Bank Holiday – not as sunny a day as yesterday but not a problem, for today is a day of being inside – for meeting up with Lovely Hub’s family for lunch and playing it all by ear (or hearing aid in some cases).
Choosing a venue for lunch is no mean feat due to the physical restrictions attached to my in-laws. Mutti – she is a survivor of the Berlin blockade, has a wickedly Germanic sense of humour and is much-loved by all – has a top of the range rollater (wheeled zimmer frame with brakes and a storage seat). Dad – aka Vati (pronounced Farty because he is one) uses a walking stick which must have magic properties because it rarely touches the ground but hovers tantalisingly about three inches up in the air. They both have hearing aids – which they often forget to switch on so that they have shouty conversations with each other – and anyone else within earshot. In addition, their appetites are small and they don’t like huge portions – oh boo!
The last time we lunched together – the day after the big-my-family-wedding in 2011 – my Dad was with us and what should have been a rather jolly family meal turned into a horrendous wait-fest because the waitress forgot to tell the kitchen about half our meals. So some of those present had rapidly cooling and uneaten roasts due to good manners whilst the others looked on in what would have been envy if anyone had started eating. Eventually everyone had some kind of edible food but the meal that should have taken an hour or so extended to three, and as we were wanting to get back and pack because we were driving home that night – the bonhomie rapidly ran out.
No time restrictions on this occasion as we are staying down here all week and have deliberately avoided making any other plans today. Conversations with my cousins and Hub’s sister have identified a suitable place for lunch. For me it is a place of mystery called The Lone Barn. Throughout the aforementioned misspent youth, I visited this place on many occasions but never in a sober state. Tucked away near Hungerford Bottom (fnar fnar) I knew when I was there because everything smelled of wood fires, and having been roused from a happily semi-conscious stupor in the back seat of someone’s little red MGB GT (hideously cramped – I found the only way to endure a speedy journey under such conditions was to nod off) I’d join my chums in an evening of drinking that would inevitably lead to my climbing back into the car and taken home in an even jollier state. Hence, I have no idea where The Lone Barn is and only really recognise it from the car park and the smell of smoke. Luckily Lovely Hub knew the way.
The plan was that Hub would take me, Uni Boy and College Boy down there first so that we could get in some drinks and identify any potential hazards. He would then collect Mutti and Farty, meeting up with his sister, her husband, their son and his girlfriend back at the barn (you lot know who you are and although I could make up silly names for you, I won’t – except for EEEEE – my bruv-in-law and the only person who can get away with calling me Chell – so I get away with calling him EEEEE. No names in this blog in order to protect the innocent/dreadfully guilty).
Seating can be an issue. Mutti likes to talk German with UB – who likes to talk German back. We also like to stick UB near Farty because he can usually spout sufficient technical stuff to shut Farty up. I am happy sitting anywhere so long as I am not near Farty because I never know when he comes to the punch line and spend my time with a fixed grin on my face. I don’t see my sister in law, EEEEE and our nephew often enough, have only met his girlfriend once before but know that we will probably spend the evening with them so there will be time to catch up. CB doesn’t like sitting with anyone except maybe me and his Dad – although Hub’s sister is an exception because she doesn’t hassle him and he likes her (me too). Hub has to be within shouting distance of his parents.
UB, CB and I identify our table, get drinks and stake a claim to our seats. I get a text from Hub to say that the eagles are on their way and text him back to warn him that there are a number of steps to negotiate in order to get down to the room we have been placed in. Judging from the number of reserved tables and disappointed faces as people walk in , look at the notices and slink out again, we are in a prime spot. CB – in a suitably Northern paranoid state – has decided that EVERYONE is looking at him because he doesn’t have the same accent as the rest of us – our Southern burrs have returned with a vengeance in the past 24 hours. I point out that Mutti doesn’t have a local accent either but he is not in a mood to be placated. He’s been eating far too much protein and it makes him even more grouchy.
The Cavalcade arriveth. Mutti is supported by her son and daughter – the rollater is lifted down the steps and placed for safekeeping with the children’s high chairs. EEEEE makes some suitably off-colour paedophile comments about the advisability of putting it there. Luckily Mutti doesn’t hear him – although she’d probably laugh anyway if she did. Farty follows – equally supported by his son-in-law, nephew and girlfriend, and the hovering walking stick.
