Tripping Up

Despite the gratifying intelligence that the scientific community is  taking seriously  my suggestion of mass human hibernation as a solution to climate change, the family is not. No woman is a hero to her  valet , and certainly not to her offspring. So instead, I’m staggering on up the blind alley I like to call their political enlightenment, by showing them some photos of road protestors, taken by the astoundingly unassuming  Adrian Arbib. 

“They wanted to build  two miles of motorway , from nowhere to nowhere. It didn’t reduce the traffic, and it cost £40m a mile to build” I inform them.

“Wow!” For once, Child 1 is impressed. “I could buy 400,000 used PS3s for that.” Like they say, learning maths is all about  incentives . “And what would you do with 399,999 used PS3s, while you were playing on the other one?”

“Sell them at a profit, of course!”

“And I’d buy a huge big house and a huge big limo with a pool!” It’s not obvious – possibly not even to her – whether the  pool  will be in Child 2’s house or her car, or both. But the bigger picture’s pretty clear. Whosever children these are, and however they insinuated themselves into my home and affections, their moral compasses do not quiver in harmony with mine.

“Speaking of roads…”

I know what’s coming next. In the recent past, and especially the cold, dark months of so-called  winter, which should properly be labelled Half the Bloody Year,  the chorus of complaints about the  no flying rule  has become so merciless that I had to find an antidote. So one day it just slipped out.

“I tell you what. We’ll save up all our carbon allowances, and just have one giant road trip across America, and get it all over at once.”

“Wow! Really?”

“Of course. But not – just – yet. I have to find the money, and anyhow, you two aren’t really old enough to get the most out of it right now.”

“So can we go to…?” And thus began the itinerary that so far includes Beverly Hills, Florida, Disneyland, Memphis, New York City (including the Empire State Building, Madison Square Gardens, wherever Night at the Museum and Sex and the City were shot, and the  Plaza Hotel  ) , Sea World, Miami Beach,  Dollywood  (wouldn’t you want to visit your own personal world?), the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, every water park on the way there and back, and an ever-changing list of  mid-Western cities of dubious touristic appeal, where Child 1’s basketball team of the moment makes its home.

My idea was to do it in 2012, and rent out our house for the summer, thus achieving a blinding twofer: avoiding the Olympics, and generously covering our costs. We are quite well placed for Olympic venues, specially if  beach volleyball  is your thing.

Inexplicably, the children objected to missing the Olympics, and Mr Fixit objected strenuously to letting  “a bunch of insanitary strangers” into the house – a definition he applies to anybody who doesn’t share at least 85% of his  DNA , or at a pinch, Jeremy Clarkson’s.

So we settled on 2013, which seemed a reassuringly long way off. At the time.

Suddenly it’s 2011, this embryonic promise is growing  limbs and toenails,  and it’s becoming clear that if I’m to pay for it, the only place it cam come from is the tiny pittance I’ve been saving to help them put down a deposit on somewhere to live. A bus shelter, perhaps. Or a nice row of walk-in wardrobes from Ikea. And maybe a  flat-pack shed  to erect them in.

From time to time, Mr Fixit has suggested they supplement this with a Saturday job. Dog walking, a paper round, maybe a few light duties behind the counter of a shop. “When I was your age I could recognise three hundred different screws and nuts at 50 yards.” “Mum does that every Saturday at  Earth Foods,  don’t you Mum?” Child 1 is becoming quite the comedian, which seems a fair response to the future prospects of his generation.

And all that was before the recession. These days people walk their own dogs (imagine!) and every paper round has a ten-year waiting list of candidates with tertiary degrees in  ballistics , origami and speed cycling. No chance.

“So, what it comes down to is,” I continue, scroffling through the oranges to fulfil my maternal duty of eating the  mouldy  ones, “If we’re to have this trip, you’re going to have to do without a home for the rest of your lives.”

“That’s okay. We’ll just live here.”

“You can’t live here. We’ve got to sell this place, to cover the terrifying costs of  old age  in an uncaring (if Big) society.”

Mr Fixit, meanwhile, is idly flicking through pictures on the thirty-eight inch hi-def computer monitor that is absolutely essential to his work. The children lean in.  “What is THAT?”

“That’s an  Airstream trailer.  It’s the only way I’m doing this trip with you. I’m not going across America in some clapped-out Chevy Impala smelling of other people.”

Suddenly I have an epiphany. It doesn’t happen very often, and it’s usually, as now, after the glass of Ordinaire I sometimes allow myself of a weekend.

“We get two Respark permits with this house, right?”

“At the moment, yes”…

“So that’s it, then. We buy the Airstream with the deposit money, drive it  across America , bring it home and park it in the road. It can’t take up more than two spaces, can it? Then the children can live in it. We don’t need to wait till they’re in college, or wherever they end up. They can start right away.”

They’ll just be getting seriously antisocial in 2013. The prospect of two giant teenagers lumbering up and down the uncarpeted stairs at 3 am in search of  snacks  is already giving me palpitations. They’ll be out already most of the night. Let ‘em stay there.

I can hardly believe the perfection of the plan. It may require a bit of finessing around the relative size of the Airstream and the parking spaces, but I’m sure the neighbours will understand. After all, they have children too. Or  dogs.  Dogs can get very noisy too, in adolescence.

“Mum…” Older has left Younger to sort out the trim options on the Airstream, and come back to forage for more food, which at thirteen is pretty much a full-time pursuit.

“Yes?” I’m busy trying to  squirrel away  enough for the next meal, before he can get to it.

“How many miles will we we be driving – when we go on our trip?”

“Well – I dunno – I’m not going through that early morning jet-lag from LA, so we’ll have to drive both ways, and what with fitting in Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Baton Rouge and  Grand Rapids  – maybe six thousand miles?’

‘Six thousand miles times forty million’… the mathematical cogs are grinding again…  ‘Hey Mum, this trip’s going to be worth two hundred and forty billion pounds!’

Or, to put it another way, it’s going to have cost humanity two hundred and forty billion pounds. That’s quite a lot of money. And quite a lot of carbon guilt. Those  basketball stadia  had better be worth it.