“He can’t read a map.”
My wife raised her eyebrows. “Tell me something I don’t know. The only reason we’re still married is the invention of the SatNav. Do you remember that time in France?”
“You mean when he got lost in the supermarket car park and you had that enormous argument?”
I’d rather hoped Ben had been too young to remember that little incident. Clearly not. They spent a happy couple of minutes reminiscing about my failings. “What else?” Jane asked.
We were talking about the Pennine Way over the dinner table. Ben and I have been back five weeks now (no, thanks for asking, the broken finger hasn’t healed yet…) and my wife idly wondered what the experience had taught us. “So what did you learn about your Dad?”
And now Ben had scratched the couldn’t-read-a-map itch, he could answer the question properly. Dad? He knows no fear: carries on when it’s easier to quit: chats amicably to everyone he meets: kept me amused for five days…
“Well…” he said, “He can’t fold a map either.”
“No-one can fold an OS map.” But my protest fell on deaf ears.
“And he thinks grabbing on to a thistle for support is a good idea…”
“It was the afternoon it rained. He slipped on a rock. To stop himself falling he grabbed hold of a thistle. Duh… And he thinks he can change the weather by wearing shorts.”
“Yes, your father has a long history of clinical addiction to shorts. Especially those disgusting blue ones.”
“So it’s Wednesday morning and it’s pouring down. I’ve been woken up early so Dad can watch fourteen different weather forecasts. They all say the same. Rain and then more rain – ”
“That’s when he rang me up and had a hissy fit.”
“I know, I heard. Anyway, everyone else is wearing their waterproofs. Dad looks out of the window and says it’s easing up…”
“Sure. It had eased from monsoon to downpour. So he sets off in his shorts and a t-shirt and his Ray Mears jacket.”
My son shook his head sadly, but my wife was lapping it up. “Anything else?”
“Well, he can’t spot a signpost – he walked straight past about six – but that goes hand in hand with map reading. He brags to strangers. Did you know that?”
Jane just smirked. “On Wednesday, we met a few people – despite the rain. So we’d always ask them where they were going and they’d say, ‘We’re just doing a round trip, maybe five miles.’ So Dad would sort of puff his chest out and say, ‘Well we’re walking from Hawes to Tan Hill.’ And then he’d stand back and wait for a round of applause.”
“Hang on a minute, darling. I’m enjoying this so much I need another gin and tonic.”
“But the worst thing,” Ben said when the glass had been re-filled, “Is that he told the same joke to every single person we met.” At which my beloved very nearly snorted Bombay Sapphire down her nose.
“I’ve had that for twenty years!”
“Someone would say, ‘When are you finishing?’ and Dad would say – every single time – ‘Friday. My wife’s picking us up. Unless she’s changed her mind about me over the last five days.’”
“And people would laugh?”
“Sadly, yes. That only encouraged him.”
I coughed. It was time for someone to put a positive spin on events. “Took care of you,” I said. “Shared my Kendal Mint Cake.”
“Oh yeah,” Ben said. “He did a good job of stealing all the biscuits from the B&Bs…”
I’m now working on a 30,000 word e-book about the 5 day, father/son walk Ben and I did on the Pennine Way: if you’d like to read a few sample chapters before publication, just use the contact form to let me know. In the meantime if you’d like a copy of the ‘laugh out loud’ Best Dad featuring 27 of my favourite columns from all the years I’ve been writing, it’s available here for 99p on your Kindle.