Northumberland, Part Two

Bec’s version of events......

Northumberland. A county which conjures up images of castles, windswept sand dunes and strong, silent, hardy farming folk. These were the precise images I had been desperately clinging onto as I drove south to meet Pip for our second walk.

The lead up to this weekend had been a tad traumatic. Middle Child had managed to spend all his rent money on fags, booze and drugs at university and found himself without a flat. The first I’d got to hear about it was when he phoned me whilst the landlord’s henchmen were changing the locks on his student accommodation one Saturday afternoon in early January. He informed me that it was all ok because he’d be sofa surfing at friend’s flats until further notice.

Melt down doesn’t begin to cover my reaction to that phone call.

Only the weekend prior to my trip to Northumberland I had driven the three and a bit hours to Leeds, found errant son in his best mate’s flat, his worldly goods boxed in the hallway and a sheepish look on his face. We drove back, both feeling shit, disappointed and angry in fairly equal measure. Ever Patient Husband, Youngest Child and Eddie were all waiting for our return. Eddie was the only being delighted to see Middle Child back so soon after Christmas. Just when you think you’ve done your parenting.....I’d literally spent the last year meditating, starting a tech business (fuck knows why as I know zero about tech, but I’m learning really fast) and generally feeling that I was getting my life back after twenty two years of hard slog parenting.

Suffice to say, a quiet weekend walking in the stunning landscapes of Britain’s best kept secret county with my mate Pip was very welcome indeed. I like people, my job involves lots of people, being understanding, patient and listening to their business issues so at the weekend and on holiday, I don’t talk to anyone if I can possibly help it. Northumberland is the perfect place not to meet anyone you feel obliged to talk to.

I had prepared myself well for the weekend. Some retail therapy, slash self medication had taken place in a variety of ways. I’d purchased a goose down feather jacket for half price because serious walking ladies don’t like bright pink. Strange. I’d then noticed that my favourite dog walking trouser website (there really is something for everyone online) had a gorgeous pair of wineberry (they understand their target market far too well) skin tight trousers. “Perfect”. I thought. “Not only are they practical and water resistant, but they are also sexy and if my arse looks only half as good as the ladies disporting the ‘country look’ on the website, I shall remain fabulous whilst trekking. There is absolutely no need to look frumpy whilst out walking.”

Since the nice lady Dr at the sexual health clinic had informed me that my ovaries ‘had seen better days’ during a routine check for dodgy fibroids (another joy waiting for you at the menopause) by a throng of well meaning, middle class and appropriately concerned sexual health medical practitioners I had become concerned that my levels of attractiveness were dwindling fast along with my ovarian function. Skin tight wineberry dog walking trousers were clearly the answer to my midlife angst. I like to think this is preferable and less harmful to others than shagging my secretary and buying a Harley Davidson.

The nice lady Dr had enquired as to whether I minded the young, naturally collagen plumped faced student Dr observing whilst my cervix was carefully examined, “That’s fine” I had replied, whilst secretly thinking “yes, all welcome, let’s sell tickets, why not put on a show at the Fringe whilst we’re at it.” But my Britishness prevailed and I agreed to the worthy audience with earnest faces and everyone praised me for my cheery disposition as skilfully handled probes went about their duty.

All is well in the fibroid department in case you’re wondering. Two of my other friends who are also women of a certain age coincidentally discovered their cervix’s were perfectly healthy too around the same time. Thank goodness for the NHS and those patient, practitioners and their probes.

I was admiring my wineberry trousers when my phone rang as I drove down the A1.

”Special Precious Boy and Lady Wycombeeee will be joining us. Is that ok?”

It was Pip. My heart sank ever so slightly. I love Special Precious Boy because he is indeed, very special and extremely precious. I had not yet met his beau, a certain Lady Wycombeeeee so could not tell whether he deserved his aristocratic title. What I did know is that when SPB and his mother get together, there is utter carnage. Between the pair of them they can drink any hardened ship building Glaswegian under the table and create enough volume to warrant a health and safety risk assessment. Unless this Lady W character was a shy, retiring violet, I would be in for a long and raucous night.

”Great!” I lied. “That will be fun.” I was hoping Pip hadn’t detected the deep sense of foreboding that was now oozing from every part of my being. The rest of my journey was spent readjusting my expectations from calm and reflective to manic and pissed.

I found the little semi-detached house with Pip‘s gigantic car parked outside. I believe she needs one of those Ikea step things that small children have to reach the sink to get into it. Her large, black Alsatian greeted me and I patted him because he is one of my favourite dogs ever. Whilst he looks like he’d eat you in one mouthful, he is actually a sweetheart and adores Pip and for that I shall always love him.

