A Country Never Visited – Week 17 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Assembled at the train station on a sunny July day; bowed under the weight of rucksacks and tents and all doing their best to look cool and avoid being hugged by their attendant parents.

They were a motley crew.

Four boys and two girls with an intermingling of relationships that had already raised parental eyebrows. Trisha and Lea were best friends, which was just as well because Lea was now going out with Colin, who had been Trisha’s first ever boyfriend. Trisha had started going out with Tim just before Christmas but by New Year she had dumped Tim for his best friend Wayne. They remained friends despite this because Tim was a nice guy.

The sixth member of the group was Kevin, Wayne’s cousin and the only real birdwatcher in the group, although Tim, Wayne and Trisha did at least have their twitcher’s cards on them and a list of birds and animals they were on the lookout for.

In the early planning stages of this trip there had been brave and foolhardy ideas about hitchhiking the 450 miles north but the mothers of the two sixteen year old girls felt that they were being permissive enough in allowing them to spend a whole fortnight camping with four eighteen year old boys.

Seats were booked on a train to Waterloo; tube stations identified in order to get them to Kings Cross station where they would board a train for Aviemore and an eleven and a half hour journey in the relative comfort of a reserved compartment.

It would have been comfortable if Trisha and Wayne hadn’t spent the previous day sunning themselves at an outdoor pool. Trisha had fallen asleep and woke up to find that her entire left side was turning lobster-red. Wayne had been slightly better covered and it was only his legs that were burnt.

Sitting down hurt. Walking with a heavy rucksack on sunburnt shoulders hurt. Trying to avoid contact with humans or carriage walls in a small compartment filled with people and luggage was impossible. Trisha and Wayne were not known for their good humour anyway but pain and anxiety made their situation worse.

It had all seemed so exciting. Going to another country – okay, so it was Scotland and joined onto the end of England – but it was still unknown territory. Kevin and Wayne had come up with the idea of visiting the Cairngorms. Although only a half-hearted birdwatcher, Trisha did not want to be left behind and neither did Tim. The idea of her daughter going away with three boys met with resistance from Trisha’s mother but Lea came to the rescue and Colin, kind calm and reasonable Colin who had no interest in birds, deer or even camping, agreed to accompany her.

Trisha had some doubts about Lea and Colin joining them. She had quite liked the idea of having all three boys to herself so having to share the experience with Lea irked a little. Trisha’s interest in Colin was far removed from romance now but would Lea start making passes at her current boyfriend?

Wayne was more handsome, more intelligent and very attentive. Perhaps too attentive at times. Perhaps veering into possessiveness occasionally, and of late he had shown signs of the angry outbursts inherited – or learned  – from both his parents.

Wayne’s mother was prone to throwing things when angry: saucepans, plates, knives, any projectile that came to hand. His father was more of slow burner whose ire was inflamed by alcohol  and whose temper led to at least one night in a cell to cool off. Trisha’s arms had already been coloured with bruises from Wayne’s controlling hands but she pushed those incidents to the back of her mind because she loved him – and she knew that he loved her because that’s what he said when he saw the bruises.

It wasn’t bruises that were bothering her now though. She had grabbed a window seat thinking that the padded arm rest would be less painful against her sunburn. It was fine while she was awake but the long journey and a restless night meant that she kept dozing off and banging against the unpadded wall.  Wayne sat next to her with a silent Tim reading NME because he thought it made him look like a musician – which he wasn’t. Lea had nabbed the other window seat, Colin dozed happily by her side and Kevin, his nose buried in his bird guide, was oblivious to everyone and everything.

Trisha woke in pain as the train went round a bend and Wayne’s full weight fell against her. She pushed him away angrily. Confused by sleep, he started to argue but the presence of four other people stopped him and he moved an inch away from Trisha and crossed his arms like a sulking child.

By the time they passed over the border, tempers in the compartment were simmering. It was too dark to read by the tiny interior lights and too dark to look at scenery. The others did their best to doze but Wayne and Trisha couldn’t get comfortable and were snapping edgily at each other.

Eventually Trisha could take no more and stepping over outstretched legs, she went in search of the toilet.

It was occupied.

She rested her head against the cool of the windowpane. Standing up – even with a full bladder – was less painful and irritating than being back in the compartment. The sun was coming up and being able to see the beauty of the mountains and trees at last, had a calming effect on her.

The toilet door opened and a man came out.

