of some description and other things too many to mention. By the time we reached my house in Newbury Park, Essex, we had the cashews left. Still, at least we didn't stop for dinner.
Met with Hayley for the first time. She has been my tennant for the last year and a half and had a few little problems that needed sorting. Like Mice and the outrageously outdated colour scheme.
Apparently some criminal Lithuanians have been living next door and there was a drug raid a few weeks back. They carried away bags full of what I can only surmise amounted to the contents of a small pharmacy. Classy area. Doesn't look like anyone's been cutting the grass much lately either.
Moving on, we drove up to the Fat Kid's. Despite having numerous problems with her nutter of an ex, she seems in high spirits and I leave her to "bond" with Wren while nipping out to the local Kentucky for a purchase of a large bargain bucket, two portions of chicken gravy, two portions of coleslaw and plenty of popcorn chicken, which both Vin and the Big Boy wolf down in no time.
The Fat Kid has been working on Wren since I've been away. They are already worringly forming an alliance. When I get back my daughter is creeping around me like a good looking Uriah Heap or Fagan. "I really need a holiday," she pleads, hanging from my neck. "Mikey's parents have given him some money towards one. Wren (name changed to protect the guilty) don't you agree I need a holiday."
It's the worst kind of solidarity. Girls in Arms. Later Wren works on me. "Well, she does need a little time to herself," she argues quite reasonably. I've no chance now.
That night we settle down, tummies full, to watch Hannibal Rising. Pretty abysmal, if you ask me. It all started going wrong when instead of Thomas Harris writing books and them being made into films, he was asked to write sequels just so that films could be made from them. The whole story is unbelievable, particularly the idea that Hannibal would learn the ways of a Samarai from a good-looking Japanese girl. It's not the kind of film you want nursing a stomach full of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
MONDAY: 100 miles to Lavernham
Wren takes on the driving today and gets used to Basil pretty quickly. Soon we are zipping along. But there's a hitch. "My mum won't be in until after 3 so we will have to find somewhere to go first."
She has the ideal solution. It's a designer outlet centre called Freeport Village just outside Braintree. What a lovely coincidence.
Everything goes fine and we start spending some of our hard earned, on the basis that it's pay day for both of us that week. I make a new friend. His name is Ted Baker and I end up walking away from his shop with a new hoodie and T-shirt. Smart. Wren buys a fancy pair of trousers, too. Happy with our purchases we return to the car.
Then it dawns... I have been parted from my mobile phone and car stereo.
This is a disaster... but no great surprise. Only that morning when my daughter was telling Wren of my capacity to lose things, including phones, I had argued vehemently: "I haven't lost a phone for ages."
As panic sets in I throw a small paddy, telling myself I am a total idiot and decrying the loss of the phone, in particular. It contains every phone number of everyone I know. What a pain. Who decided it was a good idea to use phones instead of address books to store numbers.
Wren watches me, perplexed, as I throw a bit of a hissy fit, empty the car boot then refill it. Then I ask her to stay by the car as I march back to the toilets, the Ted Baker shop and finally the security office where they say they will make inquiries. "How can we get in touch with you?" asks the security man. Well, he can hardly ring me on my phone, can he? And I can't remember Wren's number. In the end I take his number and will ring him from Wren's phone later.
When I get back to the car, having got lost around the back of the stores, I explain to Wren I've had no luck. We return to the shopping centre for one final look around.
Our last chance is the Coffee shop we visited first and as soon as I walk in the man behind the counter gives me a knowing "here's the idiot who left his phone and car stereo behind" look. He reaches under the counter and hands them over. I am so relieved I nearly faint.
On to Lavenham then, with piece of mind. It's a picturesque little village, a bit like one of those "Best Kept Villages" that the film Hot Fuzz takes the mickey out of. The trouble is very few people actually live there, it is all rental properties and holiday homes.
We are staying in a little B and B which is comfortable and friendly. That night we meet up with Wren's mum and dad. Dad and Wren spend ages discussing her new laptop and ways of connecting it to the Internet, none of which seem to work, while I find it easy to bond with her mum, who has the same contrary ways as me in the fact that she is determined to smoke even more now that "they" don't want us to. She even calls me her smoking "buddy" when we later eat at the Angel Inn in the town. We have a nice night out and meal before heading back via a "locals" pub called the Greyhound. Wren and I are the only occupants of the lounge. The strange characters in the bar are giving us "You're not from around 'ere, are you?" looks, like something from the League of Gentlemen. After a quick pint its home for an earlyk night in possibly the quietest place I've ever stayed in my life. Spooky.
TUESDAY: To Brighton - 140 miles.
After an enjoyable breakfast we take to the road again, Wren behind the wheel. We drive as far as the M25 and when we reach the Dartford crossing we swap drivers after a quick Burger King meal. Normally I wouldn't be seen dead in one of those, but this is just fuel for the journey.
The weather is awful and when we reach Brighton it looks like a typical, downtrodden British seaside town. The only people around look like druggies or tramps. There are boarded up shop front's on the way down to the pier and seafront. This seems like it might be a big mistake. How wrong you can be.
Hotel Alvia seems nice enough, though, and the girl on the front desk is very welcoming, helping us in with our huge number of bags. Another bonus: Wren can now access the internet so we look up things to do in Brighton on a Tuesday night. Very little. Even if you're gay, which we most definitely are not. Apparently, Brighton is the Gay capital of Britain.
To be continued...