When I was growing up, we took our family holidays in October, and always in Britain. Not for us the sunny beaches of Majorca, or a charming house in the south of France for a sun soaked summer. Our holidays were all about slightly nippy October weeks in self-catering cottages in Perthshire; Dorset, Yorkshire, or Somerset.
They were also all about exceptionally lengthy car journeys. We lived in a tiny village in the far north of Scotland. It's a long way from there to anywhere. Our family holiday was enthusiastically, though hastily prepared for, and our mantra was always 'better take it, just incase'. We packed enough clothes for a fortnight of probably cold/possibly warm/probably wet/possibly dry/possibly sunny/possibly windy British weather, with more bags and suitcases than the boot of our car could ever hope to hold. I took a bundle of favourite books, my sister was inseparable from her cuddly black and white panda (fortunately not life-size, though doubtless we would have determinedly squeezed it in somewhere if it had been) My brother's wooden cot would be dismantled and strapped to the roof, where it would bounce alarmingly as we rounded corners, and fly serenely a few inches above the car when we picked up speed.
We would always be late setting off, usually by several hours; one memorable year by two days. This is what happened.......
The car was packed. My sister and I were jammed amongst various bags and packages that wouldn't fit in the boot. We each had a tiny floor space just large enough to accommodate our feet; our arms were resting on parcels of rolled up towels and sheets (in those days you had to take your own linen on self-catering holidays). Even my little brother had a couple of bags jammed under his baby seat. Mum shared her foot well with a large bag full of supplies for the journey; damp face flannels for sticky hands and faces, sandwiches, chocolate bars, flasks of tea, a change of clothes and nappies for my brother, tissues, maps, Dad's spare glasses. None of us (except my brother) could move our legs. The space between the back seat and the rear windscreen was full to overflowing with coats, negating the possibility of Dad checking the rear view mirror at any time during our two day drive to the south of England. We were on the point of departure, in high spirits, and just waiting for Dad to finish various vital tasks he had left until the last minute. My parents were hoteliers, and there was always a lot of work involved in handing over responsibility to others when we went on holiday. We waited. Time passed. We grew restless. My sister and I started bickering; my baby brother turned hungry and fractious. Mum dispatched my sister to see if Dad was nearly ready. She returned with the message 'another twenty minutes'. We waited again, the bright October sun shining in on our expectant faces. Time drifted on, with one of us occasionally being sent inside for a progress report; always the same reply; 'yes nearly ready, go back out to the car'. After several hours we all trooped back inside for lunch. Then we all trooped back dismally to the car, to wait again. The hours dragged on, our spirits flagging, then (momentarily) reviving, as Dad reassured us he 'wouldn't be much longer'. As the short October day darkened to night, we went inside. Mum, stony faced, whipped up something for our dinner, then we all went upstairs to sleep in beds we had not expected to occupy for another fortnight.
Astonishingly (though not that astonishingly if you had known my Dad) the next day continued in the same way, though this time we stayed indoors; the car sitting forlornly at the back door, still packed to the gunnels. Eventually we left at about 5 o'clock, a mere 35 hours late.
I can't remember if that was the year we planned a holiday in York, but Dad took us a further south, to Bath, because he wanted to go there instead, and nothing, certainly not a little thing like a wife and three children all expecting a holiday in York, was going to stop him. He didn't even tell us until all road signs for York had petered out, and yet our journey continued, and continued, and continued. Eventually Mum asked him when we would get to York, and he announced in confident tones that we were going to Bath instead. The additional 230 miles to an existing journey of 460 was brushed off with his usual combination of optimism and impatience. Dad was impossible; stubborn, and yes, selfish; there was always a lot of forgiveness involved in loving him, but our lives would have been infinitely more dull (though very possibly more stable) if he had been less so. We all did love him, so very much, and we all still do.