Breaking The Law – With My Mother In Tow
Another Ronnie Corbett style story. You have been warned.
Whether I like it or not, the fact is, when we are out with my mother at the weekend, what we actually are is a car full of old people.
My mother won’t have it of course. No. At 63, Garry and I are barely out of our teens, in her eyes.
She’s the the old one, she says. Deaf, doddery and done for, in her opinion only. The truth of it is, once past 60, it’s all the same .
Past 50, you don’t get your own decade anymore as in, a ‘twenty something’ or a ‘30 or 40 something’ – no, once you hit 50 you become an ‘over’.
Over 50’s Yoga. Over 50s Lunch Club. Over 50s funeral plans. Over 50s Bingo. Er, no thanks.
I’ve written about this ageist nonsense before. You can find a link to that story here.
Once you hit 60, that’s it from there on, you will share your ‘over’ status with those in their 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond.
No one ever says, ‘over’ 70s 80s or 90s do they? No, we are all lumped together after 60.
Cast aside as one great greying lump of humanity known evermore as the over 60s.
Once over 60, we are so past it that no one actually gives a shit what our decade is
Great. Thanks everyone.
So regardless of the fact that my mother, and anyone else in their 80s and 90s, see us 63 year olds as ‘youngsters’, the truth is, in the eyes of those not yet wearing wellie knickers, we are just a bunch of over 60s bumbling around in a car doing some Sunday driving.
But come Monday, I’m back behind the wheel doing the kind of driving we can’t do with mother in the car; that’s anything from 50 to 100 miles per hour. Did I say 100? Gosh I meant to say 70, officer.
I wouldn’t dream of acting like a 20 something with a souped up BMW. 😂
Anyway, back to my story about breaking the law.
Before I get to how we found ourselves breaking the law on a lazy July afternoon deep in the Norfolk (or Suffolk) countryside, I must fill you in on how I see my economic status. (I’m not saying which county we were in for reasons which will become clear later.)
So, regarding my economic status – quite simply, I’m a peasant. To put it another way, I’m Working Class.
And unless you are reading this from the deck of your luxury yacht moored in the Med or from the terrace of your country pile, you are probably a peasant too.
And if you are reading this in America, you may not get what I’ve just said, because class isn’t really a thing for you lucky people.
It certainly wasn’t when I emigrated to Canada in the 70s – no one had a clue that my accent was a dead giveaway to humble roots.
Or, is social class a thing for North America now?
We may have worked our way to a comfortable detached house which is paid for and we may enjoy a life of very little worry compared to some but, I am still attached to my peasant roots by that piece of invisible elastic that can only stretch so far.
I am a realist and I know that most of us probably wouldn’t last more than a year in our comfortable lives without a monthly income.
Without a vast fortune in the bank, the comfortably off ‘middle’ classes are really only one financial catastrophe away from being barefoot in the woods again.
You don’t think so? How long would your savings last if your income dried up?
A week? A month? A year?
I thought so, you are a peasant just like me. Accept it. It’s fun.
At quite a young age, I knew, that given a choice, I would have chosen a below stairs kind of life.
Tough as life was for the serving class, (and it was, truly tough), I would have found all that ‘keeping up appearances’ stuff boring as hell.
Using the right fork for the right course, being a Lady at all times and shunning the most interesting people on the planet on the basis of their ‘low class’ is my idea of purgatory.
Some of the most enlightening conversations I have ever had have been with people with ’no fixed abode’.
I would have preferred living 10 to a room in a peasant hovel with icicles hanging off my peasant nose.
Well, that’s what I say now from the comfort of 2019.
Take Ickworth Hall, a place so grand that it has a rotunda between the two wings, once used as a dedicated party pad, just for weekend guests.
I love this place and yet, I gravitate towards the servants quarters below stairs. I couldn’t bear the oppressive nature of the heavy drapes and opulent surroundings upstairs.
Despite the space and big windows, the decor makes me feel claustrophobic – I prefer bare floors and the simplicity of below stairs – although I would have hated the lack of light in some subterranean areas.
The life of the servant fascinates me more than the lives of those they served.
Regardless of those around me who may consider themselves to have escaped their working class roots, I keep it real.
I know my place in the world and I am endlessly fascinated by what kind of a life my peasant ancestors had when peasants were answerable to the Lords of the Manor.