She had prepared chilli. Yum. We had about an hour of peace, thoughtful chat, catching up on the events of the past few weeks before the whirlwind arrived. We covered topics such as menstrual cups and how using them prevents what every menopausal woman dreads: flooding. People often discuss vaginal dryness with you prior to the menopause or one very polite lady I had never met before had with me during a friend’s dinner party and quite frankly, left me scarred for life. No one, however, mentions that you are at risk of bleeding to death without warning in public and leaving large dark stains of blood on chairs wherever you go.

Note: never experience this on a five hour delayed flight from Turkey to the UK because Turkish airports don’t sell sanitary products. Nappies. Yes, nappies stolen from the baby changing room was the solution I eventually resorted to on that fateful night. This almost backfired at the table where they were using additional security measures. In my anaemically exhausted state I had freaked out at Ever Patient Husband with tales of being frisked, being found with a nappy stuffed into my knickers and whisked off to a windowless room with a stout Turkish guard, rubber gloves and KY Jelly. I’ve seen Midnight Express and know what these Turkish prisons are like. EPH had soothed my fevered brow enough to calm me down and get me safely through the area us passengers were being kettled into.

Anyway, vaginal dryness and menstrual cups aside, as soon as the boys arrived, I was transported to a world of Geordie speaking, wine swilling, night clubbing, gossip mongering chat. Special Precious Boy and Lady Wycombeeee are a wonderful couple. They clearly adore each other and are very much in love, in fact, they’re about to move in together. It’s all very modern and heart warming.

That is, until three am when you’re desperately trying to get to sleep and you have been for the past three hours. I am a lightweight. After a gin and three glasses of wine, I was ready for bed. The twenty something aged children and Pip were in for the long haul. The two pillows I had over my head and the socks I’d stuffed into my ears simply didn’t block out the bollocks that was spouting forth. Happily, their broad Geordie accents meant I could only understand every sixth word.

During the evening I had learned a couple of useful things though. Pip had sworn blind she’d given up smoking in the interests of fitness for our trek, this turned out to be slightly inaccurate as she puffed away whilst standing in the garden with Lady W and SPB. I‘m not sure quite when it was during the evening, but she also mentioned in passing as casually as possible that she had club foot or gout, I can’t remember which. If you ask her, she’ll deny it.

”Club foot?” I asked quizzically. “Doesn’t that mean you might die at altitude?”

”No, it’s very mild. As long as I keep off the fags, I’ll be fine.” Replied Pip who by this time was about twelve sheets the the wind. “I might not get travel insurance though.”

We just left that comment hanging in midair as it was too terrifying to think about. Besides, I was confused as I thought people were born with club foot. Maybe it was gout. I need to check.

As a jolly wheeze during the evening, I produced the shiny new PDF document that the nice Scottish man who owns the travel company we’re going to Nepal with had recently emailed to Pip and I. Pip had been studiously ignoring it, so I read it out loud to the assembled group.

This was the first time Pip had really paid attention to what she’d signed up for and she visibly paled as I described the seven to eight hours a day of trekking we’d be doing, camping in an actual tent and eating lentils for two weeks. The picture of the rickety wooden bridge that spanned a large, angry river was almost enough for her to resign immediately from the trip, until she realised that she’d told so many people now she had no choice but to go through with it.

I am just relieved Gavin, the nice Scottish man didn’t include pictures of the tiny little aeroplane we’ll be taking from Kathmandu to somewhere unpronounceable in the middle of nowhere. It’s close to a lovely mountain lake though and some prayer flags, so it will all be worth it.

I finally caved in and went to bed when the discussion turned to the cruise control function on Lady W’s new car. He had been astonished to learn that it didn’t turn the wheels for him and had quickly given up on the idea of using it all together when he realised it didn’t drive the car for him. I later learned he was training to be a primary school teacher. It’s good to know the future of our nation is in such safe hands.

Mother Nature was kind to us yet again and we found ourselves walking along one of Britian’s most beautiful and wild beaches under blue skies and a chilly breeze. We were in fine form and marched forth with purpose. Major, the big, black Alsatian bounded along, only having to be put on the lead whenever he saw small dogs or pink wellingtons. Both of which seemed to offend him greatly.

We had agreed to meet the boys at one of the many pubs in Bamburgh. They’d selected the one right at the end of the village meaning Pip and I had that extra few hundred yards to hobble to at the end of the first half of our walk. For we had decided to walk to Bamburgh and back, giving us a clear ten to twelve miles under our belts.

