This weekend sees us embark on our first road trip since summer 2020 as we venture into a ‘foreign’ country. And, whilst we don’t need our passports, we do need to abide by different rules and regulations as well as brushing up on the lingo.
The Nearly Beloved even makes us take a PCR test, just to ensure we don’t contaminate the green valleys of his birthplace with our potentially lethal English breath. ‘Do you really have to shove that stick through my nostrils and into my cranial cavity?’ I gasp, clutching my head as tears stream down my cheeks.
‘Now you know why I do the school ones myself,’ gasps Grunting Teen, recovering from a retching fit brought on by his over-zealous father.
But I understand my other half’s concern because we are finally going to visit his mother who’s been under virtual house arrest due to Corona and Mark Drakeford. Unlike his English counterpart, the Welsh First Minister has been far more cautious about relaxing restrictions and even now we have to pray for good weather as indoor liaising is still taboo. But today is my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday and there is no way the wider family is going to let her celebrate alone.
As we pass the ‘Croeso i Gymru’ signs that welcome us to his fair country, nation of rugby lovers, the Nearly-Beloved visibly relaxes. He’s back in his homeland. I, however, have the sense that we’ve crossed into a much-loved but definitely alien territory.
‘Oh, I’d forgotten everything’s written in Welsh,’ says Grunting Teen, as we take the turning off for ‘Casnewydd’ which, incomprehensibly, turns out to be ‘Newport’. And it’s not long then until we reach the house where a collection of Celts is waiting in the garden to herd the lost sheep back into his fold.
The noise level rises as the Welsh contingent sing-song their delight at seeing the Prodigal Son return and their shock at the size of Grunting Teen. In the scrum of exclamations of ‘There’s lovely!’ and invitations to ‘Come over yer!’ my husband catches sight of his ‘mam’. Involuntarily, my breath catches in my throat and my eyes start prickling. The love in the air is palpable, intensified by the long months of separation. Officially, hugging outside the immediate household isn’t yet allowed this side of the border. But if there comes a point at which two consenting, negative-tested double-vaccinatees have a ‘cwtch’, then I, for one, don’t witness it.
The rest of the day passes in an ever-changing outdoors game as we negotiate the rule of six. There’s a successful kick-off as the first row of relatives catches up on the news. Then there’s a mid-match substitution as old friends line up to join the ruck. Conversation is booted in and out of touch until it’s half-time and refreshments are brought onto the pitch.
We’re encouraged to sample a ‘Welsh cake’, ‘now in a minute’ and ‘I’m not gonna lie to you’ but the buffet spread is ‘proper tidy’ whilst the birthday cake is absolutely ‘lush’. Grunting Teen polishes off any leftovers before they can be offered around but avoids the sin bin as his nana, the referee of the event, decrees her not-so-little prop forward needs fattening up.
And indeed, the ref’s word is final, for our nonagenarian matriarch may have grown a little frailer physically in lockdown but mentally she’s completely on the ball. All those cryptic crosswords and 1000-piece jigsaws she’s been doing as a daily warm-up have honed her Hawk-Eye system.
And while we’ve scored a try with our gift of a garden bench, she’s deemed its position to be offside. She consults with her linesman, the Nearly Beloved, who reaches for his handy tape measure. There’s a lengthy consultation about the exact spot for optimum placement. And looking at the two of them in happy discussion I realise that being a touch judge is definitely genetic and that family bonds can never be broken by a mere pandemic.
All in all, it’s been a Grand Slam of a day. So, if holidays abroad this year turn out to be a Eurovision ‘nul points’ disappointment, let’s not forget that the UK offers us plenty of ‘foreign’ surprises as well as top marks for beauty, diversity and, more importantly, easy access to our loved ones.