Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Home sweet home

I am, as they used to say in the glory days of Smash Hits, back back back! Although perhaps not with enough news to warrant an over-excited exclamation mark. I have only been to Scotland, after all. Not the Congo. Not the Crusades. I am not, metaphorically or otherwise, riding through the streets on an open-topped bus holding the FA Cup. Or even the FA Trophy. But still, since we last spoke I have seen with my own eyes real-life puffins and otters gambolling in the wild, and I don't believe that I am not irrevocably changed by these experiences. How? I cannot tell yet, but you will be the first to know.

These are just a few small things I have learnt in my time away.
  • The Angel Of The North is, like all famous people, shorter in real life than she looks on telly. We spotted her from the train on the way to Glasgow, after following excellent directions from my friend Mr Taylor, a native of the north-east ('right-hand window of the carriage, stay alert from Durham'). Mrs Jones, the retired art historian (although I wonder if this is a calling from which you can never truly retire), was wildly excited. 
  • Old people really, really like ice cream. At many of the destinations I visit with my mum, the grey army is marauding – and they have well and truly taken the Inner Hebrides. It seemed that every which way I turned, there was a pensioner gleefully unpeeling a Cornetto or excitedly fumbling to unwedge the teeny plastic spade from the lid of some upmarket hand-churned lifestyle brand. These specimens were recorded on the Oban to Mull ferry:
I'm not sure how or why this love affair came about. But perhaps as your ageing body slowly dries out, shrinks and atrophies, unwrapping an ice cream and enjoying every last delicious drip that runs down your fingers is the kind of sensual experience you may be starting to miss.

There are, however, always exceptions. One night, at a restaurant in Tobermory, our dinner was soundtracked by a tiny, crooked old lady at the next table who had hair like Douglas Hurd and a very high, penetrating Northern voice which could have been field-recorded by Nick Park for
Creature Comforts. That day, I had been reading A Prayer For Owen Meany, whose eponymous hero sounds similarly high-pitched, and now I find I cannot differentiate the two in my mind, so I will have to capitalise her dialogue, as Owen's is in the book. While I was in the loo, my mum overheard the following: 'I CAN NEVER EAT AN ICE LOLLY DOWN TO THE STICK. I JUST CAN'T!' This made me and Mrs Jones (not the song, obviously) laugh till tears ran down our faces, but perhaps we'd just caught too much of the sun. I wonder why she could never finish the job. Perhaps she was particularly susceptible to splinters. We all have our physical frailties.
  • Chaffinches really like cheese. 

Who knew? I did not, but this was a particularly excellent local Cheddar. I could not blame him/her (I don't know the difference, but I imagine plumage is key) one little bit.
  • My mother is a slave to The Sunday Times. She wears the yoke of its oppressively infinite number of supplements. Our holiday stretched over two Sundays – representing the first and second times she had been in the country and not bought a copy of the paperboy-crippler. I asked her how she felt without it – anxious, fearful, as though she was missing a limb? 'Relieved,' she said. 'I know that it's not hanging over me for the whole week.' She was free of her chains. I cannot remember a time when The Sunday Times was not a part of the Parental Jones' weekend. Although there was a brief period many many years ago, it must have been the 70s, when some kind of strike ensued at Sunday Times Towers, and The Observer made a fleeting appearance at number 9 Arber Close, Bottisham. Even as a tot, I recognised that it looked all wrong fanned out across the Parental Jones' sitting room carpet and, later, lining the vegetable rack. It was like an unwanted newsprint foundling we discovered on the doorstep that never really fitted in. I knew that however kind we, as a family, tried to be to it, we could never truly accept it as one of our own.
  • Plum sorbet is one of life's myriad tiny disappointments.

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