Every family does something 'really well' and in our family it is Mama & Papi Tonge (hubby's parents) that 'really know' how to do car trips! One of my earliest experiences of a Tonge car trip came only a few weeks after I started dating hubby when I was invited to join the family on a trip to Scotland. It remains till this day one of my favourite trips of all time. I couldn't tell you in great detail what we did exactly, where we visited or in what order but what I do remember is a great sense of adventure and of freedom and an air of anything being possible. Papi would drive as close to sights as he was able to get the best views, drive up inclines that seemed tricky for others, find cafes out of nowhere and locate parking spaces where it was just so unlikely to find them. Even the days that were rainy and dreary ended with wonderful memories. I still often think of Papi cooking us all an english breakfast on a gas stove set up in the boot of the car whilst it poured with rain and Mama Tonge held an umbrella over him and assisted. There is nothing like eating a hot english breakfast whilst sat in the back of a car with rain beating down on the windows, occasionally letting you see snatches of stunning Scottish landscape. Years later Papi created another amazing breakfast memory. Having driven us through the night on a journey to Spain to visit friends, we stopped having finally reached France feeling weary and cold and hungry. Within minutes we were being passed hot chocolate's and pain au chocolat and again that feeling returned, anything is possible!
An ordinary trip with Mama Tonge and Papi (although ordinary of course, it is not!) starts with an itsy bit of designated family time at which point Mama Tonge normally suggests that a day/trip out would be good. Having already briefly looked at the map the night before she'll make her first suggestion to Papi and the family of where it might be nice to go and explore and have a walk. Papi at this point is normally drifting back and forth into the living room delivering us real cups of coffee and as a result will later appear slightly confused about the suggested location for the trip. We will all head off to bed fairly late and before we climb the stairs Mama will confirm that we are all in agreement about a vague location for the following day and we will all agree to wake up early in order to be out first thing whilst it's bright and early (weather forecast is checked simultaneously as map is examined).
In the morning after breakfast, sandwiches will be made for the trip, crisps, snacks and fruit will be packed into a bag too plus the all essential flask of coffee, not forgetting a small container of freshly cut onion (Papi likes it to accompany his salad that we will have the option of adding to our sandwich). Then we'll all pile into Papi's car and head off and I tell you, it is bliss!
An important thing to know about Papi is that as long as I have known him I have NEVER seen him use a paying car park! The man has a gift of managing to find spaces to park without paying a penny and that lead you directly to your desired location. He might often be heard saying 'can I go down here?' as we all immediately shout 'NO', he'll ignore us all and the road will inevitably lead to the parking space of dreams at which point he'll bring out that cheeky and very charming grin that displays his dimple and once again will ask a question - 'Is this alright folks?' knowing that he's done good!
Happy to finally stretch our legs, we all pile out of the car and drink in whatever surrounds us. Setting off in two's, me with Mama Tonge with the familiar image of Papi and son walking in front, walking their identical walks, with the children woven inbetween. My favourite part of the trip comes when it's finally time to set down somewhere and bring out the well thought out packed lunch. Better still, is that moment when you're part way through your sandwich and you're feeling like things are good, when just then Mama Tonge reaches inside the bag and produces the flask and begins handing out those familiar yellow plastic cups with brown lines on the front with the dainty handle that you can only just about get your fore finger through to to grasp, then in it goes. Hot coffee. Plastic cup. The great outdoors. Bliss! Just before we finish up with lunch and head off once more, there's that extra sandwich in the bottom of the bag. Mama Tonge looks to the men and generously asks if they'd like more and then offers the last of the coffee and we all have our cups re-filled a little and then we complete our lunch.
We make our way back to the car which of course is only a short distance away and finally we all pile in and begin our journey home. I'm never sure which one I prefer, the car journey or the destination when we reach it but one thing I am clear on, Mama and Papi Tonge have given me some of my favourite moments on those journeys, moments that will never fade. So, now the time has come for us to try and create some wonderful memories for our boys but I tell you it's tough competing with Mama and Papi Tonge because trust me, they 'really know' how to do car trips!
All photos by Stuart Tonge