A maelstrom of activity

3 July I’m off on holiday yet again. I have been a maelstrom of activity over the last three weeks, what with all the constant packing of travel irons and filched miniature bottles of shampoo I’ve had to pile up, put away and then re-pile again. First a week abroad, then a weekend in Suffolk with my sister, and now I’m off to the Shropshire countryside. On the plus side, at least I’ll no longer need the adaptor plug – apparently Shropshire also has three pin sockets. (Useful travel tip for you.) I shall be completely unchaperoned this week (i.e. Mr Young-less) – which, gratifyingly, has provided me with the perfect excuse to demonstrate to him just what a brilliant packer (i.e. me) can achieve when travelling alone. So I have found our smallest piece of hand luggage in order to show him that I can, in fact, cram a whole week’s worth of clothes and essentials into a tiny space. To tell you the truth, I am already regretting this. I’m beginning to struggle. A three-quarters empty tube of toothpaste that’s lost its top and thus needs to be wrapped in cling film (What a brilliant invention cling film is. What on earth did people do before cling film? Who would have thought it possible to mention cling film four times in three lines? And I bet you just counted.) and a flannel that I am intending to also use as a towel; space-saving, you see – we brilliant packers have plenty of tricks up our sleeve (and yes, I have also decided to treat myself and include a couple of sleeves as well, because my flannel isn’t big enough transform itself into a clever little wrist-length bolero top. Perhaps this obvious gap in the market is a business opportunity that I should exploit? An all-purpose long-sleeved garment-slash-towel-slash-flannel that can fold up into something tiny enough to fit into the cunning little mobile pocket of my handbag – currently just containing an old Strepsil and a broken earring).

As that is, quite possibly, one of the longest bracketed paragraphs I have ever written, I’ve forgotten how my original sentence started so shall have to move on otherwise I’ll completely lose my thread. Something about being a brilliant packer? Oh yes. Anyway, my small efficient packing pile is all laid out on the bed, ready to be neatly folded and arranged into separate little compartments. Mr Young is feigning disinterest, but I can see him sneaking envious glances at my tiny-weeny travel bag (“Look!” I say, trying to catch his attention. “I can lift this with one finger!”) when he thinks I’m not looking. I might make him practise while I’m away. Keep him occupied. Bless.

4 July Whither I am travelling this week is a Writers’ Retreat. (I think that’s the right usage of whither. Otherwise I’m rumbled already and might as well stay at home and watch daytime television.) This trip has prompted many interested – and baffled – enquiries from friends and family. “So, it’s a kind of luxury hotel? To write a bit more of your novel?” No, I say, it’s quite basic actually. Probably just a desk and a bed. Maybe a pillow if I strike lucky. “Oh. But it’s got a pool? And a spa? So you can relax?” No. Just a bathroom, really. Shared. “Ah, but there’ll probably be great food. And it’ll be nice not to have to cook for a week, won’t it?” No, not really. Communal meals. We’ll all take a turn to cook and wash up. “Oh.” Mystified silence. I think they’re attributing it to some sort of menopausal breakdown. Which is fair enough. Even I think it sounds slightly eccentric. However, I’m really looking forward to it. I do have a novel I want to finish, and I do want some peace and quiet in which to do it. At home, I am constantly haunted by my ironing pile and the plaintively accusing look on Archie’s face whenever I have a few free hours (Why am I still lying here creased and forgotten? Why haven’t you taken me for a walk? Why? Why? They’re both so demanding).

Mr Young comes to see me off at the station. There is are definitely tears in his eyes; whether from sorrow or happiness, I’m not sure. The machine spews out an alarming number of tickets; I fan them out like a pack of cards to show the National Rail official guarding the entrance. “I haven’t a clue which one you need,” I tell him. “I must say, this seems like an unnecessarily large amount of tickets for one journey.” “Well, we like to give you your money’s worth, love,” he says and plucks one from the pile. He brandishes it at me. “This is it. See, I’m not just a pretty face. May not have O’levels, or A’levels…but I’ve got a spirit level in my garage.” Everyone’s a comedian.

There’s an announcement as we pull out of the station. “Refreshments available,” says the anonymous voice. “Tea, coffee, and some delicious flapjacks.” He reminds us at the next stop. “Tea, coffee…and don’t forget those delicious flapjacks.” Later; “Tea, coffee, and I think there are still a few of those delicious flapjacks left.” Last stop: “Tea and coffee are available on this train.”

Getting off at Birmingham, I ask a rail employee who is also disembarking where I need to go for the Shrewsbury train. He points me in the right direction. I recognise his voice. “So what happened to the delicious flapjacks?” I ask him. “Did you eat them all?” “Cheeky girl! Come here, sweetheart,” he says and gives me a big hug, just like a jolly uncle at Christmas time. “It’s nice to know someone listens.” I text Mr Young immediately to let him know that I’ve already pulled. Archie wants to bite him, he texts back. Rubbish, I text. Archie couldn’t care less. He’s already asleep on our bed. Yes, he was asleep, texts Mr Young, but when I woke him up, he was furious about it.

6 July Hurray! Turns out I do have a pillow after all! Had toast for breakfast and wrote a lot of pages. 7 July Had poached eggs for breakfast and wrote a lot more pages. 8 July Had poached eggs for breakfast again and wrote a lot more pages. There was a bat flying up and down our landing tonight so I was too scared to brush my teeth. 9 July No eggs for breakfast so had muesli instead. Wrote a lot more pages. A warty toad on the doorstep tonight. 10 July The toad has disappeared. Still no eggs so had toast and apricot jam for breakfast. Caught the train home and reflected on my rapidly retreating Retreat. My novel is now almost finished. (Don’t worry. I won’t let my huge fan base down. You’ll both get an autographed copy as soon as it’s published.) I wonder if all is clean and tidy at home. Has Mr Young managed to work his way through the list of jobs I’ve left for him? Did he remember to leave the bins out? But the burning question is…has he remembered to dispose of the evidence and wash all the dog hairs off the bedsheets? …..you’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

(You see what I did there? Kept you all in suspense? Now that’s what we writers call a cliffhanger.)