The big day had arrived, it was holiday time.
I’d rung the hospital first thing and spoken to McGivitup. Father Augustus was fine, a bit battered and bruised around the edges but otherwise okay. He would be released into Lil Sis’s care later in the day. That worry out of the way, I could concentrate on the organisation that was needed to get us underway.
Sparah, my eldest daughter, so named because of her sparrow legs, had managed to acquire us a ten seat mini bus, cheap, off one of her dodgy mates. She was a veritable little miracle worker. She had also managed to secure us a camping location, in the middle of nowhere, on the borders south of Edinburgh, with access to water and bathroom, for free!
Saladin, my eldest son, so named because I’ve always had a thing about Arabs and it’s always pissed me off that his namesake was defeated by Richard the Lionheart and his crusaders, turned up with the mini bus, and it didn’t look half bad considering the price, a bit battered around the bodywork maybe, but as long as it got us from a to b who cared? Not us.
We were a party of four adults, five kids and one in-betweenie, you know, one of those alien teenage specimens! However, once we’d got loaded up with all our collective gear, there was barely room for us!
We crammed in pots, pans, picnic basket, barbecue, gas stove with grill, sleeping bags, quilts, blow up beds, tents…five of. A huge one for Sparah, Sal and their four off-spring, Luke and Joe belonging to Sparah, Thom and Betsy belonging to Sal. There was a three man abode for The Top Dog and me. A two man one for my lad Jah, otherwise known as the git neck teen monster, and my lass Irie, my eight year old baby, otherwise known as Mini Me. Yet another big tent for generally socialising in and last but not least, a small tent for the dog. Add to that little lot, clothes, towels, food, footballs, Frisbees, a radio, blah, blah, blah. Like I said, there was barely room for us!
And as we pulled away we must have looked like something out of the Beverly Hillbillies! The kids all had their heads stuck out of the windows, waving bye to their pals.
“Get your bloody heads in, they’ll think we’re a cattle truck!” I bellowed from the back, where I’d taken my seat.
And now came the hard bit, because to be perfectly frank, I had not been looking forward to the journey one little bit! As a child I had travelled the length and breadth of this beautiful isle with Father Augustus, and loved every moment of it. However, that was then and this was now. And my how things have changed in those few years! What a bloody ugly mess has been made of vast swathes of land that was once a wonder to behold! Foul factories besmirching the landscape, chemical plants spewing out God alone knows what fetid filth into the atmosphere, eating away at and eroding the very lungs of the earth and its peoples!
And that is without mentioning the sheer amount of petrol guzzling, earth polluting, children choking, global warming causing, death machines that all but gridlock the entire countries road network! And what bloody ugly networks they have become!
No, travelling in this day and age is not a pleasurable pursuit, it’s a fucking nightmare! You sit tensed up and stressed out for the entire journey, not sure if you aren’t going to end up in a mangled, mashed up mess of metal because some twat thinks he has a God given right to drive like a raving lunatic, weaving in and out at furious high speed, with no regard for others!
But what exactly does the government do about the sheer volume of traffic that clogs not only the roads, but also the arteries?
Not a lot!
No, that is a major flaw in the whole voting system, no party dare confront this problem of solving global warming and the general polluting aspect of motor vehicles, by restricting personal car ownership. It would be a major vote loser. As a result the whole world has gone car crazy with no restraint from the powers that govern. It’s a case of the environment be damned, the health of the next generation be damned, the very earth that houses us be damned, all because no government dare tackle the problem because it would lose them votes from the self obsessed, spoilt voters who now look on private car ownership as a human right.
Well it isn’t! It’s a human misapprehension.
But who would vote for a party who announced that all privately owned cars were going to be banned?
Very few and that is the tragedy for our planet and the life it houses.
Imagine if you can, what would come about if private car ownership was to be banned?
