Aunt Crystal had booked us into Longbleat for a spa-retreat, and my suspicion was that she’d picked it solely so she could make that rhyme. However, she was paying for the whole affair, and my mother was thrilled with the idea of a short holiday where people would look after her, and had talked her priest into coming along with her. I’ve no idea who was paying for him, but I knew it wouldn’t be Aunt Crystal. She felt that Christians weren’t devout enough. My sister was coming because she saw it as an opportunity to get away from her three children for a couple of days, and her husband (who was going to be left with them) was refusing to talk to any of the rest of us. I sympathized, but even so I was grateful; my sister was far too quick to seize on anyone nearby as a potential baby-sitter. My brother was going and was bringing some girlfriend with him. I’d lost track of how many girl- and boy-friends he was keeping on the go at once but I assumed that whichever one he was bringing was either special or new. Aunt Crystal kept talking about my father going as well, but he’d died the previous year when his shed collapsed on him after heavy rains caused subsidence in the garden, so we’d been mostly ignoring her and hoping that she didn’t have some mad idea about digging him up.
My brother was driving down on his motorcycle, but the rest of us were going in a tiny motorcade of three taxis. Aunt Crystal was riding in the middle one, and had claimed a window seat. I was sat on the row behind her watching with interest to see if she was going to wave out of the window like the Queen to anyone we passed. Aunt Crystal didn’t really hold with Royalty though, as she felt that they were too public in their behaviour. She would far rather that they did secretive things behind high castle walls, and only appeared to the public on special occasions. I thought she might have mixed them up with angels.
My mother and sister were in different cars after they’d had a falling out. My sister had delightedly looked at the cars and announced that she was going in the front car and that the rest of us could be her entourage, and my mother promptly took offence. We’d separated them as quickly as possible, and were hoping that at least one of them would be acting more grown-up by the time we arrived.
There was a mysterious box in the rear car as well, and we were all silently hoping that it wasn’t my father.
The approach to Longbleat was through fields and across small streams and along tightly winding country roads that appeared to have been less built and more the tarmacking over of cattle paths. The taxis had to slow down quite a lot to navigate the roads, and there was a moment of great consternation in all the taxis when my sister spotted three people having sex in one of the fields. The driver’s radios were commandeered by the passengers who gossiped about it for the rest of the journey. I’d spotted my brother’s motorcycle though, and was only surprised that he’d only found one extra participant.
When we arrived at Longbleat my brother and two people were waiting for us at the doors, and I had had to suppress a smile as my mother and Aunt Crystal proceeded to tell him about the shocking sight they’d seen on the way there. He smiled a lot and said very little. Then the hotel doorman asked us to go in and stop cluttering up the drive, and so we did.