‘I’d give it a few minutes if I were you.’ he said with a grin as he walked back down the corridor.

Torn between holding her breath and having an embarrassing accident, Trisha chose the former and filling her lungs, dashed into the toilet.

It was a relief on many levels when she got back out to the corridor again. Reluctant to return to a compartment of sleeping or grumpy companions, she carried on looking out at the scenery. The train stopped for signals and there, barely feet from the track, was a squirrel. Not just any squirrel but a red squirrel. Her first.

The sight made her incredibly happy. Especially because she was the only one of the group to see the squirrel. She turned round and saw a bleary-eyed Kevin emerging from the toilet.

‘Kev! Look! A red squirrel!’

He rushed over to the window, even then, taking care not to get too close unless he bumped into her sunburn. They looked at the squirrel, and the squirrel looked back. It was a magic moment.

The engine started up again and the resultant noise made the squirrel bolt for the safety of the trees. Kevin looked at his watch.

‘We should be arriving at Aviemore in about twenty minutes. I suppose we’d better wake up the others up.’

‘Do we have to?’ said Trisha.

Kevin, reasonable and sensible as always, pulled a bus timetable out of his pocket.

‘The first bus to the campsite leaves at ten o’clock. I think we’ll all be much happier once we’ve had something to eat and stretched our legs. The station buffet should be open when we get in.’

Trisha smiled and followed him back to the compartment. She woke Wayne with a gentle kiss on top of his head. Showing rare self-control, she sat down next to him while an excited Kevin told everyone about the red squirrel.

‘Trisha spotted it first.’ he said. ‘We’re really here. It must be a good omen. Just think, ospreys, golden eagles, dippers, even ptarmigan if we can get up on to the mountain.’

HIs enthusiasm did the trick and the thought of breakfast and the final leg of their trip  to the campsite galvanised even a tired and sullen Wayne.

The station buffet was open – just  – and fairly basic but the food was hot and there was coffee to wake them up.

The bus trip out to the campsite was uncomfortably bumpy; they weren’t the only campers and there wasn’t much room for all the luggage in the boot. It overflowed into the aisle and fell against Wayne’s sunburnt legs so that he was gritting his teeth by the time they arrived.

It was worth it though. The campsite was at the foot of the Cairngorms; well supplied with toilets and showers, a shop selling food and mementos, and the three pitches they had reserved were grassy and level. The sun shone and tents went up quickly – mostly due to Kevin’s expertise and the compliance of Colin and Tim. Wayne argued about everything  –  because he could – Trisha and Lea sat on a blanket and looked at the scenery having decided that this was the most practical help they could offer.

Looking back years later, Trisha remembered seeing the ospreys after a long, hot trek to Loch Garten. She remembered sitting by a waterfall watching the dippers. It was blissfully cool under the trees by the river’s side. There was the happiness of time spent at Loch an Eilein on the hottest day of the year when they were all feeling lazy and content, mellow on cheap cider, bread and cheese from the camp site shop.

They never made it up the mountain; the golden eagles stayed hidden and by the end of the fortnight entente was no longer cordiale.

Lea and Trisha fell out. Fuelled by cheap cider, Trisha decided  that not content with taking up with Colin, Lea was after Wayne as well. Wayne, equally fuelled, felt that Colin and Tim were after Trisha. Tim and Colin were confused. Lea took it out on Colin. Kevin – who had come for a lovely bird watching holiday and not to be surrounded by anger and jealousy – was sad and disillusioned. They had to tough it out because their tickets were booked and none of them had enough money to buy another ticket.

The journey home at the end of the fortnight was worse than the original trip; none of them wanted to spend nearly twelve hours in the same small train compartment with hastily packed tents and rucksacks. Tim and Kevin were the only people on speaking terms. Trisha was wearing her hair down in order to hide the black eye and swollen cheek. Wayne made no attempt to cover up the livid scratches left by Trisha’s nails after he punched her when she wouldn’t shut up.

They were rescued at the journey’s end by their parents and taken home with piles of dirty washing. Goodbyes were short and definitely not sweet.

Trisha and Wayne’s relationship continued for another couple of weeks until he decided that head butting her was the only way to get her to behave. His mother had suggested a good slap, his father had suggested getting engaged. Trisha’s mother looked her daughter squarely in the eye and told her she was worth far more than this.

