Friday, 21 August 2009

No Direction Home

Miles of tarmac stretch out below my wheels. Trees flash by beside the side of the road.

The back of my right leg is starting to ache now as I push the accelerator down, indicate and move out past the lorry. The weather changes every few minutes: going from glorious sunshine to heavy rain and back. A rainbow hangs in the sky above.

Another junction flashes by and my partner adjusts the map

‘Next junction and we should get to a roundabout, then it’s over the M500 and onto the A469 – or is that under?’ She pauses, looks again, ‘No – it’s under – or is it round?’

I shrug my shoulders, unable to take my eyes from the road to offer assistance. She checks the “continued on page #” and turns over, following the line with her finger, ‘Sorry – it’s not the A469’ she says as we go over the M500 and approach the turn, ‘It’s the M469’

I adjust the steering wheel and turn onto the next motorway. We started out at 9am and now, nearly two hours later, we are making good progress. Most men would take their partners on a romantic drive to the countryside, or on a holiday to the seaside. I’m taking mine to the heart of our industrial heritage – and then I plan to leave her sitting in a car park when I get there.

She keeps commenting on the map for a few minutes as we negotiate a difficult junction and I comment that it’s a shame that SatNav’s aren’t like her – it would be more fun if they were programmed to say things like, ‘Well I’m stuffed if I know – take the next turn and we’ll find it again later’ or ‘No sorry – I meant to say turn right’ just seconds after you had obeyed the order to turn left.

Perhaps they could be programmed to imitate certain personalities: like back-seat drivers, constantly saying things like ‘Mind that plane – it’s flying awfully low’

Not that I’d be any better if I were navigating – as we find out when we consult the GoogleMap I printed and find the start location seems to have slipped 500 miles from where we were supposed to be. I claim the movement of tectonic plates as a reason and turn off the lights as the sun comes out again.

We arrive in our one-street-town destination a couple of hours early for the interview and decide to go and look around the shopping area. As this mainly consists of a chemist, two closed down pubs and a cemetery this doesn’t take long – but we find a Costalot Coffee shop and a place that does baked potatoes so we spend a bit of time in both,trying to explain to the nice Spanish (or possibly Greek) woman in the cafĂ© what Gluten is and why I cannot eat it.

Having failed spectacularly to do so we head back to the area where my interview is and I go in, still early, and mumble a lot of vague answers to their standardised questions:

‘Can you give us an example of a difficult situation you’ve had to handle?’
‘This job involves prioritising work as and when it comes, often on a “needs doing yesterday” basis – can you give an example of how you prioritise?’

I do the best I can – but to be honest all these interviews prove is that you can bullshit and I always struggle to formulate a coherent answer. Do they want me to give them a specific example of how I single-handedly averted nuclear disaster thanks to a well timed email?

My friend has recommended the job – she claimed at the time that there was a possibility of it being based closer to home than the 140 miles away as advertised and that you got travel allowance – but since I applied there has been a re-shuffle at the local office and now it looks ominously like neither is true.

Having just about managed to get my name right I go out to the car and interrupt my partner, who is studying her French translation book. We decide, as planned, to carry the journey another hour north to the area of the country where part of my family originate. My dad has loaned a couple of items to a museum (don’t get me started on this one) and they are now on display. It’s not yet 3pm so we think we have plenty of time and, having abandoned my rather useless Google Map, we turn straight into a tailback that takes us half an hour to escape.

Once we are out of this the road opens as we climb ever higher into the hills. The road narrows, and bends swiftly: signs warn motorcycles to go slow around the bend. Looking down into the valleys below its not hard to see why.

The land here is a mixture of verdant green and scraped-brown fields, waiting for new crops to be sown. We discus the heavy matter of how sheep climb hills so steep (I favour genetically enhanced sheep with one leg longer than others, she favours cable-cars). As we climb slowly towards the top and into the open countryside our ears fill like we are underwater, leaving both our heads feeling funny.

The top of the road: a cyclist has stopped on the other-side, out of breath. I take what time I can between the rain and the sunshine to admire the view, concentrating on steering us safely as we go.

We dive down again like Michael Phelps into the waters of the valley, the road slipping away beneath the wheels as the angle of descent increases. I change down gear to control the car and we coast into the core of the planet, finally straightening out as we cross the bridge over the water.

At 4:40pm we arrive at our destination and park the car behind the museum. As we dash inside out of the rain we hear an announcement that the museum will be closing in ten minutes.

We have just enough time to find the display in one corner: a single case containing the props that used to belong to my Great-Grandfather, a copy of his poster and some slides.

