'Gollum is a Sex God'
The following is an excerpt from Middle England to Middle-earth, chapter fifteen, entitled 'Gollum is a Sex God'. The title was taken from a humorous placard someone was waving at the parade for the world premiere of The Return of the King. The excerpt describes an event that took place a few days before the parade in Wellington. Scroll down to read the first chapter.
FANS. THAT'S WHAT we were. I've never been here before. Not just to Wellington I mean.
When you watch a film, if it is any good, it has an impact on you. That is the idea. You are not just a passive recipient. You identify with the characters. Maybe feel envious of their looks or fancy them. It all works its spell with clever lighting, realistic sets and amazing locations.
The Lord of the Rings movies had all this and much more. Director, producer and writer Peter Jackson (now a Sir), his wife and co-writer Fran Walsh, co-writer and producer Philippa Boyens, the film crew, Weta Workshops and the cast put an incredible effort into making the film trilogy. The films were shot all in one go (the first time this had been done) over 18 months in many different locations in Peter's home country. Authenticity was considered important: from hand-crafted swords with details pertaining to their particular culture to 1.1 per cent alcohol stout specially made by Harrington Brewers at Richmond on the South Island.
I had missed seeing The Fellowship of the Ring at the cinema but had been invited to watch it on video at Pam's house. Transfixed from start to finish, I was on the edge of my seat when the Fellowship were fleeing from the Balrog in the Mines of Moria and Pam said, "You haven't touched your cheese and biscuits."
"How can I?" was my reply.
This was a film you could lose yourself in - ethereal photography, magnificent natural settings and emotive music forming a backdrop to the action. I could not imagine the cast being more perfectly suited to their roles and most of the m apparently bonded with one another so well, especially the hobbits, that it was not just good acting that resulted but a magical energy which communicated itself to the audience.
Now, in Wellington, I felt it strongly and in some strange way, for the first time in my life, needed to 'say something back'. But how? And what? For someone so retiring and as easily embarrassed as me, waving a placard or asking for an autograph was not my style. I always hated my 'dirty washing' being on show (for example, the kids showing me up) but even my clean washing I wanted to hide. I was not the only one. As we headed towards The Michael Fowler Centre, which some of the cast were due to go into for Howard Shore's Symphony of The Lord of the Rings Music in Six Movements, the entrance was deserted apart from a family with a woman about my age. My attention was drawn to her camera, one with an identical fluffy-white overcoat to mine.
"I'm not hanging around her, it's too embarrassing," I heard her say.
"Well, you wanted to come," her husband replied. They walked off. So did we. To Cuba Street for kebabs. We returned to find the entrance to the Michael Fowler Centre thronging with fans. Some were dressed as Elves and there was the odd wizard as well.
"Good grief! What a crowd. Where did they all come from? Henry exclaimed. The man next to him heard what he said.
"We should have been here a few days ago, apparently. Someone told me the cast were chatting to people before they went into an art exhibition and there was hardly anyone there."
Just our luck. I had Joe on my shoulders armed with the digital camera and he managed to get some good photos but through the crowds I just caught a glimpse of Elijah Wood (Frodo) walking up the red carpet. Others followed, amid piecing screams and cheers. I hardly saw them.
We went off, returning later for a drink in a nearby cafe, more determined. At 10.30 pm we were waiting opposite the Michael Fowler Centre. Handfuls of fans had gathered. We could see spaces on the left that were closer to the entrance but I hung back as usual, staying on the other side. Soon the space opposite was filled up with a gang of young girls.
Orlando Bloom (Legolas) was the first out and went over to them, smiling broadly and signing a couple of autographs. A blonde girl triumphantly waved her signed postcard at a friend in the crowd by me. Grr. Blast. That could have been me. Yet why fall into such a trap? These people were not demi-gods, they were humans.
Billy Boyd (Pippin) came out next and smiled shyly, waiting for his chauffeur-driven car to arrive. He was followed by John Rhys-Davis - a big man who played Gimli the dwarf with a bit of digital reduction. Then Elijah Wood. Others came out to a cheering crowd. Some people we didn't recognize. At one point a wheelchair-bound lady was steered out, taking advantage of her sudden moment of unexpected stardom by waving magnanimously at the crowd. That just about rounded things off and we caught the late train back to our motor camp.
Chapter One - A Real Decision
I WAS WASHING up one evening a few days after Christmas when Henry wandered into the kitchen. I glanced at him and noticed that pensive look.
“I feel like I need a holiday,” he began. “I know I've just had one but I mean a very long holiday.”
I carefully rinsed a plate.
