I have spent much of today folding an Everest of clean clothes into drawers and playing Judge Judy – wisely, gracefully, then with increasingly snarkiness – in the boys’ endless toy arguments. After a mid-afternoon meal masquerading as lunch, I got a respite. T in bed for a nap, H and Tim watching that terrible Ice Age film with the dinosaurs for the millionth time. No need for me. I took the hint and scarpered upstairs with a book and a bar of chocolate. So now I have finished both (I get a terrible itch in the last quarter of a book, and can’t focus on anything till I’ve finished it), and am at peace with the world, and this is a good time to tell you about Oregon. Then I will make sausage pie, with fat sausages, apples, sage and crags of puff pastry. This has been a good Saturday after all.
The morning after the Chin Disaster, 2016, we packed up the hotel room, jammed all our stuff into a rental car, and set off through SF traffic. Tim driving, me shrieking gently whenever we seemed to be going too close to a traffic barrier. A pattern that would be repeated often over the next few days. The boys fell asleep just before we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, so (thinking that H at least would be peeved to miss it) we woke them both up on the other side. Look how delighted they were.
The drive to Oregon was astonishing. Our first introduction to the mind-boggling space in the States, something so utterly foreign to small-island people used to being boxed in by hedgerows. We would be driving on a road, and I would look left and right and see hills just visible on the horizon on either side, and nothing – nothing – but farmland and the odd rare building in between. Imagine living in a house like that, with miles of emptiness around you. It makes me shiver. Do you not come out of your front door in the wide afternoons and get flattened by the sky?
There are mountains in northern California. We didn’t know. Mountains, and forests of pine trees, and tiny hidden lakes with mist thick on the surface of the water. ‘Watch Out for the Stag’ signs every few miles (we never saw one on the roads). A white-topped dormant volcano named Mount Shasta. The roads swirl up and down and between the hills like trails of fudge on ice cream. It’s a weird, untracked world. Once, we stopped at a rickety old gas station so I could use the loo – and I use the word ‘rickety’ advisedly, as the wooden boards on the deck buckled under my feet on the way to the door. I went in to the little shop and cafe, and found a woman behind a counter, chatting to a big man at a table. I asked the way to the bathroom and she nodded towards a corner door. I went in, and found not only the blessed toilet, but a bath, in which lay a fully dressed mannequin with a brown bob and an insouciant expression. The head had been turned so she watched you while you peed. I hope I screamed quietly.
When I came out, having spent the entirety of my bladder-emptying in a nervous staring contest with Ms Bathtub, the chap at the table belly-laughed. ‘Good one, eh?’ he chuckled.
‘Yeah’, I smiled, trying to look appreciative and unmurderable. ‘Yeah, good one’. And then I ran-walked to the door, and the next mountain road. An hour later we were in Ashland.
My friend – one of my favourite people in the whole world – works at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival based in Ashland, and lives there most of the year. Their house is halfway up a mountain, all windows and views and extremely beautiful.
Since Ashland is a town whose economy is built almost entirely on the drama festival, it keeps an eye on the sort of people who’d come somewhere for a week in order to see two plays a day. Fancy restaurants, little cafes, quirky shops, gorgeously designed parks. A big university, and (of course) the big theatre. And lots of mountains. It was lovely.
We spent the first day wandering a trail near the house – ask the boys what we did in Oregon and they’ll reply immediately ‘WE SAW A SNAKE’ –
– and meeting my friend after she finished work for a sneaky tour of the indoor and outdoor theatres, and the rehearsal rooms for the actors. On the outdoor stage, the boys ran immediately to the back row of seats and sat down. ‘Are you going to play something for us, then?’ H yelled. Like a true Elizabethan.
On the second day, we spent some time meeting my friend’s marvellous parents, who let the boys charge around in a big red wagon and embodied every last one of my When I Am Old dreams, then went to find the playground at the big park. Then we found a cafe that did both lunch and ice cream, and where the waitress didn’t blink when we ordered ‘the PB and J – ooh, but actually he doesn’t really like peanut butter, so could we just have…a J?’ for Teddy. That night, we tucked the boys into their matching beds and ran off down to the theatre to see Twelfth Night. Which was wonderful. Charming, hilarious Viola; sympathetic and weirdly dignified Malvolio. It’s been so long since I went to the theatre I felt like an escapee from a previous carefree life.
The next day we left on the Long Drive. More about that tomorrow. It was a very long drive, and I have sausage pie to make, and Oregon to miss.