I booked the majority of our recent trip to the States through a travel agent. The one section I decided to plan on my own was four days between New York and San Francisco. The idea was to find somewhere in Massachusetts not too far away from the summer camp where my youngest daughter was working and hang about until she was able to roster a day off to see us.
In the interest of keeping costs down, for we had already shelled out the GDP of Luxembourg, I utilised an accommodation website favoured by hip young folk, and searched for places in the Berkshires area.
Being summer, a lot of places were already booked by frazzled New Yorkers looking to decompress. Eventually I found a spot in Granville, MA that looked relatively convenient. The self-described ‘Shabby chic cabin in the woods’ seemed to possess all the features we required but more importantly, was as cheap as chips.
Armed with a Google maps print out, my husband drove our mid-sized hire car across New York State to Massachusetts on a humid, overcast Sunday afternoon.
Eventually we reached a spot which Google had officially decided was off the radar and our directions abruptly ceased – it was at this point I also realized that while I had a street name I had no house number for the Shabby Chic Cabin in the woods.
It was an unfathomably long street in the middle of nowhere.
At this point it should be explained that while my spouse is proficient in a great many areas his sense of direction is not one of them. Combine this with my failure to nail the details of where we were actually going and the somewhat sullen attitude of an eldest daughter ripped prematurely, in her opinion, from the shopping delights of New York City, and you have a recipe for tension.
“You’re going to have to ask someone,” they said between gritted teeth.
Stopping at the T-intersection where Google had deserted us we spied a squat white home with an oversized American flag draped along its balcony. Adjacent to the house was Carol’s Greenhouse Nursery. I ventured across the driveway just as the heavens opened and the sky lit up with forks of lightning.
Carol bounded out of her house brandishing an umbrella and offering assistance.
“Hello! I hope you can help me. We seem to be a bit lost. I’m looking for the Shabby Chic cottage in the wood,”
Carol looked confused, which may or may not have had something to do with my sounding like some kind of antipodean refugee from a Hans Christian Anderson fable.
“I know it’s somewhere along this road and I know it’s next to another house on the same block and…um…Ok, so Angie and Marnie are the owners? Do you know an Angie and Marnie?”
After a lengthy pause whereby my heavy non-American accent may have started to make sense, the penny appeared to drop and Carol sprang into direction giving action.
“RIGHT! Okey-dokey then. SO you need to go down this road and turn down the THIRD driveway on the left. You can’t see it from the road though, you have to drive all the way down the driveway and then you’ll see it. There’s a BIG house there. But it’s NOT the big house, ok? It’s the one next to it. NEXT to it, ok? DON’T go into the big house now.”
Profusely thanking Carol for her emphasis punctuated explanation I clambered soggily back into the car and off we went.
Rising out of a clearing at the end of a tree lined driveway was a large timber house with clean architecturally pleasing lines, the sort of bespoke property favoured by Grand Designs Kevin McCloud, as he waxes lyrical over self composting toilets.
Beside the house was a slightly smaller timber garage of an equally aesthetic nature and next to that, lurking in the undergrowth like an oversized toadstool was the shabby chic cottage.
The rain had eased off a bit, but the occasional lightning strike accompanied ominously rumbling thunder. It was not a cheery start to our time in Massachusetts. Summoning up every ounce of faux jollity I could muster I bounded from the car and fumbled with the lock on our cottage door. Spouse followed up with our bags and my daughter reluctantly mooched along behind.
Shabby it was. Chic it was not.
My daughter quickly laid claim to the downstairs bedroom as I ascended the ladder to our attic room. A double bed of prison issue foam rubber sat on top of a custom built wooden plinth. The air-conditioning was a mistral fan wedged into the open window.
‘Honey, you should probably leave our bags downstairs.’
There was no room to stand upright let alone get dressed.
I suggested we head out and forage for food as it was getting dark and everyone’s nerves were a little frayed. Discovering that Granville possesses nothing but a cheese store we ventured further afield; aware as the kilometers passed we were closer and closer to being hopelessly lost again. Spouse, however, motored on determined to find chocolate for him and alcohol for me.
Eventually we happened upon a complex of shops with a supermarket. Each of us grabbed a basket and headed up the aisles. The general mood of irritation was in all likelihood responsible for our collectively poor food choices as the cashier scanned fudge brownie bars, chocolate chip cookies, microwave popcorn and toffee brittle.
Shortly after successfully navigating our way back my daughter experienced some type of emotional spontaneous combusting. Without warning she burst into floods of hysterical tears and ran into the tiny sunroom at the back of the cottage.
Spouse sat on the couch and contemplated his fingernails intently.
“OH MY GOD, mum! This is hideous. There’s no Internet! I didn’t tell my friends where I’d be and how will they know where I am? They’ll think something happened to me or I hate them. I hate this place. You’re so mean to me. You asked me what I wanted for dinner and I said spaghetti Bolognese and you bought a BBQ chicken and salad instead. You don’t hug me anymore!”
At this point my adult child was more or less rocking in the foetal postion on the floor and sobbing uncontrollably.
I left her with a chocolate bar, bottle of water and some paracetamol. Eventually the wailing subsided and I wandered back out to find her finishing off a tower of Jenga blocks, occasionally erupting into teeny hiccoughing sobs.
Agreeing we would all try to make the most of our less than salubrious accommodation in an area bereft of any really obvious tourist attractions (unless you are a chipmunk who loves cheese) we settled in to eat chicken, chocolate and popcorn washed down with red wine. Despite the lack of actual television reception there was a DVD player with a collection of DVD’s that was possibly Angie and Marnie’s idea of a joke.
Eschewing ‘The Princess Bride’ , ‘Rosemary’s Baby‘ and ‘The Shining’, my slightly manic offspring chose ‘An American Werewolf in London’; a film she imagined to be every bit as comically entertaining as Michael J Fox’s ‘Teen Wolf’. Spouse and I looked at each other and silently agreed not to disabuse her of this fact.
As a result we didn’t sleep very much that night. Crawling up to the attic space and lying with our heads wedged into the angled roofline we listened to her pacing about beneath us trying to find a nightlight that wouldn’t cast monster shadows. She stood at her uncurtained window anxiously peering out to the forest adamant it was only a matter of time before a serial killer surfaced. For what cabin in the woods is not visited by a psychopath at one time or another? In fact, who knows where the Ingalls family would have ended up had they not hightailed it from the woods to that little house on the prairie, right?
I spent a long time reassuring her that we were not in Cleveland, only five people had been bitten by coyotes in Massachusetts since the 1950’s, those red flashes were fireflies and not laser dots from a customized Ruger 10/22 and eventually we would have access to the Internet again…SO GO TO SLEEP!
End of part one.
*See how the author cleverly employs serialisation of her tale to get us back?
**What??? C’mon! I was really getting into that. Who does she think she is? Tolstoy? Ppppfftt!