“I feel like packing it all in and going off travelling in a campervan.”
“But you wouldn't really do it, though, would you?”
“I've always wanted to. I'm coming up to forty and what did I do with my youth? I wasted it being unemployed, cycling miles on my own or hanging around in pubs with people I didn't want to be with.”
“So you want to regain your lost youth.”
“I suppose it's a mid-life crisis; I'm just fed up with my job. I've always been a dreamer.”
“It's funny though, Henry, I've been feeling the same way too. I mean about escaping from life. Those blasted people.”
“Oh, yes, the dreaded SS.”
“Humph! And the health service.”
“You're like my mother, always having to fight battles. You've had to deal with them mostly on your own.”
“But why should I have to fight? It takes so much energy! And they are still there, watching us even more now. Hating the fact that they 'lost' the power battle. Waiting for the next health check-up when I have to take the kids in. I'd love to disappear off the radar.” I shoved a wet plate into the dish rack with unnecessary force.
“I don't know if I can stand this life much longer,” I went on, feeling my blood rising. “It's nothing but struggle: you struggle to work all hours God sends in all weathers, we struggle to pay our bills — I mean an overdraft of two thousand and a loan, we'll never get out of debt never mind extending the house—”
“Or putting in a proper heating system,” Henry butted in.
“Yes, that as well. Look at the way we're living. I thought I could help by working too. I don't know how I've managed it with these children of ours. Do you know,” I said, looking quickly around for an intruding child, “this is marvellous to be able to wash up in peace!”
“Err, I wouldn't call it peaceful.”
“Don't you think I deserve to feel the way I do?!”
“Of course I do. But there is a solution: sell this house. Have you noticed house prices lately? They couldn't get much higher. I heard a radio programme recently, someone saying it's a good time to sell, then rent until the housing market dips again. We could go travelling, not use up all our money of course, and rent when we come back until the time’s right to buy another house. But I'd never get away with it; if things went wrong I'd never hear the end of it.”
“Is that what you think of me? But if things were well planned it shouldn't go wrong.”
I could feel a sense of power welling up in me as I envisaged this daring prospect. I saw our house up for sale; then Henry at the wheel of a colourful campervan, setting off away from everything with a load of money in the bank.
“Where would you want to go travelling?” I asked.
“Round this country for a start. I haven't seen enough of my own country.”
“I'd like to show you some parts of France. But where I'd love to go is New Zealand.”
Henry gave me a sidelong glance.
“This wouldn't by any chance have something to do with The Lord of the Rings would it?”
“No. Well... yes. That has inspired me I must admit, but this is also a great chance. If we are selling the house to go travelling, we may as well go as far as we can.”
“Julia, you couldn't get much further.”
There was a slight pause.
“Right, let's do it.” Henry was easily swayed. “We could go round Britain, especially Scotland which has always been too long a drive, then go to the other side of the world.”
“We must agree, then not go back on it.”
“Indeed,” said Henry.
We had done it. Made a decision.
This was one of the few real decisions we had made. So far, we had drifted through life together without getting married and pussy-footed round the subject of having children for years, finally letting nature take its course when I was in my mid-to-late thirties. Even buying our house did not count as a decision really. We were renting it when our landlord decided to sell, forcing us into it in a way.
We were both indecisive for different reasons. Henry was laid back to the point of being prone. Any choice was all right for him, he would live with it, which left a lot of choices. I worried about everything from money to what people thought of me. No decision was ever the right one.
When you make a decision to sell the only house you have ever owned, close the mortgage and take to the road with children aged six and two, you don't make it lightly. But we did. We had to; we wouldn't have done it if we had stopped to think.
Our solidly built, semi-detached house in Shropshire had been our home for 13 years. It had a fantastic view which was picked up on by the estate agent in the spring. There were several bites then an offer. This fell through but was soon replaced by another. We were on track for a summer move.
Our son, Joe, of course, hated this crisis-driven house move that was evolving into an epic journey. Luckily our purchasers-to-be were not put off when he threw a plastic bangle at the window as they viewed his bedroom.
“We are not selling this house!”
The woman looked horrified as I steered Joe out.
From the moment we decided to sell the house, life was like riding on a roller-coaster. There was hardly time to draw breath in between re-decorating, tidying up to show prospective buyers round, packing (then our daughter, Freya unpacking), repacking, going to the tip, buying things and getting documentation for our trip. My mother who lived in Cornwall was the only relative with an empty garage; she had kindly offered it as storage space. So our Grand Plan was to take our house contents there, tour Britain (staying with other home educators some of the time) including Scotland which we had never seen much of, go to New Zealand for five months and stop off in Australia for two weeks on the way back. After that we had vague plans to travel round Europe.