Overnight the roads would become ninety nine percent safer to travel on. Children would be spared the frightening agony of asthma and other pollutant related diseases. Thousands of jobs would be created in the public transport sector. Travel would become cheap and cheerful as people climbed out of their private pods and got to know one another again. And the benefit for the planet would be truly cleansing, especially once clean fuels come into their own. The world managed for millions of years without motor cars…it’s time to stop being selfish greedy bastards who destroy the very earth that houses us by giving up the addiction! Either that or fuck the lot of us…because just imagine what it will be like when the developing world develops…billions upon billions of exhausts will cause extinction for the entire planet!
Anyway, five hours and a few stops to unburden bladders later, we arrived. I’d started to relax as soon as we got away from the bloody, often literally, horrendous motorways. And Scotland’s borderlands are a picture to behold, the spectacular beauty is simply awesome.
“Mum…” Sparah asked as we neared our destination, “what happened to the sun bed I bought you for your last birthday? I’ve never seen you use it.”
“She does use it.” The Top Dog put in.
“When?” Sparah demanded, “I’ve been round loads when the sun has been blazing down and what’s mum doing? Gardening…”
“Oh she doesn’t use it for sun bathing,” The Top Dog grinned at her, “but if you come round at midnight you’ll find her laid out on it star gazing.”
I grinned inanely at Sparah as I nudged her, “it’s a full moon tonight…pity I didn’t pack the sun bed!”
With that we became quite silly as we anticipated the coming spectacle. But first we had to deal with a plague of beasties!
Now Scottish midges are fearsome creatures. The poor kids looked as if they all had chickenpox within minutes of reaching our destination! And we adults weren’t too far behind in the spotty dick stakes!
Consequently we ran around like blue arsed flies, unpacking the tents and getting them erected as quickly as possible to escape the absolute swarms that got in your hair, in your eyelashes, up your nose, even in your ears! The poor dog changed from black and white to grey all over in moments. And for an animal who has hated water since the day we got him, even though he was half Newfoundland with webbed paws, he voluntarily launched himself into a river the following day! We soon got the hang of the pesky mites though. It was quickly sussed that they only come out in the early morning, then again in the evening. So, if we stayed in our tents until nine thirty, we missed them. At the other end of the day, we made sure we were elsewhere while the beasties were rampant. We also kept a fire going in the patch of woodland that was next door to our camp, they weren’t awfully keen on the smoke.
It was only the day before we headed for home again that I got talking to a Scotsman who had lived in the highlands. He informed me that a certain moisturising cream, that is sold door to door by ladies, is a sure fire way of keeping the critters well away, apparently they dislike the perfume. The Scotsman informed me that all the ghillies in the highlands wore it. It was then that my imagination ran riot as I visualised all the git strapping, mountainous, muscular and excessively hairy ghillies, striding about the mountains with their kilts swaying, their sporrans swinging and their bouncing dangly bits allegedly hanging loose, while they managed the vast estates, all the while exuding a rich and exquisite feminine pong!
Our first full day in Bonny Scotland found us joyfully wending and weaving our way through the seemingly endless miles of all but deserted roads that followed the valleys of the gently rolling hills. Rivers with clear sparkling water, ran along side most of these roads, salmon regularly leapt from the depths as if to say hello. A pair of eagles soared in the sky above, occasionally diving to scoop up a temporarily flying fish. We were spell bound with the sheer unadulterated beauty of it all. But then it was back to reality, there was shopping to do, with a small army to feed, we needed food.
