Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China March 17
Plane to Nanning. The aircraft is much snazzier than the one to Lhasa and we get free hankies (my second), boxes of chrysanthemum tea (not dried tea; it’s a cold drink) and a compass on a key ring. I don’t know if the compass is supposed to make us feel more confident that the pilot knows what he’s doing, but we get there.
Cheryl and Elspeth were entranced by the news that, according to that guy I met in Cheng Du, you can get pizzas in Nanning. Unfortunately I can’t remember which hotel he said, and we trail round three with no success. Our packs are getting heavier as we are now carrying all our winter clothing. The further south we go, the hotter it gets. We’ll have to get out our shorts, soon. C and E have the heaviest loads with those huge Chinese coats.
Bereft of pizzas, we go back to the hotel where the airport bus dropped us off. There’s some kind of celebration going on; there’s a lion dance in the driveway and sheets of firecrackers. The place is packed and everyone is crowding into a special room (where the tables have tablecloths!). Don’t know if it’s supposed to be a particular function but, amazingly, there’s plenty of space for us. The waitress is friendly and the sweet and sour pork is lovely. A western family is here too. They have a baby and a six-year-old child. Both of them seem really ugly after Chinese children. Maybe they are just really ugly. Bed. My first time under a mosquito net.
Bus to railway station. Hard seat to Zhan Jiang, which is China’s southernmost town. It’s a nine-hour journey through the sort of countryside that everyone always associates with China – terraced fields; paddy fields, peasants in coolie hats, water buffalo and rich red earth like turmeric powder piled in heaps. It’s getting warmer and warmer.
At Zhan Jiang we get bicycle taxis to the hotel. I’m on the outside and it’s a bit scary when we go round corners. The hotel is a bit of a dump, but clean and cheap. No food. We go round the food stalls buying oranges and bananas for tomorrow’s trip and trying not to look at the varnished brown dog carcases hanging up with the chickens in the pavement cafes. We stop by a woman with buckets of rice and greens on the pavement and have that for tea. It’s cold, but at least it’s not dog.
Up in the velvety darkness at 5 am for our 6 am bus ride and ferry to Haikou, which is on the island of Hainan Dao. It’s supposed to be marvellously beautiful and unspoilt. It’s also a big military base, and we shouldn’t really be going there, as westerners, but after bottling out of the truck ride to Lhasa we’re going to try it. It’s another trip on the bicycle taxis. This time I sit on the inside, bang next to the back wheel. We get to the bus, and find that the world and his wife and all their pigs and chickens and spring onions are coming too. But, miraculously, we do actually set off at 6. And we’re in front seats, thank god. Some people are standing, and two are sitting on the engine cowling by the driver. Talk about a hot seat.
We go across a river on a raft. We have to get off the bus, which then drives on and we all crowd on after. Everybody spends the short trip fighting like hell to get back on the bus, because as soon as the raft docks the buses drive off – there’s no waiting about. Then we get to the real ferry for Hainan Dao. And, get this, we have to go up a proper gang plank to get on. Well, two planks actually, that wobble, and you have to step over a dead rat. How authentic is that? I feel like I’m in a proper English 20th century novel. Any minute now Peter Ustinov is going to push through the crowds towards us in a linen suit and a Panama hat, or maybe Clark Gable and Jean Harlow are already throwing plates at each other in the restaurant. But sadly not. The boat is just chock full of Chinese people (and pigs and chickens and vegetables) and us. And no restaurant. But, bizarrely, there is a woman selling pink-iced finger buns. We’re very doubtful about them, especially after my experience with the concrete bread rolls in Tibet, but they are lovely. Just like you’d buy in the bakers, back home.
I’m not entirely certain we’re going to get all the way there in one piece. Sealink would probably have sent the ferry for scrap in about 1915. On the up side, there are so many holes in it I get plenty of fresh air and am not seasick, which I was rather worried about.
