Wednesday, 2 November 2016

On the road.

My plan to go to New York at half-term is met with resistance. Middle One wants to be at home with his mates. Youngest wants to be at home with his computer. Husband wants to be at home. Husband says he’s not interested in going to the States but he supposes if he had to go he would choose New York.

I’d go again tomorrow if it were up to me. I'd also go to Norway, Iceland, South America, Australia, China, more of Africa, Thailand, Japan, Sweden once again, India and most of all Canada, because I haven’t been since I was a girl. I have another plan: to go to Canada next summer whether they like it or not, and to San Francisco because from what I recall San Francisco is fantastic and incidentally the setting for the film Vertigo, which I love but not as much as I love Rear Window, which is set in New York, of course. 

When I was nine and we were living in Vancouver my parents blagged my brother and me several weeks off school, bought a trailer, hooked it up to our silver Chevrolet, and drove us to Mexico. The best teacher is experience, to quote a phrase, and my mother, being one, knew this. Plus she made us do school work on the trip and write diaries about it, just in case. I still have mine. It details the trivia captivating to a nine-year-old: a dog howling all night in a trailer park in Oregon; strange insects on the bottom of a swimming pool in Arizona; boiled crab we ate at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco; and my favourite memory: my brother winning a fistful of dollars in Las Vegas. I say my brother but really it was my dad because it's illegal for a six-year-old to operate a one-armed bandit. We were crossing a busy casino to get to a restaurant and my brother wanted a go. “Gamblers never win,” asserted my dad, before inserting his dime, pulling the handle, and watching the filthy lucre rain down into his little son's hands. I still remember the grin on his face. My brother's, not my father's.

On the road to San Francisco, and then to Mexico.

To pass the long hours travelling in the back of the Chevrolet my brother and I devised complicated imaginary worlds and quizzed each other about them. One favourite was about an alien who'd landed from outer space. We took turns to be the alien. The other had to describe the world he'd landed in, except it wasn’t this world, it was a different one entirely. We were so engrossed in this that our parents struggled to interest us in the passing landscape. “Look, children!” my mother exclaimed, “the Grand Canyon!” and we barely looked up. We were travelling in a literal sense but we were also travelling in our minds.

I was reminded of this the other day when I read an account of a man who spent 28 years on death row before being pardoned. “I let my mind travel,” he said. “I visited the Queen; married Halle Berry.” And I remember Brian Keenan writing something similar in his extraordinary book An Evil Cradling. As a hostage in Beirut from 1986 to 1990 he was kept alone in darkness for much of the time, developing a way of accessing memories and whole passages from novels and poems he'd read long before. I hasten to add that I’m not equating travelling in the back of a Chevrolet as a kid with being a hostage in Beirut, or rotting on death row, just that there are parts of our minds we use as children and when put under extreme pressure (unimaginable pressure) that are otherwise left unexplored, except perhaps in dreams.

Here are two more memories from that West Coast trip - watching a koala up close in San Diego Zoo. “I’ve been coming here twenty years,” said the woman next to us, looking at the marsupial in disbelief, “and that koala has never come down from that tree before.” (I remember feeling especially honoured by this.) And our trailer tyre blowing out on a rocky road in Mexico. My dad had to leave us in the heat haze and drive off to find a garage. The three of us spent hours sitting next to that wonky trailer, my mother encouraging us to watch ants going round in circles in the dust, carrying our fallen cookie crumbs twice their body size, as she furtively kept one eye on the trailer and the other on the road until finally my father returned with a mechanic, and more importantly a new tyre.

In San Francisco - very funny. Spot the Rhoda headscarf, I aways preferred Brenda anyway.

Memories like these are gifts our parents gave us. I'd like to give similar ones to my children. Someday we'll look back and memories will be all we have. Who will recall an October half-term spent playing a computer game? Or hanging out with mates? But in the face of vociferous opposition and after working out the vast expense, I gave up on the New York plan. Okay, we'll just stay here, I thought, that's the way life goes. 

We’re off to Vienna in term time instead, when schools are back and it will be much cheaper. Just the two of us. Travelling light without the kids. Tomorrow.

Love E x


P.S. We land before sunset.

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