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The Roadtrip

Holker Hall

There is an old joke about Londoners: for us the North begins at the M25. A huge wasteland marked on a map as hic sunt leones, although it’s more like hic sunt oves than that. It’s still very green, you can’t use an Oyster card and 4G is largely unavailable. Practically a foreign country.
There is something fairytale-like about the English countryside, especially when you grew older on a diet of Jane Austen and Tolkien’s Shire. I normally travel by train, and it smoothly passes you by outside the window. Road trips have a different quality to them. Travelling by car is something I used to do as a child. My parents have never been keen on putting the four of us and my excessive amount of luggage on a train or, worse, a plane, and the ida of being on the road used to conjure the memories of silly songs about cows and Paris, and counting car plates from each canton. Now it comes with the bittersweet memories of coaches to Cardiff to be with someone who is no longer with us.

Service stations are incredibly fascinating places for a writer: we like to observe people. They aren’t as colourful as the Italian ones, although you can always count on hearing a thick Roman accent talking loudly on the phone. They’re more like the functional Swiss ones, just with fewer cows in the proximity. In the shops (always WHSmith), overpriced sweets tend to outnumber local delicatessen of the area you’re travelling through. Maybe bringing home local food when you travel is a very Italian thing. I always think of my legal citizenship as an accident of birth that has little relevance to who I am {after all, I sunburnt on a 5 minute ice-cream run wearing factor 50 suncream}, but I have an inner sense of food as bringing people together and a grandmother who would start cooking at midnight if a guest showed up.

I like road trips because they give you stories to tell. It’s a more private environment than a big train carriage, and even if I travelled with people I knew very little I feel like our friendship will always be stronger than if we just sat around a table. One reason alone would be that someone in the group is driving, and you’re putting your trust in them {and God} to deliver you safely.
It doesn’t take long before in-jokes pop up, especially if you have to send Batman and Robin to ask for directions when you arrive in a tiny village with no phone signal and none of the signs that your were told to look for.

We were staying at Boarbank Hall, a lovely care home and convent between Morecambe Bay and Lake Windermere. The view was spectacular, and my spirit almost adapted to the slow peaceful rhythm of the environment.
The occasion was the first Faith in Work retreat, an experience that challenged myself deeply on a personal and spiritual level. A lot of talk revolved around curiosity about my political beliefs, and I find having to stop and explain to someone who disagrees with you why you think that’s the best way keeps your away from complacency, especially in the age of Twitter echo-chambers. It’s also a challenging thing to do in person. We used to have the clubs and entertaining with tea parties and dinners, now we use rude words and block people behind a screen, and entertaining is the word we use for Sky TV.

Sharing food seems to be a repeating feature of the weekend. On the second day, a group of us went to visit Holker Hall, one of the houses of the Cavendish family. You walk in and are greeted by a fireplace and the portrait of Charles I. Then you’d find an immense library and a gem of a Georgian drawing room, and a few more beautiful rooms and a spectacular garden. Quite the dream place for me, but the best thing about it was the food hall. I came home with local cheeses, mint cakes and the most delightful sausage roll that put me off anything you find in a London shop.

I’m a city girl with a big heart for the countryside. I’ve always had this romantic dream of a small cottage to make a home and raise a few little ones {I’d never carry a pram on London’s public transport!}. Sometimes I wonder if I can ever really leave London, I try but it somehow never happens, but there is something about the beauty of the countryside, and the homely feeling of smaller towns if not tiny villages, and a more relaxed way of life that may afford me a home-baked cake always present on the kitchen table that I find really alluring.
What I found the most fascinating, and it stuck with me since, was the number of posters for Vote Leave as we approach the EU Referendum. London is a cosmopolitan city and it’s tantamount to blasphemy in certain circles to say you’re not pro-EU. There are a lot of caricatured notions about what the opposition stands for. Maybe we don’t sit at a table sharing a meal and listening to each other {for real and not while we think about our comeback} enough.

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