Amazingly we are here. Another bus from the ferry to Haikou, and yet more bicycle taxis from the bus station to the hotel. It’s properly hot now. There are palm trees which C &E have never seen before in the wild, as it were, and they’re entranced. Elspeth hugs one with delight. ‘They’re great aren’t they?’ she announces. Cheryl is busy examining the patterned bark. I’m sitting on my pack writing this while I wait for them. Anybody would think they’d gone completely bonkers (and I’m sure some passing Chinese people do) but they’ve spent so long in the cold bleakness of northern China that all this lush greenery has completely gone to their heads. They are so happy. Extraordinary.
The hotel is amazing too. All glass and marble and we don’t know if we can afford it. The wall behind the reception desk has clocks showing the time in London and New York. But it’s only five kwai (£1) for a dorm bed. It looks as though they’re still building the place but it will be extremely posh indeed when they’ve finished it. The dormitory has a smoked glass door and white tiles on the floor – it’s like we’ve stumbled into the council chamber in Milton Keynes. However, there is no electricity. There are clerks at the end of the hall who are using candles, and they let us use their private bathroom for a wash.
Elspeth and I go exploring and find a restaurant which has a carpet on the floor and a nice Malaysian bloke who tells us about this coffee shop that sells toast. ‘No bangers and mash for you Brits,’ he laughs, ‘But lot of toast!’ He was dead right. Hot buttered toast. And proper tea. There are a load of young Chinese in, too, and they are all sitting round flashing their digital watches and eating their toast with forks, which they then wave theatrically about while talking very loudly to each other.
Spend the afternoon lying around, having baths and eating McVitites digestive biscuits, which they sell in the hotel shop. The shop sells the oddest things. Roget et Gallet perfumes, Californian wine (30 kwai) a Wrangler denim jacket and personal stereos. I want batteries for mine and point to a stereo in the display case. The bloke in charge gets it out and I point to the battery compartment.
‘Ah, you want batteries,’ he says and shows me two.
‘Yes, that’s exactly what I want,’ I reply.
‘No. Mayo,’ he says and puts them away.
Dinner in the restaurant. The tablecloths are filthy and the waitress sweeps up the leavings with a dirty dustpan and brush. But the service is quick and they are really friendly. The food is delicious; fish with melon, sweet and sour pork, beef with noodles and a huge plate of fried rice. Another big bill (15 kwai) and we begin to realise we haven’t got much money left. Prospects of going to Hong Kong now look definitely dodgy.
In the dorm we are joined by a German couple, two French girls and two Swedish guys. The folding wall down the centre of the room has been pulled out. And there is lots of shouting and shuffling on the other side. So we all creep up, shushing each other and giggling, and peek through the cracks.
All the waitresses from the restaurant are there, and there’s a man fiddling with a tape player. Then, as the strains of Carmen fill the room, he begins to shout instructions and the girls all pair up and start to solemnly tango. And, on our side, we fall silent and feel unaccountably homesick.
Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China and Tibet
Agnetha and I get breakfast courtesy of a baby yak this morning. We go to the market to buy food, and take two empty yoghurt pots with us to see if we can get them filled. These pots are made of rather beautiful white china. You get them everywhere.
The nearest entrance to the market is down the main street and through a little archway. But we’re no sooner through it than this Tibetan woman is waving at us from behind a barbed wire fence. It looks like she’s been penned in, but no, she points to a heap of junk we realise is actually a rickety gate, and we get through that, and then through another door in a wall and we’re in her back yard; there’s a table, a man sitting on a chair sunning himself, and a little stable containing a cow and a calf. That calf is cuter than a boxful of kittens. It is sweeter than George Michael covered in sugar snow singing ‘Last Christmas’. It’s like a shaggy little dog with big brown eyes and a bunchy tail. Agnetha is so overcome she bursts into raptures of Swedish, but mummy yak is having none of it. She is four times as big as her baby and she has horns you could pick a lock with.
