It was Saturday. The sun was out for the first time in days. The miserable weather of the last week had driven me inside, into the pajama pants, and under the covers to you know, do work, research, study, surf the internet, lose motivation, catch up on Dexter and all right, fine, become a sloth. So I turned to the girl who blows her nose with one hand and I said “That’s it!”
“That’s it” I have learnt, is a proclamation I make quite often, usually followed by some ridiculous statement I have no intention or ability to commit to. That’s it, we’re moving somewhere with better weather! That’s it, I’m going to get fit! That’s it, I’m learning to fly a plane so that when I’m neighbors with Ange and Brad we’ll have something to talk about!
On Saturday, disgusted with myself for not going outside when the sun came out, it was “That’s it, I’m hiring a car and we’re going for a drive tomorrow!” But this time I actually did it.
On a scale of self inflicted pain, driving in London runs a close second to piercing your netherbits. Then again, that results in a happy ending, allegedly. There is no pleasure to driving in London. But since a train ticket to the English countryside starts at around £25, there were three of us and the rental was £40 plus petrol, it made sense to grit our teeth and just deal with it till we got out of the city right? With a car we could come and go as we pleased, there’d be no screaming babies/teens/bogan mothers to annoy us and we could pull over if something quaint and English presented itself. Much better right? Hmm.
The girl who I decided was in charge of navigation set about trying to get us on the A2 while I set about trying to decipher all the different squiggly lines on the roads. I realised then that I don’t really know London at all by road. I’m always on trains or buses and never really take any notice. I didn’t even know that the main street of Peckham Rye, one that I’ve been on many times, is only for buses and bikes. Luckily a guy on a bicycle explained this to me in a nice loud voice and with helpful hand gestures.
Nobody ambles about anymore do they? We always have somewhere to get to, an itinerary to stick to, and we want to get there the quickest and easiest way. So in a car that means freeways, and for the driver (that would be me) that means an hour or two on a straight-ish road, shifting focus between three mirrors, making sure some other driver hasn’t fallen asleep from all that concentrating.
I chose Whitstable because the girl who eats anything except (so far) turnips and sea urchins had expressed a desire to try an oyster. As soon as I had made sure there wasn’t any kind of innuendo in the meaning of that sentence I researched, and apparently if it’s oysters you want in south east England, it’s to Whitstable you go. I also noticed that Canterbury was close by and it’s always good to have a plan B if the small town proves unsatisfactory. Not that I knew anything about Canterbury, but I expected it would be a smaller version of Oxford or Cambridge – over run with day tripping tourists and extortionately priced memorabilia, but better than being at home in bed watching the sunshine fade.
Two hours after leaving London, with probably forty minutes of that just getting out of the city, we walked the main street of Whitstable. Almost everything was shut, but then we came upon the Whitstable Boot Festival in the town hall. I’d read about this on their town website (research!) and thought it had something to do with the kind of boots you put on your feet. You can understand why I was intrigued. But now I guess they meant car boot sale, just without the cars. We walked in and walked out again in about 4.6 seconds. Four trestle tables strewn with things that looked like they fell down behind your Nan’s cupboards and were never missed because they were utter crap is not what I call a sale worthy of the title “festival”.
So we went to the harbor in search of the famed mollusc and found out that the little seafood cafe we plonked ourselves at was out of oysters. What? Really? But I researched. Your town is famous for oysters. That’s like saying Paris is out of baguettes, Rome’s got no pasta or Dandenong is out of pregnant teenagers. Unheard of. Fark!! So we tried a nearby restaurant and luckily they were all oystered up. The girl got her wish and we forgot to tell her that you’re supposed to swallow them, not chew them, so it’s now turnips, sea urchins and oysters.
I did get a moment’s mirth out of Whitstable though when I saw some brilliantly sarcastic signage on a shop door, but you’ll have to find my “Weird things I done seen today #5” blog for that.
The fun of a day in the country is severely ruined by the Elimination Diet. Even if the destination proves a disappointment, food can usually make up for it. But not on this damn diet. First of all there’s no yummy snacks in the car. Carrot sticks, rice cakes and fruit juice just aren’t the same. At the seafood restaurant, since I don’t eat seafood, I had a side of glazed carrots which weren’t (glazed with anything I mean) and some chips. Since I already know I’m intolerant to potato I figured what the hell, some digestive issues might up the excitement levels. I also ordered sparkling water, which I’m not supposed to have as the bubbles disturb tum tum, but fuck it, I needed to rebel. I also couldn’t have any of the things it is common practice to purchase while wondering down the main street of a small town; an ice cream, a cake or a beer or five from the local pub. Bum!
So onto Canterbury we went, where we walked along what was basically Tudor Oxford Street, turned our nose up at a river cruise, checked out the cathedral and then had a hot waffle with chocolate and panna-cotta ice cream. Well, they had, I watched.
Oh these are never fun are they? More freeways, more concentrating, more frantic navigational research from the girl. Somehow time stands still on the way back and often so does the car as the evening traffic builds. We only missed two turns, got stuck down one one-way street and got lost momentarily twice. I offered to drop my friend home, which although only being a few miles from my place, increased the journey by about forty minutes and another missed turn. Then it got dark and the battery ran out on my phone, so goodbye Google maps.
Miraculously we ended up behind a bus on a route that we know, so I followed it for a while till I recognised the street we were on. Home. Phew. Then it was up early the next day to fight the morning traffic in order to get the car back to the rental place in time. Boo.
So what’s the lesson here? Buy a car? Learn London roads? No day trips while on the Elimination Diet? Make sure there’s an interesting event at any small town we’re visiting? Make your friends take the bus home from your house? Nah… more like next time I have a “that’s it”, somebody get me a bloody train ticket!