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I went barking mad on journey from hell

By Frances Burscough

Published 14/11/2015

Frances Burscough
Frances Burscough

One of the main problems of living in Northern Ireland but having your family in England is all the travelling. And now that I’m caring part-time for my elderly dad, I’m doing the trip there and back at least once a month.

He can no longer drive so I have to take my car, which means that a quick 40-minute hop on a plane is out of the question. That would be far too easy. So until they build a bridge or a tunnel between the two land masses (ideally to Preston in Lancashire), the ferry is my only option.

I can’t afford to leave my three dogs at a kennels every time I go there, so the only option is to bring them with me. This in turn rules out the very relaxing overnight ferry from Belfast to Liverpool, because they hate the on-board kennels so much they howl like wolves in distress for eight solid hours and I can hear them from inside my cabin. So the only answer is to take the ferry to Scotland and drive down to Preston, which at the best of times takes five hours. In a car. Alone. With three dogs.

Those are just the basic problems, without any extras thrown in. But this week it felt like there was a cosmic conspiracy against me to make everything as difficult as humanly possible as I made the interminable drive back up to Cairnryan. In fact it was like the terrestrial version of that film A Perfect Storm. For a start it was lashing with rain, the roads were awash and there were flood warnings everywhere.

Visibility was terrible because there was a blanket coverage of apocalyptic dark grey cloud. And for some reason the M6 motorway was chock-a-block with articulated lorries, spraying the water everywhere and every time I overtook one, another took its place.

Bad enough at the best of times. But throw three dogs into the mix and you’ve got a journey through the seventh circle of hell. Walter, my youngest, is a very nervous passenger. From the moment we loaded up the car and said our farewells he had squealed, squirmed, panted and pleaded, jumping from one seat to the next, unable to settle. By the time we were driving through the treacherous valleys of the Pennines he was almost having a heart attack with stress.

We both were.

His constant hyperventilating had caused the windows in the car to fog up completely, so the only answer was to turn the windscreen heating on full blast, to clear the condensation. As you can imagine, it was like sitting in a sauna ... and not in a good way.

As it got hotter and hotter inside the car, I started to feel my eyes getting heavy and the dreaded motorway fatigue set in. So I opened the windows slightly, to try and counteract the sauna effect, but guess what? The rain had now changed directions and was battering the car diagonally from the right hand side at an angle that must had been calculated to come straight through my window and lash me in the face.

Walter by this stage was so frantic that he climbed onto my lap and tried to stick his head out of the window to cool himself down. So yes, I now had a dog on my lap as I drove up one of the busiest motorways in the country. If anyone had seen me it would have ended up on YouTube like that woman who was eating a bowl of cornflakes at traffic lights. I’d have gone viral and lost my licence all in one fell swoop.

And that was before the fighter jets appeared. Yes, there’s a certain valley in Cumbria called Shap where RAF test pilots and the Red Arrows do their high-speed practice runs. It really is an amazing spectacle to behold as they swoop and soar past you, cutting through the clouds like hot knives through butter. But when you’re driving at 70mph through flooded roads balancing a hysterical dog on your knee as you negotiate your way past a convoy of articulated lorries, then it’s not so good. Especially when the incessant barking starts as the first jet hurtles past...

Reader, I made it, finally, and lived to tell the tale. And if you think I’m exaggerating about my cosmic conspiracy theory, then bear this in mind. As I drove up the gangplank onto the ferry at Cairnryan, the clouds cleared, the rain stopped and bright sunshine came streaming down. At least there was a beautiful rainbow. Nevertheless, Universe, you owe me big time.

It’s good cop, sad cop as Nicola doubles up

There is a strange coincidence happening on television this month. The same actress is appearing as the lead character in two different – and very brilliant – TV dramas on opposite telly channels.

Nicola Walker has been in the background of a few series before, but I’m guessing after this she’ll become as prevalent as our other stalwarts such as Sarah Lancashire and Gemma Jones.

In Unforgotten on ITV she plays the lead as DCI Cassie Stuart, a tough yet kind-hearted cop investigating the historic murder of a boy in the 1970s. And she plays the part absolutely flawlessly, too. In the other drama, BBC’s River now showing on Tuesday nights, she plays a murdered cop Jackie ‘Stevie’ Stevens, who is helping in the investigation of her own murder by appearing as a ghost to her partner John River. Yes. You read that correctly: she is investigating her own murder.

If any of you remember Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) in the ’70s, then this is a bit like that but without the humour. It’s bleak, it’s grim and it’s absolutely riveting. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ms Walker finds herself nominated for BAFTAs for both of these fantastic performances.

This week I'll ...

... mostly be accepting the absolutely inevitable. Because, according to the TV adverts and every shop this side of Lapland, Christmas is around the corner and it’s time to start feeling festive. Ok, it is genuinely within our grasp, but I downright refuse to put up my Christmas tree and decorations until Advent is actually upon us. Call me old-fashioned, but some traditions I won’t ignore just for the sake of commercialism.

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