If the children of the famous find good cause for complaint what then of they whose parents were infamous? Charlie would say (whenever the subject came up at dinner parties) that she had never known her mother as the silly cow had walked out on them before she was born.
She had said it so often that people who knew Charlie answered the question on her behalf and sometimes in a silly voice. Usually the men and more recently one in particular so that now the answer no longer elicited the sort of laughter reserved for a joke only a few understood so much as a frown for one repeated. Which was unfair because Charlie was not being funny, was not even trying to be funny. She had attended far too many dinner parties not to know the rules. Women were not to be funny. That was men’s work, apparently. No, she said it because it was true.
Everything Charlie said was true. Charlie did not understand lies. They changed the world. And her mother really had left her before she was born, albeit figuratively and to Rampton Secure where for all Charlie knew she remained. Clearly Charlie had been there too until wrinkled, new and bawling but not as she remembered it and anyway not for long. Her father had not told Charlie any such thing (preferring to say his wife was dead) until Charlie was thirteen when he had made shepherd’s pie and she had made him miserable. They ate a lot of shepherd’s pie back then. It was something they had shared and starting the same time and for nearly the two years following being miserable had been too. So her mother had left them (which was true) Charlie and her Dad, left them so that she could batter to death Mrs Conway three doors down for reasons no one had ever really discovered.
Mummy being a minor murderer would have been hard for any teenage girl. And so it had been for Charlie right up until when three months shy of her sixteenth birthday Charlie had found out she was a Goth. Not fitting in with other girls her age Charlie had managed to not fit in with other Goths either. She had liked being a Goth. She had liked cider and black and she still liked The Cure. She had been a happy Goth. She had dressed the part but spent half her time laughing and the other half passing her GCSEs, pissing everyone off and not least three of her teachers. As if to celebrate her success Nine Inch Nails had mentioned her Mum on their next album. There had been a T Shirt. She had worn one to her Uni interview. She did not lie now and she had not lied then.
Not lying had shaped Charlie’s whole life. Not lying saw her now driving up the motorway at 3am. Her husband should have known not to ask her in lazy frustration only an hour before whether she had come? Not unless she had which she frequently did, if rarely in anyone else’s company. He should not then have turned the conversation into a wider debate regarding his marriage to Charlie in order to dab a little selfish lotion on the wound. Because again Charlie did not lie, but Charlie did go on holiday. She was going on holiday now, just Charlie and her black eye.
It was a spur of the moment holiday, an impetuous holiday. It was a holiday of necessity. A holiday in her husband’s three year old Audi. She had not wanted him to buy a bloody Audi but Jeremy Clarkson had thought differently. And Jeremy Clarkson had never admitted if ever asked by her husband that in the past he had enjoyed a thicker willy, unlike Charlie. It was just one of many conversations her husband had never had with a television presenter he would never meet. Worse still Charlie had later discovered that she and Jeremy did not disagree at all. Not about willies perhaps, but certainly about the Audi. Jeremy had not liked the car either. Her husband had. Her husband that by every definition she could find was the epitome of the Audi owner. And so rather than Jeremy Clarkson actually agreeing with him her husband had decided that since the two of them were such good mates (their having never met quite aside) what Jeremy really thought was what her husband thought. It stood to reason. Her husband had lied in his assumption that Jeremy Clarkson had lied. Charlie hated that.
But at least with an Audi Charlie could drive like an idiot without undue notice. Had there been anyone else to notice which at 3.07am there was not. Indeed and therefore until the M6 Charlie was able to indulge in one of her fantasies where she was one of the few survivors of a comfortable catastrophe. A nice sort of catastrophe, not one with leaking zombies or hungry plants but one where people just sort of went away without even their bloating bodies left behind to cultivate disease. Where Charlie would meet up perhaps with other like minded souls and live in a nice country house. Where there would be canned goods and batteries for ever, or perhaps some sort of farmer’s market. In this fantasy anyone she formed a tribe with would be rather nice all in all.
There would be dangers but nothing she and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall could not overcome. She rather liked the idea of fighting off thieves and brigands and she certainly would not drive about the deserted larder of England in a bloody Audi. Since it was her lazy early morning fantasy Stephen Fry would not be completely gay either, he the chieftain of their polite little tribe and she his warrior priestess. Although not a priestess, Stephen and Hugh and at a pinch Ray Mears (although she would prefer Bruce Parry) would wish to maintain certain standards of reason. No worshipping a dead airman in her catastrophe. They could instead worship her with a nice Merlot. And they would all have nice thick willies too, she decided. Not too long, but thick. The only thick thing in their little community based (she rather fancied) in Kentwell Hall.
By breakfast time she was filling the tank in a Moto service station in Lancashire that had been built to recall an airstrip. It even had its own hexagonal control tower. It had doubtless been impossibly modern in the sixties but now this romantic idea of flight and travel more closely resembled an American prison. Paying for petrol Charlie added a small pack of crayons and the sort of activities pack desperate parents bought their children on long journeys for them to make a mess out of. Charlie was going on holiday and somewhere thereabouts she had gone with her Dad when young. The crayons and colouring books had not occupied her much longer than the edge of Cumbria then and would do nothing for her now. But she was going on holiday and so there would be crayons. Before driving off she made sure the boot had not been disturbed. Why anyone would have broken into it in public and on camera was unimportant, she tested it all the same. Her but-recently old life was in that boot. She did not care for it to escape.
Charlie had no particular plan, nor any certain destination and so by lunchtime and well into the Lake District she just drove. It had been some time since she had left a major road and for long stretches she could add to her catastrophe fantasy. Sheep she saw had also survived. Hugh and Ray (or hopefully Bruce) would know how to butcher them. But she would be the huntress. She supposed that in a few years the fields would all be sprawling hedgerows. Would crops grow wild or would nettles become the dominant life form, she wondered? She slowed to pass a woman on a horse. Charlie pondered if she too would need to learn to ride but thought not. There would be cars lying around for years yet and surely one of her community would know how to maintain them. Did petrol go off? Did diesel spoil? Charlie did not know. Someone else would. Someone else would deal with that. She was the huntress.
She recognised where she was.
It had been years since her last holiday up here. Then it had been her Dad that had driven and her Dad that had made any arrangements. She had just been his sulky passenger to the general holiday-in-the-Lakes. There had been a cottage (one of a row of houses really and not what she would have called a cottage at all) and astonishingly there it was. She pulled up just where her Dad had. There was the shop that sold everything. There was the pub where she had eaten crisps. There was no green and no one played cricket. It was not Somerset. And there rearing up suddenly and close enough to seem unlikely were the mountains. The closest went from uneven and tangled field to a sharp rise of shale and determined bushes in mere yards. Back in London you did not notice the hills until at the top, and sometimes not even then. Back home and the landscape was smoothed down, capped and covered with grey. Here and she now recalled perfectly the hills and mountains were as a child would draw them. Peaks held in place by a starlet’s torpedo brassiere. The only sound was her music. Charlie turned off the engine. She was on holiday.