ROAD TRIP PART ONE
The M6 can be an intimidating place at the best times, but if as I was you were seated in a 1957 Mark 1 Jaguar trundling along at a little over 40mph it can be summed up in two words. Fucking terrifying. I can well imagine anyone who regularly travels on Britain’s over taxed motorway system scoffing at this remark and saying you’re lucky if you can get up to forty miles an hour these days. All I would say to these people is they haven’t spent the last two hours staring nervously into a rear-view mirror watching large, flat fronted grills bearing badges such as Scania and Volvo getting bigger and bigger at an alarming rate of knots.
By the time we reached Carlisle I had denounced my atheist views and was fervently praying to God, and by that, I mean any God who cared to listen. Allah, Buddha, Thor and Zeus, believe me I begged them all for it to end, or at the very least for junction 45 to appear on the signs. My two fellow travellers viewed my nervous disposition with a mixture of irritation and indifference. Irritation on the part of the driver, Den Jackson in whose pride and joy we were sedately making our way northwards toward Scotland. Indifference on the part of young Gary, Den’s nephew who was sat in the back listening to whatever shite was playing through his head phones.
What made the situation all the more galling, was it was well within the Jaguars capabilities to exceed speeds faster than those necessitating a man walking with a red flag in front of it. The car was as immaculate as it was the day when it’s first owner proudly drove it out of the show room. The problem was Den, who true to his tight arse Yorkshire roots reckoned fuel consumption plummeted to 15mpg if he went any faster.
Somewhere near Penrith there was a blast on a car horn and a maroon Daimler V8 sailed serenely by. This was the second vehicle in our two-car convoy and for one jealous moment I wished I was travelling in it instead of the Jaguar. I quickly realised this would have involved being trapped in an enclosed space with the dangerous brothers and shaky Dave, a prospect which made death by juggernaut all the more appealing. I mentally pictured the scene inside the Daimler. After two hours without the means to subvert their tiny minds it was a fair bet the dangerous brothers would have started knocking lumps out of one another by now. Behind them would be Shaky Dave wearing an inanely vacant grin and clutching a bottle of Gin tightly to his chest. Yes folks It’s the first week of August and once again it’s time for the annual Jackson Brothers road trip and despite all my protestations to the contrary here I was again.
Jackson Brothers being the name of the timber Company, which like all of the other dysfunctional members of our crew I worked for. I had done all my life which was something else we all had in common. Where I, (mercifully) differed was, I wasn’t related to anyone else whereas the rest of our merry band were. In my opinion maybe closer than they should have been.
The original Jackson brothers, Hugh and Tim had long since retired and the company was now in the hands of the second generation of Jacksons. These were the Dangerous brothers, Rob and Carl who were undeniably Hughes no matter how hard he’d tried to deny it and twins Dennis and Dorothy, or Den and Dot as they were more commonly known. Dot didn’t grace us with her over bearing presence on the road trips thank God, instead she subjected us to her thick as mince son Gary, who if past experience was anything to go by would be running and telling tales to mummy at every available opportunity.
Quite what relation Shaky Dave was no one was sure. On those occasions when someone had asked the question the Jacksons had become very edgy and quickly changed the subject. I had my own theory, but to avoid embarrassment kept it to myself. For my part Dennis and I had been lifelong friends. We had even started school together and it was always a given the day we left we would start working in the Jackson family firm.
The road trips had started twelve years ago when first Den then Rob had developed an interest in classic cars. Over the years we had visited numerous interesting places, both at home and abroad. Whilst it was true for diplomatic reasons, we could never visit some of these again, we had experienced many different cultures and made many new friends along the way.
This year’s trip was mercifully shorter than those which had gone before and involved a three-day sojourn up to bonnie Scotland. It was Den’s idea and he would be held fully accountable if it was an unmitigated disaster. Not that it should be really, not for normal people anyway and a brief itinerary reads as follows: -
· Friday morning - Travel up to Queensferry which is on the south side of the Firth of Forth in the lee of the Forth road and rail bridges.
