As a writer, I usually find that life provides me with all the inspiration I need. New Year’s Eve was no exception …
It is time to get the train to Milton Keynes for New Year’s Eve with Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny.
“Have you got everything children?” asks Mother.
“Yes I think so,” replies Georgie, the eldest daughter, and contrary to literary expectation, the Sensible One.
“Would you like to have a name for this adventure?” asks Georgie. “You must be bored of ‘Mother’ after 20 or so books.”
“Oh darling! That would be super. Any ideas?” replies Mother.
“Maman! Nobody says ‘super’ anymore. That’s really old-fashioned,” exclaims Anne, the younger daughter.
Mother frowns. “Well what should I say then, I’m really out-of-touch as I’ve lived in France so long?”
Anne smooths her chestnut hair back into its bun. ” Well David says people his age describe things that are really great as “sick”. But I don’t understand. Les Anglais sont fous!” she replies reverting to her native French.
Mother ‘s eyebrows shoot up. “Really! Well they must be crazy. Come on then, what names do you like?”
“I like flower names,” says Georgie. “How about Rose? That’s really pretty.”
“Rose it is then,” says Mother happily
Four suitcases and four bulging backpacks are lined up in their grandparents’ hall. They are staying several days and have Christmas presents to deliver too, which they have brought all the way from their house in deepest rural France.
“Let’s go then,” says Rose, picking up the bag with the sandwiches and ginger beer and leading the way down the village street to the tiny station.
Her three children, Georgie, Anne and Little Timmy follow. They are excited at the prospect of seeing their cousins Julian and David, as they haven’t met up since Fanny brought them out for a visit in May. (Are you wondering what’s happened to Dick? Just remember it’s 2018…)
Fanny’s friend Darrell will also be there and her daughter Felicity who they haven’t seen since that crazy week in Wales two and a half years earlier. Felicity is now a demi-god, in other words A Teen, and Georgie and Anne are hoping for some make-up tips and a go on that most hallowed of objects: The Mobile.
Rose has decreed that such gadgets are bad for children and so far they haven’t managed to persuade her otherwise. Fanny admires her sister Rose’s principles and wishes she had stuck to her guns as The Rot has definitely taken root in her house.
Darrell is far too mature for her old Mallory Towers chum’s japes now she has reached her half century and accepted Fanny’s invitation a fortnight ago to join the fun and games in Milton Keynes. She does wish that dear Fanny would stop winding her up at every opportunity about How Old She Is though. What fun she will have in 18 months when it is Fanny’s turn!
“Fanny is allowing us to stay up until midnight and drink champagne,” Anne says as they board the slow train chugging its way through the Kent countryside and up to London. “What fun we are going to have.”
“And there will be fireworks!” exclaims Little Timmy bouncing in his seat.
“Mother, how tall is Julian now?” asks Georgie.
“I don’t know exactly,” Rose replies, “But Fanny says he is much taller than her and he has a very deep voice.” Julian is also A Teen and has grown so much in the last year he is always wearing trousers that are too short for him and being clumsy.
“He must be huge!” thinks Little Timmy. He can’t really understand how Julian can be so large and still be a child. As long as his cousin plays with him though, that’s all that matters. Timmy can’t wait to use Julian and David’s vast collection of nerf guns so he can terrorise his sisters even more. As the youngest and a boy, it is his solemn duty.
Little Timmy is also looking forward to seeing his aunt and uncle’s dogs, Callum and Princess Penny. After all in these adventures he usually is a dog, so he has a special affinity towards them and is going to make sure they have lots of kisses and cuddles.
“Now children, the train takes an hour to get to London. What are you going to do?” enquires Rose.
“Let’s play cards,” says Georgie getting a pack out.
After a brief negotiation, the children decide on a game and Rose gets out her book with a sigh of relief.
Rose is worried about negotiating the Underground with the children and all their luggage but everything goes smoothly and they arrive at Euston for the next stage of their journey. They decide to get an inter-city train going to Manchester as the first stop is Milton Keynes and the journey will be short.
After a tedious 30-minute delay, the train pulls out of the station and the children settle down to another game of cards.
The train arrives at Milton Keynes and some passengers begin to get off. But Rose is engrossed in her book and at first doesn’t realise what is happening. When she does, it is nearly too late and panic sets in.
“Quick children, we’ve arrived. Grab your cases and get off the train!” she shrieks.
She hurries towards the exit just as the door is closing and rams her case in the gap to stop it. A guard gives her a disapproving look but she ignores him.
Everyone gets off and Rose turns to go up the stairs.
“Mother, where is Little Timmy?” asks Georgie worriedly.
Rose looks around wildly and to her horror realises he is still on the train.
“Timmy, get off the train now!” she yells at him.
Little Timmy leaps off the train just as the doors are closing for the second time. Seeing he is trying not to cry, Rose gives him a big hug.
“Timmy where is your bag with your robot in?” Anne asks earnestly.
“I don’t know,” says Little Timmy his bottom lip trembling.
Rose realises with a sinking feeling that he has left it on the train, which has disappeared into the distance.