Coming back to more practical matters, we hand over the pots and one kwai (about 30p) and the woman gives us full pots in exchange. Lots of nodding and smiling and bowing and off we go, hoping that the gate isn’t going to collapse behind us. We get some walnuts (expensive) and a couple of apples and go back to the hotel. Agnetha shares her coffee and I contribute a tin of mandarin oranges. God, it tastes good.
We sit, surrounded by majestic mountains and views of prayer flags and vast sky, and naturally start discussing electric toasters. According to Agnetha nobody in Europe had an electric toaster until school trips to Britain started. ‘I’d never seen a toaster before I came to Britain,’ said Agnetha. ‘We never toasted anything. And,’ she leans forward seriously. ‘Not nobody else did either. Not the Dutch, or the French. I have checked, you know. Nobody. The French buy their toast in packets, even.
‘Really?’ I say.
She nods. ‘They call them, tostes. Then, we all come to your country, and boom! Toasters everywhere. Everybody is eating toast now. Hot from toaster.’
Amazing the stuff you learn when you go abroad.
We decide to go to the Potala, the Dalai Lama’s official residence. We walk down the main street, past lots of men with little tables. One is a dentist with a box of gold teeth and a hammer and pair of pliers. He is trying to persuade a Tibetan who is clutching his mouth, to sit down. He’s doing this by waving a pair of pliers in his face but the Tibetan, strangely, doesn’t look very keen. A knot of men gather, and there is a lot of banter and finally they push him into a seat and he opens his mouth. The dentist flexes his pliers and …. But at this point I walk on. Dentists have never been my strong point. A guy at the next table is playing Una Paloma Blanca on a little tape player, which is just the last tune I’d expect to hear, here. God, I hate that song. It’s right up there for appalling rhythmic cheerfulness with Y Viva Espana and bloody Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. And why here??? This is, like, a spiritual refuge, man. They should be playing something deep and meaningful like Stairway to Heaven or Julie Andrews singing The Lonely Goatherd.
I can hear shouting behind me and the dentist’s customer is on his feet, his hands clapped to his mouth, while the dentist is waving something in his pliers.
A few yards further on we meet Julie and drop into this noodle/tea shop where all the customers are Genghis Khan and, in the corner, is a man in a white hat rolling out noodles on a table you wouldn’t put your boots on. There are a couple of men in short hair and short, western leather jackets. They are rather watchful, careful types who have come over the mountains from Nepal with stuff to sell. What this stuff is, exactly, nobody is very certain about. Julie and Mick are travelling back to Nepal with them in the next couple of days and ask if I want to go too. I have to admit I’m tempted. The thought of just launching into the unknown; to keep travelling on and on and never know what is going to happen next, is seductive. But I have stuff to do back in England, and Cheryl and Elspeth would worry about me, especially if I couldn’t get word back to them. Besides, on an extremely practical level, I’ve already paid for my return flight to Cheng Du.
Agnetha is wearing a pair of pink tracksuit bottoms, but all the men think she’s just in her long johns. Two men patted her bum on the way in, and Agnetha is offended, but Julie and I have a hard time not laughing, because it does look as if she’s come out in her jammies. ‘Even if I was wearing my pyjamas,’ Agnetha says. ‘They should not be doing this to my bottom.’ She’s right, of course, but try explaining that to a bunch of cheerful blokes who’ve never heard of leisure wear. God knows what they’d make of Spandex.
The man in charge of the restaurant cannot add up. He’s very cheerful, even for a Tibetan person, but he just puts his hands over his head and moans when he tries to give us the bill. Every time he adds up the column of figures (for three teas) he gets a different result. In the end I work it out on a piece of paper for him, very slowly, much to his relief. Smiles all round and off we go to the Potala, Agnetha dodging the bum slappers on the way out, and saying what she thinks of them in Swedish.
Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China
Cheryl and Elspeth leave early; they’ve got a soft sleeper on the train to Kunming. They’re going to spend a few days in Dali (the site of the stone forest) and then meet me in Kunming when I come back from Tibet.
Meet up with Agnetha, a Swedish girl who is also going to Lhasa tomorrow. She is small and fragile looking and has white blonde hair. She has hitched to China all the way from Sweden and has never had any trouble, on account of the fact she is the owner of a very large knife. We agree to share a taxi to the airport tomorrow. Arrange to eat with her and a friend of hers – if he’s well; he’s been to the dentist.
So she arrives a couple of hours later with Benny a stocky, genial guy from San Francisco, who is wearing a hat made out of black and white dog fur. He looks like Davy Crockett. We go to the Cheng Du restaurant, and I’m all ready for the inevitable mayo las, and general disappointment, but the waitress is lovely, the service is quick and the food is great. That’s how it is in China; you get wound up, and wound up, and wound up, and then just when you’re ready to let rip, everything is marvellous and you fall in love with the place all over again.
Benny is funny and earnest and views the entire world with a kind of enthusiastic wonder. He tells us about an acupuncture teacher he had back home in the US who had just come over from Shanghai. ‘Man he was really like a Martian. I mean, he couldn’t help staring at everything and he was really puzzled about our shoes. One day he asked us, “Where do you guys go to get them mended when they break?”’ He couldn’t understand that, in America, people own more than one pair of shoes, and they can buy a new pair whenever they want. Can you believe it? ’
Then Benny tells us about his trip to the dentist. ‘Man I had to go. I had this abcess you know, and when he saw me on his doorstep he went white. The place was some kind of timewarp; that chair – have you seen Marathon Man? Laurence Olivier would have been right at home strapping Dustin Hoffman to that one. And you know what? He told me to go away. But the pain was so bad I wasn’t going anywhere, and he was a dentist, wasn’t he? I mean he couldn’t practise if he didn’t know anything? Right?’
Agnetha and I exchange looks and say nothing. I’m not sure if I had ten abcesses I’d go to any old dentist in this part of the country. But neither of us want to say anything. We want to know what happened.
Benny looks at us earnestly. His hat, which is just a high circle of fur, is tilted dangerously far back on his head. ‘You know why he was so scared? He just didn’t want the responsibility if it all went wrong. But I insisted, cause, boy I was in pain. And I was bigger than him so I when I sat down in that goddam chair he couldn’t exactly throw me out. So he washed my neck and face with alcohol, swathed me in sheets and then rubbed my gums with something that made them go completely numb. And then, he put this sheet over my face, with a hole over my mouth.
‘Man that was awful. I could just see my nose. I could feel him digging into my gum and pulling something stringy out – and I’m telling you, there was no pain at all – but it felt really weird not to see what was going on.’
This is intriguing. We spend quite a while talking about this amazing way of rubbing on anaesthetic, and what the ‘stringy thing’ could be. Whatever; Benny is certainly over his abcess.
After the meal, the three of us go to the English corner in the park opposite the hotel. Every Tuesday and Saturday evening Chinese people, who want to improve their English, go there to speak to each other. As soon as we arrive we are each surrounded by a deep circle of people. My lot are headed by an old guy who was baptised by missionaries before the Chinese revolution and who is very proud of it. Now he works in a construction office.
They soon get on to the subject of marriage, girlfriends, boyfriends and parents. You can’t get married in China until you are 27 if you are a man, or 25 if you are a woman. Before that, courting is strictly limited and viewed very seriously. If you start going out with someone it is taken for granted that you will marry them. Parents, too, seem to have much greater control than they do in the west. The family stays together, the old are looked after and the young are watched over – to what a westerner would find an unbearable level. There is no social security and a lot of ‘underemployment’ (in communist China, there is no such thing as unemployment). As one lad put it, ‘Our parents have the money.’
