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Sunday, November 10, 2013

I've seen some hard-faced cows in my time, but you'd have to go a long way to beat these...

Yes, some men like to take their families to London, Paris or even New York for the weekend. I prefer to take mine on a day-trip to Milton Keynes...

I told Amelie we were going to EuroDisney, so there's just the slightest hint of mild disappointment on her face there, as she poses on a muddy verge at the side of a noisy dual carriageway, in front of some concrete cows. But hey, it wouldn't be a Gardner Family Fun Day without some tears. And rain. And a crushing sense of despair.

As it happens, the photo above was taken by a talented semi-professional photographer with more skill in her little finger than I have in my whole body. Although she doesn't have arthritis in hers, so she's at a distinct advantage. Unfortunately, she had to use my camera for that shot, which is a bit like asking Wayne Rooney to play football with a tin can. There aren't many professionals who buy their equipment in Argos. So she did well with what she had to work with.

Anyhoo, exactly one year ago today, I removed a girl's knickers in a public toilet and posed for some photos with a couple I'd never met before. And what's more, I enjoyed it so much, I decided we should do it annually. So yesterday, a mere 364 days after our last encounter, Lisa and I went swinging up to Milton Keynes to visit Jon & Steph Cheshire.

To be honest, we hadn't intended to leave it a year, but we're all busy people and I take a long time to reply to e-mails, so that's just how it worked out. It was worth the wait though. Jon & Steph are based in Bletchley, "Home of the Codebreakers", so I wasn't sure if they lived in a mansion house or a Nissen hut, but having driven around the M25 in torrential rain, been forced to stop at the services for sausage rolls, and then taken in the delights of Dunstable (which Amelie informed us was a much nicer place than Brighton), we eventually rolled up at the Cheshire residence to find that it was a delightful house in beautiful surroundings.

I wasn't permitted to photograph their street for legal reasons, but fortunately Amelie had my camera in the back of the car, and I don't think the law applies to five-year-olds, so here's a rain-soaked scene from Rear Window...

Interestingly, Amelie spent the day referring to the place as Milton Pils, which I think is a testament to the number of beer commercials she's seen.

Anyhoo, we were warmly welcomed into Chez Cheshire, and Amelie quickly made herself at home by running up and down the stairs, spinning around the living room, and generally attempting to turn their immaculate house into something resembling the tip we call home, in the space of half an hour. I'm pleased to say she failed. Although it wasn't for lack of trying.

In addition to Jon & Steph, we were lucky enough to meet their daughter (that's not her on the stairs), who's currently training to be a teacher, and is therefore used to problem children like ours. She had the glove puppets out within five minutes, and proved to be a hit with them both. And with me and Lisa too. To be honest, she's a bit of a star, and such a credit to her parents that they'll never need to visit

Having downed two cups of tea and a few biscuits, the seven of us headed out in two cars for a guided tour of the area, which gave Amelie the chance to tell us that her favourite person in the whole of Milton Pils is the lady in the zebra outfit. A statement which threw us slightly, until we realised that Jon & Steph's daughter had pictures of zebras on her top.

Our first stop was Caldecotte Lake, which demonstrated just how far from being a concrete jungle Milton Keynes really is. In reality it's a green and pleasant land. Which is not surprising, given the name of the poem that phrase comes from. We were essentially Blake's seven, building Jerusalem on a wet afternoon in November, around the corner from the Open University.

But in reality, I did want to see some concrete...

And the cows didn't disappoint. Although I felt they lacked a visitors' centre with a gift shop and café. You basically have to park in a housing estate and then stand on the hard shoulder. And I don't mean astride the cows. It's not what you'd call ideal.

With the tourist traps done, we headed into town (which I always thought was a city) for something to eat. Parking in Milton Keynes is free, which is enough to make me want to move there immediately, and before long we were relaxing at Bella Italia with the kind of food that would make Dr Atkins turn in his grave. The waiter called Amelie 'Princess', which was the highlight of her life so far, and the meal was as good as the company.

By the end of the evening, we'd discussed international espionage, prog rock, job interviews and the Pet Shop Boys, whilst spilling baby milk on the floor, and working our way through five helium balloons. So we all left the place on a high. At least our voices did.

Unfortunately there's always one wet blanket trying to put a dampener on things. This was Steph with our daughter a year ago...

And here's the same lady with our son last night...

The difference is that Amelie knows about Steph's skills as a chocolate-maker. And no one's dressed her as Freddy Krueger.


Phil's Mum said...

When you've been barking like a seal for a couple of nights, you don't feel like being cheerful! And, as for telling your daughter you're going to EuroDisney........ how cruel can you be?!!

Jon the Bassist said...

Phils Mum, you are right, it's much better than that!