Image by linniekin via Flickr
Describe the best road trip you’ve ever taken.
What follows is not the best road trip I’ve ever taken (most of it being by rail, for starters), but it was good fun.
To continue our nursery rhyme theme…which reminds me: well done, dear readers, on your excellent modern nursery rhymes. Way to make me feel inadequate as both poet and social commentator. My only comfort was that none of you noticed I used all of your favourite words in one post. If this blog had a tongue, it would be blowing raspberries right now and I would have to issue a stern warning because it’s necessary to be nice to people if you want them to come back. Kisses, dear, dear readers.
Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to look at the Tweenies.
I won a competition back in 2003. The BBC phoned me one Thursday morning – not the whole corporation, just two incompetents – to tell me I had won an exclusive, all-expenses paid trip to London that weekend, to watch the premiere of the Tweenies new video/dvd, Night-time Magic, featuring Eddie the Dream Genie.
The Tweenies is/was a children’s programme involving people dressed in felt costumes, and a lot of singing. I once set up my ironing board in front of the tv and found I had done twenty minutes’ worth while singing along to them without realising. While I’m at it, I might as well confess that I also have the ‘Goodbye’ song from Bear In The Big Blue House on my playlist.
The first BBC person to phone wanted to confirm that I could accept the prize, as it was such short notice, and promised a second person would phone to give me details of travel, etc.
On Friday morning I phoned them to see what was happening: the first person thought the second person had phoned me and the second person thought the first person had phoned me, to tell me that the train tickets would be with me by twelve o’clock that day.
Either the first or second person phoned me at two to tell me that, actually, the tickets had come back to the office because they were incorrectly addressed but not to worry, because everybody else all over the country had received theirs, so that was alright, then.
I’d be hearing from the BBC.
I didn’t hear from the BBC.
I phoned again.
Can’t you just hear someone from That’s Life saying, ‘This has got nothing to do with us’?
I was promised an e-mail bearing all details including a pin number so that I could collect the tickets from the station just before we left.
By this time, the Hub and I were convinced that the whole thing was a wind-up. I didn’t bother packing, and I was preparing to tell the kids on Saturday morning, sorry to disappoint you and blight your life but you can blame the sickos playing a joke on us, when the e-mail arrived with all details, including the train time of 12h37.
It was all hands to battle stations, packing, cleaning (can’t leave the house dirty for burglars) and setting the video for the England-South Africa game the Hub was sacrificing for his beloved children to have a weekend jolly (and if you knew how much that man loves his rugby, you would appreciate that it was a HUGE sacrifice on his part).
We were at the station for 11h55, and there was a minor panic when the ticket machine was not located at the end of Platform 2 as the BBC advised us (I know the BBC don’t run the railways, but give it time). We located it eventually (thirteen miles away at Granada Studios), collected the tickets, and waited for our fabulous weekend to begin.
The train journey was pleasant, if punctuated by sad comments from the Hub: ‘Kick-off will be about now.’ ‘I bet England are ahead now. ’Must be half-time.’ ‘It’s a shame, but I don’t think South Africa will beat them; they’re not the team they were.’ ’The game must be over now.’ ‘At least I can watch the highlights in the hotel (sigh).’
We arrived at Euston Station knowing the hotel was only two or three minutes away, but not in which direction. The e-mail had promised us a map at the end of it, but after scrolling through four pages of disclaimers and details of what we were not getting from them, you will not be surprised to learn that were was no map. However, my husband is a resourceful man, and he asked somebody for directions, and we arrived at the hotel within the promised two or three minutes.
No problems booking in and our room was what I can only describe as larney – extremely posh, too good for the likes of us, but we don’t care, we enjoyed it anyway. It was bigger than Spud’s then-classroom, as he informed us in awed tones, comfortably fitting a king-sized bed, large single bed, fold-out, thick sprung-mattress sleeper-couch that was more comfortable than our bed at home, table, desk, chairs, luxury bathroom and mini-corridor big enough for Spud to turn cartwheels in.
The Hub was pleased to discover that Man City were winning three-nil when he put the telly on, and ecstatic when they eventually beat Bolton six-two; the rugby highlights were also shown, so he was thrilled/disappointed when England won/South Africa lost – you only know the real meaning of torn loyalties when you are married to a rugby-loving man born in England but raised in South Africa.
The BBC then decided to spoil our weekend by having the latest Tweenies comic delivered to our room; to add insult to injury, they sent two – one each for the boys. You will appreciate our agony if I tell you that a combination of two lively boys and two free plastic guitars ensued – excellence in Children’s Literature was eschewed for excruciating noise and howling parents.
We went down to dinner at five-thirty. We were seated next to another family there courtesy of the BBC, who had had a similar experience to us, ungrateful wretches that we all were, in discovering what was actually going on. They had arrived at the station and got into a taxi for the hotel: total journey time – 30 seconds. They had also been promised a dinner at Planet Hollywood which never materialised, as part of the prize.
