Friday, 11 March 2011

On The Road Again

Depending who you talk to and what you read it’s either a ‘killer’, ‘deadly’ or ‘notorious’. In reality it’s a couple of hundred miles of tarmac linking the Highlands with the Central Belt.

It’s the A9.

I try to avoid using it as much as possible, particularly in the dark and in the winter. And with the arrival of TWMBO I really have been ultra-cautious, even changing my driving habits no matter what road I’m on. Good grief, these days I pay attention to things like the speedometer and the wing mirrors. (It turns out some objects appear closer than they are. Who‘d have thought?)

As we had emerged from the enforced Highland hibernation caused by Big Freeze 2: Return of the Ice Age, we wanted to live up to a promise to visit some old friends in Perthshire. They have two kids - aged six and three - and wanted to see how demented, er I mean how enriched their lives had become. It would also give them an opportunity to offload clothes and toys their darlings had outgrown and give our Toddler a chance to engage with new playmates.

The journey down was fine, including the discovery of the world’s best sausages at House of Bruar. Wife-features paid for breakfast so perhaps this is why I rated them so highly. Jumbo super tasty bangers and they were free. (Okay, we have a joint bank account so in reality I paid for them too but I didn’t have to see the bill or hand over any cash.)

The toy department at Bruar was heaven for TWMBO who ran amok. (Would you run amok in heaven? I guess it depends what your idea of heaven is. I would take a comfy seat in mine.) In the end an early exit was required as there was too much amok-ness.

I resisted the urge to spend £100 on pink corduroy breeks but I did eye up the waxed jackets. I used to have one, many years ago, but it went away, along with other traits that had to be suppressed in the interests of harmonious co-habitation. Listening to Neil Young records at full volume while only wearing pants being another. One day I’m sure I’ll be allowed to once more don a lovely Barbour with its deep pockets and in-built smell of wet dog. I reckon if I bide my time and choose my moment judiciously it will be accepted into the fold. But probably not the coat cupboard. It’ll hang on an outside peg and I’ll only be allowed to wear it on solitary walks downwind from the missus.

While I’d like to think the Neil Young/pants groove could be resumed I’d probably be getting on a bit and catching sight of myself in a mirror might result in a mild cardiac event.

In the mad rush to leave for Perthshire we had forgotten to put any shoes on TWMBO. I know, I know. You’d think this would be a basic requirement before leaving the house but if I recall rightly I thought it was more important to get in the car and Wife-features would bring the shoes for us to apply later. Of course I didn’t communicate this, resulting in us having to buy emergency rubber slippers at Bruar. Have I mentioned before parenthood is mental?

A lovely visit followed with our old pals and their offspring. Judging by their displays we can look forward to TWMBO asking for arguments to be settled on the toss of a coin and for relaxing walks in the countryside on sunny Sunday mornings to be peppered with ‘why’ and ‘what does that mean’ every thirty seconds. I sound weary but in fact I love the inquisitive nature of children. I can’t wait for TWMBO to start quizzing me. I won’t have all the answers; in fact I suspect I will have very few as kids are good at asking fundamental and existential queries. I can fix a bike puncture, hum the entirety of Art Blakey’s Moanin’ and explain how Spielberg does the funny zoom thing in Jaws with Chief Brody on the beach, but ask me why horses have tails and I’ll suddenly discover something diverting elsewhere.

My favourite example is when Calvin asks his dad what causes the wind to blow. Trees sneezing, says Dad. Later we see Calvin arriving home on a blustery dad, telling his mum ‘Wow, the trees are really sneezing today.’ Mum looks bewildered. (Note to self: Find out what really causes the wind to blow.)

But back to the A9 and while the journey down was relaxed and full of good spirits, the return leg was scripted by whoever did that John Cleese film Clockwise.

We stopped again at Bruar as it would the last outpost open on a Sunday afternoon, allowing us a wee break before completing the journey home to the Sunniest Town In Scotland. Sadly, we got but a couple of miles north of Bruar and the traffic came to a grinding halt. The queue stretched as far as the eye could see. Wife-features even got out, climbed a hill and took a photo using a zoom lens and still the traffic stretched as far as the eye could see. We turned on the radio hoping for information but Pitlochry-based Heartland FM were busy with a programme of light classical music hosted by an American robot. A quick flick to Radio 2 and the first item on the travel bulletin told us there had been a bus fire and we could expect to remain stationary for an hour.

And so we did. Initially I began to fret and sweat, wondering how on earth we could keep a toddler amused for an hour in a small car when all the books and stories on CD had been read and listened to a million times already. Thankfully she was napping and only woke up about ten minutes before we got going. These ten minutes were easily taken care of with the application of cake.

Because of the delay in our journey we had to make a stop soon after for a bit of bathroom action. This added further to our spiralling timings, prompting the idea of stopping for tea at somewhere like Aviemore. Which we did, although the only place that looked welcoming was the chipper in the High Street which has a sitty-doon section. TWMBO can be relied upon to scoff a chip.

You have to order at the counter and I as wearily dragged myself towards it a flipping football team arrived. I had to wait while fifteen orders for different kinds of pudding suppers were processed before I was able to stake a claim to the last portion of curry sauce.

The earlier burny bus drama had obviously caused the traffic on the A9 to bunch up that evening as the rest of the journey was slow going. In the end we got home five and a half hours after we left on what should have been a two and a half or maybe three hour journey.

At least I am prepared for it happening again and learned a valuable lesson. Always pack some cake in your glove box for toddler emergencies.

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