The Days of the Raj

A completely impartial log of a trip to the north east involving
Raj - a man who out-vagues Sam Woollard
Sanj - his imaginary friend
James - in whom nobody believes
Andy - true poet and keeper of the log
Russ - who runs
Alex - who sleeps and eats and considers that sufficient since she is with child
Adie - father and musical director
Lou - mother and homemaker and hard worker who seems to neither eat nor sleep, even though she is with child
Lynn - the beloved South American
Neil - late decisions a speciality
Charlotte - the longed-for, much-missed caring-professional beauty
Erin & Liz, much missed

Day One 30th December 2002
International Man of Fleeces

The first morning dawned bright and clear and warm, but not in Brighton. In Brighton, it was wet and nasty. The perfect weather for a getaway.
Andy arose with a heart full of hope and a bag full of stuff. He made his way across town to the Elm Drive car park, and then there were three. Russ and Alex were not only ready but they had kept their packing to a minimum, or so they said. The famous Red Racer was soon filled to the brim and they were off!
Off, to the garage at the Grenadier, where the first incident of note took place. Russ ran (as Russ does) to fill his front nearside tyre with air (a likely story) before Alex could buy junk food. Alas, he was not quick enough (who could be?) so he decided to punish her by getting back into the car, removing his coat in an act of defiance and then driving away.
Only the tearful pleas of Andy were sufficient to make him stop and go back to the forecourt and wait for her to return to the vehicle. She had tooled up with cheap snacks and chocolate and fizzy pop, which she horsed down her neck at great speed. She settled down for a well-deserved nap after the exertion of eating all that stuff.
Meanwhile, the weather had changed from worse to worse still, and yet Russ drove magnificently, chatting and trying to ignore Andy's directions as they sped north.
Meanwhile, strange to tell, dear reader, dark forces were at work, spreading gloopy foot unction and essential bubble liquid all over various bags and cases (of which a little less, later).
Meanwhile, Isaac played and waited while his mother pondered these things in her heart. Adie frantically sent text abuse to Russ, who was persuaded by the ravenous Alex and Andy to stop where junk food could be bought.
Zingerised, they relaxed visibly, and Alex settled down for a much-needed forty winks as she digested the longed-for burger. At last we arrived in llllllanMiddlesborough, jewel of the north east, and took a small tour around the environs of the house where Isaac and Lou and Adie lived. After a couple of lefts that should have be rights, and on famous right that was described as a left, we were there!
Greetings were warm and manifold, and Isaac practiced all our names as he began to accustom himself to Andy's excitement. After a few minutes, dark forces began again to exert themselves as Russ and Adie devised a plan to photograph not the over-stated Blackpool Illuminations but the fabled Wilmshurst lights. A trip across several towns later, and the sheer horror of the truth was realised in Adie's repentant heart. Suddenly, feelings of loyalty and magnanimity rose in his breast, and he took us to a feeble chalet (strange how he couldn't find the road and then conveniently forgot the house number) shrouded in almost complete darkness save for a dim street lamp.
Having protected his administrative mentor from the heartlessness of Russ and Andy and especially Alex, he took us to a dangerous and illegal location to take shakey snaps of a distant house which may or may not have been bedecked with lights, but wasn't he claimed, Wilmshurst Mansions. Could this have been the double bluff?
Meanwhile dark forces caused Andy to question the Brooks Tack-O-Meter - something which had never occurred to him before. But the mud gods wreaked terrible revenge upon the shoes of Adie and Russ.
Back at the house, Isaac ate while others played and Russ concentrated himself into a mindmeld with the PS2. Bedrooms were discussed and allocated to everyone's pleasure, and then dinner was served.
Lasagne and salad and garlic bread and wine were consumed with interesting background music. Afterwards, Russ's elbow misbehaved and Lou vacuumed with the skill and equipment of many years. Crocks were washed and cooking utensils left to soak, and the Scalextric was constructed and enjoyed by all. Having achieved world speed records (and long distance jumping from the slot records, too) a slightly poorly man played guitar and trod on his cat for our entertainment.
And then the knocking on the door signalled a new arrival! It was the man of fleeces himself! Cold, but glad to be in a warm, welcoming house, Lynn was greeted, and Neil began to reveal the wondrous story of the previous fortnight, goaded by weighted questions about family Christmasses (ah, yes, but which family?) and spontaneous flying, etc.
Neither space nor a tentative grasp of the facts allows me to tell the story in full, but it concerned a three week holiday, blood-gorged mosquitoes, one day of aloneness which motivated a little surfing, surprised but hospitable parents, tiny lizards, half-empty aeroplanes, completely full aeroplanes, great happiness, a sick-bag, several half-truths, hasty packing, confused nephews, a two-week holiday, a phone call from the airport involving the phrase 'which airport?' and an international man of adventure, who seems to be more than a little wild at heart.
Andy got the port out of the cupboard at considerable personal risk, and cheese was gathered. Happy consumption began, and tall tales were told in the flickering candlelight.
Lynn discovered her bubble liquid had gone on a little adventure (the story involves Amelie and Rachel Cohn in some way) and Neil was yet to find that one of his bags considered itself a candidate for some kind of athlete's foot preservative.
Russ and Alex started the drift to bed, and within a few minutes, the house was quiet. The first day was over, and in this small part of llllanMiddlesborough there was peace, friendship and expectation for the celebrations which lay ahead.