A large steak pie and a huge pile of chips later and Pip and I felt restored. We popped into a small, elegant and very tasteful boutique for ladies of a certain age in the village, purchasing posh gloves. Pip squealed with delight when she realised they had a pair of fingerless gloves with lace AND fur. Both practical and stylish for trekking in the lower regions of the Himalayas.

I was dark by the time we got back. We’d given up trekking on the beach as we realised we’d probably drown. Not only could we not see where we were going, but the tide was in. Pip’s back went at one stage so we rested and then my knees went. We hobbled, rather crest fallen back to the warmth of the living room where the boys were sitting watching a re-run of Derry Girls, wondering where we’d been.

”We were getting worried about you.“ Said Special Precious Boy.

”Not bloody worried enough to phone us and offer to give us a lift back then.” Came Pip’s rather terse reply.

We collapsed onto the sofa, unable to move or speak. SPB made us both a gin and tonic and Pip helpfully handed round ibuprofen which I gobbled greedily with my gin.

”We’ve got the Cheviots to do tomorrow.” I later reminded Pip. I was with silence. Sensing an end to the party atmosphere, the boys went home, leaving Pip and I with our painful limbs and private thoughts. At some point I remember her Beautiful Daughter and her Giant Husband arriving. By this time though the ibuprofen had combined beautifully with the gin and I can’t be certain how much of it I hallucinated.

I do recall chat relating to giving birth being akin to calving. Giant Husband was indeed one of those silent, strong farmers from Northumberland and was insisting that the forthcoming birth of his first child would be just like helping a cow give birth. Pip and I both reassured her daughter that this was far from the case.

I chose to remain silent about the rapid birth of Middle Child, so rapid in fact that the placenta forgot to come out and a manual extraction was performed. This did indeed involve eight medical professionals hanging around staring in a concerned manner at my nether regions as a surgeon stuck his arm as far as it would go up inside my tired, anaesthetised body and tugged away at the shy placenta until it popped out. It was probably best she didn’t know about that three months before giving birth.

We awoke the next day ready to take on the challenge of the Cheviots. I’d read somewhere that to prepare properly for trekking you must build up stamina and do long walks on consecutive days. I was utterly determined we should follow the instructions as per Google.

”I’ve checked the forecast for today Pip.”

”Oh yeah.” She said absent mindedly as she ate toast.

”It’s going to rain. A lot.”

”I’m not bloody walking in the rain.” Came the reply.

Part of me was devastated and part of me was delighted. My knees really weren’t working properly at all and yet I was not going to let a bit of rain stop me. A dilemma ensued in my mind. Should I confess to Pip that I was relieved or should I pretend that I was disappointed in her whimpishness.

We solved the problem by not talking about it and picked up her Beautiful Daughter from the remote farm where she lived with her Giant Husband and a zillion pigs and headed to Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Pip used an unusual word to described something the pigs do in last week’s blog and I still haven’t looked it up.

I need coffee fairly swiftly after breakfast otherwise I get quite nippy. Since Berwick was the nearest place that might sell decent coffee, I felt this was a good compromise. Looking forward to some artisan, hand picked coffee beans, carefully roasted by magical tribes in Guatemala and served at the perfect temperature by a man with a man bun and a beard, I was compliant and dropped the whole Cheviots idea.

We ate croissant, drank coffee in the local Nero and had to sit outside because Major wanted to eat the small dogs that were sitting nicely with their owners inside. We ambled round the walls of the town in the persistent drizzle. To be fair my knees were actually broken and I immediately announced I would be purchasing Norwegian walking poles.

”But you’ll look like a twat.” Offered Pip at my latest suggestion.

”I know I’ll look like a twat, but I’ll have knees that work.” It was true, I had a very poor opinion of outdoorsy people with walking poles as they literally all look like twats. It stemmed from a purposeful mother at the school gates when my older two kids were at primary school. I was a struggling single parent, dealing with an estranged husband who was trying to wring every penny out of me, running a business and handling two young kids who couldn’t understand why mummy had left their father (he’s an alcoholic).

This woman for some unknown reason insisted on walking everywhere with Norwegian walking poles and was the type of mother who had a normal, stable, sober husband and kids who probably went onto finish university completely solvent and then win Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Literature and Saving The Fucking Planet. They‘re probably fucking vegans too and possibly non-binary (look it up, it’s a thing these days). Not that I have anything against anyone who decides to identify as an ‘it’ or eat plants for the rest of their lives. Good luck to them, I say, all the more steak for me and available toilets in the women’s loos.

Plus I don’t own any hessian underwear or ugly sandals, so I wasn’t sure walking poles were allowed to be purchased by people like me in bright pink goose down jackets and fur cuffed, bejewelled gloves.

I left Pip and her daughter and visited the nearest Go Outdoors, hoping that I would not meet anyone I knew.

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