Another tale of dysfunctional family life, circa the millennium …
I remember when Joe asked a relatively basic question about the birds and the bees which launched me off into a full overblown discussion which was only missing the anatomical drawings. After half an hour, I realised this was definitely getting out of hand when I found myself telling a nine year old what to do if he and a girlfriend got carried away when, fortunately, my mum must’ve spiritually sensed my desperation and chose that moment to phone.
“Saved by the bell,” I told her with much gratitude, before having one of our half hour chit chats. As I hung up, a little voice spoke from a lower step of the stairs where he had been sat out of my sight for the full 30 minutes, “Can we carry on with that talk, Mummy?” Using the late hour as an excuse, I suggested I would buy him a book to explain the rest, about which he was extremely enthusiastic, pressing me for a ‘delivery date’. Anyway, the days ticked by and, book bought, I was relieved to find Joe had forgotten all about it and was back engrossed in his usual pursuits of Beano, cricket and Pokemon. Which was just as well, because the book (with home made brown paper cover) was on my bedside table for several days. Most educational.
As I was saying, we’re British, so time to talk about something else. How about that other great British institution, The Picnic? (And if I hear you screaming ‘actually I preferred the first topic’, tough). One of the books that I’m going to write one day is going to be entitled ‘Family Days Out For Less Than a Fiver’ (although by the time I get round to publishing, the figure will probably have to be revised to fifty quid). I know them all. And the picnic is an essential part, of course. Little tupperware boxes with separate compartments: hula hoops, ham sarnie, grapes and a choccie biccie; cartons of juice; oh, saluborious feast. And the places we grace with our presence … Coombe Hill, Wooburn Green Park, Black Park, the Thames at Eton Wick, Burnham Beeches, Hughenden Park, Ray Mill Island … all freebies! Chuck in a couple of ice lollies and maybe a parking fee and you even get some change left over from your dog eared note. But the favourite picnic of all just has to be The Train Trip to Marlow. This one has it all … picturesque little train journey from Bourne End to Marlow along the riverbank, watch the sailing boats and maybe a rugby match on the shore just outside Marlow, stroll down pretty streets, pop into the Antique Shop and see if you can spot those quaint toys Mummy used to play with (they had my, and I’m sure it was mine, little scottie dog on wheels … oh sweet doggie, my little friend), into Marlow Park, risk life and limb in the playground before heading for The Picnic. We have an absolute favourite spot for this one.
Under Marlow Bridge, spread the little tartan rug (ever so soft and warm) onto the bank facing The Compleat Angler. Or, as we call it, The Posh Nosh Restaurant. And not only do we feast on our banquet, but we also feast our eyes on a wonderful view. The weir, the river, the beautiful people stepping out of their Rolls and strolling round the Angler’s graceful gardens. I love the irony of it … they’ve spent a fortune and what do they get to feast their eyes on – Mummy Rainer and Sprogs tucking into a ham sarnie! Anyway, recent outings have been enhanced by a little something extra …
Now, I will only admit this to my very closest confidents … I just love a bargain. Charity shops, car boot sales, newly new sales – you name it, I’m there, furtively lurking with my trusty shopping bag, hellbent on picking up a Versace or Van Gogh for less than 50p. But I have to say, even my closest confidents don’t know my latest weakness, which I can only whisper to my very, very closest confidents … on our little Marlow trip I’ve discovered the greatest hunting ground of all …
It was the parasol that started it. Next to Bourne End station are the auction rooms, complete with skip at the rear for all the junk. I just happened to be strolling to the car after one of our pleasant train trips when I spotted (out of the corner of my eye, honest, I wasn’t scavenging) the handle of a parasol poking out of the top of the skip. A dear little Victorian one at that. I just had to have it. So I did. (Bet you thought you were unshockable.) To this day it hangs in our hall, a little memento from a bygone age . Anyway, the next time we go on our little Marlow outing we pop into the antique shop as per usual. Little scottie dog has been sold. Aaaah. With the tears still on my cheek, I spot a Victorian parasol for sale, just like my find. Except this one has a little price tag on it too – one hundred and twenty pounds, no less. That’s it, kids. Forget the playground. Stuff the picnic. We’re catching the next train back and taking another peek into that skip. Only this time it’s one of those trendy plastic thingies on wheels with a lid that pulls over. Peering into the murky depths I spy some old lace and handscripted documents. Just have to have them, daarling. Except I can’t bloomin’ well reach. “No problem”, says Joe, “Just give me a leg up and I’ll get them for you, Mum”. (My kids have been brought up on my idiosynchrosies). In just a trice, he’s in there, foraging around at the bottom. Damn. Someone’s coming. “Lay low, Joe, ” I whisper, as I slam shut the lid and start loitering innocently with Thomas, pretending to be train spotters. Not an easy task when all you can hear is a frantic tap, tap, tap, tap, coming from the skip to your left, and an increasingly anxious voice demanding “Get me out, Mum. Are you there, Mum? Get me out, Mum. GET ME OUT!!!” As soon as the coast was clear, I pulled him out, wild eyed and ranting (him, not me). (Incidentally, if you’re ever tempted to repeat this little exercise, remember it’s a darn sight harder getting a kid out of a skip than getting him in).
Our spoils this time? Some pretty lace, a hand embroidered bag, and lots of very damp letters and photos which sit in my airing cupboard drying out to this very day.
Talking of drying out, just where did I put that bottle?