Sunday, 3 July 2011

How Not To Please Yourself, Or Why You Should Always Take Premonitions Very Seriously Indeed

Honestly - men.

I'm running around packing and writing a series of instructional notes for Josh - in which I threaten him with various painful forms of death should he burn the house down while we're away - when Max decides to tell me he doesn't want to go to Dad's.

"For once, couldn't we just have a holiday that didn't involve visiting your relatives?" he says.

"I wish," I say, trying not to think about what he'd get up to with Ellen if I went without him. "But we can't ever afford a proper one and, anyway, it takes up all my annual leave to fit in the parental figures."

"God," says Max.

Which sums up how I feel about it, too - though I don't say that. What would be the point? I'll have to try to prevent Dad being so annoying instead, which could be easier said than done.

"Have you left yet?" he says, when he phones for the third time this morning.

"No," I say. "As you obviously knew already, seeing as you rang the landline. Now, stop fretting. We'll get there when we get there. You said we could turn up when we liked."

"Did I?" says Dad, who can't remember anything for longer than one second. "But what time will you want to eat?"

"We'll go and buy some food once we arrive."

By far the safest option, given the near-poisoning incident the last time Dad cooked me a meal.

Max is rolling his eyes and clearly losing his patience, so I decide I'd better get off the phone if we're to reach Dorset before midnight.

"What's your Dad on about now?" he says, as he puts the last of the bags into the boot, while I kiss Josh and get into the car. "I thought he said we could please ourselves while we're there?"

"He did," I say. "And that it didn't matter what time we got there. He said he didn't mind at all. So we can take it easy - and arrive feeling relaxed and calm."

"Huh," says Max, who must have had a premonition.

We haven't been on the road for more than half an hour when my mobile starts to ring.

"Have you still not left?" says Dad. "It's already lunchtime."

"I know," I say. "We're on our way. You can hear the engine if you listen."

"Well, tell that husband of yours to drive carefully," says Dad - who is a really fine one to talk.

Almost as soon as I hang up, the car judders and Max says, "Oh, shit." Then he pulls off the road, and stops.

"Lost all power," he says.

By the time we've worked out that a lead has come loose; fixed it; discussed whether it's a portent of doom or not, and finally started driving again, we've already lost well over an hour, and Dad has rung for another update.

By the time we're half-way to Dorset, he's rung twice more; and when we stop for a coffee and a fag, he rings again.

"Where the hell are you?" he says. "Is Max driving at 20 miles an hour or something?"

"No," I say. "We're just taking it nice and easy, like you told us to. We'll get there eventually, so do stop worrying so much."

"Well, I've got your bloody dinner on," says Dad. "And it'll be ruined if you take much longer."

Ruined is a movable feast in this context, seeing as it's arguable whether you can ruin something that is bound to be inedible anyway. Feast probably isn't the most appropriate word, either - but I take a deep breath, and try to rise above the provocation. It's exactly like being back at work.

"But, Dad," I say. "You told me we could please ourselves - and turn up when we liked."

"You can," says Dad. "Just hurry up."

It's a miracle we get there in one piece, given how stressed Max gets by Dad's continuing calls; the seemingly-endless traffic jams, and by Josh - who phones to say he has already managed to lock himself out of the house.

I'm feeling a bit panicky too, by now, and am wondering whether this so-called holiday wasn't one of my stupider ideas. And I really want another cigarette - before the nagging starts.

There'll be more than enough of that over the coming week - no doubt accompanied by a list of all our relatives who've died from smoking, often by extremely indirect means. (Dad even counts Great Aunt Flo, who died en route to the newsagent to buy cigarettes; as well Great Grandpa Bill, who died of cirrhosis of the liver, but who apparently smoked the occasional cigarette while he was drinking everything in sight.)

So, as soon as we turn into Dad's road, I say to Max:

"Quick - pull over under this tree and let's have a fag, before we drive right up to the house and Dad spots us from the window."

"Good idea," says Max. "Let's have two. And a drink. We're obviously going to need one of those."

"Don't be rude," I say, though I do know what he means. "That's my beloved father you're talking about."

"Talk of the devil," says Max, as the car door is suddenly pulled open.

"What the hell are you doing?" says Dad. "Your dinner's on the bloody table. It's been there for the last twenty minutes."

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