Fairly recently I bundled Dude, my idiot dog, into Gertie, my geriatric Volvo and we lumbered off up the motorway to deepest darkest Yorkshire. Dude was going to enjoy a sleepover at Grandma's, or as we now call her, 'Original Grandma'.
She had this catchy title bestowed upon her by Special Precious Boy in order to differentiate her from myself in conversations. Joyously I appear to have moved up a level in the aging hierarchy of my family and am now generally being referred to as Grandma, or on occasions Hugh's Grandma. Oh happy day......
My normal routine is to stay overnight at Ma & Pops, rescind my adulting responsibilities for an evening, then head up to Beautiful Daughter's house for the weekend, and visit Special Precious Boy and Lady Wycombe overnight on the way back down the A1.
For those readers lucky enough not to be familiar with it, the A1 stretches from St. Paul's Cathedral in central London, up the length of the country to The Apex Hotel at the very East End of Edinburgh and its a bitch of a road. In fact it is the road so charmingly referred to in Chris Rea's 'The Road to Hell' - which tells you all you need to know about it really.
This particular trip I decided to mix things up a bit, making life exciting and stuff...and stayed a SPB's on the way up the road rather than down! Life on the edge and all that. I had helpfully taken the Friday off work, so tootled away from Ma's in the morning reaching SPBs in the early afternoon.
I abandoned Gertie in the visitor space outside SPB's house and tottered over the car park trundling my little wheeled suitcase behind me, when from behind a car leapt a large man who shouted in broad Geordie,
'Wey Aye, ye moost be yon laddies Maaam' - I take that he is referring to SPB as he seems to be doing some sort of strange head gesticulation in the direction of SPBs front door.
'er yes?' I reply somewhat tentatively.
' Aye, he‘s a canny laddie that yin' The strange man hoots at me.
'Yes, I’m very fond of him.' Is my somewhat startled reply as I scurry around the corner to the safety of SPB's House.
I mention that I have just met a slightly odd chap in the car park - and am reassured with the comment,
'Ahh, niver bother Maaam, that’s just Guitar Playing Neighbour' who it would seem doesn't actually have a name...
After various cups of tea and catch ups we decide that we will go into Newcastle, or as referred to when in Northumberland 'The Toon'. It’s about 11ty billion years since I have been in Newcastle, and I get a bit reminiscent-y about various places as we drive in, the Uni I did my degree at, the nightclub I used to frequent during my student nurse years, ahhh me, the memories.
Both boys are very quickly bored stiff by these interesting memories I share, although as I did gibber for 5 minutes about car parks I guess its not surprising.
Pretty soon I have been eased out of SPB's ridiculously low slung car, the circulation massaged back into my aging legs, and we head off into the shopping area. Newcastle is a particularly lovely old city, not beautiful in the way of Edinburgh, but fun and vibrant, even now with so few people around. We make a bee line for our favourite shops, accompanied by the smell of Greggs pasties, that wafts temptingly at us.
Now, all cities are inhabited by pigeons, and there are thousands of the nasty flea infected rats with wings hopping along the street. Lady Wycombe who has a fear of pretty much everything avoids them.....widely and ostentatiously.
I won’t bore you with a detailed description of our shopping trip, but it was a goodly haul!
On the way back to the car (uphill and yes I grumble all the way) SPB starts wafting the large red carrier bag at the pigeons, who are hopping about looking hopeful...
This elicits a plaintive cry from Lady Wycombe,
'eee man divvint man'
A translation into normal English isn’t possible for this phrase, some thing must remain a mystery. Which makes me giggle, so macho bless him...
This continues for quite some time, and I decide that we need to up the scare factor, so I jump into the middle of a huddle of about 20 of these nasty birds, and they take off in 20 different directions, shouting insults and doing panicked shites.
Lady Wycombe handles this with a distinct lack of aplomb, and screams at the top of his voice, leaps 6 feet sideways, nearly knocking a little old lady into the path of an oncoming bus, wraps his arms around a lamp post and clings there, both feet off the ground, screaming and shaking.
SPB and I have to stop in order to laugh. We laugh alot. Indeed I have to cross my legs for fear of an embarrassing and somewhat childish accident. We eventually take pity on Lady Wycombe and help him down from the lamp post and I promise dutifully never to scare pigeons at him again.
