I came home yesterday from a 5 day break at the van with a friend, whom I shall call Mona, for reasons that will become clearer as you read on further.

Mona and I first met when we worked for the same company back in 1994. We had a similar sense of humour, and hit it off straight away. Since then we have regularly met up for lunch and a catch-up every couple of months. During the winter when she was feeling down and starved of company (she lives on her own), I suggested that we could have a girly few days on the Isle of Wight around her birthday in July. She readily agreed to this.

And so it was that for the first time last Sunday I found myself going on holiday with Mona, looking forward to a bit of a laugh. I remembered her as bubbly and full of life, and active even though she had been part of the ‘stents and statins’ brigade for the previous decade. I hadn’t seen her for about 15 months due to lockdown, but unfortunately I found her a completely different person to the Mona I had known before.

The ordeal started on the A14 when every time I went over 60mph to overtake or keep up with the traffic, she let me know about it. I have been travelling to the IOW for a very long time, and the route forwards, backwards and sideways is burnt into my brain. However, it appeared that Mona had ‘driven all over the country’ and always seemed to know a better way to get there; a different road, another motorway. She also talked incessantly; even reading out loud every single slogan on every single lorry, every signpost, and every billboard. I turned up the radio in an attempt to drown her out, but it only made her talk even louder. When she informed me that I was now going at 70mph, I asked her if she wanted to take over the driving, and to my relief she stayed momentarily silent.

Then we arrived at the van. The weather was swelteringly hot, and the temperature inside read 33 degrees. Mona carried on talking shite incessantly, and in-between the shite complained that she was sweating. I opened the doors and all the windows, turned on the fans, and hoped the through draught would please her. It did not. She was hungry and apparently also tired from the long journey where she had sat in the car and done nothing except rabbit on about God knows what. I had spent a lot of time nodding and smiling, as I had concentrated on driving and must admit that most of what she had said had gone in one ear and out the other.

Mona needed to eat. That morning I had taken out some frozen home-made Bolognese from the freezer that I had prepared with quorn which had been slowly defrosting in a cool box during the 6 hour journey. With a bit of boiled spaghetti it would be a quick meal on our first day. Mona, previously greedy and who had eaten everything with relish, informed me that she now ate only fish for her main meal, and no way could she eat anything else. There was a tin of salmon in the cupboard, so I made her some salmon and cucumber sandwiches and threw half the quorn away.

Then there were Mona’s rituals. Every morning she would lie on the floor by the open front patio doors in her nightdress, legs in the air (I preferred to look away and assumed she had knickers on), to perform her exercises. She needed the sunlight and fresh air to do these, and the curtains had to be pulled back. Thank goodness Sam had put up some privacy netting, but I knew that anybody over about 6ft 2in in height might have an unpleasant start to his morning if he had cared to look over the railing. Mona is no spring chicken, and regretfully 75 year old legs have lost their youthful bloom.

After the exercises came the porridge and the coffee pot. In a heatwave the last thing I’d want to eat is porridge, but Mona had brought her own. Also, she could not throw a spoonful of coffee in a cup and pour boiling water over it like the majority of people; no, there was the ritual of the coffee pot which she put on my cooker and which bubbled away on the gas and made breakfast last at least an hour longer.

Mona could not make a decision. I always went swimming at 9am because it was ‘owners and their guests only’ and only a handful of people were ever in the pool. Mona announced she could never go swimming so early, but as soon as I went out the door she changed her mind. I then had to wait while she changed into her costume and tied her hair up with clips. We then missed 15 minutes of a 45 minute session, where she collared two other swimmers who were minding their own business and talked more shite at them until they got out.

I had asked her if there were any places she would like to visit, but she had ‘not had time to look’ beforehand and check the Island out on Google (she is retired). I suggested a shady beach I knew and then a fish cafe for lunch. Mona wanted lunch in the beach cafe, which unfortunately was solidly booked. Anyway, we took fold-up chairs and sat on the sand, but she could not sit still as ‘all her joints seized up if she sat for too long’. After a quarter of an hour she got up and walked out to sea (the tide was out). What a relief! I sat back and tried to read my Kindle, but every few minutes she would turn around and wave frantically, and would not stop waving until I had acknowledged her.

Then it was time for the fish cafe. Mona wanted an outside table, but there was only one left inside. More shite flowed out of her mouth at the other diners, at the waiters, and at me. She made embarrassing comments to the young boys who served us, complained about her meal, and sent it back. Who knows what they might have done to her meal when they returned it. I shudder to think.

The heat was too much this time, and it was a struggle to do anything except sit on a shady part of our decking or on Puckpool beach, which is shaded by trees. Mona talked non-stop for the whole 5 days, and interrupted anything I had to say until it wasn’t worth me talking any more. Then to add to the overall picture, the computer died and I had to bring it home for Sam to have a look at.

I now realise why Mona has lived on her own for the last 42 years. Hour-long lunches every once in a while did not prepare me for the reality of Mona today, nearly 30 years after I first met her. Never again will she ever step inside our van!

The week after next will be lovely. I’ll drive to the van ON MY OWN, listen to my music, and greet my 16 year old granddaughter who will already be there. We’ll have a girly week together with no coffee pot, no porridge, and no shite. We’ll read, sit on the beach, do colouring, go shopping and swimming, and generally have a bloody good time!