Someone asks me if, in England, husbands are henpecked. ‘I don’t think so, particularly,’ I say. ‘What about husbands in China, are they henpecked?’
‘Yes!’ comes a heartfelt chorus.
One lad near me is dressed in a pretend tweed coat and a polo-necked sweater. He says he works for the government as an economist, and asks me very diffidently, ‘Do you know David Niven?’ He’s just seen the Guns of Navarone and is very impressed. When I tell him I like David Niven too, he says, boldly, ‘My favourite film star is Zero, Zero Seven.’ And then he adds, ‘My favourite pop group is The Beatles. Have you heard of them?’
Back to my room. An American couple from Boston have taken over Cheryl and Elspeth’s beds. They too are hacked off with the eternal ‘mayo’. The man has a beard and says that, on trains, people have lifted up his jeans to see if he has hairy legs.
Continuing my 1985 diary of my trip to China. Here, we discuss vacuum cleaners and I discover dumplings.
Our room is lovely. A six-bed dormitory and so far, we are the only ones in it. The beds are tubular metal ones, like you get in hospital, with hard mattresses, but comfy quilts and…a bathroom. Holy of holies. A bath with hot water, all the time, and a real sit down American bog. Joy.
We spend most of the rest of the day wallowing and sleeping. Elspeth has decided that Bill the sexy Hungarian she introduced me to in Beijing is definitely an aristocrat and that she is going to marry him. ‘And we’ll invite everybody to the castle for Christmas…’ she paused. ‘Do they have castles in Hungary?’
Cheryl and I looked at her and shrugged.
‘Bound to,’ said Cheryl. ‘What else do aristos live in?’
‘They’re hot on horses,’ I said. ‘There’s lots of sweeping plains and they spend a lot of time riding about in leather trousers and eating salami.’
‘I don’t think that’s right,’ said Elspeth. ‘Leather trousers?’
‘And they eat lots of cherries,’ I add.
‘The horses eat cherries?’
‘No, the proud Hungarian aristocrats. Cherries. Practically their staple diet. And beetroot. Although that might be the Russians.’
‘You’ll have to learn to speak Hungarian,’ said Cheryl, more practically. ‘Or possibly German.’
‘I couldn’t do Hungarian,’ said Elspeth, ignoring the fact that she didn’t have too many problems with getting by in Chinese. ‘What’s the German for “Where is your castle?”’
I thought for a bit. ‘Dunno. But I know how to say, Where is the vacuum cleaner? Wo is die staub sauger?’
Elspeth lay back on her bed. ‘That’s not going to be much use, though, is it? I mean, I can hardly go up to him and ask him where his vacuum cleaner is. He’d think I was mad.’
‘Especially as he speaks perfect English,’ I pointed out.
‘I want to impress his family,’ said Elspeth. ‘His mum and dad, and all the little barons. I don’t want them to think I’ve come to do a bit of cleaning.’
‘It’d be more to the point,’ said Cheryl. ‘If you learnt how to say, Wie viele staubsaugern haben sie? How many vacuum cleaners have you got, and then you’d get more of an idea of how big his castle was. I mean, if he said 50, you’d probably be onto a good thing.’
‘If he has 50, he’s probably a vacuum cleaner salesman,’ said Elspeth, gloomily.
‘A sexy one, though,’ said Cheryl.
‘There is that.’
In the evening we go for a wander. Cheryl and Elspeth are amazed that everyone is still up after 7pm. In Beijing, apprently, everything stops then but, here, kerosene lamps flare on every corner, illuminating people on small stools gathered round tables shovelling in dumplings like there is no tomorrow; or stalls piled high with fireworks (we bought three), or noodles, or clothes or sweets.
Next morning we have breakfast in the restaurant at the People’s Edifice. Honest to god it is so enormous, you’d need an oxygen mask to paint the ceiling. It’s like eating in a gym. But they do boiled eggs and toast. Also on the menu is dog meat in brown sauce. None of us fancies that.