Now The Top Dog being a chef, had on first arriving, thrown himself whole heartedly into setting up a ’kitchen’ in the woods. There was already a clearing with three long logs, creating seating around three quarters of a circle. The Top Dog had organised the kids to collect big stones to form a circle within the circle, then they were issued with instructions to collect dead wood, of which there was more than enough. And that was the camp fire constructed. The kids had a great time gathering wood and making a pile to last the night. The older ones even got into collecting switches from the trees which they turned into rudimentary brushes, which they used to clear the living space of leaves and pine cones. Meanwhile The Top Dog had cleared a space behind one of the seating logs, under a tree, where he had set up the gas stove and grill and the barbecue. A make shift work top had been created out of an old piece of board that had been found lying around, it sported, after it had been covered with a table cloth, the washing up bowl and the chopping board. A washing line had been erected, the radio hung from the tree informing us what was going on in that far away world that didn’t seem to be a part of us any more. The food that we had brought from home had been attached to a rope, that had been thrown over a branch and was swinging in mid air, so that the wildlife couldn’t steal it while we were asleep! Then the whole kitchen area was surrounded by log barriers to prevent the kids from accidentally falling near hot things. The only thing we had to be alert to as regarded safety was the camp fire, but it is amazing how quickly youngsters adapt to being careful, even Betsy, the baby who was three months short of being two understood that she hadn’t to get close to the fire. It was a fact, that the kids enjoyed being in the camp as much, if not more than they enjoyed the days out we had.
But we had to keep going for days out, mostly because The Top Dog developed a serious shopping habit! He had a small tribe to feed and food halls became the place to be! By the time we went home I think he knew every food shop within a thirty mile radius intimately!
It was on the first of these food hunt expeditions that a potential disaster took place.
We found a breath taking beautiful little town. It was decided that we would explore the place before a food shop search took over pleasurable pursuits. Although that didn’t stop The Top Dog! He ducked and dived into every shop along the way. We found a very well maintained and well thought out play park, but meanwhile we had lost The Top Dog! I was about to send out a search party when he turned up laden with pies, pasties and sausage rolls, so much for my cholesterol, but never mind, we were on holiday. We munched our way through the delicious fare and then discovered that The Top Dog had disappeared again! He emerged some ten minutes later bearing ten precariously balanced ice creams. We wallowed in the sun shine, just enjoying the kids laughter and the breath taking views for a while longer, before setting off back to the mini bus, which was parked on the main road, to go in search of food.
We were all in the mini bus, strapped down and ready to go, Sal inserted the key and fired up, nothing!
Shit, bollocks, pigs bastard arseholes! The mother fucking bus had broken down!
My imagination went into overdrive as I visualised us stuck in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from home, our temporary camp unreachable without transport, I could feel the blood pressure rising along with the panic! How the fuck were we going to cope with all these kids if the fucking bus was knackered?
I decided it wasn’t my problem, so I ordered all the kids out of the vehicle and announced I was taking them back to the park. I left The Top Dog, Sal and Sparah to sort it out.
We had been at the park for some thirty minutes or so when Sparah turned up, on foot!
She informed me that they had established that the starter motor was knackered. But, they had managed to bounce it off. Now The Top Dog and Sal were having a cruise round town to see if they could find a food store that didn’t charge the earth.
Meanwhile Sparah got on her phone to the owner of the mini bus. After giving him sever ear ache for several minutes, she asked him what we were supposed to do? He suggested making sure we parked at the top of big hills, we were in Scotland so it shouldn’t be a problem! To say Sparah was incandescent is something of an understatement , she informed him, in no uncertain terms, that if we got stuck because of his piss useless mini bus, then he would be travelling to Scotland personally, to deliver each and everyone of us and all our collective gear home again, and she didn’t care how many trips it would take him to do it. And if he didn’t she would have his bollocks on a platter! He had a change of heart and told her she could take it to a garage and get it repaired sending the bill to him if the worst came to the worst.
Sal and The Top Dog turned up, on foot, to collect us. They had been reliably informed by one of the locals that we would find an excellent farmers market in the next town. We followed them back to the mini bus which was parked on a hill!
Ten miles and some gob smacking views later, we arrived in the town. It was a stunningly beautiful place, located around a river. We resolved to return at a later date to explore further. However, time was plodding on and with ten of us to feed plus the dog, we needed to find food.
