Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Our Friends in the North
On Sunday, we drove back to the UK to visit family. It is very strange being back here with almost a year since our last visit. We caught a very early morning crossing on the ferry because it was cheaper and reached Dover around 10.30 a.m. The sky was clear and the morning sun was brilliantly illuminating the White Cliffs of Dover so that England looked like a great glacier carving into the sea.
The journey to my parent's house was not very pleasant. The M25 cicular was stop-start all the way and our 'short cut' ended up in a circuit of Heathrow Terminal 4. We also made several 'sleep stops' because we hadn't managed to get any kip the night before. I had been in work until midnight getting stuff ready for a presentation I have to give on the day I return. I then had to proof-read some poems to be checked urgently for an anthology that is going to press on Monday before printing off a collection I'm submitting for a competition. The binder went on at 5 a.m. which was time to wake my wife and start heaving our stuff into the car.
As soon as you're in the UK, you start to notice the fundamental differences with France. The way everyone seems to be either driving a 4x4 or a sports car. The way that the motorway service stations have started to look like the coffee-bar set of 'Friends'. I did a little survey on the number of seriously fat people waddling past as I sipped a coffee in an overstuffed sofa and came up with 55%. It's not surprising. Chocolate is so incredibly cheap. Snickers bars in vending machines still 40p. In France, Snickers bars are luxury items that normally cost at least a Euro.
When we got to my parents' house, we were about to turn into their road when a youth driving a car towards us suddenly swerved off the road onto the grass verge and then back onto the road again. 'Idiot,' I swore, 'what the hell is he up to?' It seemed inexplicable.
My parents were in good spirits. We had lots to catch up on over supper, including the details of their recent trip to Salzburg where they had sat in a park that we had visited as a family when my brother and I were children. This revisitation had been strange and a bit sad for them. They wondered where the intervening years had flown to...
Then, as we moved onto local affairs, they mentioned that yesterday some youths had blown up the post box at the end of the road. It seems they had stuffed it full of fireworks and dropped a match in around 11 at night. My Dad had heard it as he was going to bed. They discovered the mess of charred letters themselves the next day and rang the police. This was late in the day, but according to the police, theirs was the first report of an incident. A birthday card to my Mum's aunt (in her eighties) wand a cheque were among the casualties.
Later in the evening, I realised that this was the reason the youth had driven off the road. He was busy peering into the letterbox to view his handiwork.