When one of my oldest friends got engaged, her outspoken great aunt, a spinster, greeted the news with the words ‘Good luck to life in a double yoke’. Her views on the shackledom of marriage could not have been clearer, but in my case, she should have wished me luck to life with someone who travels at a different speed. I don’t mean this metaphorically. I mean we travel at entirely different speeds.
I like to leave plenty of time for whatever mode of transport we’re getting on. I think traffic jams will always waylay us and like to leave contingency hours to accommodate these. I’d rather sit in a layby because we’re early than watch the clock anxiously. I like to get to airports at least two hours before the flight and watch the departure board like a hawk. I barely dare go to the loo in case I miss a vital piece of information.
Zam, on the other hand, believes a flight will never leave without him. He likes to saunter into the airport, walking unbearably slowly, ideally moving straight to the gate via a relaxed stop in duty free. I’m a sweating, red-faced hysteric by this point, screaming that I’ll go without him. I put my terror of missing a flight down to an army childhood. Not only did holidays have the whiff of a ‘campaign’, but whereas I suspect civilian children think ‘Well, we’ll get another flight and anyway we’re all together’, I think ‘If I miss this flight, I’ll be stranded in England for the entire holidays, alone’.
Last summer, we arrived so late (bad traffic, hopeless car-parking arrangements) that the check-in woman clicked away at her keyboard (each tappity tap fraying my nerves; we’re not called xjsjgijsnenxjentsjsnsjgjeusjcjsjtjsjejcjtjsiuejtcj-what on earth is she typing?) before saying: ‘You can make a run for it, but I doubt they’ll let your luggage on.’ So we ran for it, begging our way to the front of queues, shouting at the children to keep up (not noticing if they didn’t), knocking into people on the wretched moving walkway, arriving panting at the departure gate… where people were sitting quite calmly, reading their books. The plane hadn’t started boarding, no problems with the minimal luggage, all fine. Zam looked very happy.
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We’ve missed trains. Or Zam has, and as the train was taking us to London to meet the train taking us to Paris, I went without him. We’d forgotten to put a parking ticket on the car, so, as we had 10 minutes before the train left, Zam moseyed towards the car park. The children and I grew increasingly anxious as the train pulled in. There he is, they shouted, still moseying. The train didn’t wait. And nor did we.
This was mostly bloody-mindedness on my part, as I wouldn’t have actually gone to Paris without him. In the end, we all arrived at St Pancras with an hour to spare. The Eurostar was then delayed by more than an hour. We spent so long in departures that we played Uno with a family of strangers.
Zam does, it has to be said, have the luck of the gods. Like his mother, he always finds a parking place next to the West End theatre when most people wouldn’t dream of driving. His mother once parked nonchalantly outside the Eiffel Tower so we could rush into the gift shop to replace a smashed snowdome. On the way to the airport! The machine-gun-toting gendarme who said that this was absolutely interdit received a non-negotiable gracious smile as she stood her ground.
I often hear Zam making plans to visit four destinations in one day and I think ‘Why haven’t you left yet? Why didn’t you leave last night?’. I admit I’m a very slow driver -I was once pulled over by the police for ‘dangerously entering the M25′, because I was going so slowly. As I was lost, they took pity and escorted me to the right exit, but it was a job to keep up.
We should become one of those families where the parents always travel separately-not because we’re worried about orphaning the children, but to ensure a holiday begins on speaking terms.