Day two 31st December 2002
If this is dusk, it must be lunchtime

The morning began, as mornings in the Watts household do, with Isaac. The morning then seemed to be swallowed up in a time warp. Several breakfasted; clips for the cereal packets were provided and toast was spoken of, very briefly. There was talk of meals, and Lou became excited at the prospect of a pub lunch and an easy afternoon. I mean, it's only a ten minute ride to Raj's house, and it won't take us long to get there.
The talk continued for a while, and there was packing. Plans were made and talked about. Inexorably the clock ground round.
Lynn made a feeble attempt to get Neil into this record with tall tales of maternal ceremonial garments, but with no labels on the clothing, and therefore no corroborative evidence, there is clearly no room for this here.
Phaffing and delays ensued, and then the log was read. Some were pleased, others merely relieved; one or two eyebrows were briefly raised in silent salute of the shocking truth.
At last we were ready to go apart from the people that weren't ready yet. Toilet paper was passed from hand to hand; splashing boots popped into carrier bags; even whole mattresses were inserted into the Corinmobile without him noticing.
And then, just as we left the house, we decided there was no time to go for a pub lunch. In fact, there was only just enough time to go to Raj Towers, fetch some salady bits from the nearby Safeway and then eat them before the afternoon set in. Then some could walk over hills, others read newspapers, some do fingerpainting, others read novels or snooze and the rest prepare themselves for the exertions of the evening ahead. And then we were off!
Off to the nearest bus stop, where Adie remembered he'd forgotten some of the drinkable items he had hoped to remember. Compliant Russ accepted the information that Adie would return to the house and find the bottles. But Neil waved this suggestion away with globetrotting manliness. And so we were off!
Off into the right turn only lane when we clearly wanted to go straight. So Adie brilliantly navigated the convoy through a brutal filtering manoevre, to the merry tune of Russ' horn.
Then we were off, (don't get excited yet) off to the nearest BP garage, where all were entertained for several minutes while Neil discovered the pancake-like qualities of his tyres. Once the entertainment factor had worn off, we all waited impatiently for many more minutes as Neil supplied air to all four corners of the Volvo, while other road users waited. At last we were off!
Off for a ten-minute drive, which seemed to take a bit longer, as the lllllanMiddlesborough Slowest Road Users Winter Carnival procession was occupying the dual carriageway. The horse-drawn hearse eventually turned right (or was it left?) into the cemetery, and we were off!
Off to the Festival of Tractors along a country lane. Finally the Massey-Furguson pulled into a layby (perhaps he'd forgotten his wine as well) and we were off! Off to a few random junctions and then eventually (after some 25 minutes speeding) to Not-so-Great Ayrton.
Station Road did indeed lead towards the station (although some might argue it also lead away from the station), but School Lane lead to a school. Well, an ex school. Raj Towers! We parked entertainingly and unloaded the cars into the kitchen, which was a good idea, because from there we could easily move it into the dining room, and from there into the place where the stuff was needed.
Russ recruited an expeditionary force to explore the building, and sang praises for the corridors, the views, the rooms and the decoration. Bathrooms and corridor space was allocated and all seemed good. There was more talk of lunch, and some wincing.
Suddenly, the people going to Safeway were off! The 'just around the corner' Safeway was eventually reached, and serious purchasing ensued. Bag of satsumas and 12 limes (count 'em). Much of the script of the famous Monty Python cheese shop sketch was recited to the deli girl, while Ade helpfully called his wife to enquire about ham. Apricots featured strongly throughout. The wine aisle caused some discussion, bread was purchased in exact quantities, and then we checked out the check out.
A swift drive home was followed by oven duty, soup and cheeseboard lunch. Ade asked for chicken soup but was denied by a decisive Alex, who then realised it wasn't much cop and she should have had the tomato.
Raj arrived with his deep tones and slightly whimsical on-call pager. He had done a full days' work in the time it had taken us to sit down for lunch. Dusk gathered as sustenance finally became available to Andy.
Over lunch, there were rumours of pubs but these faded again as the time to go to the pub came. For reasons which would surely escape even the intellect of Stephen Hawking, we watched Vets in Practice, and then decided to go to the Royal Oak across the road.
Neil and Lynn quarrelled briefly about whether Lanolin or Gruntingfool met Prince Vidor on a white horse. Neil consulted the oracle and announced himself to be correct, but suspiciously without providing a scrap of evidence.
So once Lynn was dressed for nuclear winter, we walked down the road, through the gate, across the courtyard, out onto the main road, round the corner then finally across the road to Adie's favourite boozer. Nice drinks were consumed following extensive physics experiments conducted by Andy & Neil. Raj and James joined us briefly and then we returned - across the road, over the village green, through the car park, up an alleyway, past a no entry sign and by the side of the river back to the Palace of the Raj.
Amazingly, dinner was close and Neil called us to the table. Three-steak James had already had his steak for starter, and was well on his way though his two-steak main course as we enjoyed chicken mossalla, rice, bean and spud surprise and shop-bought poppadums. The log was feared reverentially.
The wine flowed into the beer and then on into the bloodstream. Conversations ensued, and various friends came and went, or stayed - who could tell? Andy misbehaved with remarks concerning coconut-half beachware percussion options.
Russ proved he's in touch with his feminine side as he ate the fourth and final Galaxy icecream, and several moved into the entertainment centre to relive the Jubilee Party. Various people arrived and sank quantities of wine. The Simpkins' were welcomed and friendships re-established. Three limes were used in the construction of cocktails. Yes, three. Fortunately, Alex was craving citrus, and she sucked merrily all night long.
After a while, 11.30 was announced, and Lynn began to dress for going outside. Meanwhile, Neil had established ramparts and a stronghold over by the river, in readiness for the Chinese New Year. The hour approached and we gathered in the pleasantly cool evening air, drinks in hand and car radios blaring. Big Ben did its thing and Neil let off his rockets. Some whooshed and faded, while several fizzed and thundered. Kisses and embraces were exchanged while several drank and others returned to the house.
Supermum blazed into action as Isaac expressed his surprise at having industrial-strength explosions in the night sky above his cot. Milk was warmed and neighbours invited in for egg-nog or something.
Loud conversations were drowned out by skipping Elvis and less talented cat-stranglers. Charlotte was called and missed and shouted at corporately. Elevated suddenly from the status of the mythical Sanj, she was briefly discussed.
Time passed in a blaze of cashew nuts, cheese, port, whisky, wine, firewater and chocolate fingers. Jeremy took it upon himself to declare that he often shared a shower with Juninho (pronounced Hooninyer) and Lynn became enflamed. Andy practiced his new-found Portugeuse pick-up line (Hoohinyer, how you doin'?).
Some retired and others carried on, astonished at the drinking capacity of the local elder.
When time was called, Raj rustled up bedding and so-called mattresses for a while, and the lounge was set aside for Andy. So he set up his bed and went to the loo in readiness for sleep.
But when he returned to the lounge, it was the scene of friendship too glorious to tell, so he sat in the dining room at had a go at the crossword in the paper until the goodnights were completed.
Neil settled down in the dining room and Andy did his best to sleep. Quiet descended once the Raj & James Laughter Rodeo subsided, and some lights were extinguished. The river rushed by and the snow didn't happen.