Go to the public security office to get my pass for Lhasa. The official is beautifully polite. He also has beautiful handwriting and he doesn’t seem to have heard of red tape. Here is the pass, here is my name, in Chinese, and here was his official stamp. Sit down, here you are, thank you, thank you. It is as simple as that.
Went looking for somewhere to eat. Forget warm steamy caffs with ham egg and chips and a mug of tea. Cheap restaurants here are bare and draughty. It’s a bit like sitting in a garage. Bare tables, bare walls, and full of people shouting. All the cooks dress in white, with white mob caps; they are like subjects in a Breughel painting, busily kneading dumplings in an adjacent garage.
You have to bring your own chopsticks. You can use the restaurant’s chopsticks; they are generally in a box by the till, but they’re not really washed. You have to queue up and say what you want, and hopefully they decide you can have it. Sometimes they tell you, MayoLa, which means, ‘No, we haven’t got it, and even if we did have it, we’re not going to give it to you, and we really can’t be bothered to talk to you any more, so go away now.’ Amazing how much meaning those three syllables have. Anyway. If you don’t get the mayo treatment, you get a ticket, and then you have to trek over to the other side of the restaurant and queue up again to get your food. And again, you might get a ‘mayo’. I’ve not been here long, so I’m more bemused than anything, but Cheryl and Elspeth have been here for five months and the continual little obstacles that you seem to get in every day life here are wearing them down.
Xian is practically the only area in China that is not noted for its cooking. The only thing you can get to eat when you’re out and about is noodles or steamed dumplings. I don’t care for the noodles which tend to be great thick ribbons of pasta, which completely clog your mouth up and taste of nothing much. But the dumplings, the little ones which are jaozi, or the big ones, baozi, are filled with meat and veg and are lovely. You pick one up with your chopsticks, which is difficult because they are a bit slimy, dip it in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar and then shove it quickly in your mouth before it falls in your lap. The tables are none too clean, and the floor is filthy, so if you drop something, that’s it. Its so cold that if you drop any gravy it congeals before it has a chance to run off the table. I can’t work out at first why people are eating so quickly, and then I realise its because they’re hungry. They’re not eating because it’s a sociable thing to do; they’re eating because they need to refuel. But, those dumplings are good. I’m soon shovelling away with the best of them.
Daughter was sewing her costume for a Hallowe’en party. Yards of green cloth festooned the kitchen, the dogs were paw deep in pins.
You have to realise here that daughter is 17 and a fashion student. So she has Ideas. And is, like, creative. It was obvious, this year, that the gothic witchy look was being sidelined, for something more, well, green.
Ages later, she stood up and put the costume on. It was kind of like a sweeping toga with a hood. But, it has to be said, she looked pretty good.
‘What do you think?’ she asked, twirling in an emerald haze.
‘Great,’ said husband. ‘What is it?’
‘It’s elven, dad,’ she said patiently. ‘I’m going as an elf in Lord of the Rings. What do you think?’
Steve looked at her thoughtfully. ‘Have you got a High Vis Jacket?’ he said.
‘Because then,’ he said. ‘You could go as Elf and Safety.’
Pictures via Creative Commons, courtesy of:
There was a snake at our front door yesterday. I’m tempted here to tell you it was a bloody great python coiled around one of the dogs, and that we had to battle it with an axe and a fire extinguisher. But no. It was black, about ten inches long and as thick as a telephone cable.
You have to know here, that we do not live in the Australian outback or the Nevada desert, where people (apparently) are always tripping over deadly vipers. We live in a shire county, where the deadliest thing I’ve ever seen was the vicar on a motorbike.
