My recent lack of organisation and spiritual malaise – my grandiose excuse for a massive dose of writer’s block and butterfly brain – seems to be catching and spreading…
I live in the East Midlands, in Nottingham, and I have written before of my love/hate relationship with this city. Sometimes known as “The Queen Of The North”, Nottingham was first mentioned in the Domesday Book as “Snotingaham” – “the place of Snot’s people”, appropriate perhaps for the founding of one of the country’s biggest and best teaching hospitals. We have a healthy literary heritage too, D.H.Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe, to mention a couple; and prior to 2015 the city even won awards for its public transport systems.
Right. Note my use of the word prior. Now, as you know, Alex is at university in Loughborough, a distance of roughly twelve to eighteen miles depending on which route you take. A distance which should at most, take forty minutes, dependent upon route and transport – possibly even shorter as the crow flies. A mildly arthritic and directionally challenged crow should still reach Loughborough in a reasonable amount of time.
Last week Alex invited his father and I to attend “Proud” which is a talent showcase for the LGBTQ+ community at the university, and which Alex and his boyfriend have hosted, in drag, every year for the past two years. This year’s was set to be particularly important and emotional as Alex had arranged it all himself and it was their last chance to do it as they both graduate in June.
Obviously we said we would attend.
Currently, the East Midlands is both flooded in places and suffering from a rash of roadworks which can reduce the city’s traffic to a standstill. Knowing this, I factored in plenty of time for our journey as we don’t drive and are reliant on the buses. Also, I have to plan journeys quite carefully as Alex’s father suffers from a similar form of anxiety to myself that needs every eventuality planning for. [ “What if we meet vampires?” “We won’t, but I’ll take extra garlic just in case”… well, maybe not that extreme but you get the idea.]
Anyway, we caught our bus at the perfectly acceptable time of 4.45 pm, allowing plenty of time to get into town and make the connecting bus to Loughborough. The bus was bowling along quite smoothly until Alex’s father uttered the immortal words: “We’re making good time.” From then on, the outward journey was jinxed. Nottingham was not going to let us go without a struggle it seemed… At one point, it took us fifteen minutes to cover a thirty yard stretch of road. If I had been by myself I would have left the bus and run, possibly roaring, as it would have been quicker, but Alex’s father is suffering from a tendon injury and is limited as to how much distance he can cover.
I saw our chances of making the half past bus rapidly receding. However, we reached the stop and got off, still in plenty of time for the next bus, due to the extra time I had factored in, then we waited. And waited. I began to run anxiously back and forth between the stop and the corner, catching sight of the ominously bubbling Trent river and an electronic sign that flashed certain villages on this route are not being served due to flooding.
“B&*@$%ks!” I thought, and returned to Alex’s father to say perhaps we should consider the trains and send a reassuring text to Alex. Thankfully, at that moment, the familiar jolly yellow bus appeared and we all boarded with various grumbles from the other passengers. I asked the driver one question: “Do you think the buses will be on time coming back?” And that was it, he selected me as his travel buddy, directing a running commentary over his shoulder to me, about how it had taken him over an hour to get from one point, he’d only done this route as a favour, he was never doing it again, was it always like this here? All of which made me feel quite… anxious.
When I’m nervous – or cross – I laugh, which can be confusing apparently – and Alex’s father thought this would be a good time to tell me about this dream he’d had where he was bidding in an auction and woke himself up by yelling “Here!” Of course, this tipped me over the edge into hysterical snorting laughter, tears and mascara running down my face…
We made it to Loughborough though. The enforced sitting had stiffened Alex’s father’s leg to the extent where he could only move at a weird kind of hobbling hop. So. There we are, me hair flying wildly, grubby-faced, sweating and rattling with crystals, roaring (inside) accompanied by Alex’s dad, hunched in pain, yelling every other step, running through Loughborough. We’re a joy to know…really…
Then Alex rang me. “Where are you?!” “I don’t know. Loughborough, somewhere.” “Well how far away are you? I don’t know how much longer I can hold the show!” “I don’t know! It all looks different in the dark! We’re running past some rugby fields!”
Just then Alex’s dad bellowed “I see it!” and the triangular roof of the students’union hove into view, beguilingly lit in purple neon. “We’re here! Bye!” I shouted breathlessly and took off again. We crashed through the doors and into the main lobby, eerily deserted, then straight ahead we saw the venue. I pushed the door open – Alex’s dad had diverted to the bathroom – and elbowed my way as unobtrusively as possible down the central aisle, right to the front, where we were seated with the Vice Chancellor of the university, the chaplain, another guest and Alex’s boyfriend’s father who greeted me jovially: “Ah, you’re here, V.I.P at last!” I replied loudly, waving my arms all encompassingly, narrowly missing the bottle of wine: “Yes, terribly sorry, the traffic was a little challenging!” And sat down, taking a large gulp from the glass he had thoughtfully poured for me and spilling most of it over my trousers.
Alex’s father made it back and we enjoyed a pleasant evening of entertainment, songs, jugglers and dancing, then it was over and we had a little time for chat and explanations. We were asked if we were staying over and I replied quite indignantly that no, we had to get back for the Girls, which upon reflection makes me sound like the madam of a nineteenth century bordello. I also remember telling Alex’s boyfriend’s father about how I got lost in Wilko’s that morning, although admittedly it was quite a funny story… culminating in my mother having to ask the security guard to look for me. [“And how old is your little girl Madam?” “She’s forty &*&*…”]
Now, this lovely man, who had climbed Everest, and been on safari listened bemusedly while I told him how I got lost in the kitchen section, patted me consolingly on the arm and gestured towards the stage. “You should be up there!” he said and wandered off..later I did wonder if he meant cleaning… or performing…
We said our goodbyes and left, knowing that we had to factor in time for roadworks, limping and rain, but fortunately we made good time, even stopping for a brief restorative glass of wine at a pub near the bus stop while we waited. Alex’s dad troll-hobbled to the bathroom and I laughed, catching the disapproving glares of several girls who obviously thought I was a dreadful person for laughing at the poor chap…but then we were on the bus home.
Into the city centre then the bus back to our house, to be greeted by four furry disapproving faces…””Where have you been?!”