And so, we give ourselves that feel-good moment, and leave a few quid for the chambermaids tasked with speculating whether we were obliging guests or just dirty fuckers who hardly used any towels. From the strange, we continue further South. So impaled am I on the thrill of the unfamiliar, my fella barely conceals his surprise that I’m Huggy Bear about an extra hour’s drive. One due to dismissal of my directions. Another hour on top of that wouldn’t bother me too much. Some of us like driving to stand still. But he doesn’t need to know that.
To tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure of the way either. We are both wearing that unbearable swagger that only fits when we’re so intent on proving our familiarity with places past, we over-estimate it. His is rumbled while mine is saved by an assertion the new one-way system is the culprit responsible for back-tracks into town. Then relief as the hotel façade juts in to view. There is no new one-way system.
I inform our wee one this is the place where her Dad and I got it together proper. Where the symphony of getting-to-like-yous was composed. He points out all the stations of the courtship: the road we wobbled home drunk, the pub where we held hands, and not forgetting the petrol pumps – the last pit-stop before his exit onto the motorway home. He laughs to himself at the memories of sadness he used to feel on departing.
Eight years on, it’s different but deeper. So the glossy mags and mid-day female panelists insist on telling us. But I wouldn’t say no to another evening of exaggerating about being the outdoor-type, and wheeling out some of my best yarns for the first time for a few of his guffaws. In the same way I don’t love our one any less just because I wouldn’t turn down a few nights with her as a new-born. We were lucky – she was a good sleeper as a nipper; and this town was a discreet, but lively, chaperone. I wonder aloud if *list of drab towns* would have set us up as successfully, ignoring his middle-distance gaze. No need to nail it to the ground.
I stand as a fellow tourist with the pair of them in the same spot where I stood as a new resident back then. We’re waiting on a makeshift train to bring us around the sights at a mortifying 20 miles an hour. Back then I was waiting on a coachload of families eager to see what kind of place was designated for them to set up home. With no idea of how success was to be measured.
The tour-guide points out ancient ruins to our right, while I fixate on the shop to our left where young faces sorted through emblems and crests to try on new school uniforms. On our left, another church flings its spire in the air three doors down from the health-centre where most of them registered that same day. Around the corner one of the oldest graveyards in the country apologies for itself, and I shiver at the flashback of fruitless flat-hunting on the road adjacent.
Sentimentalism is egging me on to begin another round of remember-whens. But I’ve no patience with sentimentalism today. Or its inflated sense of entitlement, and obsession with converting transient feelings into something mawkish and manipulative. My inner steely tour-guide marches on, willing my resolve to keep hugging the present.
Coats hanging on the back of chairs, we clink glass. To the future. And all that. Whatever that is. The menu’s changed. I think. Who cares. Even the toilets would be romanticised, if I let them.
“Are you ready to order?”
I look up directly into the brown eyes of one of those erstwhile fresh faces. Long grown out of the school blazer and with at least another foot below her knees and I.. and I… and I…