The farmers market was found, but I was dismayed to observe that the car park was completely flat! We had discovered something flat in Scotland when it was the very last thing we needed! I was not a happy bunny as I anticipated us having to push the bloody mini bus up a hill, just so we could roll it back down again, with us praying the engine would kick in!
The Top Dog and Sal disappeared into the stalls promising not to be long, while Sparah and I stayed with the kids. We played eye spy.
“Eye spy with my big eye,” Jah started, “something beginning with, H.”
“Will you please not mention bloody hills!” Snapped I.
“Grandma, not in front of us kids please!” Luke, who we had recently nick named, He Who Shouts In The Night, because he spent most of the previous night bellowing for us to get more wood while he was fast asleep, chastised.
“Bugger off and deal with it,” I shot back, “it’s nowt you don’t hear on the playground every day, you little ankle biter!”
“Charmed I’m sure.” He grinned.
Sal was back in no time, armed with about ten dummies, for baby Betsy, that he’d bought from a post office he’d found. He was keen to start the mini bus up before the engine went cold. We all held our breath, then heaved a collective sigh of relief when it fired up first time. He kept the engine ticking over while we waited for The Top Dog. We waited and waited and waited and then we waited some more. I was about to go and seek him out and then drag him back by the scruff of his neck, when he came into view, pushing a ‘wheel barrow?’ packed to the hilt with Scotland’s finest fare, looking triumphant.
“We’re going to feast like Kings.” He declared. “You lot get this packed away,” he ordered, “while I take this wheel barrow back to the kind man who loaned me it.”
Thank God for that! I thought he’d bought the wheel barrow as well!
It was another fifteen minutes before he appeared again, armed with yet more shopping!
The back to camp journey heard sound ricocheting off them there hills as we gave full voice to, Bob The Builder Can He Fix It? Yes He Can! Even the Telly Tubbies got a look in much to the delight of Betsy who sang along with glee. Even the teenage in-betweenie, who was in charge of the music machine, was having a whale of a time as he reverted back to his not long past childhood days.
By the time we got back to camp, we were all sung out for the time being. And I had managed to put the woes of the world firmly to the back of my mind for once. I was in the heart of my family and loving every moment, just as it should be. The outside world was seemingly a million miles away. Even the radio, which had previously been tuned to BBC radio four, was now on cassette mode and was belting out Bob Marley and the Wailers as we got busy cooking up a banquet.
The kids feasted on baked potatoes, cooked in foil in the embers of the camp fire. Haggis sausages and bacon cooked on the barbecue, and beans heated on the camp fire. Us adults enjoyed lamb curry and rice, cooked on the gas stove, served with baked banana, also done in foil on the camp fire and natural yogurt infused with cucumber and spices. The in-betweenie, the one with hollow legs, pigged out on both child and adult meals!
By nightfall we were all well stuffed and more than satisfied. The alcohol was flowing. The Top Dog and Sal had a game of charades going with the kids, while Sparah and me were living in excited anticipation at the prospect of seeing a full moon rise over the bonny hills of Scotland. We’re weird like that.
While Mini Me was galloping round the camp slapping her arse, trying to silently describe Black Beauty, baby Betsy toddled over and poked my leg.
“Grandma…” She looked up at me.
“Yes Betsy…what can I do for you?”
“Grandma…” She declared seriously, “I’ve lost my air guitar!”
The entire camp dissolved into nigh on hysterical laughter…but do you know, that bloody air guitar went missing every day…and could we find it? We searched high and low but would it be found? No!
Still, the night was finally upon us and the sky was crystal clear. It was perfect.
After Sparah and me had spent the day periodically nudging each other declaring, it’s a full moon tonight, like a couple of kids about to get the candy, the moment was almost upon us.
