For approximately one week I have done no singing practice and no exercise. What I have done is drink quite a lot of wine, drive over 1000 miles, and spend time with my children and some of my friends and family.
It’s a long time since we previously travelled south together as a family: I think possibly the last time was my grandmother’s 100th birthday party, which makes it rather appropriate that one reason for the journey this time was my grandmother’s funeral (as well as the fact that it’s the Easter holidays and I had arranged to have the children for week one).
We set off down the M6/M5 towards Bristol on Sunday 29th. The clocks had just leapt forward, so I thought we did pretty well to leave at 9.30 a.m. Traffic was horrid – we crawled along between Knutsford and somewhere south of Birmingham. However we managed to get to Bristol to see the Partridge family (yes, that is their name: Sue, Darryl, Jessica and Ben) in time to spend a couple of hours with them and have tea. Sue and I were in the same ante-natal group and Jessica and Alex were born just six weeks apart. It was lovely to catch up again and after all too short a time (that was to be the theme for the week) we headed off down the A38 to see my parents, having driven past the flat we used to inhabit in Coombe Dingle as Alex had asked to see it, and also under an illuminated Clifton Suspension Bridge – one of the sights of Bristol I always love.
On Monday 30th not only was it David’s 40th birthday (we all phoned him) but it was also the day of my grandmother’s funeral. Isabella had insisted she was coming anyway; Edward said he wanted to; Alex wasn’t sure. However all three looked gorgeous and smart in their ‘funeral’ outfits, the boys playing Iron Maiden on my mother’s trampoline before we left, using walking sticks as microphones.
The funeral itself was lovely. The family walked in last and we each placed a yellow flower on my grandmother’s coffin, which was draped with a purple cloth. Edward asked “why are they playing such sad music?” but he was incredibly good throughout the service – the only noisy bit being when he decided to give me farty-sounding kisses. We went to the Merion House hotel for the funeral lunch and the boys were able to run around outside a bit while I chatted and Bella made friends with various family members. I met my cousin Tom’s girlfriend, who is lovely, and chatted to Sheila, my Dad’s brother’s second wife, who is also lovely.
Family members then went back to the Castle Hotel in Taunton and I was able to chat to some more cousins and others. My cousin Lynette had flown all the way over from Australia so it was good to see her: unfortunately the time available to spend with anyone was again short. Someone – I think it was Sheila – commented how true is the saying that it’s funerals and weddings which bring families together, and what a pity it is. Later on in the week I was to discuss a similar subject with a friend whom I haven’t seen for 9 years: we all get wrapped up in our busy lives and for various reasons end up not seeing people of whom we are fond. It’s then really nice to catch up with them again but easy to regret that you didn’t do so before.
On the Tuesday my Mum and I took the children swimming and then to lunch at John Lewis in Bristol. When we lived in Bristol for 4 years when Alex and then Bella was born, John Lewis in The Mall at Cribbs Causeway was a regular haunt; as was Waitrose at Portishead, near the swimming pool. Being back in Bristol was, for me, nostalgic: I’m happy in Cumbria but we were, I had thought at the time, happy in Bristol: certainly I had been as I had a good group of friends in my ante-natal group and also a group I ran with at work.
The other thing about Bristol is that it’s not that far from the south-east, where many of my friends lived then and still live now. However what I don’t miss about the south is the traffic. It was only about 130 miles in total from my parents’ house to Liz and Leslie’s in Lancing, Sussex – but it took us almost as long in terms of drive time as it had to get from Cumbria to Bristol. So much time in the south of the UK is wasted sitting in traffic jams!
Footnote – how could I forget Cheddar Gorge?! We drove across country, the children being impressed by the spectacular sight of Cheddar Gorge as we wound our way up amongst those ancient rocks. Alex was particularly excited that he could see goats – he counted 19 in total. Seeing the Gorge through their eyes made me appreciate it anew: as so often with children, their joy in seeing something amazing for the first time helps us adults see things from a fresh perspective (incredible how exciting a red tractor in a field can be to a 52-year old accompanied by a 2-year old).
We stopped at Marwell Zoo between my parents’ and Sussex, which proved a hit with all three children: we could easily have spent longer there. I remembered it from having stopped off there when Alex and Bella were far younger, when we had made the same trip. The penguins and meerkats were particularly popular, and I took a photo of Bella standing against a giraffe: she now comes up to its knees whereas last time we were there she was about half that height. Even so she’s still tiny…
On to Sussex to arrive very late to meet Theo, my cousin Simon’s little boy, and Simon’s partner Sophie. Theo is 18 months old and my three were very taken with him: after some initial hesitation Theo loved the attention of three bigger children. As Alex said a couple of days later, it’s difficult to think that Edward was ever that small.
We then stayed three nights at Liz and Leslie’s. Blackberry Farm proved a hit with all three children on Thursday, and Alex and Bella needed quite a bit of persuading to leave the leisure pool in Burgess Hill (Triangle Leisure) on Friday. Their swimming has come on in leaps and bounds in the past year – I can now look after Edward in places like that and not worry too much about them. Well, I worry about them but they didn’t wear armbands or anything (they can both swim) and they came out alive and having had a good time.
Saturday meant a long, long journey back from one end of England to the other: the Sussex coast to near the Scottish border. The first part of the journey, which I had thought might take forever, went smoothly, with traffic moving well on both the M23 and the M25. It was exciting for the children to go past Gatwick, Heathrow and Luton airports and see aeroplanes coming in to land or taking off quite low over the motorway. We stopped at St Albans – another nostalgic trip down memory lane for me – and met up with Eldfrid and her three children and her new partner, Pat, at the park by Westminster Lodge. The latter has been completely redeveloped fairly recently and proved to be a good place for lunch – and for Bella to admire the climbing wall, which has been made quite a feature in the foyer area (what a good idea).
Seeing everyone this week was great but perhaps seeing Eldfrid was the best of all as I hadn’t seen her for 9 years. We last saw each other when Bella was only a few months old and David and I were going to my aunt’s 60th birthday party in London, so we stayed with Eldfrid and her then partner Dave and her three children – Frida, Trond and Solveig – in Abbots Langley. Eldfrid babysat Alex and Bella while David and I went out. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge for both her and for me in that nine years: her relationship ended prior to mine and in a rather unpleasant way; I’ve moved to Cumbria, had Edward and my marriage has ended. Eldfrid is happy proof though that things get better again: she now has a lovely man and a good job, and her children are growing up into delightful people.
As, I should add, have my cousins – many of them much younger than me – and as have so many other of my friends’ children. In the past six months or so I have seen Jane’s daughter Hannah; my godson Michael (Liz’s second son); and now Eldfrid’s children. I look forward to seeing others, such as Caroline’s sons Oliver and Ben, before too long. Children who I liked when they were little have developed into lovely adults, all with their own individual skills, talents and view on the world and of whom their parents are justifiably proud.
My children and I travelled from great old age – my grandmother – to the youngest member of my immediate family – Theo – with many friends and family in between. I feel part of a warm, deeply rooted circle of generations in which I play my part and where all is unfolding just the way it should, and as it has for centuries, reflected in the historic buildings and sites all around my children and I as we travel. Past and present constantly intertwine, and if my children turn out as my friends’ have done, I shall be another proud parent.