A weekend away in what city slickers like your correspondent call ‘the country’. That is to say, 20 minutes away from the road rage and road works of Edinburgh, four seasons out of different windows of the car in a tribute to Vivaldi, and a bird of prey by the roadside. “Look!” I shriek. “A really big bird!”
I am unable to deduce anything beyond this because a) I have forgotten my bird book, b) I have forgotten my binoculars and c) I am still unable to wind down the window on my side of the car. Actually, I can now no longer open the door from the inside either. I pretend to find this irritating but in fact not being able to get out by myself to pay for petrol/buy milk/take the dog out for a pee has its advantages.
Anyway, the bird. It is an enormous beast with thunder thighs, a beak the colour of fresh yolk and a hawkish expression. Perhaps a buzzard, hopefully a golden eagle. We are close enough to see the orange flecks of its eyes. It is a good omen.
Our destination is a 300-year-old thatched cottage on a grand estate. The reason is our nine-year anniversary. And like any weekend break, we have run the necessary gamut of emotions before getting here. First, joy at the prospect of even two days’ reprieve from our insane lives. Then stress as the realisation dawns that we don’t really have time to exit our insane lives. Then rage at the fact of our insane lives. And, finally, resignation. We’ve almost killed ourselves to get here so we may as well make the most of it.
C and I exchange gifts. A grey scarf with birds for me and two glass vases shaped like bulbs for C. Miraculously, we have both spent exactly £16 on each other. It must be love.
We head off for a walk around the estate. The wind is blowing an eye-watering gale and even glancing at the majestic house, at the end of a long, exposed plain, is painful. So much for my plan to hitch up my long skirts while the dog scampers around my slender ankles and pronounce, Pride and Prejudice style, “Of all this I could have been mistress”. No wonder Jane Austen didn’t locate Pemberley in Scotland. Too blooming windy.
On the way back a posh elderly couple look suspiciously at the dog and pronounce her “a crocodile with fur”. We spend the rest of the walk bemoaning the prejudice towards Staffordshire bull terriers. Then we realise Daphne has taken off in hot pursuit of a cockerel, jaws wide open and slavering. Hmmmm.
The next morning we awake to the cock crowing, a sound I’ve never been so pleased to hear. We go on a beautiful forest walk, cook a joint of beef bought from the local farm shop and build a fire. Simple pleasures. The things you fantasise about in the midst of an insane life. It took me until my late twenties to be able to make a fire – such is the way of a born and bred Londoner – and I still get a deep pyromaniacal pleasure from watching a log take. But tonight the logs are damp and refuse to do anything beyond sizzling and blackening. A bit like my mood. We decide to dry them on the radiator, which isn’t very Kangaroo Dundee of us, and watch a movie while we wait. But the only DVDs are Pirates of the Caribbean and Nanny McPhee. Romance shouldn’t be this hard.
Finally, two hours later, after an emergency trek into the forest looking for kindling with a torch, the fire is cheerfully crackling and spitting in the grate. A Frank Sinatra documentary is starting on BBC4. The dog has stopped staring at the leftover beef and crying. This is what weekend breaks are made of. Shame we have to leave in the morning. n