I was torn between running to get a camera and watching Steve try to pick it up with a pencil. It was only small, but I kept thinking of all the stories I’ve read about exotic snakes escaping from their owners. Perhaps it was like Krait the dust snake in Rikki Tikki Tavvi, and I would shortly have to rush my soon-to-be fatally twitching husband to A&E (which is now 20 miles away on account, the health trust says, of being more convenient).
But as we watched, the snake began to disappear into a hole, by the threshold, that is so small we’ve never noticed it before. Steve made one or two more attempts to get it, but it slipped through his fingers and completely disappeared. Later research revealed it to be a grass snake (natrix natrix) and completely harmless.
I’m still not very happy about the idea of having a snake, however small and harmless, for a lodger. Random callers here already get the full Hound of the Baskerville treatment from our dogs. What are they going to think, if in the middle of all this, some snake starts crawling out of the woodwork, too?
Picture from Stephen Courtney on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grass_snake#mediaviewer/File:Grass_snake_head.jpg, via Creative Commons.
What is the deal with people shaving their eyebrows and then having them tattooed back on again? Is it me, or is this truly weird?
It seems to me that plenty of people think they’re going to end up looking like this:
When in fact, they end up looking like this:
Or even, God forbid, this.
There is a story in the Daily Mail about a woman who is so distraught after paying £120 for new eyebrows, that she can’t now leave her house. (Bit of a mystery therefore as to why she has agreed to have her photo taken by a national newspaper, but hey, it’s a free country.) The paper says she will have to wait up to six years for the look to fade.
£120???? Here’s an amazing beauty tip, girls. It’s called a pencil. It’ll cost you a fiver and if you don’t like your new brows, you can rub them off in six seconds. Yes, really.
Wish somebody had told this guy:
And as a final plea, will people please stop drawing on their dogs? It may be funny. But it’s not fair, and one day, some canine karma will definitely bite you in the butt.
Then again, you may already have had your eyebrows tattooed.
Pictures via Creative Commons, from:
Well, I’m back from my hols. The suitcases are spilling their guts all over the house, the dogs have come back from the kennels, and I’ve thrown away the orange I found mouldering on the kitchen counter.
I’ve been to the supermarket and stocked up on beer and bread and jammy dodgers and such fare as you lay before the faces of husbands and teenage children, and I’ve put away my shorts for another year.
I’ve got some nice pictures, including one of a beauty salon in Bordeaux, that my cousin Douglas seems unaccountably to have given his name to. We spent the day in the city, shopping and farting about in the sunlit squares and generally behaving like happy tourists.
But the best memory is of our first night. Son, 14, who was in rather a giddy mood, decided to wind up his sister by thrusting her hairbrush down the front of this pyjama bottoms. ‘Look Rose,’ he crowed rather disgustingly. ‘Look what I’m doing with your hairbrush.’ To which his sister witheringly replied, ‘That’s not my hairbrush. That’s dad’s.’
Creeping silent from
her lair – she came to get the
And now she licks her
chops, blinking calmly on the
Woke up this morning at half past three with a bloody great crash bang! I thought the house was falling down, or the Royal Philharmonic had crept into the attic to play the 1812 overture. But no. It was just the mother and father of all thunderstorms.
And then I thought, hell’s teeth, the washing. The line out in the garden was loaded with it. All dry. (Which is important when you are a dilettante washerwoman).
I thought about leaving it. And then I thought about all the other washing waiting to go out…So two minutes later there I was, in my jammies, lightning cracking over the greenhouse, feverishly tearing the pegs off the line and throwing clothes in a basket while raindrops as fat as grapes burst on my head and shoulders.
Then there was another enormous kettle drum of thunder and, almost instantly, the sky split with a horizontal flash as if it were taking a picture of the garden.
The pattering on the leaves stilled for a moment, and then the rain roared down. I picked up my basket and fled.
Back upstairs, job done, I dried myself off, went back to bed with a cup of tea, consoled two uncertain dogs and watched the lightning arc across our neighbour’s field. I felt very, very smug.
Until I had to get up four hours later.