Disharmony hits souped-up van
WE were poor; that was why my mother brought soup with us.
We were a family of eight children, which is why there were seven pints of it.
We had a Volkswagen caravanette, with integral hob - that was why it was in a saucepan, rather than Tupperware.
My dad had braked suddenly, to point out an elm: "Probably the last fucking one in Britain, eh?" That was why we were hanging Weenie upsidedown in a river, washing lentil soup out of her hair. She was keeping us focused on the risk of the operation by repeatedly squeaking: "Watch my ears! Make sure fish don't swim into them!" Being taught at home by our parents, and our parents generally being unbothered about anything as draggy as lessons, we had a lot of time on our hands. Most of this was spent in the front room with the curtains drawn watching The Sound Of Music over and over again. I think most of our love for The Sound Of Music was that, even with seven kids, they seemed to be able to leave the house quite quickly, and roam almost any mountain with the minimum of hassle. Leaving our house was a half-day operation, involving sandwiches, dog-bowls, spare clothing for everyone in case the youngest child set its arse to "spray", and the 1956 guidebooks to British mammals that my mother fetishised. It wasn't as if my mother was unaware of the hassle.
"The hassle!" she would moan, little realising she was the hell-mouth from which all the hassle was flowing. If she'd allowed us to leave the house as we were - odd boots; tights worn on our heads to stimulate flowing princess hair; without the means to accurately identify black, twisted spoors - then there would have been no hassle at all. We would have happily left the house naked and killed whatever we needed on the road. My dad was also of this opinion. This was why he kept his telescopic fishing rod in the back of the van. At least, that's why he thought he kept a telescopic fishing rod in the back of the van. What he didn't know is that its cork handle had proved so addictively pickable that we'd picked it off entirely, panicked, and hidden the rod under Eddie's bed. Anyway.
On the day Weenie got the soup on her, we were making the epic, 10-hour, toilet-stop-filled journey to our caravan in Wales. Our caravan was, like everything else in our lives, dodgy - it had been previously used to give holidays to mentally-handicapped adults, and for some reason, had been left with its interior covered in birdshit. Given that a day-trip to the zoo entailed packing half a ton of raw life-goods, a month at the caravan meant, as you can imagine, taking everything from the house that wasn't actively involved in holding the walls up, and squashing it into the van around eight kids and three Alsatians. Caz had managed to fit our inflatable dinghy into the oven. The glove compartment was full of pants. Eddie was sitting on the video.
The journey was imbued with more than the average amount of fraughtness, as my dad had given up smoking, again. He always gave up smoking the morning after getting very drunk. Last night, he'd turned up at 2am with a stolen concrete fox and a man called "Rock Perry" who claimed to work for Guns'n'Roses. As he sobered up, it emerged his name was Ian, and that he sold cutlery to hotels in the East Midlands. Having made a bit of a tit of himself with Ian and the fox, my dad's nicotine withdrawal was proving vicious. He hadn't really apologised to Weenie about the lentil soup thing, pulled an epic strop when we tried to harmonise to Surf's Up, and refused to stop for Eddie to go to the toilet, which put the video in grave danger.
By the time we arrived at the caravan at around 9pm, we were all in a filthy mood with him, and unwilling to pander to his fascist demands, such as those for tea.
"Make us a cuppa," he said, putting his feet up on the sofa as Caz heffed and peffed with the effort of removing the dinghy from the Volkswagen's oven.
"Make it yourself," she snapped.
There was a pause.
"Do you mean that?" he said, with great danger. It was wasted on Caz.
She is a ginger woman who models herself on Barbara Streisand's character in Hello Dolly! "Yes. Make it yourself, you ... baboon." There was a small, tight silence.
"Right, that's it, then. We're going home. Get in the van. Get in the van!" So we pushed the kids, the video, the dogs and the dinghy back into the van and drove all the way back home again.
Ted Wragg returns next week