Hearing the consternation in the children’s voices, the guard turns to Rose and says rather archly, “What’s the matter? Have you left someone else on the train?”
Rose resists the urge to give him the finger and instead paints on a smile and says it is only a bag this time.
Poor Timmy is forlorn. Mother spent all morning constructing the robot for him and now he has left it on the train. He wipes away a tear and follows everyone up the stairs.
There is Quentin at the barrier and Rose explains about the lost present and asks if he thinks they can get it back. Quentin points her in the direction of one of the station staff who kindly says he radio the guard on the train and ask him to look for it and return it to Milton Keynes station so Rose can collect it. All they can do is hope for the best.
Soon they arrive at Quentin and Fanny’s house. The children greet one another joyously and decide that what they need to do right now is have a riotous game of Forty Forty In, followed by Sardines. After all, the grown-ups won’t mind and it would be simply rude not to in such a large house. They pound upstairs with the dogs bouncing after them barking excitedly.
Thoroughly traumatised by the events at the station, Quentin retreats to his favourite chair in the living room. He decides this is to be a Three Screen Night and promptly switches on the TV, opens his laptop and turns on his mobile. Fanny wisely says nothing and gives him a bottle of his favourite cider. It is New Year’s Eve after all and she has the company of two women who love to chat.
She returns to the kitchen where Darrell and Rose are already deep in conversation.
Giving her younger sister a hug, she offers her a glass of wine.
“Yes I think I need one after that,” says Rose accepting a large one gratefully.
Darrell, Fanny and Rose settle round the kitchen table for a good chinwag and the conversation grows steadily louder and the laughter more frequent as everyone relaxes.
The peace is rudely shattered by Little Timmy’s cries from upstairs and Rose climbs up to the attic to investigate.
Shortly afterwards, she arrives in the kitchen clutching two cream duvet covers.
“I’m afraid Little Timmy got Princess Penny too excited and she peed all over the beds,” she says apologetically.
“Never mind,” replies Fanny more brightly than she feels and puts them straight in the washing machine. She prises Quentin out of his chair and commands him to find two fresh covers. He gets up obediently and heads upstairs followed by Rose who is hoping to get the stains out of the duvets with some wet wipes.
“Fat chance” thinks Fanny.
Sure enough, Quentin comes back down with them and shows her the bright yellow stains.
“Just add it to the pile,” instructs Fanny. Sure she has nothing better to do on New Year’s Eve than wash piles of pee-sodden items. It’s not like this is supposed to be a party or anything!
Despite imbibing several glasses of wine, the women manage to put all the party food successfully on the table and the children descend and devour large quantities of it and pull all the party poppers. The floor is littered with brightly coloured stars but Fanny is surprised to find that her neat freak tendencies have been dulled by the alcohol and for once has no urge to brush them up, thinking instead that they look really pretty.
Quentin decides it is time for the children to Calm Down and suggests they watch a film together. He patiently finds one they all agree on and then continues watching YouTube and playing Clash of Clans on his mobile.
Grateful for the peace, Fanny pours herself another glass of red wine and then promptly knocks it all over the tablecloth and down the wall.
“Shit!” she giggles drunkenly and shoves a dog towel underneath to soak it up.
She realises she is in no fit state to change the cloth and leaves it for the morning. Besides, the dirty washing pile barely fits in the utility room anymore and is sneaking into the kitchen. What is the point in adding to it?
Rose and Darrell obliging clean the floor and the three women decide they should have a game of Scrabble.
The board is laid and the friends choose their tiles. Fanny puts hers on the rack and dissolves into giggles. She has managed to pick up 6 vowels and an L.
Now Darrell happens to be a Demon Scrabble Player and after losing countless times, Fanny thinks it is time to even up the odds. She glances over and sees that Darrell has the Q, Z, V, Y, two other consonants and one vowel.
“That is so typical,” she thinks.
It would be rude to take the highest scoring tiles, so she takes the V and Y before Darrell can stop her and gives her an E and U instead.
“Look, I’ll take these tiles and I’ll give you these instead,” says Fanny naughtily.
“I don’t really want an E can I have an A?” asks Darrell meekly, so shocked by her friend’s behaviour she can’t think of a suitable retort.
Fanny obliges and play begins.
Despite playing well and scoring 51 on a triple word score, Fanny still loses. She would have come even further behind but Darrell has been undone by the superior racks with their pegs for scoring like cribbage. She keeps moving the units peg forward instead of the twenties and has therefore lost a great deal of points.
Fanny can’t help but wind her up about this and vaguely wonders what form Darrell’s revenge will take.
At long last midnight arrives, the champagne corks pop and they all look at the fireworks out of the bedroom windows. Very soon after that everyone is asleep.
Well not quite everyone. Fanny is still awake because Quentin is lying flat on his back and snoring loudly as if his life depended on it.
“Fuck!” mumbles Fanny under her breath.
She tries to get him to turn over. No luck. Resisting the urge to slap him, she strokes his face instead. He barely pauses for breath.
Gloomily Fanny runs through her options. Usually she would retreat to the peace of the spare room but Rose is using it and Little Timmy is asleep on the floor on a futon.