So it was quite exciting when we met one while accidentally trespassing on his land with mother in tow last Sunday.
Sunday’s are interesting days for us since my dad died last year.
Being the devoted couple they were, when dad became too frail to venture outside, my mother remained at his side and declined our invitations to get out and about for a change of scenery.
Right up until his death, mother ceased all activities outside the house to be with my father.
However, after all the trauma of the final year, in the weeks following my father’s passing, I encouraged my mother to get out and see the world again.
She can’t do this alone at 91, so Sundays are generally reserved for outings with her.
The rest of the week is taken up with dentists, opticians, audiologists and doctors. All those who fight the losing battle against physical decline.
But, where in the world do you go on a Sunday in sleepy Norfolk (or Suffolk) as a bunch of old people, with one in a wheelchair who won’t stray far from civilisation and its mod cons (yes, we are back to the touchy subject of lavatories again!)
So last Sunday, I had the brilliant idea of going ‘dead ancestor spotting’ in the villages around where my Great Grandad came from.
My mother often speaks fondly of the village where ‘Gaffer’, as he was known, came from. And I know she and my dad spent summer days in that area looking for the gravestones of Gaffers forbears.
Mother, of course, had no idea where we were going. It’s a longish drive by her standards, which, appear to be left over from the days of horses pulling carts.
When we used to go off to Brighton (for the day, shock horror) to visit the grandchildren, there were raised eyebrows from my father who couldn’t contemplate anyone driving ‘all that way and back again!’, in one day.
So when we are going anywhere that’s more than 10 miles away, we generally keep it a secret until mother is actually seat-belted into the car and can’t back out.
We did it once when we dragged mother and father off to Brighton.
We were at the QE ll bridge over the Thames before they suspected we weren’t actually going to a garden centre!
So back to the Lord of The Manor encounter.
Once we got to where we were going in Suffolk (or Norfolk) 🤔, our visit to the churchyards was waylaid by the very attractive vision of a quintessentially English tea shop.
Not many of those left.
So after tea, cake and sandwiches had been consumed, we resumed our original quest for names on gravestones.
But between the tea shop and the church was a vision even more pleasing than that of the teashop.
Across a field, we spied some ruins. Could have been a castle, could have been a church – my lips are sealed as to its former function for reasons of privacy, as I already mentioned.
Ruins are my complete joy in life, which is a good thing given that we are well on the way to ending up that way ourselves. Some more so than others, but there you are.
We drove on to the church and found the sloped driveway blocked by a car, leaving nowhere to safely park nearby and no way of getting mother into the graveyard.
Yes, I know, that sounds a bit wrong. But you know what I mean – the wheelchair.
Had we really driven all this way to find we couldn’t get out of the car?
‘I know!’ I yelled, like Georgina from the Famous Five, ‘Let’s go and explore those ruins!’
We were one person and a dog away from a full blown Enid Blyton adventure.
Never mind that the ruins were probably less accessible than the graveyard and more crucially, on private land.
But there were no signs indicating the latter and so, in we drove and parked on some patchy grass.
The ruin was some way off. It was across a long, grassy, bumpy pathway, roughly cut through a meadow.
And mother suddenly needed a ‘comfort break’ with no comfort break facilities for miles around.
(Oh how roles are reversed with children in the winter years of our lives!)
So off we set, Garry pushing mother across this undulating meadow in a wheelchair really only meant for hospital corridors and smooth pavements.
But the lure of ruins had mother in their thrall too and she held on for dear life, in more ways than one.
It was pure bliss. The air was so clean and fresh and there was the aroma of what seemed like apples and chamomile in the air. I was drunk on the atmosphere.
Unknown to us, the
Lord of the Manor landowner had spotted us and was watching from a distance.
Up close, the ruins were just wonderful. We were oblivious to being watched.
We hadn’t been there very long when I took pity on my mother’s growing discomfort and, after snapping a few pictures while enjoying the fruits of my vivid imagination, heavy with possible ghosts of the past, we trundled her back to the car.
The brevity of our visit turned out to be a good thing.
We could see, in the distance, a man standing at the entrance to the site. He wasn’t happy.
Had I known this, I wouldn’t have been quietly and contentedly singing One Day Like This as we drove towards him. I would have been shitting myself and singing I Predict a Riot.