Wayne shouted, threatened and cried when Trisha ended it. She lost contact with Tim and Kevin as a consequence because they were Wayne’s friends after all. In the rush of getting things sorted out so that she could start at college to do her ‘A’ levels, Trisha lost contact with Lea and Colin too.

There were lessons learnt in that other country; it was a place of great beauty and Trisha had no regrets about going there. Perhaps, if the six of them hadn’t gone on holiday together it might have taken longer for Wayne’s violence to emerge. Perhaps, Trisha would have borne more than the bruises, bumps and black eyes.

Many years later she heard that Wayne had married. That he had children and a wife who often wore her hair long to hide the black eyes and the bruises.

She saw the red squirrel though. She had to go to another country but she saw the red squirrel.

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A Journey – Week 7 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I celebrated my eighteenth birthday in the bar at the Higher Institute of Education (they were going to put Southampton at the beginning until some bright spark realised what the acronym would be). I had moved on from the cheap but effective barley wine days; Pernod and lemonade was my drink of choice or a snowball if I wanted something a bit sweet and sickly with cherries on the top.

On the night of my birthday I had a combination of these drinks lined up along the table when Jon, the bar manager came over to ask the reason for my celebration.

‘It’s my birthday!’ I yelled. ’I’m eighteen!’

I was hit with the realisation that I had been drinking illegally in this bar for the past two years and that Jon might be a bit peeved about it.

He smiled though, patted me on the head and told me that if I was going to throw up could I do it in the flower bed outside please?

At the end of the night a group of us staggered off for a curry (without any vomiting) and I can vaguely remember listening to one of my dear friends who decided to tell that story.

You know the one – it starts with a girl out driving with her boyfriend at night, in the middle of a forest, when they run out of petrol. The boyfriend goes off to look for a petrol station while the girl locks herself in the car and listens to the radio.

Not surprisingly, a news bulletin interrupts the radio station to say that a dangerous lunatic has escaped from an asylum (that’s what they were called in the bad old days) and that NO ONE is to approach this man.

The girl dozes off and is awakened by a rhythmic thumping on the roof of the car. Being a sensible girl and not having a torch to hand, she stays in the car.

Police cars arrive and surround the car. The girl is told to open the car door slowly and to walk towards the police car in front of her without looking back.

She does as she is told, but just as she arrives safely, she is unable to resist the temptation to look back and sees – a grinning man holding her boyfriend’s severed head in his hand and banging it on the car roof.

In addition to the subsequent nightmares, I had to get up at eight am and take my stonker of a hangover on the Birmingham through train to audition for a place at the drama school my drama teacher had attended, and where one of my friends had been studying for the past year.

I’d been making trips to London on the train since I became a teenager. I’d been as far as Leeds on the train to visit my sister. I was blasé about the trip – after all – I had just turned eighteen and was officially an adult, but a very hung-over adult who didn’t really notice how bad the weather was, nor register the severe weather warnings on the news as I was trying to get out of bed.

I was wearing my audition outfit of black knee-length boots, black tights and a black needle cord dress with a multi-coloured knitted top half – very chic but not very warm. The outfit was finished off by an all enveloping full-length brown mock beaver lamb coat that I had inherited from the mother of one of my ex-boyfriends.

In short I was wearing completely inappropriate clothing for a journey to the Midlands with a snowstorm looming.

Considering that I was travelling during the rush hour, the train trip was fairly quiet and uneventful. I dozed until Reading and then perked up a bit as the adrenalin kicked in and the hangover subsided.  I even had money for a taxi from the train station to ensure that I got to the audition in time.

I was prepared.

I don’t remember much about arriving at the drama school, or the audition itself, apart from the fact that I managed to get through it without throwing up or forgetting my lines. There were other people there, some of whom looked even more bilious than I felt. We nodded nervously at each other. There were also some very loud people who had obviously met each other before and were doing the one-upmanship thing regarding the auditions they had attended. It occurred to me that if they were that talented, why were they auditioning for a small drama school in the Midlands rather than RADA or LAMDA?

I had already failed to get into either of those institutions.

The weather had worsened while I had been otherwise engaged; spouting Shakespeare and a piece from ‘Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs‘ that was considered a bit daring at the time.  Looking out of the window, I discovered that the world had turned very white and cold.

I had no idea whether my audition had been successful, and the only thing that really mattered was getting back to the Students’ Union bar, knocking a few back and finding out what my boyfriend had bought me for a birthday present.