· Friday afternoon - Go on a boat trip touring said Forth Bridges.
· Friday evening – Retire to one’s humble accommodation in Edinburgh.
· Saturday – Spend the day sight-seeing in Edinburgh.
· Saturday Night – Enjoy a pleasant meal in a restaurant on Princess Street.
· Sunday – Travel home via a classic car show in the Scottish Borders.
What could possibly go wrong?
Quite a bit, going on past performances and nine times out of ten the root cause of any discourse had been the dangerous brother or one of them in particular to be more precise. This was our Rob, or Sam as we referred to him. Sam being an acronym for Short Angry Man which summed up his pugnacious, vertically challenged character to a tee. Rob and Carl may be brothers, but are in fact quite different, Rob being short in height and temper with a bald, shiny cranium which I am sure he polishes every morning. Carl on the other hand is a tall rangy laid-back character with a full head of jet-black hair. He is also king of the wind-up merchants, which doesn’t bode well when the usual target for his brand of particularly warped humour is his not so evenly tempered brother.
I don’t think there had been a road trip yet which hadn’t ended in bloodshed somewhere along the line. There was the canal boat debacle of three years ago where a right of way dispute with a group of French tourists had led to a rerun of the battle of Trafalgar being fought on the Kennet and Avon Canal. I can still see the look of disappointment on Rob’s face when I told him it was no longer considered di rigueur to force prisoners to walk the plank.
Then there was that unforgettable occasion when some bright spark thought it might be a good idea for the Jacksons to try their hand at paintballing. The venue for this not so glorious episode in the Jackson family history was an outdoor activity centre in the Forest of Dean. It was one of those places specializing in corporate team building and along with paintball there were activities such as aerial rope ways and off roading.
The morning had been spent off roading. This involved driving a variety of vehicles, including an armoured personnel carrier, around courses with varying degrees of difficulty. No one had fallen out and to the credit of those running the centre no one had suffered any serious injury. This was about to change…
Picture the scene, two prospective teams are lined up for an afternoons paintballing. In the blue corner is a team of financial types from the city. Every one of them must have been six-foot-tall with fine muscle toned physiques and the sort of chiselled features which could have seen anyone of them gracing the pages of the likes of Vogue Magazine. Then there was the red corner, meet team Jackson. This consisted of myself and Den who I consider to be relatively normal, two mildly deviant psychopaths, a retard and an alcoholic. It was as if the cast of Gladiators were squaring up against the cast of Lord of the Rings, and we were the fucking Orcs and Hobbits.
Alarm bells should have started ringing when I noticed our opponents were all kitted out in matching camouflage gear with “The Liquidators” emblazoned across their backs. Also, unlike team Jackson who were using the centres much abused equipment which looked like it had been made by Mattel, the liquidators were using their own which was far more hi tech and looked like it was made by Kalashnikov.
Right from the off it wasn’t a contest in any shape or form and we were little more than moving targets and if anybody tells you paint balls don’t hurt they are bloody liars, believe me. I don’t think there’d been a bigger rout since the British were defeated by the Zulu’s at Isandlwana. Thankfully after half an hour there was a break in the proceedings where we retreated to a corner to lick our wounds. It was at this juncture when one of the Liquidators smugly asked Rob if he’d borrowed Jason’s Techni coloured dream coat for the day.
Let’s just say it went downhill very fast from there and it was probably the only time in the history of paintballing the order to fix bayonets was given. On reflection the Forest of Dean probably hadn’t witnessed so many acts of wanton violence since the Vikings raped and pillaged their way through it back in the 9th Century. Still there was always hope this year’s excursion would pass off in a more civilised manner.
Mercifully the volume of traffic eased once we passed Carlisle and I could finally relax a little and take in the scenery which to my mind is some of the best to be seen from a motorway anywhere in Britain. Unfortunately, the further north we travelled the darker the skies above became and once we’d crested Beattock summit all that lay in front of us was a foreboding grey morass.
“Welcome to Scotland,” Den muttered with a sarcastic sigh.