Day three Wednesday 1st January 2003

The morning started with light, mildness, Isaac and a large tin of chocolates.
Andy misbehaved in the kitchen with an unopened jar of coffee granules. Adie tried to perform an early morning eyeballechtomy upon himself, while Isaac spread Celebrations all over the lounge. Meanwhile on the telly an old man took a train ride and thousands of budgies swooped and fell and swooped again.
Russ arrived full of enthusiasm and made drinks. He commented positively about the shower.
Others slowly awoke and the clearing up began. Charlotte turned up and was welcomed by Isaac and others.
Rumours of breakfast began cruelly early, and some planned a walk in the afternoon. The log was written, with a few interruptions, while Adie lied entertainingly at Andy. It was 12.15 when he claimed breakfast would be in five minutes. He went through to the kitchen to validate this claim and he was laughed at for several minutes.
Cooking happened for a while and eventually Lynn got out of bed. And then all was ready, so the only reason we didn't sit down and eat was that Russ and Alex had decided to go for a long romantic walk o'er the moors, wearing their summer hiking boots, and carrying their out-of-range mobile phones. Andy became agitated and was about to begin an epic poem on themes such as unreasonableness, murderous malnutrition, speedwalking, timetabling andů but then they walked in and the eggs went on.
Adie cooked with skill and speed and soon we were eating. A scraping of Golden Shred and the log was read, to the amusement of at least Isaac, who shouted loudly throughout.
Breakfast was followed by massively exaggerated estimates of how quickly everyone could get ready for a walk. Adie said he was ready that very minute. Ha!
Russ, Alex and Andy were planning to leave, since they were on their way home. Neil and Lynn packed, and sat on the front step when they were ready. It was exactly 45 minutes later that Adie finally emerged from the toilet as all were gathered. Some went for a walk and Alex, Russ and Andy drove away, following fond farewells.
They drove for a while and then stopped for a pee. More driving ensued, along with silence and drooling. Then we were home, in drizzly Hove, with the famous 5p system and rapid unpacking. Meanwhile, the others probably misbehaved while Isaac entertained.
It was a short but delightfully sweet event, all told.