So, lunch with my family, and an after-dinner tea with a very dear friend, and the first rumblings of a problem when the sat. nav. denied knowledge of the next port-of-call – the village in Northumbria where my new young guinea fowl were.
However, friend and I eventually persuaded the sat. nav. to accept one form of the address, and I set off. I realised that I was, perhaps, going wrong when it directed me off the main roads as soon as Newcastle began to fall to the east, but the way was delightful, and I went with it. I knew I was heading for a village with two streets, and was dis-chuffed when the sat. nav. deposited me outside a solitary cottage in the middle of moorland with the helpful instruction I had arrived at my destination. Er, no. I entered the form of the address I had first tried, and this time it was recognised and I was taken to the remote village, with unexpectedly formal local authority style housing where my twelve little keets were indeed waiting for me. Some pleasant chat, and they went into a cat crate and we set off. I was a little put out by their being a lot younger than I had expected, an accident having befallen the ones I was anticipating, but all the same glad to have them.
Then the seller kindly directed me on another shorter way back to the main road. At first the sat. nav. was sulky and muttered about unknown roads and U turns, and then it settled down. It told me it was taking me home, and it would have me there at 10 pm. This rather dismayed me, as it was not yet six pm, and I was in Northumbria. And I did not propose using a push bike, either.
However as it took me through lanes of ever-diminishing size, I forgave it. I got out and opened gates, drove through, and got out again and shut them. I saw horses, looking at me in astonishment, and passed over becks, and beside venerable trees of diminutive proportions.
It came vividly to mind my mother would always say: ‘Join the Armstrongs and see the world’ as we got merrily lost. In those days holidays were long and carefree. It is so long since I had any experience of that delightful lack of responsibility – days given over to walking, and eating and laughing. Days beside burns with books, followed by days in ancient monuments with travel-guide books. Days spent fruitlessly searching for missing bits of archaeology, only to find other bits nobody had thought to mention, and always that amazing sense of not really needing to DO anything, and having no timetable – eating if hungry, or just ignoring meal times – finding wonderful small cafes, or village shops, or just as likely, not. Intending to visit a stately home and ending up paddling instead. Laughing at others we met though not (I hope) very unkindly.
I was filled with a great urge to spend time unwinding, but of course I could not. Each bump in the road woke up the keets, and they chirruped to each other to make sure everybody was still making reasonably happy noises and was therefore alright.
And meanwhile the sat. nav. was announcing that due to my inability to achieve 60 pmh on single track roads with regular gates, it would now be 10.30 before I got home. And on and on I went. Alarmingly, the little on-screen map showed the path ahead ending soon. And eventually I understood why. I came to a sign showing – that I was a mile away from the keets home village. The sat. nav. had taken me in a circle. It had taken an hour to do so. Presumably, if I continued to follow its directions, I would go round the same loop again. And again.
I turned round, and at the first opportunity, took a road in another direction. And another, and picked every time a larger road.
Suddenly, the sat. nav. woke up and told me I would now be home at nine thirty. It lied, of course. After a stop for petrol, and what passed for food, it was in fact 10 pm – and I still needed to set up a heat lamp, settle the keets, and feed Martha and Bernadette, before finally heading up to bed.