We are seated and I am happy because I have Hub on one side, CB on the other, Hub’s sister and UB opposite. Farty and Mutti can shout from the top of the table and I am close enough to hear the muttered naughtiness that is EEEEE and exchange grins with my nephew and his girlfriend. Phew!
UB and I go for starters but we are in a minority. Mutti takes the opportunity to bombard UB with questions auf deutsch. Being the polite well-brought up young man that he is, he answers every question – usually as his fork is midway between mouth and plate. As a consequence it takes him a long time to get through his antipasti, until Lovely Hub and EEEEE take pity and manage distract Mutti long enough for UB to finish. Good job it was a cold starter.
The main course provides respite and the chance to munch in peace. The food was good, as was the service and the hardy trenchermen (and women) amongst us make it through to pudding, coffee and the logistics of where we are going next and how we get there.
After lengthy discussions, all are agreed that it is back to ours – so that Mutti and Farty can have a look at where we’re staying and make complimentary (Mutti) and derogatory (Farty) comments about our choice of accommodation.
The kind manager gives us special dispensation to use the fire door rather than manhandling a slightly heavier pair of oldies up the stairs and down to the car park again. There are a mere three wide stone steps and a kerb to negotiate. Piece of cake.
Farty and his levitating walking stick go first; son in front of him,son-in-law and grandson on either side, naughty daughter-in-law hovering in the background wanting to give him a damn good push – but I didn’t Your Honour.
Have you ever watched the scene in ‘Father Ted’ where the lovely Mrs Doyle is standing on a chair washing the windows and undergoes a moment or two of indecision about how to get down. Her foot hovers, wavers, ‘ah go on, go on, go on’ and then like a dropped stone she falls. Farty’s feet did this – several times – the growing throng behind him becoming impatient; Mutti has her rollater revved up and ready to go but Farty is blocking the exit with his very impressive frail old duffer act.
Reader – we got him down the steps – I don’t know how but I think the firm hands and limited patience of the man I know and love had quite a lot to do with it. With Farty down on terra firma the attention is fully focused on Mutti and her wheels of fire. Farty takes his chance and starts to leg it toward the cars. I call out a reluctant warning about the steepness of the kerb but stand there with my mouth open as he hops down like a five-year old and walks confidently across the gravel to the passenger side of our car (MY seat).
We stand there in amazement; CB, my nephew, myself and EEEEE, slightly gobsmacked by this apparent miracle until we realise that the three people Farty most wants to convince of his frailty are totally oblivious. Mutti, her daughter and son are still negotiating the steps and have seen nothing. The myth that is Farty continues.
All back to ours and as predicted, everyone else is complimentary whilst Farty makes comments about the amount of white emulsion used on the walls and how he would have decorated in QUITE a different fashion. Hmmm. And when was the last time you used a paintbrush then?
Professionally speaking I should be more tolerant of his alleged confusion and dithering but after twenty-five years of snide comments made to me when no one else was in earshot and being groped under the pretence of a kiss good-bye or hello, I’ve had enough.
I lend them my Hub for some urgent DIY jobs that no one else can possibly do (yeah right) and manage (with the protective assistance of UB and CB who fully understand why I don’t like getting to close to Farty) I skillfully avoid the parting embrace yet again.
EEEEE and family leave a bit later and we arrange to meet up at theirs for the evening. A no stress situation.
CB goes for a lie down – the strain of sociability is telling on him. UB departs to his room for some US political therapy – don’t ask – and I sit down to relax with my Kindle till Hub comes home.
The urgent DIY tasks? Replacing a raised toilet seat and bath bar; I don’t begrudge their borrowing back their boy and I hope that one day someone will have the same attitude when I need to borrow my boys back. Hub has also taken the opportunity to talk about the future; harrowing stuff like wills and power of attorney and where all the paperwork is kept. Our recent experiences have forewarned us about the importance of knowing where everything is come the end.
The ending always comes at last; endings always come too fast.