Turtles, Wensleydale and all things Phoebe

I don’t know about you but once I read the first couple of pages of a book, I tend to know there and then whether I am going to like it or not.

So, when I picked up a copy of ‘Are we nearly there yet’ by Ben Hatch, I read the back page and chuckled to myself as I reminisced about a similar journey we made as a family last year – the West coast of Scotland in a camper van. I had to read it. Even just to find out if they had survived the same experiences we had endured from living in small quarters for an extended period of time with young children.

What I wasn’t expecting was the emotional roller coaster I was about to embark on to get me through the 345 pages of his fantastic tale. The trials and tribulations they persevered with while travelling around Britain in a car, were nothing short of hilarious, sometimes serious and other times melancholy in his frank, yet detailed montage of life on the road.

Ben tells the reader about what is going on in a way that continually hooks you and you start to feel guilty for putting the book down. You almost feel like you should apologise to it as its pages stare at you in sadness as your hands grip the spine unwilling to let go.  I could sometimes hear myself saying to its bright red cover ‘I’m really sorry book but I have to eat/sleep/brush teeth/pick up kids but I’ll be back as soon as I can’.

Not that I talk to my books you understand, I’m not a book-lady, well, sometimes I may say out loud how I am feeling about a certain paragraph and there may or may not be someone else in the room with me – the cat usually is. Oh no – does that make me the cat-book lady then? Help me!

One minute I am crying with laughter at his wife’s fear of turtles, spilling coffee down myself in the process and the next I am crying full grown tears with snot and everything (like the scene from Truly Madly Deeply) as I struggle to read about his Dad’s illness and his stoic and resolute way of dealing with it, opening up my own personal wounds from when my Mum passed away from Cancer 6 years ago. After blowing my nose, giving myself a stern talking to and sorting my quivery lip out, I was then roaring with laughter again as he entices you into Phoebe’s world and all things Wallace & Gromit. I will never, ever look at a slab of Wensleydale in the same light again, I’m still sniggering thinking about it (I have a very similar story with Wee N and yoghurt – ‘ray-dot’ he would say very pleased with himself).

Ben flicks through every emotion as he meanders his way around the country dealing with everything from poo on your shoes to the burden of being missed at home when a relative is very ill. His continuous procrastination makes his story all the more endearing and I do admit to shedding a few tears when the final visit to his Dad took place.

For for the first time in what seems like forever, I have found a book that has made me visualise the places depicted, having been to many of them before. I could see the red dots appearing on the map in my head between each stopping place – Dad’s Army style. The interesting story-line he creates makes even the most banal of daily tasks embrace you in a smiley cuddle as you will him and his Fawlty Towers Bat Mobile on and on, hoping they get a well deserved break from the smells wafting in from the back seat. My Wee N would be getting a watery mouth at that point and refusing to get in, I might add.

At one point I was convinced that he had hi-jacked my life and had decided to use it as a plan for this novel – similar journey, similar kids, similar spouse and sadly a similar tale of losing a parent. I am slightly at odds with myself as I have already passed it on for someone else to enjoy. It seemed to accompany me everywhere and sit very nicely in my hectic life, saving me from various tasks and whisking me off to places near and far.

I look forward to the next trip which just so happens to be available now… ‘Road to Rouen’ I believe Mr Hatch, didn’t have you down as a Supergrass fan! Don’t mind if I do.