The following day sees me at Beautiful Daughter’s, marveling at Incredible Grandson - who is very cross that he can’t yet work out how to crawl.
That afternoon SPB & Lady Wycombe decided to join us for a walk.
Beautiful Daughter and Giant Husband live in an amazing location, and their farmland borders both an ancient wood - apparently one of the oldest in the country and a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest.)
Off we set. Incredible Grandson installed in his all terrain buggy. Grandma at the control end of said buggy. Lady W picking his way carefully through the farm yard and looking doubtfully at the pig units. What could possibly go wrong?
Beautiful Daughter & SPB have that look in their eyes, which I’m sure we all recognise from years of parenting.
Selfishly, I send a little thank you out to the universe that I'm in charge of the buggy and I cling to it for protection from whatever mischief is coming next....
There are a number of pigs living in piggy bliss on the farm, about 3000 of them currently I believe, although I could be wrong as they are tricky little fuckers to count...
Contrary to popular belief they smell awful. Of Course Lady W doesn't cope well with this, and is 'bowking' from about 100 yards away. Bowking is a geordie dialect word for retching...much more descriptive - try saying it out loud
Suddenly, my lovely children spring into action and undertaking a pincer attack on Lady W. They approach him at a run from behind, grab him one under each arm, lift him up and deaf to his pleadings and screamings, dangle him over the side of one of the pig pens. I’m not sure who was more concerned, Lady W or the pigs, they however beat a hasty retreat to the corner of the pen and then watched with porcine interest to see what would happen next.
The kids obviously planned this telepathically - quite impressive really.
Lady W is by this point begging to be freed and somewhat reluctantly they decide that they probably shouldn't actually throw him into the pig pen. I'm quite relieved by this as I can’t help but feel that I would have to wash him down, I mention that my plan was to pressure wash him and Lady W's response is utterly and exactly him,
' Aam not travellin hame soaking wet - aam delicate, I would chafe.' he states defiantly.
When he has recovered his equilibrium, we set off up the hill behind the farm, there’s a small wood, and a very useful path - its a public right of way that extends through one side of the farm yard, up to the top of the escarpment, and sort of laterally along the bottom to the forest. We plump for the forest route, mainly due to my whining about buggys and hills.
The views are incredible, the entire valley is laid out in front of us, dappled in bright sunlight, with the most amazing shadows thrown across by the clouds and hills.
Parts of the Battle of Flodden took place here in about 1513 ( I think - I didnt google this so forgive me if the date is wrong), in fact Harry Hotspur, one of the Percy family, who are still the Dukes of Northumberland, camped in the valley below us the night before the Battle. Hotspur survived, James IV didn't.
I share these interesting tidbits with my family, to a deafening and complete lack of interest. I sigh internally and wish for Bec's company, at least she pretends to be interested in my historical lectures...
As we tramp up the very slight incline towards the forest, we walk alongside acres of gorse bushes. Bloody prickly stuff (that Lady W was foolish enough to test..as he stated it is 'ouchy')
From nowhere, a pheasant makes a mad dash for freedom, cue Lady W screaming, waving his arms and running - impressively fast - up the hill in front of us.
According to him he loves the countryside, just doesn't like it sharing his personal space!
The Wood is an ancient and beautiful place, with an extensive population of red squirrels a la Beatrix Potter, and some truly humongous trees - Redwood/sequoia and a huge leylandia - one of the biggest in the country.
Like all woods and forests it feels quite mystical, and at times, threatening.
When the kids were small we used to go walking in this wood, hunting for dragon nests - There are several local folklore stories involving dragons - the main one being the Lambton Worm - told to me when a very small person by my Great Aunt - and in true oral history tradition I have passed it down to my kids.
SPB and Beautiful Daughter discuss the dragon hunting adventures we used to go on when they were small.
The Lambton Worm
Lady W asks in all seriousness what a dragon nest looks like...SPB accompanies him deep into the wood to show him.
Strangely they don't seem to be able to find a dragon nest, but they do find a petrified dragon carcass (or rotting old fallen tree - believe me these resemble dead dragons when you are 4 or 5, and are in a wood on a dragon hunt with your Mam) Lady W is very impressed.
The walk back home is filled with discussion about dragons, laughter and love
and all of our souls feel better...