Throwing on my bear of a coat and picking up my bag, I groaned as I received the news that the buses had stopped running and the very kind man sitting behind the desk in the hall had been unable to get me a taxi.

I had to walk through a snowstorm in totally unsuitable boots and a coat that grew more icicle heavy by the minute. This was not my idea of a plethora of snowballs. There weren’t many other people around; I assumed that I was the only one stupid enough to be out in such dreadful weather but I was determined that I was not going to be stranded.

When I got back to New Street Station I discovered that my through train had been cancelled due to the adverse weather conditions Up North, but that there was a train for London leaving in the next fifteen minutes and with any luck the weather Down South might be  good enough for me to get a connection.

The train was packed and I stood all the way from Birmingham to Euston. I staggered across a cold, wet London to Waterloo and collapsed on a slow train that was going home – eventually.

The boyfriend met me at the station and gave me my lovingly wrapped birthday present. It was an M & S brushed nylon dressing gown of a particularly vile pale green. It was three sizes too big for me and fit only for an old and confused person to wear in a nursing home. In today’s parlance it was the most epic of fails.

Gritting my teeth, I rallied all my drama school audition experience in order to express a suitable level of gratitude and allowed him to drive me to the bar.

Once there I dumped him and his dressing gown and got well and truly plastered again.

I passed the audition.

$_35

Bless my Kith and Bless my Kindle – Part 2

back to front

Yes.  It is backward 🙂

Okay, Hub has gone to work and Gap Boy is horribly awake having slept all day – he did a 30k bicycle ride this morning (it was actually 27k but he has managed to increase his stats whilst asleep – exaggerate? GB? Never!).

I spent a good hour and a half being woken intermittently by his thundering feet as he stomped up and down the (wooden) stairs this morning. At one point I was convinced that he had invited several friends in to tap dance in his (laminate) floor.Or perhaps they were rehearsing for ‘Strictly’. Hub and I laid that flooring so I suppose it is our fault really – who am I kidding EVERYTHING is our fault!

Neighbours from across the road woke me up at 0150 hours – why do they feel the need to stand out in the street and yell at each other? To be fair, the couple that were arguing were young and probably the offspring rather than the house owners.  I’ve a feeling that the male was out there a couple of weeks ago, wandering around the cul-de-sac in a drunken haze yelling ‘Dead! Dead! Dead!’ at the top of his voice.

I checked the local news for a couple of days after that but there was no sign of any gory murders in the locality.

Anyway, thanks to them – they had a poor little shivering dog with them too – some people are REALLy thoughtless – and GB, I got about five hours sleep last night.

When I staggered to the bathroom at 0730, GB passed me on the landing in his cycle attire – he has inherited my latent desire to be dressed appropriately for the occasion.

This is something of a handicap as he is reluctant to organise any more motorbike lessons at the moment because he doesn’t possess the right gear for wet weather.

When I pointed out that having lessons in inclement conditions would be very useful with regard to handling his motorbike whatever the weather, he gave me one of those horrible superior looks that both my boys are SO good at, and told me that I knew nothing about motorbikes and it was none of my business.

Once he had ridden off into the red sky yonder (I was praying that the shepherd’s warning wouldn’t start just yet), Scoob and I did have at least one quiet hour before he came roaring back again.

Whilst out on his mammoth cycle ride this morning, GB managed to collide with a stray bramble branch and perforate the side of his ear.

Much blood!

Fortunately it had dried off by the time he got home but  the sight of a blood soaked youth seemed to have put the frighteners on the mad mothers driving past to school as he rode up our road.

Like all good mothers, I cleaned him up with an antiseptic wipe (I knew I had one somewhere and the bleeding had stopped by the time I found it).

As is his habit, GB texted me a shopping list but said that he would like us all to go shopping once Hub had finished his breakfast.

Hub was rushing his scrambled eggs on toast in order to take me to my appointment with the osteopath, after which we were going to town to do some banking, sort out Hub’s motorbike helmet visor and maybe take in a spot of lunch somewhere.

We did not want to go food shopping, especially for a loud, sweaty, bloody and demanding GB.

There was a frank exchange of opinions and as a result, we went to the osteopath and GB went to bed – grumpily.

Result! Oh Go us!

After the initial ache had worn off from the pummeling delivered by the Phizard (my osteo is a wizard with physio) I felt spry enough to accompany Hub to the motorbike shop -a huge place with a Biker’s Bistro on the top floor. The smell of fresh cappuccino alone was sufficient for me to agree to a return trip when Hub gets paid next week.

