Okay, this is a long one...
Thought I'd share with you some things that have been happenings lately...
The week before last, on the Wednesday, I was planning to go up to drive all the way up to Hull for my nephew Ben's 3rd birthday. My parents had already gone up on the Monday, as they were staying the week in a campsite in their camper van.
So it was Wednesday, and it was midday. I was planning to set off about 2pm, and get there about 7pm. I'd nearly got everything ready, and I was about to have some lunch, when there was a knock at the door. I answered, and an old woman said, "is that your car there?" I said, "Yes, why?" and she said, "Well, I'm sorry to tell you this, but I've just crashed into it."
I went out and had a look. The damage wasn't too bad, just cosmetic really - the indicator covering had been smashed and there were scratches round the front corner. I remained very pleasant about the whole thing, because I knew she didn't mean to do it, and I knew getting angry would not serve any purpose. I found out she was a Jehovah's Witness, visiting my next-door-but-one neighbours who are Jehovah's Witnesses. We swapped details, and then I drove the car down to my local mechanic for him to check that it was safe to drive. He said it was, so I went home, had my lunch, sorted myself out, and set off on my journey...
It took me 5 and a half hours to get to Hull. I was by myself, so I stopped at almost every motorway service station I came across. My second stop was a long one (40 minutes) for meditation and a good snack. All my other stops were quick 5 minute stops. I did SO MUCH MOTORWAY DRIVING!! M5, M42, M1, M18, M62.
I got all the way to Hull no problem, following my brother's clear directions. Then as I was coming into Hull I got distracted looking at all the buildings, and missed a turning off. I spent half an hour driving around Hull trying to get back on track, until my brother phoned me wondering where I was, and he managed to guide me to his place.
Hull looks nicer than I remember it from my one and only other trip there way back in 2003. I think I got to see it more this time, what with getting lost. There are some nice buildings, some nice areas. It's just a shame it's so flat and that it has such a high unemployment rate (about 7 times higher than the national average, I think).
I stayed one night at my brother's house (well, his friend Keith's house) in a sleeping bag on the floor. I didn't sleep too well, I never do on the first night somewhere different - but I didn't worry about it, I just lay there accepting my non-sleepiness, until eventually I did drifted off to sleep.
The next day me and my brother drove up to Filey, a seaside resort about 40 miles north of Hull. Little Ben (my 3-year-old nephew) was there, with his mum Jin and other relatives. Ben didn't recognise me at first. When I first went into his Caravan and sat down next to him, he just stood there staring at me, blinking.
As the day went on, Ben had a lot of fun. Eventually my parents arrived, while I was busy lying on a deck chair in the sun reading a book and eating pistachio nuts.
Ben excitedly unwrapped all his presents, and was delighted to see a bubble-making gun (apparently he loves bubbles). Once he had unwrapped it, I helped him by getting it out of the packaging and putting it together, and then he took it and ran off, excitedly playing with it as it intermittently shot bubbles all over the place.
Ben also got a football, and later on me, Ben, my brother, and another little boy and his father (a friend of Jin) went across to the nearby park area to kick the ball about and let the kids climb about on the play things. I spent most of the afternoon running around doing all this. I don't know where Ben gets all his energy from, but I certainly got my day's exercise there!
Ben talks a lot too. Or rather, he shouts excitedly. He makes up his own words, shouting, "Nanna wanna banna wanna banna danna banna!" and when he got chocolate cake all over himself he loudly shouted, "Look at the state of me!!" and "What are we going to do with me!" and "I'm a cheeky monkey!"
As the evening drew on, some people (including my parents) eventually left, and the rest of us were set to all stay in the caravan. I was going to be sharing a room with my brother. So anyway, there we were, sitting around in the caravan, when all of a sudden Ben looks up and points at me and says, "Why's he still here?" Me, Daniel (my brother) and Jin (Ben's mum) found this really funny, and immediately they set about telling him, "That's your Uncle Marcus! He's Daddy's brother!" and it was only really then he began to understand who I was, and a few times after that he did then refer to me as "Uncle Marcus".
Jin and the others went out to some entertainment event, while me and Daniel stayed in with Ben. Eventually I went to Bed, leaving Daniel struggling to get Ben to settle down. In the morning, I was awoken suddenly at 6:30am by Ben running into our room and jumping on Daniel's bed and shouting things like "Nanna wanna banna!" and "I'm a cheeky monkey!" I was tired, but I found him sweet and amusing. I gave him one of my apples.
Later that morning, on the way back from Filey to Hull, me and Daniel stopped at a beach. It was very windy, so we had to put extra clothes on. It was sunny there though, and very quiet. Daniel walked around picking up interesting looking stones from the beach, while I looked around amazed at pieces of concrete around the beach which Daniel told me were the remains of buildings due to severe coastal erosion (apparently the land on the east side of Britain is very crumbly, and the eastern coast is eroding very quickly. Soon Britain will be half the size, really thin, and people will live in underground cities...).
We drove back to Hull, and I saw more of the nice bits. I stopped for a break, and then set off on my journey home. It was a lovely sunny day...
On the way back home down through the motorways, I was getting sick of driving on the motorways. On the M18 there were speed restrictions of 40 miles an hour due to it being so busy. It kept slowing right down, and sometimes stopped. "What's the point of being on a motorway at this kind of speed?" I thought. I kept looking at the turnings off, really tempted, but I knew I'd probably only get lost.
