…come the end of the long summer, with two weeks left to the beginning of term.
They’d worked hard and despite a frenzied, prolonged period of drunken debauch they’d managed to save enough for a…a two week drunken debauch, elsewhere. A road trip.
Unfortunately they hadn’t saved enough to fix Derek’s car. The MOT confirmed their worst suspicions, Derek owned a useless lump of dilapidated tin with a wheel in each corner, rather than something that could be reliably described as vehicular transport.
The solution was simple, they stole Derek’s fathers, and left a note.
It was a beautiful old blue Zephyr, with fins and bench seats, and a tank that held 20 gallons of petrol. The cavernous boot took all the clothes (6 T shirts and one pair of underpants each) they’d need for two weeks, a tent, sleeping bags and various camping paraphernalia – and the rear seats held a copious amount of lager in cans). Perfect.
Cornwall is a long drive from Manchester, almost due south, and boring too. Miles upon miles of motorway, until at last the motorway runs out below Exeter and thankfully gives up to country lanes.
They’d wiled away the tedium of the first part of the journey by making slow, steady inroads into the mountain of lager on the rear seats. And talking jibberwaffle.
“So what did you tell Janet?” asked Colin.
“I told her I was going away for a couple of weeks”
“And she was okay about it?”
“Not exactly”, said Derek “She wanted to come too”
“It’s okay, I told her she wouldn’t enjoy it”. “How did I know?” she said. “I told her I’d make sure”.
“I don’t think we’re going out any more”.
While Derek drove Colin studied the map. There was no plan, he was just looking for places with funny names, as good a destination as any to head for he reasoned. But looking down in a car isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and a large quantity of tinned warm lager and a full bladder wasn’t helping to dispel the nausea, so he rolled it into a ball and hurled it into the back seat. Bugger it, we’ll go blind.
They drove and drove, powered by lager, crisps and chocolate bars, denying the need to pee or stop for any reason, heading progressively deeper and deeper into the country side, south west according to the sun. It was a question of tacking like a boat under sail, what looked like a way south would angle unexpectedly and they’d have to find another lane, occasionally a dead ending in a farm, to continue to head in the direction they generally intended.
Here, in Devon, the countryside is ancient. The hedgerows and venerable ash and oak have seen the Romans, the Normans and the Cornish Kings come and go. There are trees, markers in the landscape and in history, that are mentioned in the Magna Carta. The sky is as old as the as the rolling hills and copses, the air is thick, rich and azure, the sun does not burn as brightly here, the redolence of the atmosphere prevents it.
They were oblivious to it all.
Sometime around 7 o’clock they, by dint of mutual need to toilet, decided almost telepathically that they needed to find somewhere to stop and pitch the tent.
An hour later, in the glooming, with the trees casting short, fading shadows above, they were still travelling down tiny lanes, denied any view or clue by the bordering hedges. There was a growing air of desperation in the car. The beer consumption had slowed dramatically partly due to distended bladders, and partly because of an ‘incident’ a little earlier when Derek had braked suddenly and the massed ranks of empty cans had hurried forward under the seat and lodged themselves in the front foot wells, and under the pedals. Looking down Colin thought there were quite an impressive number, and suffered a mild cramp in his stomach.
Eventually, in extremis, they rounded a corner into a village green. A tiny hamlet, with a scattering of houses set back arbitrarily from a stone cross in a junction in the road. More importantly there was a pub.
“Fancy a pint?” said Derek and added, ironically, “I’m parched”.
“Dry as a nun’s tit” said Colin
The pub door opened with a squeal of hinges, into a dun brown room, marinated in memories of wood smoke. The floor was stone, the windows, tiny, were leaded and let in only sufficient light to make out the shapes of the tables and the forms around far wall. The bar was unoccupied, there were no hand pumps, or any visible bottles or glasses, no ashtrays, or bar towels, and more to the point, no bar staff or customers. A large ginger cat emerged from a door, ajar, by the side of the bar and walked sanguinely between them towards the still open front door.
“Dead loss”, said Colin, “I hope there’s a loo though ‘cos I’m bursting”.
“You could go in the bloody fireplace and no one would know” said Derek.
“Oi wouldn’t do thart if Oi were you”, said a gruff male voice from the other side of the half open door. “The toilet’s outside, roun' the back, an’ Oi’ll be with you in a minute”.