The office then? Nope. Georgie and Anne are occupying both beds.
David is sleeping in his bedroom and so is Julian, with the addition of Felicity who is curled up on a futon on his floor.
The playroom is also out of bounds because Darrell is in there on her blow-up bed.
Fanny contemplates the sofa but instantly dismisses the idea. Nobody ever sleeps comfortably on one and anyway she has completely run out of covers thanks to Princess Penny.
Cursing, she stomps angrily to the bathroom and shoves some toilet roll in both ears. It dulls the sound just enough so she can fall asleep.
The next morning, after everyone has eaten breakfast and drunk too much coffee, the grown-ups decide they should get some fresh air and take the dogs for a walk.
Trying to organise six children to get dressed and ready, never mind persuading them to come along is too much to contemplate, especially for Fanny, who is still hungover. Instead, The Teens are given strict instructions about looking after the younger ones.
“Where shall we go?” says Quentin.
“The farmhouse,” replies Fanny firmly.
“Are you sure it isn’t too muddy?” asks Quentin doubtfully.
“I went up there the other day, it was fine,” Fanny says reassuringly.
They put on their wellies, wrap themselves in coats, hats and scarves and set off, Callum and Princess Penny pulling eagerly at their leads. After ten minutes, they arrive at the track on the edge of the woods: it has disappeared under a sea of mud.
“Bugger, this was a mistake,” thinks Fanny but it is too late to turn back now.
They flounder along the muddy track sliding all over the place, stumble along the edge of an uneven field and through the abandoned farmhouse gate which leads to many more fields and some woods. Thankfully the going gets easier and Fanny breathes a sigh of relief: the worst part is over.
She doesn’t notice the rain beginning to fall or the massive black cloud heading rapidly towards them because she is too busy chatting to Darrell and Rose. Quentin is striding ahead as he always does and is soon out of earshot.
By the time they get to the grassy path that heads in the direction of home, it is raining hard and the wind is flinging it in their faces.
Fanny yells at Quentin and indicates that the women are going to loop back home. He raises his thumb and disappears into the distance, Callum and Princess Penny trotting alongside him.
“I can’t believe he’s going on,” says Fanny. “Let’s get home girls.”
As they head along the hedgerow, the weather gets worse. Hail stings their faces as they battle against the wind, getting wetter and wetter by the second.
Once they reach the edge of the wood, they have a choice: to climb steeply up the big cornfield to the track or head into the woods and wind their way around the edge and end up on the same path.
They decide to go through the woods, as it will be far less muddy and maybe give them a bit of shelter. By now everyone is cold. Their trousers are clinging to their legs making them cold and uncomfortable. Hair that isn’t under a hat is stuck to their cheeks and the rain is starting to seep through their coats.
Rose leads the way and silence falls as the three women concentrate on negotiating the maze of brambles and fallen branches that litter the floor of the wood. After 15 minutes of concerted effort they finally push through the trees and onto the track.
“Thank God we haven’t got the kids with us,” says Darrell. “Can you imagine the complaints?”
“We’d never hear the end of it,” Fanny says, laughing slightly hysterically.
“Mine would have moaned all the way round!” Rose exclaims.
Glad to be back on flat ground the friends walk quickly towards home.
When they are almost back, Fanny rings Julian and tells him they are all soaking wet and the children must help on their return by providing dry clothes and hot drinks. Julian promises to organise them and Fanny, Darrell and Rose are cheered by the thought of sitting by the fire and drying off.
Just as the women approach the house, they are astonished to see Quentin’s red raincoat disappearing through the door.
“How the hell did he beat us to it?” asks Darrell. “He went a much longer route than us!”
“You know he walks twice as fast as everyone else,” Fanny replies.
“Even so…” says Darrell shaking her head.
The children rush to the door with towels to wrap around the dogs and dry trousers and socks for their mothers. The women strip right there in the hall they are so chilled and the children obligingly drape all the wet clothes over the radiators and on the backs of chairs.
Nobody thought to ask Quentin if he wanted dry clothes, so he slopes upstairs to change and gets his revenge by dumping all his wet stuff in the washing basket where it ferments merrily for a few days.
David proudly makes four cups of coffee for the grown-ups and pokes his tongue out at Julian because he told everyone his brother had no idea how to make it, in that supercilious tone that teenagers worldwide have perfected
After the women spend a couple of hours of relaxing in front of the fire, thawing out their legs and feet, Darrell rouses herself and announces that she really ought to drive home as she has the dreaded work the next day.
Fanny and Rose are downcast until they remember that somehow in all the mayhem last night, they got out their diaries and agreed that in August, Fanny, Darrell and the children would take the train all the way down to Rose’s house in the south of France for a week.
“Hurrah!” they cry. “We’ll have another week of jolly japes and unexpected mishaps.”
“Sunshine and swimming!”
“Canoeing down the river!”
“Olives at the market and walking up Les Trois Becs!”
“Card games and Scrabble!”
“Lots of wine!”
But we promise not leave anyone on the train!