Before we knew it, it was Joe's seventh birthday. A chance for a big party and free-for-all. Having adopted a slash-and-burn approach to our furniture, literally chopping up ancient settees and cupboards we couldn’t even give away, we still had a garage full of 'stuff' collected over the years from our landscaping business. People went away with flowerpots, canes, wire and wood, some of it in trailer loads. What remained was ceremoniously burned in a tall bonfire as a grand finale.
Cathartic as all this may have been — done with a flourish of high spirits in high summer with our adventures to look forward to — underneath there was that aching, half-empty feeling that comes with loss, before you move on. It didn’t bear close examination and was filed away to the back of the mind to wait for a quiet moment to creep out, maybe years from now. For Joe, the pain was immediate and he verbalized it.
“I practically can't take it,” he said in his half-strained, half-excited voice.
Joe had been born when I was thirty-five, Freya four years later. We thought children of ours would be blond, skinny and shy, rather like us. Joe was blond and skinny but not shy. In fact we suspected Joe to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and after trouble with his behaviour at playgroup and outside it, we had decided to home educate him. I managed his diet with the aid of a nutritionist and tests had revealed him to have five times the normal level of lead in his body. Too much lead in the system can cause hyperactivity. We were being sent a water test kit to eliminate that source.
Swept along now, as if in a river in flood, we saw all our furniture and packed up belongings bobbing along; our memories, big and small, happy and sad, jostling next to bundles of important documents and loose plans for the open-ended future.
I tried to grieve in stages like someone trying to remove a sticking plaster slowly. There were so many 'last times'.
Like any painful situation where you have to move on I wanted to dwell on memories because they contained a part of me and my family that I was attached to. It was as if I were leaving part of me behind.
The house sale dragged on longer than expected which was a good job. It took so long to get rid of all our possessions and we still had nothing to live in apart from a tent.
In mid-July we went to look at a four-berth motorhome, on sale for £24,000.
At first sight it was perfect. A Volkswagen with a U-shaped lounge, shower and cassette toilet, oven, three-way fridge, even a solar panel. We gave the owners a deposit and drove home. But after a day's reflection and finding out we couldn’t fit seat belts in the back as they would have to be fitted to woodwork under the seats and not the chassis (not recommended) we decided to back out.
“I thought I wasn't going to get our deposit back,” I told Henry. “It was touch and go. So what do we do now?”
“Maybe it's a mistake to have our money tied up in a motorhome that's going to be in storage all winter. I wonder if a car and caravan might be a better idea.”
“It's less money to risk I suppose.”
“Another thing to research.”
Henry said he'd have a think about it.
In the meantime I had another practicality to see to. Namely, setting up an internet bank account or we wouldn’t be able to access our money. Learning to use computers when you are in your forties makes you feel like an alien on your own planet. I had some fast lessons to learn. Lesson One: You don't use a computer as you would use a food mixer or a vacuum cleaner. The Hoover doesn't answer back. A computer does. Lesson Two: Because of the interactive nature of your encounter with a computer, you form a relationship. To you, the computer is highly intelligent, knowledgeable and irritating in the extreme. For its part, the computer treats you like a machine with no feelings. This relationship is destined for disaster as I was about to find out. I was at Jo and Luke's — our neighbours' — house, attempting to open a Smile account.
Whoever thought of such a name has obviously not tried being a newbie customer technophobe like me. I hadn’t had a television for the last fifteen years, let alone a computer which I approached now as if it were a bull in a field I was trying to cross. I had to reach the other side in one piece — I did so but my nerves were in tatters. Wary of pressing any key that would commit me to something in error or damage a computer that didn't belong to me I was painstakingly slow. I then discovered I had to enter security details for myself which I’d not thought through. Then the same for Henry.
“Hello, Henry,” I said into my mobile phone (itself a recent acquisition), “what was your first school?”
Then: “What do you want to choose? Your pet’s name or your mother's maiden name?”
“How do you spell that? Okay, hang on, I'll type it in.”
“Wait a minute, I've got to enter it again so there's no mistake.”
When I had typed in 24 lots of security details I let out my breath in relief and clicked on 'OK'.
It was not OK. I read the message across the screen: 'You cannot proceed. The operation has timed out.'
I looked at it for a few seconds in disbelief, unable to cope with the consequences of this.
“Arrgh! How can you do this to me?” I asked. Of course there was no response.