Thence to town and a pleasant lunch at Caffe Nero watching the wage slaves rush back from their lunch hours.

Tee Hee.

This afternoon I flopped on the sofa with Scoob and got my daily Jezza fix; some very bad hairdos  and missing teeth today!

Eventually we shopped for us – and the deeply ungrateful GB – who emerged from his mancave just as we were watching ‘Only Connect’ and didn’t take kindly to being shushed.

Victoria Coren Mitchell or GB? No competition.

So here I am burning the midnight oil up in my back bedroom office, tappity tapping and eventually getting around to writing about me and my Kindles.

I have five Kindles – yes that probably is rather extreme but then I have always been something of a gadget girl and don’t like to think that technology is leaving me too far behind.

I always had a Walkman; moving through audio tape to CD player to MP3.  I even have a special MP3 player that lives in the bathroom and has its own peacock-blue speaker so that I can listen and sing along whilst in the shower.

Uni Boy and Gap Boy are very scathing about my gadget prowess. They both feel that their abilities and knowledge are hugely superior compared to mine. I feel that UB has the edge because he did actually build his own water-cooled computer with his birthday money last summer, whereas GB seems hell-bent on breaking his computer judging by the number of replacement bits he orders on his dad’s Overclockers account.

I would never admit this to either of them.

You will note that Hub does not even enter the running in the gadget knowledge stakes. He knows what he needs to know about his computer and his mobile, what he doesn’t know, he asks me and if I don’t know, I’ll check the Internet and only ask one of my frightfully knowledgeable children if there is no other option.

This is one of the reasons why Hub won’t have his own FaceAche page but piggybacks onto mine. As a consequence we have a curious but hugely entertaining pool of friends between us. There are times when Hub’s paintball friends want to tag him in pictures or invite him to games, and have to tag me instead.

No, I don’t play paintball and I’m not an air traffic controller but I know a very lovely man who is.

Back to the Kindles.

Hub and the boys bought me my first Kindle for a birthday present. It is a first generation Kindle without a touch screen. I eagerly filled it with free e-books, cheap Kindle books and audio books. Being a prototype, Kindle no 1 has some features that the later models don’t have, particularly the text to speech feature.

It means that I can put my scribblings into a PDF, load it onto Kindle no 1 via a USB and then have the excitement of hearing my own words spoken back to me (rather haltingly) by a male or female American voice.

Having filled up Kindle no 1, I bought a Kindle Touch and transferred all the books onto it, leaving Kindle no 1 purely for audio books and my own stuff.

I was quite happy with my two monochrome Kindles; one audio, one visual.

Then Amazon brought out the Kindle Fire.

A dinky little full colour sweetheart that I could use as a tablet; I could even watch TV programmes and films on it, and play games.

I should have been content.

I would have been content.

Then Amazon brought out a big brother for my little Fire; full tablet size, HD and even more goodies on board. Christmas was coming and Santa brought me a big Fire for being SO good.

Then came the Paperwhite Kindle.

I had to have it. It makes reading remarkably easy on the eyes.

On a train journey to visit Best Mate a couple of months ago, the train operator put on two carriages with no lighting.  They very kindly supplied us with guards at either end of the carriage wielding torches in case anyone should decide to panic when we went through a tunnel.

Cue a very smug me, continuing to read my Paperwhite when the dark engulfed my fellow travellers.

 I look after my toys. All my Kindles have covers; no 1 has a nice black and white flowery padded pouch, the Touch has a more utilitarian leather book cover and so do the two Fires. The Paperwhite has a beautiful 50’s lady cover that attracts attention in the strangest places.

The Big Fire and the Paperwhite went to Amsterdam with us and came under particular scrutiny at security in case I had concealed explosive devices inside them – or so I thought.

Security at Liverpool seemed particularly interested and I started to panic a little when I was beckoned over.

The security guard wanted to know where I bought the cover because it was ‘gorgeous like’.

During the period of enforced immobility caused by a large object falling from some height onto my toe, my Kindles saved my sanity. So wonderful to be able to search through the works of Shakespeare (free), the collected novels of H P Lovecraft (also free), wallow in Robert Frost and Wilfred Owen, and renew my acquaintance with the authors of my youth; Austen, Bronte and yes, even good old Zola – all for free.

