We’re in the car, heading to the river for a pre-lunch walk. My nephew is Not Happy.
“I don’t want to go to the river!” he says repeatedly, doing the tried and trusted ‘ironing board’ manouevre to stop me putting the straps on the car seat for him. “There’s only grass and trees and water. It’s BORING”.
“Ha!” I say. “Call that boring? You are SO LUCKY you weren’t little when me and your daddy were. When we were little” I continue, warming to my topic “Grandad used to take us to places where there was absolutely nothing – not even water – well, apart from rain - or trees. Just, mud and grass and cold. And every single day he would make us go out and walk for hours and hours on end. We weren’t even walking TO anywhere. Just walking for the sake of it. One time your daddy got so cold he kept asking what the first signs of hypothermia were, because he thought he had it. We hated it, didn’t we?”
My brother nods grimly. If anything, he hated it more than I did. “It was always cold. And it always rained. And there was nothing to see”.
“And he didn’t really have any food either. Maybe an oatcake or some old Kendal Mint Cake if you were lucky. I bet you don’t know what Kendal Mint Cake is, do you?’
My nephew shakes his head.
“Well it doesn’t matter, because it’s disgusting. It didn’t matter how bad the weather was. Sometimes I would sit at the window and watch the rain slicing across the valley and think ‘maybe today we can stay in?’”
“But oh, no” says my brother “It was never bad enough weather to be let off walking. Do you remember that outhouse?”
“What, the one at Rose Cottage? God, yes”
“That place was so cold. What was it made of, cardboard?”
“You see” I explain to my nephew “When Grandad was really sick of us complaining, he used to shut us in this sort of shed place. And it was cold and damp in the shed and so SO boring”.
“Why did Grandad do that?” says my nephew
“He just wanted us to shut up for a while I think. But there was NOTHING to do in there, we got so bored”.
“Well, there were the boxes of Encyclopaedias under the bed” says my brother, ever fair-minded.
“Damp, mildewed encyclopaedias. Ha! Do you remember what else was under the bed?” I raise my eyebrows meaningfully. There were boxes of mysterious, leathery objects – bondage gear we learnt very much later from my dad – abandoned by his former lodger, Radish.
“I would have said NO GRANDAD” says my nephew, decidedly. “And I would have hid”.
“I wish we had thought of that. But he used to be a lot scarier than he is now”.
The Christmas holidays bring it all back – stiff leather boots filled with dead insects, slightly leaky cagoules, huddled in the back seat of the Alfa as Crystal Gayle blasted out in the front, zero visibility, the vague, illusory promise of a pub (Seabrook Ready Salted and a Coke if you were lucky) somewhere at the end of the epic. The dark years of my vegetarianism, nourished only by dehydrated noodles and tins of beans. Getting into a damp bed heated by the electric blanket to perfect Turkish bath. The terrifying prospect of getting – whisper it – snowed in. I’d confess to a trace of nostalgia, but no more than a trace. Not enough to get me to walk up a hill ever again.
In the end the river walk is salvaged by a brick with a chain through it. It doesn’t take much. Not that we had bricks when we were young..