We left the rest of them in the woods with the camp fire and took off for the top of the hill, or at least the top of the field in which our tents were pitched, which was in fact half way up the hill. It was enchanting, there was absolutely no light pollution, the stars shone like never before, especially mars, which happened to be closer to earth than it had been for hundreds of years, the spectacle was perfectly magical.
We waited in awed anticipation, listening to the chatter from the rest of them as it filtered through the woods. It was so tranquil and peaceful.
Then the horizon on the opposite hill began to get lighter and lighter as the moon crept up behind it.
“Come on you moon!” Sparah bellowed at the top of her lungs.
“Bloody crystal sniffers,” came a shout from the woods, it was The Top Dog.
His comment was followed by a roar of laughter from Sal.
Then it happened, the full moon began to peep over the opposite hill.
“Wow,” Sparah and I uttered in unison, just as a shooting star blazed across the sky and seemingly fell into the rising moon. We began whooping at this outrageous show the heavens were giving us.
“It’s meant to be quiet and peaceful in the middle of nowhere,” He Who Shouts In The Night bellowed from the woods, “you two are polluting our serenity!”
From a seven year old I ask you!
“And you lot don’t know what your missing you boring gits,” I bellowed back.
More whoops were issued as the moon showed her full face above the opposite hill.
“Aw that was pure magic,” Sparah sighed.
“Wasn’t it just,” I agreed as I grabbed her hand and began dragging her down the hill.
“What are you doing?” Sparah wailed, “mums gone mad.” She shouted to the rest of them.
“We knew that years ago,” came Mini Me’s voice in reply.
“Look at the moon.” I said.
“Exactly,” said I triumphantly, “we can watch it rise again.”
We were all anticipation again.
“It’s peaking,” Sparah shouted, “it’s peaking!”
“Grandad,” I heard young Joey ask, “why is grandma and my mum complete nutters?”
“Because they know how to cherish life son.”
“It’s climaxing,” I bellowed.
“God I think I am as well!” Sparah shrieked, “this is orgasmic, it’s better than sex!”
“You sad bastard,” Sal shouted from the woods.
“Yeah well I’m saving myself for Robbie aren’t I.” Sparah shot back. “I’m the love he hasn’t found yet!”
“Dream on,” the in-betweenie scoffed, “Rankin Rodger is more your type!”
It wasn’t too much longer before the entire clan were lured into the open to witness the magic. Ten of us flat on our backs in the middle of a field trying to outdo each other in the number of shooting stars we spotted.
And thus our holiday continued.
We explored castles. Tramped through forests. Messed about in rivers, Sal at thirty, being the most ardent damn builder! We visited towns and villages on occasion. The only snag with that particular pursuit was that, like I said earlier, The Top Dog and his shopping habit! Every time we went anywhere near a built up area, he would melt, as if by magic and become one with the shops, not to be seen for hours, then to eventually emerge, laden with bags. And then the git had the nerve to moan that he hadn’t had the chance to see or do anything when it was time to move on, after we’d been sat twiddling our thumbs waiting for him to show up.
The Top Dogs shopping habit had become something of an in joke between the rest of us. To the degree that I almost inadvertently caused Sal to crash the mini bus! We were returning back to camp late one night after a day out, when we passed a store, The Black Adder Mart, it was obviously still open for trade.
“Ooh look,” I commented, “a shop…and it’s open…I’m surprised The Top Dog didn’t ask to pull over!”
“What was that?” The Top Dog demanded from his front seat next to Sal, totally oblivious to all the jokes that had been flying around concerning his fixation.
We all tried to stifle our collective giggles that were rising, but it got too much for Sal who roared with laughter and had to pull over until he gained control of his hysteria. It didn’t help matters that The Top Dog was blankly puzzled wondering what the hell had got into us all.
As the holiday wore on, my head and face swelling began to recede, but then I noticed that I appeared to be moulting! Excessive amounts of hair were coming out every time I brushed. Also my digits began to periodically go numb? I noted these facts then promptly put them to the back of my mind.