Emboldened by our trip to Wales, we opt for a long weekend in the Lake District to celebrate yet another family birthday. The problem is this time the planning has landed in my hands and the Nearly-Beloved doesn’t believe them to be ‘safe’. The night before he raises an eyebrow when I assure him everything is under control.
Without allowing me to phone a friend or ask the audience he grills me on all the details. But as my answers impress him, he starts to relax. For the last fifteen months we’ve been plunged into a world of the unknown and, for the Nearly-Beloved, who likes order, it’s important to follow schedules and procedures as a way of dealing with the chaos of Covid times.
‘And the matches? he asks for his million-dollar question. Once again, I reassure him that everything is under control.
Then forgetting that a softly-softly approach is advisable, he barges into the Teen Cave, disturbing the PlayStation fiend within.
‘Have you been smoking? he asks, sniffing the air suspiciously.
‘Joss sticks, innit?’ snorts Grunting Teen not moving his eyes from the screen.
Nonplussed by the smell of cedarwood rather than Woodbines, the Nearly-Beloved hesitates before asking whether his son has packed his bag yet. In response he gets a death stare. Tomorrow is Grunting Teen’s last official day at school and he wanted to hang out with his mates not his family.
‘I’ll do it later,’ snarls the teenager as his father beats a hasty retreat.
By 3.30pm the next day the car’s been checked and the boot’s been packed. Well, almost. Still missing is Grunting Teen and his bag.
The Nearly-Beloved whose estimated departure time was 3.31 pm is not impressed. ‘Go and pack your bag now!’ he hisses as the late arrival stumbles through the door. But Grunting Teen is complaining of a sore throat, headache and cough. My heart sinks. Surely, he hasn’t survived a school year to be felled by the virus in the final hour?
One negative PCR test, a bit of TLC from mum and several packets of biscuits later, Grunting Teen is off the critical list and ready to go.
‘So much for avoiding the holiday traffic,’ mutters the Nearly Beloved as we come to yet another standstill on the M1. But it’s the pandemic, not the teenager, who’s to blame for our delay. All the country is on the move in their desperation for a change of scenery and a chance to meet up with loved ones. And with destinations abroad severely limited, a British vacation is the only solution.
What should be a two-hour journey has doubled in time, punctuated only by the Nearly-Beloved’s constant grumbling and Grunting Teen’s huffing and sighing. I text Delightful Daughter and Super Son-in-law to warn them of the traffic situation so they swap the queues on the road for the queues in the service station. We, however, crawl on past the roadworks opened to coincide with the Friday rush hour. Just as well I’ve got it all under control with a bag of goodies so no one dies of thirst or starvation.
And when we do arrive at our Airbnb, it’s all worth it. The accommodation is first class, the views are superb and the fridge has a welcome bottle of wine. The only issue is the owner. We can’t get rid of him! Restrictions have meant we are the first guests he’s greeted in person since the start of the Corona craziness and he’s desperate to talk. It’s only when Delightful Daughter and her husband turn up that he takes the hint and leaves.
The next day dawns with blue skies and the longed-for visit of aunts, uncles and cousins, who join us for a birthday picnic. Sadly, the latest traffic-light travel means one much-loved face is absent. But for now, I’ll take this gathering as a win against the virus that’s separated us for so long.
With no internet connection and no news of rising cases and closing borders, the world for once seems safe and at peace. There’s no need for shopping so no need for masks. And with hugging allowed it’s a day of love and laughter. The pandemic recedes into the background.
Then it’s time to light the candles. I search through all the drawers in the kitchen, upend my bag and empty all my pockets. No matches! For a moment panic rises. It’s all been going so well. Then I remember Grunting Teen and his joss sticks… And magically a box of matches appears.
I sigh with relief. For now, at least, we’ve got something under control.