The Kindle library at Amazon is expanding daily.  I’ve managed to acquire some much-loved (and lost in a house move) books that are now out of print and would cost a fortune if I tried to track them down in hard copy.

In a fit of nostalgia I downloaded all the Enid Blyton school stories that Lizzy and I revelled in at primary school. They were not only very cheap but had been put into collections covering the various terms.

Bliss!

Whatever my mood, if I have my Kindles nearby I can read books, poetry, listen to my own words and those of others, check out FaceAche, look at my photos, watch TV and films and yes play games of endless patience.

Packing to go away is much easier too; courtesy of Amazon’s Cloud, all my book purchases and audio books are nestling nicely in metaphorical fluffy cotton wool stuff and I can download whatever I want to read before I go. Hub is enjoying not having to take a separate bag because of of my holiday reading matter.

My Kindles don’t stop me buying books however.

There are some authors – especially my much-loved cousin Ali Sparkes – whose books will always need to be a tangible presence on my bookshelves.

So now that

In the presence of presents

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When Gap Boy and Uni Boy were younger, buying presents for Christmas and birthdays was simple.  I could let my imagination run riot in the toy shop – avoiding the pink aisle and the weapons of mass destruction.  We worked through Lego and K’nex whilst Tilly, Tom and Tiny watched from the toy box – we had Rosie and Jim too – as well as a plethora of other character spin offs from whatever children’s programme the Red House book club was flogging that week.

As the boys got older and diversified, all my good intentions about not allowing guns or electronic toys went out of the window; Uni Boy became a Gameboy fanatic (subsequently progressing through a vast range of must-have Nintendo products) and Gap Boy’s latent killer instinct would not be suppressed. The boy would shoot anyone with anything given the opportunity – including his mother  (on Mothering Sunday) with a BB gun.

I thought that Hub was easier to buy for; I bought him things that I was sure he’d like but it took several years of him gratefully accepting my weird purchases before the penny dropped and I noticed that most of his presents were still in a brightly patterned gift bag a year later (he would never give or throw them away for fear of hurting my feelings).

I inherited the tendency to overbuy from my Lovely Mum.  Neither of us ever felt we had given enough and as a consequence we would shower each other (and other people) with shedloads of goodies.  I do miss Mum’s hastily wrapped bags of delight.

Increasing age and a modicum of maturity opened my eyes to the perils of inappropriate present giving and I decided to let Hub have more of a say in what I bought – as in ‘you order the bits you need for paintball and I’ll wrap them up‘. Birthdays and Christmas are less imaginative now but mutually happier and there are fewer festive filled carrier bags hanging around.  UB and GB now request filthy lucre instead of presents, or as in GB’s case, get us to drive to the motorbike shop and pay for his protective gear.

Hub had a big birthday.

Big birthdays call for extreme measures.

A brand spanking new marker for paintball – his first ever because he’s been good and only had second-hand stuff before.

UB announced that he couldn’t get home for his dad’s birthday due to Uni commitments but suggested  that we meet up in Manch for an evening meal.  He then came up with the even brighter idea that we should go to Manch on the train.

Hub loves trains.

As I don’t drive, he spends a lot of time ferrying me about in the car.  He loved my birthday weekend in York because we went on the train and he got to look at the scenery and relax.

We decided to invite Bezzie Mate up for the birthday celebrations as we love his company, he loves trains too and he has become an integral part of our family.  We did ask GB if he wanted to come but the joint perils of using public transport and spending the evening with his older brother proved far too repellent. He said that he would stay home and look after Scooby – who’s minding who?

UB booked the restaurant and as the family train expert, gave me a potted version of the timetable and texyed me a list of his own  commitments. I booked train tickets (not with the cheapest online source according to UB but what the hell) and baby we were ready to go!

BM arrived on Hub’s birthday with a beautifully wrapped box containing marzipan and a Spiderman helicopter  both of which brought a huge grin to Hub’s face.  His marker had arrived in time for me to wrap it and he’d completely forgotten about the melon vodka that UB and I had bought him.

The builders were still busy in the kitchen when BM arrived but he was able to see the glory that was the sparkly granite worktop being fitted before the three of us left to – catch a bus to town!

Hub made a beeline for the back seat; memories of schooldays obviously flooding back.  I prefer the front seats especially if there is a bell to ring nearby and a pole to grab hold of.  BM and I followed Hub but after a few moments of hideous bumping and the full blast of the sun, we all relocated to more comfortable and less sun-drenched seats.

