Let’s go to the countryside they said, it’ll be fun they said.
Christmas in the early nineties. Two couples, a national trust ‘darling gem’ of a cottage found and booked. A wholesome, countryside Christmas holiday awaited.
23rd December and boyfriend and I pick up our friends’ entire home contents to load into our ‘spacious’ Vauxhall Astra. We breathe in the exhaust from their 2 seater sports car with only the Christmas turkey within as they sped away to beat the Christmas holiday exodus.
Within an hour of our own departure, the problem with duvets, towels, alcohol and clothes stacked up in our car’s back seat thereby making rear view mirrors impossible to use became a moot point as we sat stationery on the M4. As darkness fell, fog descended and visibility went down to a few feet. We filled the tank up at Severn Services and I can remember the floodlights being shrouded in a fog that hemmed me in so much that I kept rubbing my eyes to try and clear the view. I begged the boyfriend to turn back, we were only a third of the way into our journey and hours had passed and I already felt the dread in my stomach.
He, quite rightly, pointed out that our speedy friends had no duvets, nor alcohol to keep them warm that night, so we doggedly continued.
It took us nearly nine hours to get to South West Wales.
Our friends greeted us merrily and with excitement, showed us around the ‘darling gem’ of a cottage with it’s rental brown tiled floors and cosy living room that would have concussed a cat at first swing. They breezily suggested a trip to the local pub. The local pub was a concrete box with sticky carpets and a 15 minute drive back through muddy forest. It contained 3 locals who ignored the silent flashing fruit machines but spent an inordinate amount of time and attention on us. (Think ‘Withnail and I’ rather than ‘From Dusk til Dawn’). My boyfriend drove us back to our accommodation that night, misjudging his speed on a turn on the mud track, we careered toward a makeshift bridge over the river/stream/babbling brook. The wheels of the car hit the sides of the bridge and I genuinely thought we were going to die – or worse, be trapped in the car betwixt the steep sides of the stream for days and THEN die. We were, it seemed to urbanite me, literally in the middle of nowhere and if you think no-one can hear you scream in space, this area felt, at the time, like a Google Earth North Korean blackout – screaming would be utterly pointless.
So, boyfriend gingerly steered car off the bridge and to the front of the house. I silently took the few steps to the cottage with knees buckling. However, the quote of the week was swiftly delivered as our friend walked with great conviction from the back of the car and into the house stopping in front of my boyfriend where she simply stated: “I’m SO angry with you Paulypops.”
That was the first day of our countryside holiday.
And so followed a cold wet week of festive merriment. Every night, I would watch my companions make their way diligently through the wine store we’d brought in the Astra. Not wanting to listen to the drumming of silence in my ears alone in bed every night, I’d stay up with them being silly. And we wouldn’t get to bed until the early hours. This led to long lie-ins and never seeing daylight. For a whole week.
Christmas Day, my boyfriend bought me my first ever mobile phone, which received no signal in our hovel (sorry, darling gem of a cottage) because the mountain we abutted meant no service. I refer back to the void of nothingness.
And it was all so quiet outside. And so dark. And quiet. To go anywhere necessitated a car drive and as I couldn’t drive and was the only one not drinking, we rarely ventured out. This continued for a WEEK (did I mention that?).
I think I started packing to return to London by the 4th day.
And then the last night happened. A storm hit us and with it, a malarial nightmare, thunderous hailstones above our heads hitting the corrugated iron roof and boyfriend visibly shaking with fever whenever the lightening flashed the room. First light could not come around quickly enough. We grabbed everyone’s belongings, reloaded the car (minus the wine boxes) and headed out of dodge.
Again, our friends sped away in a turquoise blur and broke many speed limits on the way back to London. We trundled along, stopping now and again for boyfriend to be violently ill at every service station we could find and, well, other places. The Severn Bridge that had so gaily allowed our friends to pass a few hours before had closed behind their speeding tailgate and we were stuck in gridlock on the M4 once again.
Boyfriend shivered with fever and, it has to be said, looked like death. And I sat there, over utilising my new phone to call all for spiritual guidance.
Our friends popped around to our flat that evening to pick up their belongings and to have a post holiday drink.
“That was so much fun, let’s go to the countryside again, it’ll be fun.”
“let me think…. Errr, nah, I think I’ll pass.”