Yes, I’m starting this story on episode 4. I’m leaving myself the possibility to come back in 20 years and tell the first 3. I may even add an annoying and gratuitous caracter with a speech defect. You’ve been warned.
No, seriously, there are some important bits earlier in the story that will need to be told, but right now I want to talk about this particular bit. Deal with it.
We left Dublin on the early morning ferry. The crossing was pleasant and we had a lovely cabin to relax in, so all was well. We landed in Hollyhead, and after checking on the cats, we drove off in our old second-hand Passat, training our even older fourth-hand caravan behind us. It was a lovely day, the sun was shining and the views of the coast as we drove through north Wales made us promise ourselves that we would come back and visit some day.
We took it easy, driving for hour-long stints and checking on the cats every time we stopped, to give them food, water and cuddles. They had a nice big cage each, in the caravan, but they were still understandably unhappy about being kept cooped up and bounced around. Eventually we arrived in South Cerney, our first stop for the night, and the venue for my godfather Raymond’s 70th birthday.
I could write a whole post about my dear godparents and their lovely family. But this post is going to be long enough without me going on about them, so let’s just say that they have a very special place in my heart. And so does the village itself. I grew up there until I was 7, and it has always been the closest thing I have to a home town in the UK.
My godparents’ house is in the heart of the village, and not just geographically. There’s always something going on there, it’s always busy, there’s always someone around and someone popping in. The house has changed a lot over the years, rooms have been added, changed, renovated… And yet it somehow remains exactly the same as it has ever been. If I was in Lost, it would be my constant.
We parked our decrepid convoy in the small field behind the house. I say behind the house, I mean behind the house, the 2-part main garden and the orchard. And next to a forest of sweet peas. After popping up the pop-up tent we would be sleeping in and inflating the air bed, we walked up to the house to have a much needed shower and change of clothes. Caravanning is not an activity for those who wish to look classy. Or even just clean.
The party was a barn dance and a pig roast. Country chic. And oh boy was it the most idyllically beautiful event ever. We sat on straw bales and watched people learn the intricate folk dances with the help of a most amusing gentleman with a microphone and a fedora. We wandered through the garden in the twilight under strings of fairy lights, sipping our drinks and watching groups of people talk and laugh. We queued in a spontaneously quiet and orderly fashion for our food, talking and laughing with the other people in the queue. And we scoffed our incredibly delicious food, perched on the straw, under the trees.
The meat was chin-coatingly juicy, the baps soft and floury, and the apple sauce was just divine. It was followed by an array of fragrant cheeses and sinfully yummy desserts. Then there were fireworks. The whole thing was a picture postcard of loveliness. At one point, as we watched the dancers stumble and fumble and laugh and clap, Reg turned to me and said “Are you sure we didn’t stumble into a Hobbit village by mistake?” And I laughed long and hard because it was so very true. It was like something out of a book, a fantasy of country life.
I think that was when I truly understood what my mother means when she says that leaving there broke her heart. And it also occurred to me that it’s probably why I have such ridiculously high expectations of my fellow humans – which are always inevitably dashed to smithereens on encountering real life. I just expect everyone to be like the people in that village. Simple, straight forward, civilised, couth, friendly, relaxed… and flawed. Because nothing and no-one there was perfect, but flawed in a way that embraces cracks, loves frayed edges and rejoices in wonkiness.
I think rejoicing in wonkiness could be the answer.