“Blasted Smile account,” I said between gritted teeth as I prepared to start the whole thing again.
I was not smiling all the way to the bank.
The hot summer was continuing and Joe was in the paddling pool. Only a few weeks remained before our moving date. The house was in such a mess it looked like we'd been burgled. We’d had to sell our car and buy another. We still hadn’t found a caravan. But for Joe and Freya it was business as usual: let's wind Mum up.
Freya, by now aged three, had dolly (who sang 'Ring a Ring o' Roses' when she held hands with people) poised over the pool. I was watching them from the house and shouted through the open window: “Don't put dolly in the water, Freya or she'll never sing for you again!”
Disregarding me, Freya threw the doll into the pool. I rushed outside and pulled the doll out. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Dolly short-circuited and wouldn't shut up. I started wrestling with the doll (who sounded like she was doing a rap version of the nursery rhyme: “Ring-a-Ring; Ring-a-Ring; Ring-a-Ring-o'-Roses, Ring-a-Ring”) trying to undress her to get the batteries out. As I was occupied, Freya thought it would be an ideal moment to see what happened when you tipped half a bag of barbecue charcoal into water. Answer: Mummy screams and the charcoal floats round in every square inch of the pool.
Joe leapt out, shrieking, and I spent 20 minutes fishing out charcoal, emptying the pool and tipping it up to leave it, covered in fine black debris.
While my back was turned the children had gone upstairs with a bag of sugar, a jar of maple syrup and a carton of milk which I had to take off them, then try to make their lunch, interrupted by Freya. Quick as a flash, despite my attempts to hide it, she had spotted what I was eating to keep myself going.
“Unt a bana sandwich,” she said, and repeated her plea. I decided my sandwich was worth sacrificing to keep her quiet and gave it to her. Freya had an insatiable appetite, in stark contrast to Joe, who was a picky eater. When I had made lunch I went into the hall and found a line of clothes hanging over the banister, including my best jeans. I undid them, listening to Joe, now doing artwork and singing “Bob the Builder bumbumbum” over and over like a stuck record. I finally blew my top and shouted the house down when I discovered ten pages ripped out of an educational supplies' catalogue. Only then could we get lunch.
The next day I was attempting to prepare lunch again when Joe went past me making a tell-tale rustling noise.
“Okay, you can have them,” I said, knowing he was secreting a bag of crisps, not something I allowed every day.
It was quiet upstairs for a long time (a bad sign) then there were shrieks and screams (an even worse sign). Joe came down.
“Freya's put carob powder all over the bedroom,” he cheerfully told me. “She threw it at me.”
I went upstairs.
“God help me,” I said when I saw the room. There was a pile of brown powder like a mountain on the carpet (I bought food in bulk and nobody liked carob any more). It was finely spread everywhere — under a mattress they had hidden beneath, over a carry-cot I was to give away and even a patch where they had added water. Freya stood there with a handful of carob powder in her hand which she threw at the floor. I went downstairs in a daze, Freya following me. I’d forgotten we were potty training. She peed through her knickers, took them off and threw them at the wall then picked them up and threw them at my trousers, just to remind me.
A week before we were meant to leave I was still clearing out the last remaining contents of Henry's shed for metal recycling. Even so, I managed to fill three dustbins with it and dragged them round to the back of our recently purchased second-hand Peugeot Estate. I’d only driven the car a few times. It took all my strength to lift the bins in. Joe sat in the front passenger seat with his door open, shouting to me over the noise of the radio: “Mum, can you put my scooter in?”
“Do it yourself! I don't know where it is.”
I had a tight schedule ahead of me involving meeting Henry at noon to look at caravans in his lunch break. I rushed round to Joe's side to tell him to find the scooter and was leaning forward just as he decided to shut the door. I felt a sharp pain and my sunglasses were knocked sideways. I looked in the door mirror and saw blood running down my face. Panic seized me.
“Look what you've done to me!” I screamed at Joe even though it was not his fault entirely. The wound could not have been closer to my eye, I discovered, after running to the bathroom mirror for a closer inspection. A deep cut just below my right eyebrow. I washed the wound and tried to calm down.
I was horrified that I might have to go to the hospital on top of everything else but thought it was best to get myself checked over. Having insufficient money for parking meant I had to go in a 'staff only' bay next to A & E. I rushed in to explain my predicament to a nurse.
