Our Travel blog
Sad though we were to leave Hay we were travelling to Shallowford, a village near Stafford, to stay overnight with friends. We followed the broad river Wye for a while, passed the oddly ornate Weobley Church with its Thunderbird 1 spire, looking as if it was about to take off towards heaven. We took a scenic route towards Worcester, passing signs for charmingly named places that read like birth announcements in the Telegraph: "To Sir Timothy and Lady Evesbatch a son Lulsley Alfrick Suckley. A brother to Tedstone Bromyard Leominster. A 2nd Grandchild for Sandy and Corby Bedfordshire."
We rolled along passed lush green meadows, gently rising and falling with the road, passed a ruined castle on a hill, silently watching over pastures of golden buttercups, sparse woodlands and carefully tended fields where cows grazed lazily. The Malvern Hills loomed in the background, their shape changing against the Wedgewood blue skyline as we followed the road on its twisting course.
We were entranced by the scenary and after unsuccesfully seeking out a suitable parking spot for lunch we eventually settled on a spot hard up against a stone wall where we could look at the road, some tress or the wall. On a road with few stopping places we realised that this would have to do and enjoyed our lunch. Setting off we pulled back onto the road, rounded the corner and the view opened out before us, a chocolate box picture of perfect English countryside. Fields divided by neat hedges, willow trees weeping into a river, cows and sheep in meadows of shimmering green, a thatched cottage with a counrty garden of wild flowers next to a bloody great big empty parking and picnicing space. We drove on, grumbling and decided the view was far too twee and probably a painted backdrop to disguise some chemical plant or nuclear weapons facility. And so we came to Worcester and joined its ugly bypass. We passed the site of the Battle of Worcester where in 1651 Cromwell's New Model Army fought a desisive victory over Royalist forces in the civil war. If you must fight I suppose its sensible to do so close to the motorway network and the shops of Worcester. There was even a Morrisons just down the road if they fancied stocking up on groceries post battle.
The M5 and M6 were mercifully uneventful; fortunately Alison takes potential hazards like Birmingham's notorious Spagetti Junction in her stride. I try to, but a bit of my father's fretfulness occassionally surfaces and I worry about ending up in the wrong lane and having to detour around Dublin to rejoin the M6 somewhere further away than where I joined it.
My early family holidays were usually in Norfolk or Suffolk, a fair drive from Hertfordshire pre A12 duel carriaegway and the Orwell Bridge. The route took us through the centre of Ipswich where there was a rare (for then) double roundabout which my father considered was built specifically to spite him. He regarded it as a personal duel.
He'd fret about it from the end of our road in Sawbridgeworth and by the time we entered Ipswich he had been through cross, annoyed, blaming the council, telling himself it was fine he'd done it before, threatening to turn around and then asking my mother to find an alternative route, getting hopelessly lost, finding the A12 again by accident but now heading the wrong way, and eventually reaching a plateau of icy calmness. He'd point the family Mazda at the roundabout and pull up about a foot from the white line. My mother, forever little miss helpfulness, would be pointing out how easily other cars were navigating it, using a voice guaranteed to raise the tension. I'd hunker down in a nest of comics and sweet wrappers beneith a blanket on the back seat where I'd use the opportunity to try and find the stack of paper sheets so I could casually drop them out of the car window while they were distracted up front. (See the entry for Sunday 15 May if this requires further explanation).
With grim fortitude we would edge closer to the junction. The atmosphere inside the car was electric; the noise from outside subsided, vultures circuled overhead, somewhere in the distance a wolf howled and we'd inch forward. A car on the horizon crested the hill and bore down on us from a mile away. We'd sit and let it pass. Quietly brooding, engine ticking, he would sense his chance, as the nearest car was either 20 miles away or in the increasing queue behind us stretching back to Chelmsford. Easing off the clutch he'd look both ways, admonish my mother for having a head because it was in the way, look both ways again and in a flurry of excitement he'd stall the car and have to start again. Eventually we'd just bolt across with scant regard for other traffic, pedestrians or the juggernaught screaming past millimetres from our rear bumper and we'd settle down full of cheerful holiday spirit. I'm sure the reason we moved to Suffolk was to avoid that roundabout.
Back to the present and we met our friends, spending a most convivial evening with them. They live in and manage a retreat and conference centre and the party they had in were the most wounderful group who included people with a learning disability among their number. A gathering in the bar turned into a riotous impromptu sing-a-long. Alison immediately joined in with gusto and by my 2nd pint of IPA I was doing the same, reaching hitherto undiscovered notes in my redition of The Eagles 'Hotel California'. In fact it may come as a surprise to those present to know that this was what I was singing.
In the late 70's I volunteered at a social club for people who have learning disabilities. I was a spotty teenaged heavy metal fan in triple denim (denim waistcoat included - easy ladies) and here I found a group of people who were completely non judgemental and who appreciated company regardless of race, creed, colour or religion; who saw you as a person before all else, and you just couldn't help but respond in kind. I also found people who were de-valued, ignored and pushed to the fringes just because they were different and didn't conform to the narrow boundaries of 'acceptable' society. It is these qualities of non judgmental acceptance, as well as being pushed to the fringes, that we find now in the traveller and festival communities we meet up with, and why we find ourselves so drawn to them.
I went on to build a career working alongside and supporting people who have learning disabilities until political interference and other pressures drove me out. Tonight was a great boost to us both in the most welcoming of company. To top it all, for the first time since the end of March, we got to sleep in a real bed in a real house.
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