But eventually, as I came into the top of Derbyshire, I saw a sign for "A38" - "Hey, I know the A38!" I thought. In case you don't know, down where I live, the A38 is the A-road that runs north-to-south through Gloucestershire (parallel to the M5 motorway) and goes through both Bristol and Gloucester. I thought that seeing as it's a national route (it's full route goes from Nottinghamshire in the East Midlands all the way down through Devon in the far South West), if I went on the A38, I know I'd eventually get close to home, but I'd get a more interesting route than staying on the motorway.
It was great, because that stretch of the A38 is actually a dual carriageway which runs parallel to the M42, and the traffic was pretty free-flowing most of the way (apart from the roundabouts) so I was able to get up to 70mph in a lot of places, and it felt like I was really gaining some distance.
But then I started to realise that the A38 goes through the centre of Birmingham - England's second largest city. I actually pulled over and looked at the map and thought about it for a few minutes, and in the end I concluded, what the hell, I'm having an adventure, and I've never actually been into Birmingham before. I'm by myself, and I've got all day, live dangerously, I thought...
It was rush hour though...
But you know what? Such fears can sometimes be unfounded...
I found the A38 through Birmingham to be pretty free flowing most of the way. It seemed to be a pretty fast dual-carriageway most of the way, with the bad traffic being off the A38 on the nearby roundabouts and other inner-city roads. I found the journey exciting, because for 2 miles the A38 briefly becomes a motorway called the A38M, which has 7 lanes and no central reservation. This allows them to be flexible and a different number of lanes going in either direction, with an empty "buffer" lane separating the two. At this rush-hour time, there were 2 lanes going in and 4 lanes coming out. Then the road went through a tunnel - or was it two tunnels? I can't remember. It was all happening so fast, and I'd never been there before.
I'd never been into Birmingham before. I've always thought of it as this big unknown city in the midlands, somewhere I never got round to going to, merely because I've never had a real reason to. Birmingham's got some lovely buildings in the city centre. It felt like a mixture between London and Bristol, but with an added extra flavour that was all its own somehow, and not quite what I was expecting. But what had I been expecting though? Had I been subconsciously expecting it to be an evil place? Some black industrial landscape of urban horror? But it was beautiful! Big old buildings, parks, all kinds of stuff.
Am I getting a bit too excited about urban landscapes? Have I lived in rural Gloucestershire a bit too long?
It was only when I got more into the south end of Birmingham that the traffic started to get bad on the A38. But it was still nice see it all. As I drove further south, more out into the southern suburbs, everything seemed to calm down, there was a lot more green, more trees, a quieter, slower feeling around me. Before too long I entered Worcestershire...
At some point, my clever plan to follow the A38 all the way home failed, as there was a bizarre situation where you had to turn off the road to the right to carry on along the A38 (Why??? Who designed that road layout? Shoot them!), and in the second or two that I saw it I didn't react in time, and I went straight on.
I got lost, I didn't know the road I was on. I stopped and looked at the map. I was on the way to Evesham (Worcestershire), which led to Cheltenham (Gloucestershire). A new little plan. Get to Cheltenham, I know Cheltenham, I'm safe then.
Plan 2 failed as well. Anyone who knows me really well probably knows I'm not always good at thinking fast on my feet. I saw a "Road Ahead Closed" sign, and instinctively turned right, away from it. A couple of seconds later I realised, shit, it was only "Road AHEAD Closed" not actually "ROAD CLOSED", so I probably could have gone down there and could have got through somehow.
I stopped and looked at the map. The road I was now on led to Worcester. Worcester, I thought, yes, Worcester is good. The A38 goes through Worcester! Are you seeing the scatty way my brain works? If I was the Prime Minister, everything would go wrong. All our houses would either be on stilts, underground, in trees, or inflatable.
I arrived at the edge of Worcester, and saw a sign for the M5, and decided, "Sod this, I just want to get home now!" and I followed the M5 route back home. Surprisingly, my whole journey only took me about an hour or so longer than it took my parents who went all the way on the motorway. But I'd had more fun!
The moral of this story is: Don't always be in too much of a rush to get somewhere, because you might have to endure stupid busy motorway speed restrictions, and you won't get to see interesting places like Birmingham.
Okay, so it's maybe not the most universal saying to live by, but I think you should remember it anyway. Print it out and put it in your pocket (or wallet or purse or handbag or underpants or cleavage or whatever). You never know when it might come in handy and cause you to have a more interesting day.
Congratulations on reading all the way through this. Your eyes are now tired. Go and lie down somewhere. Suggestions include: in a field, in a dark room, on someone else.
Or if you got bored (or scared of the huge volume of text) early on and just scanned your way through it, here's a quick summary:
- Jehovah's Witness crashed into my car, but it wasn't too bad
- Drove all the way up to Hull (if you don't know where that is, just Google or Wikipedia it)
- Had an adventure coming back, drove through Birmingham (if you don't know where Birmingham is, for example, if you're from another country, or have been living in a cave in the Forest of Dean all your life, then Google or Wikipedia it. If you don't know where the Forest of Dean is, I'll briefly tell you: it's the part of Gloucestershire which is the other side of the River Severn from the rest of Gloucestershire. People who live there are weird, because they're almost Welsh but they're not quite. They have ancient laws which apply only to them. They're considered a species all of their own. The Forest is a magical place, with fairies and witches, and weird sculptures, such as the giant chair that you can't even sit on. The River Severn is the largest river in Great Britain. Yes, even longer than the River Thames which goes through London, and certainly longer than the Rive r Humber near Hull. But it's certainly not the largest river ever, because there's the Nile and the Mississipi and there's probably huge rivers in Australia called The Waggawagga River or The Billawilladillabong River and also there's probably one on Mars as well.)
Part 2 coming up soon (if I can be bothered to write it)...