She said she could get me into the car park but then I turned round and saw a waiting room full of people. I had just half an hour before I had to meet Henry. I walked out, got into the car again, burst into tears, recovered, drove off to a pharmacist, bought some antiseptic wipes and Steri-Strips and then drove to the caravan sales centre. I put the Steri-Strips on by looking in the car's rear-view mirror, then we went to look at caravans. It's funny how a few knocks can toughen you up and make you a different person. With great pressure of having to leave our house in a week's time and a choice of two caravans within our price range we made the quickest decision ever.
We liked a Corfu Centaur with one sleeping area, which when made up, was the width of the caravan and nearly half its length. But this caravan had a heavier chassis than another one we looked at, and a hot water system; it was just right for us. Its gas fittings and brakes had to be safety checked which would be £100 but we could pick it up on Saturday. Our moving day was Tuesday.
So from looking at a luxury £24,000 motorhome we went to buying a two-berth caravan for £1,000 to be towed by a Peugeot 405 worth £400. The car was 14 years old and the caravan 20 years old. This was more the style of this ramshackle family.
Having sorted out the caravan, it was now up to Henry to fit a tow bar. As a trained motor mechanic he always did his own work on our vehicles. The Peugeot was our tenth vehicle in seven years. The demise of them ranged from being stolen (two), being written-off by me (one) or just wearing out (six). The tow bar was awkward and took hours to fit. Henry succeeded just as darkness was falling — then could we let out the breath we had been holding. There would actually be something to live in other than the tent!
I had done a lot of camping in my life so to me this caravan with running water, two sinks and an oven was luxury.
On Saturday, we collected our caravan and parked it at the bottom of Pam's garden which had rear access. We lived in a cul-de-sac and got on well with at least three of our neighbours who lived closest to us. We would get together for parties and were in and out of each other's houses all the time.
On Tuesday the Glorious Twelfth of August, in bright sunshine, we began our move.
First we fetched a hire lorry from 30 miles away and then all day it was loaded up with our neighbours’ help. Pam, in her seventies, usually a stalwart help with our washing up — the bane of my life — bravely tackled cleaning the space where the cooker had been, that no one wanted to look at. Then she cleaned the kitchen and bathroom and finished up by vacuuming everywhere, by which time it was eight o'clock in the evening.
We were to sleep in the caravan that night, and Pam kept saying she had made us a meal.
“Your quiche and salad is waiting for you. Have a break and then finish off here.”
“Thank you, Pam, but I'm not going to leave this house until every scrap of debris is removed,” I told her. She gave me a reproachful look over the top of her glasses.
We were not to get away until 9.30pm, and despite almost collapsing with tiredness, had to have showers before eating something. Pam had even made us sandwiches for the next day and left us breakfast bars. There seemed to be no end to her input of hard work.
We overslept of course. The alarm was set to wake us at 4am but instead we woke at 5.30am. Henry fell headfirst out of bed, unable to get his bearings. We rushed about and mixed up our food. Joe and Henry, travelling in the lorry, had just breakfast bars, fruit and water; Freya and I in the car had all the sandwiches and the flask.
The water sample test kit for lead had at last come the day before and one more test had to be taken on the moving day — an overnight water sample. I also needed to read the meter.
The house echoed with my footsteps; I had not experienced this for 13 years. A complete and utter contrast to what it had been like. Now it was tidy, when it no longer mattered. This was no longer our home, just a house. Yet it seemed to loom up at me, magnified, becoming even more strongly our home in the moments before the final goodbye. Our daughter had been born in this house. In the minutes before I was about to lose this part of my life there was that intense feeling of longing, before letting go.
Unloading in Cornwall went well but I found myself up until midnight writing change of address letters. Then we were off again at 5.30am to Shropshire so we could return the hire lorry by a certain time.
So, bizarrely, we returned to our road for a few days having swapped our house for a caravan at the bottom of a neighbour's garden. There were now new people living in our old house. It looked as if we had fallen on hard times, not done this out of choice. We felt strange, but free; ahead of us time together as a family, over £60,000 in the bank after we had paid off our debts, and freedom to choose where to go and what to do.
Our neighbours had taken an interest in what we were doing, helping us to label poles, make curtains for the caravan awning and fix a problem with the fridge. On our last morning Henry checked the car and caravan over and hitched up ready to go. Our three different neighbours came out to say goodbye to us. One by one they hugged us: Ron, a cheerful chap who was conquering health problems; Pam, a real brick to us; and diminutive, bubbly Jo, who had on that day a tangerine-coloured top, striking, against her long dark hair. They wished us well on our travels.
Henry drove off, pulling our new home behind us. There was a few minutes silence until I commented that these people were the best neighbours I had ever had.
“Now we know we've made the wrong decision,” Henry said.
Blast, the only real decision we had ever made as well.