“Yeah, don’t you mean you’re welcome to Scotland?” I countered with an equal amount of sarcasm.
Half an hour later we were on the outskirts of Glasgow and my nerves were more frayed than ever as we survived numerous attempts on our lives by various blind halfwits who shouldn’t have been anywhere near complicated pieces of machinery capable of propelling themselves on the public road. To make matters worse the M74 was at a virtual standstill owing to the inevitable road works which seem to plague our motorways.
Finally, after what seemed an age we arrived in South Queensferry which with its cobbled high street and quaint shops was one of those places which begged to be explored. Or it would have done if it wasn’t pissing down and I had the Jackson five in tow. I mean honestly, I would have thought either Rob or Carl would have had the sense to part Shaky Dave from his bottle of Gin before they got out of the car. I scoffed and shook my head hoping upon hope my companions might branch off and go on an adventure of their own entitled Five Fuck Off.
Alas it wasn’t to be and with our coat collars turned up against the elements we wandered along the High Street. All was going well until we came across one of those shops which catered for a certain type of tourist client. You know the sort, the windows are always bedecked in an array of garish tartan goods ranging from kilts, caps and bonnets to the ubiquitous Nessie soft toys. Originally, I paid it no more than a passing glance, but found my eye drawn to an A4 sized sheet of paper depicting a very English Morris dancer.
My interest piqued I ambled across and read a caption underneath which made some uncalled-for derogatory remarks about the English natural dress which amused me no end. Obviously, in their ignorance the person who’d written it had no idea England’s national dress was in fact nothing more than a pair of jeans and T shirt accessorized with a pair of Doc Martin boots and a six pack of Lager of the wearers choice.
It was at this point my sixth sense kicked in and I realised a fraction of a second too late I wasn’t the only member of our merry band of retards who was reading the article. I should probably mention our resident psychopath is a very patriotic psychopath. When you walk in his house you are immediately confronted with a picture of the Queen, St George and Winston Churchill. Needles to say this light hearted slur against his fellow country men went down like a lead brick.
Imagine the look of surprise on the shop keepers face when the shop door reverberated off it’s hinges and short angry man burst into his tartan domain. Luckily, I managed to get a firm grip on Rob’s collar and with Carl’s help arrested his flight much like one would arrest the flight of a wayward sack of shit. Short angry man wasn’t done yet though and fired off what can only be termed a racist tirade with homophobic overtones as he cast doubt upon both the shop keeper’s parental ancestry and cross-dressing tendencies.
Once Rob had calmed down to a level which was deemed safe enough to allow him to interact with the general public, we decided it might be better to seek sanctuary indoors. After a bit of searching we found a suitable candidate in the form of a pleasant café adjacent to the abutments of the mighty Forth Rail Bridge. Inside we found it to be a clean and comfortable no-frills type of establishment with wooden bench chairs and those plastic pensioner proof table cloths. The only down side was the nauseous Diddly Dee music which is a particular pet hate of mine. Why does every vaguely tourist related establishment in Scotland have to play this shite. Is there some mandate or mantra which decrees the average tourist enjoys listening to it? If there is, those behind it need to get off their arses and do some market research.
It’s the same in Ireland, a couple of months ago Den and I went on a fishing trip to Donegal and stopped in a fantastic Hotel on the sea front. On the first morning of our stay I had been enjoying a quiet breakfast when some conscientious twat of an employee pressed play on the Hotel sound system.
One can only imagine one’s annoyance when the peace was shattered by a heavily accented monotone voice, accompanied by some talentless twat on a fiddle, singing about pit boots and ponies. It was all too much for one elderly guest who threw herself on to the floor only to be surrounded by concerned relatives, hotel staff and lawyers from those friendly people at injury parasites for you. At least in Ireland they didn’t have bag pipes though, which much to my chagrin is more than can be said for our little café on the banks of the Forth.