We were travelling to Manch in the rush hour, so needless to say, the train was packed and it was standing room only.  Nearly everyone sitting down on the train had a laptop or tablet of some description on display.  Hub and I managed to get seats at the next stop but BM was so wrapped up in looking at HIS tablet that he preferred to stand.

Manchester Piccadilly station brought back memories of my misspent youth; my Lovely Mum worked for what was then British Rail, and as a consequence I got four free rail tickets per year and quarter-fare the rest of the time. This came in very useful for a homesick eighteen year old who had relocated from the seaside South to a land-locked Birmingham and the delights of drama school. Ticket inspectors often failed to clip my ticket, giving me the opportunity to make more journeys home (and back), usually on the through train but sometimes via Euston and Waterloo.

Large train stations and the Underground held no fear for me in those days as I lugged my hefty sailbag southwards and to home – or reluctantly back to the cold and endlessly damp Midlands and my tiny bedsit.

Thirty-odd years later, laden only with a ladylike Primark rucksack and accompanied by two of my favourite men, Manchester Piccadilly was a delight, even if one of the travelators wasn’t travelling – until nature called.

Thirty pee to pee!

To add insult to injury the toilets stank of other people’s stale pee – and worse.

It took a sit down and a takeaway coffee to restore my equilibrium.  Hub and BM found my ire most amusing. They frequently gang up on me like a pair of naughty schoolboys but I forgive them – usually.

UB phoned as we were drinking coffee and teasing each other on FaceAche.  His meeting had overrun and his train had been cancelled so he would be going straight to the restaurant and could we please stop messing around and get there first in case they let the table go to someone else. Suitably chastised for our levity and wondering how the al-seeing eye of UB knew we were messing about, we packe dup and drank up.

I would have gone for the taxi option, but Hub and BM were excited by trams (and the ticket machine) so we took the Metrolink. As we passed the Manchester Eye I had to kick Hub to shut him up because he started talking about the chap who had occupied the Eye in protest against being recalled to jail for breaking his parole.  You never know who might be listening on a tram, and to my wary eye there were several fellow passengers taking an unhealthy interest in what Hub was saying. He was oblivious to it all. He loves trams.

We got off the tram before the heavies did. Hub had to use his mobile satnav to find the way to the restaurant, which was under the shade of the Beetham Tower and alongside the canal.  Our progress was slow but enjoyable; BM was happy-snapping the surroundings, Hub and I were just happy looking and lapping up the atmosphere of a balmy Manchester evening.

We were on time. Our table was inside rather than out on the crowded terrace.  We ordered cocktails, including one for UB who had texted to say he was on the Metrolink and would like something sweet, fruity and very alcoholic please.

It was a wonderful evening.  The food was great and the cocktails even better. When he found out that it was Hub’s birthday, our lovely waiter Guillaume bought over a surprise brownie pudding complete with candles and a glass of champagne – on the house.  More cocktails with dessert, UB and I were torn between two drinks so we ordered both and took turns slurping through separate straws – that’s my boy.

Despite having return tram tickets, I persuaded my men that a taxi to the station would be a better option given our varying levels of inebriation.  Many cocktails made all three of them very amenable.  UB’s train left shortly after ours so he packed his parents and his funny uncle safely aboard  and waved us off with that curiously old-fashioned look on his face.  He’s always been much older and wiser than us.

The journey home was only marred by a yoof with very cheap earphones broadcasting his boom-boom repetitive dance music to the whole carriage.

Hub rested his eyes.

BM was engrossed in his tablet.

I smiled the happy smile of the slightly intoxicated and tried to work out where the hell we were.

Disembarking was an experience.  The clothing of our female companions was – skimpy – to say the least – and although it was a Thursday, there must have been something exciting going on in the town centre (or cultural quarter as the PR merchants have christened it) as most of the yoof were headed in that direction.

Another taxi and home to a shiny, shiny kitchen, a very happy Scooby, a slightly disapproving GB (aren’t you all a bit old for this?) and much needed sleep.

Just in case you were worried that GB was left out, Hub, BM, GB and I went off to our favourite curry house for dinner the next night.  UB hates curry.

Hub says it was his best birthday ever.  He had more cards, more messages on FaceAche, presents he really wanted and a good meal enjoyed with some of his favourite people, not to mention the bus, trains and tram.

I’ll think he’ll cope with the nifty fifties now.