I could hear their excited voices as soon as the front door opened. Childish laughter, mingled with parental commands, and then a petulant whine from the youngest child. The usual Sunday outing was suffering its usual delayed start. I had been waiting in the car since our return from church an hour ago.
The older child, David, emerged first clutching the travel rug and kicking a football. His father followed with the cool-bag. “Mind the delphiniums!” David’s mother cried out as, inevitably, the ball veered off-course. His father rejoined with “Look here, old chap, what have we told you about playing in the front garden?” But the boy was too fired with enthusiasm to be chastened by such admonishments. Meanwhile, his little sister Carrie, still sulking, had to be coaxed out with dire warnings of being left behind.
“Picnic-time - hooray!” yelled David, clutching his errant football and flinging himself heartily onto the back seat of the Mondeo. I nodded. Soon the car was backing cautiously out of the driveway [always an anxious moment] and out into the broad tree-lined avenue. These trees had once been a mix of stately limes and sycamores until pressure from residents, upset by the sticky deposits shed by aphids that lime trees attract, had caused most of those to be replaced with hornbeams and rowans – trees that were more respectful to parked cars! My gaze shifted gently from left to right as the familiar panorama of a suburban summer Sunday unfolded: cars washed and polished, shrubs pruned, lawns trimmed and watered, dogs and toddlers exercised.
Negotiating the local maze of urban roads and roundabouts, we eventually nosed into the usual queue of fellow excursionists waiting to join the endless M25. Oh how I hated that road! The daily workaday crawl to Croydon: mile upon miserable mile of motorway, with progress punctuated here and there by outbreaks of cones! Resignation etched into drivers’ faces. But, today there should be a relatively quick and merciful exit to speed us a few miles further to the family’s favourite country park.
The late start, however, had taken its toll and both children were irritable with hunger and unresponsive to diversionary tactics such as ‘I spy’ or promises of ice-creams later. By the time we reached the viewpoint car park everyone was on edge and anxious to head off to a choice patch of downland with, hopefully, an unoccupied picnic table. In the ensuing rush, I was knocked aside by David and found myself suddenly head down amongst a pile of spare sweaters.
“Oh” gasped Carrie. She gently restored me to my rightful place and patted my head. “Poor Winnie! Are you alright?” I nodded vigorously then settled to admire the view from the rear window. Now I would have the car to myself. It’s a nodding dog’s life!
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