My Great-Grandfather was a magician here, back in the early 1900s – a story I have heard all my life. In the single case are some of his Punch and Judy puppets and his ventriloquist doll – a doll that I have known my whole life.

I don’t know how to feel looking at the display: I know that it has been sitting in a box in a cupboard for years and that it is safer on loan here – but I know that now no-one will ever hold it the way I did when I was a kid, slipping my hand into the gap at the back and operating the mouth controls – that never again will it be used for its intended purpose.

I know that I can’t give it a safe home where it will be protected, but it is a link to my grandparents and my heritage and having the glass between me and it leaves me saddened. Although it is currently only on loan to the museum I know that its survival probably depends on a permanent home.

And once the display is over, what happens if we give it away? Where will they be stored? Will anyone even be interested? Don’t get me started.

We have a few minutes to take a photo of the small corner of a very large room where the props are situated and then the museum guides are telling us its time to go. Outside the rain is still falling and we dash to the car – where my partner begins looking through the map again. Foolishly we decide to go against her gut instinct and end up doing a big circle around the city.

On the way home we listen to The Carpenters – singing badly out of tune as the miles slip away.


English Rider said...

This is the epic Pixie raconteur that we know and look forward to. Thanks for taking me with you on your trip. I was with you from start to finish (although those windy, hilly roads make me car sick)

the watercats said...

good luck iwth the interview! I felt like I was sat in the back of the car with you through this, all the weather and roads and carpenters wailing!
It's sort of sad about the puppet, you're right there, like you say, there must be so much stuff donated to museums that just get lobbed in a box and stored, only to be produced once every fifty years or so... I would be fairly dissapointed at that, even if my family did have anything of any value!..

pohanginapete said...

Ah, museums: those fascinating and sad places where things are stripped of their intended function and take on an entirely new role.

I agree about interviews, too. An HR person where I once worked studied recruitment processes for her post-grad. degree and told us clearly that interviews are next to useless for finding the person best suited for the job.

I really like the combination of descriptive and reflective writing, tinged with the characteristic Hungry Pixie humour.

Argent said...

Aaah, the joys of long car journeys. At least your partners wasn't as bad as MJ's crazy amnesiac Sat-Nav or you'd never have made it. It's truly a quandry you have there with the doll - unless there's a Museum of Ventriloquism somewhere?

Lydia said...

Travels with Pixies this was. You have the ability to bring a drive like that to life for me, while at the same time introducing me to all sorts of things/brands/terms I've never heard before.

You write that your great-grandfather was a magician there in the early 1900s the way some of us would say ours was a farmer. How very unique, and how amazing to known his puppets and doll when you were a kid and to still have them around today. Their preservation is important, yes, but only if you are assured they will be displayed. I like to think of you visiting them when you are an old man...

. . . and we coast into the core of the planet . . . = that is wonderful. It all was wonderful.

Lydia said...

p.s. Forgot to tell you that I listened to Terracotta while I read, and actually stopped reading to finish out the song I love it so much...

india said...

good reading. thank you

the watercats said...

by the way!.. second phase tour of ireland goes right past our place!.. look for the vee, knockmealdown mountain, lismore town... (we had hangovers at the time so couldn't get out to see them!)..:-)

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

English - thanks. You should have been there first hand then! Our ears still haven't recovered!

Watercats - looking like the interview was a bit of a waster, but it was a nice day out. That's precicely my worry - there's no guarantee that anyone will see them after the exhibition.

Pete - thanks. I really aught to buy a book on how to blag an interview: there must be a Dummies Guide To...

Argent - i don't think there is. Not even at the Magic Circle.

Lydia - again (and i will try not to rant on too much) - this is precicely my worry: i can't protect them after i'm gone, but i'm damned if i'll let anything happen to them in the meantime.

Glad you enjoyed Teracotta btw - if i could harness whatever thing popped into my brain when i was writing it then i'd be rich by now

BTW - if there's ever any English phrasings you don't get then just ask

India - thanks

Watercats (again) - look forward to more of your tour

Anonymous said...

My God, what an amazing post. The way it meanders, like those open roads.

My father was a ventriloquist. His was named George, and he frightened the shit out of me as a kid . . .

Michael said...

Well, that was an interesting trip. I'm not sure if I should offer you my best wishes or condolences.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

cheek of god - yeah the dolls can be a bit freaky. Apparently there are now only 15 professional ventriloquists in the UK

Michael - just so long as you enjoyed the ride!