As an atheist of long-standing, there are times when I have to concede that those religious chappies might just possibly have a point. Then that idiot Trump makes another barmy evangelical utterance and I’m reaffirmed – a thousand-fold – in my non-beliefs. Even so, and despite my rationality, there are times when I think there must be Someone Up There who has it in for me. I had one of those days yesterday, Sunday January 29th, 2017.
It had been a lovely morning. We had slept in after getting home rather later than normal following a wonderful wedding service the previous day (in Ely Cathedral) and a splendid celebration afterwards, in a 16th Century Norfolk timber barn. The Cathedral is arguably the most beautiful building in Britain and sun was streaming down into the Choir. It was breath-taking. The bridegroom, our neighbour, had provided the beef from his own herd, and it was superlative! The entire meal was delicious. The ceremony in the Cathedral had been fabulous and it was great to see so many rural people having such a relaxed and good time. We both felt really at home.
As I said, the following morning was sunny. Lovely. We got on with clearing-up-after-winter-type jobs in the garden. Then, just after one o’clock, it started to rain lightly and we decided to break early for lunch. So far so good. No hints of menace on the horizon: just darker clouds and slightly heavier rain. But that was entirely normal for late January.
‘So what shall we do this afternoon?’ I asked Maisie brightly, when we had finished eating.
‘I know,’ she replied, and as she spoke I could see she was growing more enthusiastic: ‘Let’s nip over to Crowland, you can get your sand and we can then look for a couple of seed-feeders.’
I had been planning to lay some paving-slabs, but couldn’t get started without sand and Pen (our adorable black Border Collie x Labrador) had used two of last year’s seed-feeders from the bird-table, to hone her chewing skills. So this seemed an excellent plan.
‘Oh yes,’ Maisie added, her brain now firmly in gardener mode, ‘And we can then nip up to Bourne and see if the garden centre there has any nice wire obelisks. We need three for the main border.’
There was much to do, so we decided not to have any tea, and got straight into the car. Looking back. I wonder whether that was the moment when we offended the Great British Tea Gods? To skip a cup of tea: in England? On Sunday? I know, it didn’t seem quite right. But we went ahead, anyhow – regardless. Were we being foolhardy? As we walked out of the back door, I began to sense something was going wrong. When we drove down the drive, I started to have feelings of foreboding. But I said nothing. What’s the point? Nothing had happened.
At Crowland, the garden centre was almost deserted, which wasn’t surprising, given the gloomy, wet afternoon. So we decided to have a cup of coffee. I know it wasn’t tea, but it might have warded off the evil presences that I, at least, could detect. Later, Maisie told me she had begun to sense them too.
We had a good look around. They had some obelisks, but they weren’t quite what we wanted. Or were they? We dithered. Were there three? Yes, came the reply, there were two more in the shop over there. More dithering. In the end we decided not to get them, as they weren’t precisely what we were looking-for. But we did get two bird-feeders, which was something. Sadly, we forgot the sand.
Navigating in the Fens is never simple – and it’s vastly more difficult with a sat-nav (which I refuse to buy, on principle). The main problem is getting from A to B, without being diverted by large drains and rivers. You can be within sight, almost touching distance, of your destination, only to find a river’s in the way and there’s no bridge for five miles. So we decided to head towards Bourne, via Spalding. And all was going well until we found that the patent little road (that only we know about) was being completely rebuilt, from the foundations up. It was absolutely closed. To Hell with that, we thought, we’ll go to Baytree. We’ve been going to Baytree for at least forty years. It’s a vast nursery and garden centre on the other side of Spalding.
So we headed across the narrow bridge and out into the fen that skirts the town. We arrived at the main road and turned right, only to discover that that road, too, was closed. So we turned around and retraced our steps, turning left this time. Maisie thought she knew how this road passed through the vast new housing estate. But she was wrong. Every turning we took was residential and dead-end. Eventually we extricated ourselves and got back, once again, to the main road. This time we went straight ahead, back out into the fen. The road was now skirting the new estates. On and on we went, as the afternoon light faded away, and darkness descended.
About half an hour – it could have been two hours for all I cared by now – we arrived at Baytree, to discover the entrance to the car park closed off. They had shut at four: ten minutes previously. By now we were ready to weep: we’d driven the best part of fifty miles for two bird-feeders!
‘Sod it!’ I declared, ‘That does it. We’re having large gin-and-tonics when we get home, whatever the bloody time.’
We normally try not to start drinking before six, but I could see from Maisie’s face she agreed with me. Sod it.
I had pulled up in the roadway. So I had to do a U-turn. I eased the car backwards, then swung forwards at full lock. We both needed to get home for that drink. Then suddenly the steering wheel felt strange. It had happened to me before. I knew immediately what had gone wrong: total power-steering failure.
In the end we did get back, albeit very slowly, and by the time we had watered the sheep, put the chickens to roost, and fed the cats and dog, it had gone six when we poured out our G and Ts. And then it came to me. Perhaps I’d got it all wrong? Maybe it was never anything to do with the Gods of Tea? The failure of the power steering was just the final act of a different, but benevolent deity who didn’t want us to start drinking alcohol too early. Was I being allowed a glimpse into the medieval conscience? And did I care?
Oh to hell with everything: religion, Trump and Brexit. I’ll put my faith in GIN!!!