Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Don't ever come in a car with me if you want to get somewhere fast

I'm back! Having got back to Bristol in the New Year after spending some time with the Barnes Clan, I only had a day and a half before going away again. Whilst I do not mind travelling in the least, I am glad to be back in my own bed and not living out of a bag anymore.

The week away at both Elvedon and Longleat Center Parcs was brilliant. I feel like I need another week off just to absorb all of the quality, inspiring teaching I've had!

My half-marathon training is now in full swing, and is definitely more intensive than last time. I am proud to say that I managed to keep up with it while I was at Center Parcs. On one of my runs, I came across the tennis courts, which immediately triggered my memory of us as a family at Elvedon about 6 or 7 years ago. I remember us spotting a rabbit by the tennis courts and Dad putting into practice his rabbit-catching skills. I remember being thoroughly impressed at how close he got to the rabbit before deciding to leave it be - either that or it scarpered!

Hazel, who is also doing FP, has kindly put me on the insurance of her car for the rest of the year (which cost neither of us anything). This meant that I was able to borrow the car from her to drive Adam and I to Longleat Center Parcs. This involved us driving Sarah and Hazel back to Windsor to pick up Sarah's car, as S & H were both heading back to Bristol. Upon arrival at Sarah's, I printed out the directions from Windsor to Longleat, and asked her Mum as I was doing so, how to get to the M3 from where we were. What ensued was a conversation not dissimilar from that described in Bill Bryson's 'Notes from a Small Island', where Hazel and Sarah's Mum discussed the benefits and downfalls of the M4 as opposed to the M3 as the preferred route, what traffic would be like, how long it would take, etc etc, when all I wanted to know was how to get from Sarah's house onto the M3. Ahh, the archetypal Brit who can talk about how to get from A to B for 2 hours and name every landmark on the way.

Feeling slightly dazed and confused as a result of this discussion about the best route (of which I had no part), coupled with the motion sickness provoked by the images of multiple routes, maps and motorways swirling round my head, I repeated my question, 'How do I get to the M3?' The response: 'Oh it's easy, really really simply.' Right, wonderful, but that still did not tell me how to do it! During this onslaught, I'd tried to read the directions so I could at least have some idea of the signposts I needed to look out for, but due to all the other information bombarding my brain, I failed to take in anything from the directions. So I just handed them to Adam in the hope that he would be able to read the directions to me and I would just drive.

Not hard, one would think. Well, it turns out that when your navigator is on the phone (to his credit, he was called, he didn't make the call), and it's dark, it's pretty hard to read directions and talk to me at the same time to tell me where I needed to go. I managed to stay relatively calm, and realized that the best approach was to just follow the signs to the M3. Oh yes, forgot to mention, we got lost within two minutes of leaving the house and trying to find the petrol station. This was probably due to the fact that I was given the directions to the petrol station after being told where I needed to go at each of the multiple roundabouts in order to get to the M3. Needless to say, seeing as I couldn't hold one set of directions in my head, there was no hope of remembering two!!

So anyway, it was all fine until it came to getting onto the right side of the M3. I had been throwing questions at Adam left right and centre while he was on the phone, so this time, I thought I'd use my common sense (HA!!! Sorry, what is that again?!!!) and make the decision without asking him. Bad bad move. The options were M3 -London or M3-Basingstoke, Southampton. Well, why on earth would we want to do the latter? That'd be taking us all the way down south, and we wanted to go South West. So we went towards London. Back the way we had come, essentially.

We came off at the next available exit. It will come as absolutely no surprise to those of you who know me, that getting lost when I am driving is something that happens a lot. Especially when I am on my own. So rather than look at a map and get all confused by the different coloured lines, (which might as well be a big pile of spaghetti, because that is exactly hat it feels like in my head when I look at maps) I just turn around at the roundabout and go back the other way. Not this time.

Obviously if the roundabout had been there immediately as we came off the motorway, I would have done that. But instead, I trusted that Adam would have more of a clue than I did, and so trusted him when he saw a sign that said A309 (or something of the sorts) he said, 'ah, we've come from there, that's vaguely where we should be...' so we headed for Staines, then realized that neither of us really knew, so turned off the main road into a residential area to look at a map. Maps don't lie, which is wonderful, but they don't speak so you have to be able to understand them. As I'm not great at this at the best of times, and by this point was feeling a little tense, I let Adam look at the map and try and work it out. After five minutes of him not really reaching any conclusions he said, 'Hmmm...this is when we need Hazel.' (who has an inbuilt compass that is never wrong) 'thing is, I'm not very good at understanding maps.' Great. Between us, we have the navigational skills of a gnat. Although that is probably being a bit unfair to gnats. Would have been good to know this when we set out so I was a little more trusting of my own awful navigational judgment.

I was just about to get out the car and knock on someone's door to ask for help as there were very few pedestrians around, and half-heartedly prayed, 'Lord, please send us someone helpful.' Seconds later I spotted a man walking in our direction so jumped out the car and accosted him, telling him I had no idea where I was but needed to get to the M3. The nice nice man said, 'Well I'm a driving instructor so I know the roads well', and proceeded to give me the simplest instructions I had heard all evening. Thanks Mr . Driving Instructor.

So on we went. By this point it had started pouring with rain in a gross way. This made driving too scary for my liking, especially when we passed lorries and they sprayed us with huge mists of water, resulting in almost continuous serious visual impairment. I was very hungry as I had not had any tea and it was now well past tea time. My tummy was also hurting from the complete lack of vegetables for the entire week. All we had were some Extra Strong Mints, which reminded me of car journeys with Dad when he used to have a supply of them. A fond memory in a stressful situation is always good but it wasn't quite sufficient to reduce the rising stress levels. It was perhaps the least fun bit of driving I have ever done.

After getting lost just one more time, we finally arrived at Longleat, having taken four and a half hours to get there from Windsor. Eughh. I went to bed unfed but greatful to be there.

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