The reason I mention them, apart from giving me an excuse to complain as a good licence-payer about the waste of my money on know-nothing staff and weekend jollies to London, is that we all fell in love with their toddler daughter, Ellie-May. She was entrancing; her skin was like the proverbial caramel; her eyes the biggest and brownest I’ve ever seen in a little girl; her dark curly hair had golden tints; she was dressed beautifully; she was high-spirited and mischievous without being naughty, and her entrance was spectacular: she climbed up on the seat behind her mother, opened her mouth, and daintily vomited all over her mum in the middle of the restaurant.
That hiccup not withstanding, we had an enjoyable meal and an early night. The Hub was exhausted and ready for bed, but Spud, Tory Boy (then thirteen and not so much Tory Boy as Boy) and I struggled to sleep, talked in booming whispers so as not to disturb the Hub, eventually all dozed off and left him wide-awake from our efforts not to wake him.
That was also the night we invented our family cat. Before settling to sleep we told age-appropriate ghost stories (I find them too frightening otherwise). Mine was a shaggy dog story – unbelievable, I know – with a creaking door. When I creaked menacingly, they all laughed and demanded to know where the cat came from. He’s been a fixture ever since.
Breakfast next morning was ample and included a complimentary admirer for Boy – a Spanish waitress who told him he looked absolutely lovely….
We were all packed up and checked out by 11h15, waiting in the lobby for the BBC to collect us. Here, Corporation incompetence came into its own: two minibuses, meant to carry sixteen people each, arrived to carry sixty people to the premiere. Each driver thought he was collecting one family. You should have seen us all crammed in: Ellie-May’s father must have thought his luck was in, the way he and the Hub were cuddled up together. Can you imagine if we’d had an accident? Night-time Magic, Daytime Nightmare…why spend what we calculate was about a £1000 per family for the weekend, apart from the beanfeast itself, if you are going to risk it all? As it happened, nothing happened (shame – can you imagine the extensive media coverage for the new Tweenies dvd if we had all been maimed and/or killed? You can’t buy that kind of publicity), and we all arrived safely, once the first driver had been told by his passengers where we were going.
Things looked up after that. We went into a very exclusive place called The Rex Club, in Piccadilly Circus. To be honest, it looked exclusively seedy, but apparently cost the Beeb a fortune to hire, and was sited next door to Planet Hollywood, who provided the catering, so Ellie-May had the opportunity to throw-up their food after all. She screamed loud and long, poor little mite, at the site of a real, live Doodles, and refused to go anywhere near him. She spent most of the time playing with Boy, as she really took a shine to him. He didn’t mind being showered with many mini Doodles.
The room had been decorated with all things Tweenies, and we were free to take home as many of the aforementioned mini Doodles and yoyos as we wished (clearly the worst-selling toys) and to drink as much tea, coffee and cool drink (it was a children’s day, so no alcohol) as required. Those children not terrified by him had their pictures taken with the real Doodles, then we trooped into a very plush screening room (reclining seats, no less; I can’t help wondering what other films the Rex Club hosts…) to watch, da-da! the premiere of the Tweenies’ new video/dvd, Night-time Magic, featuring Eddie the Dream Genie. I must have mentioned it enough times now to have paid for the weekend.
Once they got the projector working properly – only a fifteen minute delay with a room full of eager, excited and very hungry children - we settled down to watch it.
I am still confused as to why, exactly, the BBC felt the need to bring sixty people from all over the country to watch a very ordinary fifty-minute video. It seemed like a colossal waste of money on something that was bound to be a huge seller, anyway. The Hub reckons it must have been a tax write-off.
We all trooped out once it had finished, and those children not asleep, too young, too old or too bored were thrilled to meet Eddie the Dream Genie in person. Spud confided in me that he overheard someone saying that Eddie had had trouble getting his head on properly. Spud seemed to enjoy meeting him and didn’t even mind an elbow in the face from Eddie in all the confusion.
Food followed, supplied by Planet Hollywood, which was extremely edible (the food, not Planet Hollywood – you can’t eat a business, silly, unless you’re Godzilla. But you won’t be invited back). Then goodie bags (two videos, wallet, poster, figure, bits and pieces), taxis – one per family this time, baggage collection, and off to the station.
I decided to forgive the BBC for wasting my money on expensive hotels, good food, freebies and generally showing us all a very good time when I took my seat in (because the journey home was almost fully booked, the woman at the Beeb had us bumped up to) First Class. We got free crisps! And drinks, eccles cakes and gross sandwichews. We were on Richard Branson’s new, tilting Pendolino train – in First Class!! They didn’t tilt, unfortunately, as we only travelled at about 23 miles an hour for half the journey. We didn’t mind, though, because we got free crisps.
I think the highlight of the journey was when I went to the toilet and couldn’t work the tap. Not as daft as it sounds – if you can imagine a machine that operates on the same principle as a hand dryer (no, not a towel), in that you put your hands underneath it and the water automatically comes out. It didn’t. There I was, with a handful of liquid soap and no water. I had to call the (male) attendant to help me, and I felt very silly, if germ free. Next time I went to a different toilet (hey, it’s a two-hour journey)and couldn’t get that tap to cease running water. I crossed my legs the rest of the way home. Those machines are everywhere now but they were state-of-the-art eight years ago.
And that was one of my favourite road trips (apologies for the many parentheses).