'Twas the night before our departure for five days away, and I found myself ramming 'stocking' presents into a hard-structured suitcase thereby crushing carefully wrapped Barbie doll boxes and bending unbendable tubes of smarties. "You - will - go - in.." I snarl threateningly at some inanimate and hitherto unobjectionable objects, regretting it immediately amidst the sound of sinister snapping sounds and as the foot of a dinosaur protrudes menacingly from cheap wrapping paper. It is an ominous start to a long night.
At nine am the next morning, Daddy proclaims that the car is full. I look on to see, with no small measure of alarm, that so is the kitchen. Full of bags that still need to go in to the car. And it is, of course, imperative that most of it is unseen by the children.
The sideways rain doesn't help. It comes lashing at you in waves, like a giant dog in the sky shaking itself off vigorously from side to side. Daddy on a step-ladder fiddling with the things in the roof box is making absolutely no difference to the space available, but quite a lot to his life expectancy. In the wrong direction. Now we are an hour late departing. The giant dog in the car, Kempton, is quaking with fear as she is forced into the boot alongside boxes of bags and tubes and packages. And well she might, since around the first corner most of it falls on top of her. A hasty pull in to a lay by and some significant adjustments later and we are off again. There is a repeat performance round the next bend and Daddy begins muttering about more bungee cords. This will continue until the motorway. Muted swearing and some gritted-teeth conversations take place.
Gilby asks about the language that is spoken in Scotland. He translates my definition for Eddie: "Yeah, so it's English, just not spoken properly." I look at the heavy sky. It doesn't help, or offer any inspiration. That wasn't what I said, nor what I meant. I shrug.
We stop at the printers to pick up photographs that had been promised but aren't ready. I grin and say that it doesn't matter and then promptly step in a puddle outside the shop, smashing muddy water across my clothes. Exactly what is not required at the start of a four hour road trip. More swearing. It turns out that I am quite cross about the photographs in spite of what I might have suggested to the shop assistant.
One more set of Kempy-calamity-avoidance adjustments are made and then we are really off. So far it has taken forty minutes to travel sixteen miles. Now we are nearly two hours behind schedule. Gertie is wedged uncomfortably between a box of Christmas crackers and an extra large bottle of cider. She has heard the exchanges between her parents and knows better than to complain. I am starting to suspect that the cider may not make it past Watford Gap. It wouldn't do a great deal to ease the congestion in the car, which is rammed to the gunnels and has begun to resemble the old woman's house in A Squash and a Squeeze. I don't even like cider. This journey seems more likely to arrive in divorce than in Scotland. But before that destination there is visiting Grandpa Mac in Derby.
The M25 is also congested, so now we are experiencing it both outside the car and in. We come to a standstill around Heathrow. The helpful picture of an upturned car reminds us of our own good fortune in merely moving slowly rather than having been part of a crash.
The first part of the M1 is, unsurprisingly, congested. This time due to 'pedestrians on the road'. Right. I speculate about what they might be doing there. Spontaneously liberating themselves from the stress of long car journeys, perhaps. We manage to successfully dodge them and continue to wend our way. It isn't long before we are heading for 'the North'. I feel like doing a celebratory air-punch.
Eventually we arrive with Grandpa Mac. No thanks to sat nav, who has quite distinct ideas about the best way not to get us to our destination. We have a good lunch, and somehow manage to negotiate the strange requirements of Sunday carvery in far-flung lands. The beer is cheap, and there is an ice-cream machine which delights the children. Though this provides more than enough sugar for one day, Grandpa Mac appears to have bought sweets in the kind of quantities that might have sunk the Titanic should an iceberg not have been around to do the job.
The kids turn hyper.
I drink lots of wine.
And consider the silver lining: I have learned some salutary lessons about the obscene levels of materialistic consumerism to which I have sunk, namely through the recognition of my inability to stuff all this stuff into the car (and I'm not even seeing all my family over Christmas, for chrissakes!), I have discovered that the Premier Inn in Derby is like heaven after that cramped and fractious journey, and I have inadvertently compiled some material for a blog post.
Three sleeps and three hundred miles to go!