Now I love a bit of sarcasm.
So when this man, maybe in his early 50s, who was clearly not dressed by Primark, approached the car and sarcastically asked Garry if we were lost, I immediately liked his sense of humour.
Garry, however, is not as impressed with sarcasm as I am.
With one woman in the front singing that same song she has been practicing day and night for weeks (more about that in a future post), and another in the back saying she wasn’t sure if she could ‘wait much longer’, he wasn’t in the best of moods.
I sensed this could get ugly.
I was also kind of intrigued by the curious mix of masculine contemporary jewellery, piercings, sarcasm, nice clothes and the supreme air of confidence that is usually only seen in the aristocracy.
Someone whose family historically probably employed peasants like us.
This man, I thought, is not to be f****d with.
And so I immediately broke up the fight before it began.
We had, after all, been breaking the law – mother as well.
However, although we were technically breaking the law, as we had not sprayed the ruins with graffiti, carved our initials in the stonework or set fire to anything, we had not committed any arrestable offences.
I have not yet run this past my son, who is an upholder of the law in the capital, but I’m pretty sure the police would not have rushed to the scene to arrest three old people looking at an historic ruin.
But still, breaking the law of the land is not something I ever want to do because, I am a good peasant and so is my mother.
Which is why she was horrified when she realised what we had done.
Thankfully, her hearing aids, being 10 years old (about to be replaced if the NHS will stump up some of the money my father paid in for 50 plus years), spared her from hearing the conversation at the time.
If she had cottoned on, I am pretty sure she would have staggered out of the car and curtsied.
Her generation doffed caps. Ours not so much, thank goodness. After all, no one can defy death, regardless of status, which makes us all equal in the end, in my humble opinion.
But still, respect is important no matter who you are dealing with, although you won’t find my knees bending if the Queen pops in for tea – respect and unhealthy deference are two completely different things.
The land owner turned out to be a pleasant man who is simply tired of people trespassing on his land and leaving rubbish in their wake – which is why I’m not publicising where this is.
I don’t blame him for being annoyed.
But I’m pretty sure he realised a car full of over 60s wasn’t a threat to his land once he’d spoken to us.
Manners do pay off.
This man graciously answered our questions and told us a little about the ruins and then later, I researched what he’d told me.
There was a reason why he’d had that special air of confidence and natural superiority, usually only seen in aristocrats – he is one.
And his family history is one of the most rich you will find anywhere. The connections to well known historical figures are breathtaking – unless of course my research is wrong – but I’m sure it isn’t.
Why am I glad that Garry didn’t argue with him?
Is it because I think the aristocrats deserve more respect than your average peasant?
No, it isn’t. It’s about not letting ourselves down. It’s about being respectful to everyone, even those who some people would, (small mindedly), despise for their status of owning land that was of course, in the very beginning, just simply seized by those with the biggest sticks.
Just because peasants no longer defer to the upper classes in the way we once did, it does not mean we have to go the other way and be rude when we encounter someone from a class different to our own.
I feel the same about the drunk I may encounter sleeping rough on the streets of our nearby town or, people busking to buy food.
People are people and no one chooses the circumstances of their birth.
Politeness always to everyone. That’s my motto in life.
When the human in me can address the human in you, regardless of class, religion, race or any other secondary difference you can name, we learn things from each other.
And on Sunday, I learnt about those ruins and the rich family history behind them. It added to the overall experience.
My mother made it home in time, although I haven’t seen her move so fast through her front door in ages and, I am still happily singing One Day Like This, quite content with my station in life.
I am thankful that the only ‘ancient ruin’ in my life that I have to contend with is my dear old mum.
Ancient ruins of great national historic significance must be such a worry to all who own them.
I am grateful the landowner was so reasonable and agreed to let me publish this. In return, I have agreed I will not publicly divulge the location of this wonderful place.
I have to say he is a true legend – even his body language was sarcastic as he gestured to the ground, spreading his arms as if to say “ WTF are you doing in my garden?”
Silent sarcasm is an art I have never been able to master.
If anyone reading this guesses where it is, I would urge you to seek permission to visit, via the local parish council, which will put you in touch.
The land is private and I’m sure you would hate to have strangers wandering about in your garden.
Over to you. What is your opinion on us breaking the law in this manner and when was the last time you accidentally broke the law?