Before anyone north of the border takes offence at me pouring scorn on what they consider to be a national icon I should point out my own father was a piper. This meant for most of my formative years I was regularly subjected to a sound somewhat akin to that of someone fucking a cat. I mean the pipes don’t even look like a musical instrument let alone sound like one. To me every time a piper puts the blow pipe in his mouth it looks like somebody going to a very dark place with a captive octopus.
Once we’d made ourselves comfortable, we wiled away the time chatting amongst ourselves and reading through a large cross section of daily papers which had been thoughtfully provided. The peace and quiet didn’t last long though as mine host duly appeared and after a brief glance at his watch flicked on a large wall mounted flat screen TV.
Rather amusingly the first thing which popped up was an advert for a well-known dating agency which featured a pretty young woman sat on a settee next to a four-foot-tall hair dryer. A silky-smooth voice then announced, “Rebecca and her new friend only have one thing in common…” whereupon one’s mind interjects, “yeah they’ll both give you a fucking good blow job.”
This was followed by an equally stupid advert for ginger beer, the setting for which was a suburban garden where a barbeque was taking place. Our host took a sip of the said Ginger beer and his plain Jane wife turned in to a glamorous hottie before his very eyes. She in turn then took a sip and he turns from being a bit of a limp dicked sort of guy into a handsome hunk. What marketing genius (insert fuckwit) thought of this for an advertising campaign. Let’s face it it’s nothing new. John Smiths have been supplying beer that’s been having the same effect on men and women for well over a Century. Over the years it’s played a valuable role in maintaining population levels in Cities such as Sunderland and Liverpool, this is of course the beer goggle affect.
The news finally followed with a short clip of one of the cast of Alibaba and the forty thieves blasting away with some bloody great cannon from the back of a Hilux.
“Looks like Toyota have the Taliban pickup franchise sown up again,” Carl commented wryly.
“Well it’s hardly likely to be GM or Ford is it?” Rob argued in all seriousness. At this point I turned away to look out of the window, it wasn’t a pretty sight. Even the Forth Road Bridge was lost to view half way across where it was consumed by an impenetrable grey mist. I did notice a little splash of white phosphorous bobbing about haphazardly a little further down the Forth which I took to be our tour boat manfully clawing its way back against the elements.
Whose idea had it been to go on a boat trip? Oh yeah that would be Den’s I thought as I turned toward the individual in question. He must have read my mind as he hastily retreated back behind the Telegraphs broad pages.
I glanced back at the remainder of our crew and too my surprise saw young Gary was reading the Guardian which was a paper well beyond his meagre intellect. Bang on cue he looked up from it and asked “What does celibate mean Pete?”
I really should have known better but I just couldn’t help myself. “It means you’re married son.”
I could see the cogs turning as Gary’s sorely taxed brain struggled to process this new bit of information.
“Really it says here this monk in Tibbett has been celibate for 30 years?”
“Yeah, so’s your Uncle Den.”
Across the table from me the Telegraph twitched back and forth and I was sure I heard something akin to cooking fat being muttered from within.
“Are you sure,” Gary continued dubiously. “I thought monks weren’t allowed to get married?”
“Not in this country son, but other countries have different traditions.” This seemed to appease Gary’s lonely brain cell and he went back to scrutinising his paper. For my part I just hung my head in shame and not for the first time vowed this road trip would be my last.
Over the next forty-five minutes we ate a wonderful lunch, which for me comprised of a steak and ale pie, and drank copious amounts of tea. Every now and then I would glance out of the rain streaked windows at the distant splash of phosphorous which slowly grew in size until it finally became apparent there was a small boat behind it. Finally, it was time to make a move.
“Come on lads we might as well make our way down,” I said trying to sound decidedly more enthusiastic than I felt. My enthusiasm dipped even lower when I opened the café door and was met by a hail of ice cold sidewards rain. Behind me I heard Gary making some flip remark about Diddly Dee music on the boat and for a few nail-biting seconds had to try very hard not to scream. To make matters worse a group from the local little bastard’s day care center joined the que behind us. It was about this time when I noticed the gang plank being readied for us to board It was ironic really, in years gone by they used to punish you by making you walk the plank off the fucking ship…