Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Stronger, happier people

I can safely say that the journey back from Dorset to London today was one of the worst I've ever experienced. Nathan, who had to work today, made the wise decision to travel back to London last night, and did the entire journey in about two hours.

It's my Mum's birthday today, however, so I stayed in the hotel so we that could all have breakfast together. I'd sort of assumed that we'd be hanging about in the New Forest for lunch, but my parents were keen to get on the road, so I cadged a lift with Brother Edward and Sascha and off we all went...

If only I'd known the madness that was in store for us. It turns out that December 27th was the day that everyone, and I mean everyone, decided to make their way in the direction of London. The parents, in their car, were trying to get back to Thaxted, Edward and Sascha needed to get to Canary Wharf. No road was better than any other. We were in regular touch with the parents who were crawling along and had barely made it to Oxford after three hours in the car. It eventually took us more than five hours to get to Canary Wharf. Motorways were like car parks. The North Circular was closed. Cars were overheating by the side of the road. Genuine mayhem.

We made the wise decision to do most of our journey cross country, which meant, until we hit the abject horrors of the M25, we were moving fairly consistently, albeit in a roundabout sort of way. It also meant we got to see some charming sights. We very much enjoyed travelling through Hampshire and Berkshire. There are so many charming villages down there. Sure, they all feel a touch unreal, like a sort of film set or theme park, but with a bit of a make-under they'd be genuinely lovely. I can imagine there's some pretty ghastly people living there, however - ex-Londoners playing at rural life - but I'm probably just a little envious!

I've seen a lot of hedgerows today and yesterday which seem to have cotton-like seed-pods hanging from the branches. We spotted them for the first time whilst driving through the Chilterns yesterday. The seeds look a little like large dandelion clocks dangling from the branches, and they glow magically when the low winter sun backlights them. I've obviously never driven through the Chilterns at this time of year before, because they're absolutely everywhere, and I'm pretty sure I've never seen anything like them. Does anyone have an idea what they might be? They certainly didn't grow in the Midlands.

Highlight of the journey was almost certainly a place called Squirrel Hill, which I can safely say I've never visited before. It has the most extraordinary vista. You can see for miles from the summit of the hill. Today, pools of mist and frost were hovering above and clinging to the hollows. The hills stretched out into the distance in different shades of brown, grey and maroon.

But every time we were pleasantly surprised by a view, we were immediately jolted back into reality by yet another traffic jam.

Desperate for the loo, we stopped at a garage on the outskirts of Guildford. As we pulled into the forecourt, a frightened-looking, elderly lady was being hauled out of a car and dragged into the M and S shop attached to the garage. Sadly there was only one loo cubical in the building and the queue was incredibly long, filled with indulgent children who were being taken into the cubical for what seemed like an eternity. Everyone in the queue could tell the old lady was in trouble, and predictably, as one father-daughter combination went into their fifth minute inside the cubical, the poor woman weed herself. It was so undignified and tragic. She was obviously distressed. Her daughter was mortified and tried to wipe up the pee with tissues from her pocket. The garage staff were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of customers so could do nothing to help...

It's times like this, of course, that you realise your predicament isn't as bad as someone else's. I thought the same on Christmas Eve in Shrewsbury when we watched a car slamming into the back of another at traffic lights down by the English Bridge. All of our blood ran cold as we thought about how awful it would have been for the poor drivers who were no doubt rushing home to spend some much-needed time with their families. So awful.

"Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

So the Black Rabbit of Inlé finally came for Richard Adams and Carrie Fisher today. She didn't manage to pull through after all. Facebook messages are getting more and more flippant. People are simply shaking their heads and wondering who's next. I genuinely hope, when the dust has settled on this dreadful year, that we can all emerge as stronger, happier people.

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