By late afternoon the campervan and its occupants were still north of Birmingham. The traffic on the M6 had just ground to a halt for about the tenth time.
Rod was driving.
“Can we get around this. Or do we need another overnight?”
Anna stood up and pushed a button on the satnav. A list of traffic reports came up and she scrolled through it.
“Well. We could get around. But wherever we go it looks like there are problems.”
“Overnighter then. Got anywhere up your sleeve Anna?”
“Not offhand. But I’ve got a book. It’s in the glove box in front of Sam. Pass it here and I’ll have a look.”
Sam pulled out Anna’s ‘book’, which was a loose-leaf folder with magazine articles, pages from campsites guides, and various handwritten sheets therein.
“Crikey. This is comprehensive.”
“Yeah. I know. I’m anally retentive. That’s what you get if you go campervanning with an accountant.”
Sam and Rod laughed.
Bill looked up from his computer game. “Uncle Rod. What’s anally retentive? Do it mean keeping things up your bum?”
“No it don’t?” Rod all but yelped. “And where did that little gem come from?”
“Well anal means bum, don’t it? And if you retain stuff you keep it.”
“That’s you told, Rod. My fault. I should have remembered how good Bill is at listening.”
Then she turned to the small person sitting next to her.
“Billy, anally retentive means obsessed with detail. And before you say it, I know that don’t make sense. But it’s the straight up truth.”
“Okay. If you say so.” Bill went back to killing aliens, and the three adults stifled giggles.
Anna frowned at her book. “Nothing. But wait. I do have one idea. Some friends of my brother own a pub and it’s actually only about twenty minutes from the next junction. It ain’t really a campsite. But. Lemme give them a call.”
She got her phone down from its shelf.
“Bill,” she said, “I need a number from my iPad. It’s in contacts. Belle and Chris. Would you be so kind?’
Bill fiddled expertly with the tablet and reeled off a string of numbers before resuming his game.
“Belle. This is Anna Marshall. Yeah, good to speak to you too. Got room on your car park for a camper tonight? A table for four for supper? Ditto breakfast? Me, two men and a small boy. No. Neither. I’ll explain when I see you. Promise. We just have to get off the motorway. Byeee.”
She grinned at the phone.
“All arranged. Although I’ll certainly get the third degree about turning up with three men in tow.”
She handed Sam a business card from her file.
“Stick this postcode in the sitnag please?”
He obliged and handed the card back.
Bill finished his game.
“iPad needs charging” he announced.
“Give it here and I’ll plug it in.”
Anna stood up and put the pad into a cupboard where she plugged it into a socket. Bill looked at her.
“Anna. How come you got electric while we are moving?’
‘It’s battery power.’
‘But you didn’t plug your iPad into a battery socket. Them are round. That was a house plug.”
“Many points for observation. I have a thing called an inverter. It changes battery power to ordinary power. And before you ask. No. I don’t know how it does it.”
“Me neither,” Rod grinned.
“Nor me,” Sam’s voice was rueful.
“I should have paid more attention to physics lessons at school.”
Bill smiled seraphically at them.
“That’s all right. I’ll ask Daddy. I could ask him now if I was allowed to call him…”
“Okay. You can.” Anna laughed. “You can also tell him that the traffic is so snarled up we are having to make another overnight stop.”
Bill held out his hand for the phone and called his father. They had rather a long conversation, in which Jim seemed to do most of the talking. After a good twenty minutes, Bill handed the phone to Sam.
“Daddy wants to talk to whichever man isn’t driving.”
“I guess that’s me. Sam here.”
Then he listened for quite a few minutes.
“Yes. We saw the equipment. No we haven’t. Not even Anna. Okay. I will. Hang on I’ll ask them.”
He muted the phone.
“Bill and Rod, would you be happy for Charlie to come to the northern isles with you?”
“But it’s up to Bill. It’s his treat.”
“Oh. I’d really like that. Charlie is my best friend. Next to Uncle Rod.”
Sam went back to his conversation with Jim.
“Trip’s fine. I’ll manage the rest. Sorry we can’t get back today. Yeah. Traffic is a fucker. Regards to your wife.”
He handed the phone back to Bill.
“Mummy wants a word.”
By the time Bill’s protracted call had finished they were off the motorway and bowling down a green-lined country road.
“It’s like the lane to Granny and Gramp’s house,” Bill declared. “What is the pub like?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never been. They only moved here last year and I haven’t gotten round to calling in.”
Bill frowned at her.
“It’s not nice not to visit friends. Tell us about them please.”
“Okay. They are two ladies in their fifties. Used to be diplomats. Which is how Danny met them. They own the Rose and Crown. They are nice and funny. You will like them.”
“Why is a lady called Chris?”
“Because she don’t like Christabel, which is her given name.”
“Okay. I don’t much like William. So I get that. And Charlie hates Charlemagne. Are your two ladies special friends like Danny and Paul?”
“Are they as funny as Paul?”
“No. Nobody is. And now, if the satnav is telling the truth we are nearly there.”