Speak from the Peaks

The days between Christmas and New Years are known in Swedish as ‘mellandagarna’ — the middle days, or the in-between days. For this year’s in-between days my parents have booked a cottage in the Peak District and planned a walking holiday. They ask me along and to drive the car they’ve rented, as they’re still uncomfortable with lefthand traffic.

We leave on Boxing Day, and return on the 30th. I drive there and back, and between the cottage and the hills. I relish the chance to show off my lefthand driving, but my mother gets car sick and my father tells me I come into the curves too quickly. I stall the car repeatedly, take the wrong exists in roundabouts and struggle with the gear shift in the steep hills of the Peaks.

On the first day of walking it’s misty, and my mother becomes scared of the heights. My father’s breathing is laboured. I’m finally in my element and want to get to the top of Mam Tor quickly. I look down to my parents and wish they’d stay there. Mum does, she turns around. She tells us to stick together because it could be dangerous up on the hill. She lets her fear get the better of her, and I roll my eyes and continue upwards, letting dad rest only a little.

I want show them I’m strong and that I know this land. I want them to see what I’ve learnt of English ways and walking and driving, but they remain unimpressed. They love me for who I am. In the pub on the second night the people at the next table strike up conversation, hearing our foreign language and wondering where we’re from. ‘From Sweden!’ my father replies with the hard ‘ee’ sound of a Swedish vowel. If I’d been asked that question, I would’ve said Cambridge, where we drove up from, and where we live.

In the peaks, I’m shocked yet unsurprised at how unfit my parents are, and how they hail every minuscule accomplishment as a success and reason for pride. They embarrass me, with how old, Swedish, unfit, and inexperienced they are. I hope I’ll never be like them.

But in trying not to be like them, will I? Like a Greek tragedy, will I inevitably end up becoming them?

In the car I’m torn between wanting to drive like people who aren’t in here, but in the cars behind me, and the people who are in here with me; the British to whom I’ve been trying to belong for over a decade, and my parents, who after four years here are still foreigners unused to lefthand traffic and narrow country lanes. My mother’s sharp inhale and braced arm against my backrest every time I get a meeting, versus the queue of cars behind me as I drive in 35mph on a 50 road. My father’s disbelief in the loud voice of a man with poor hearing of how it can possibly be legal to park along roads so narrow that only one can pass at a time, versus the imagined voices of more confident drivers whom I used to watch from the passenger’s seat. I want to make them both proud. I want to impress, but only my parents are here to see, and they see skills in safety and not in speed.

In the height and wind and mist of the hills I want to and be admired and recognised. I do care what people think. I want to be worshipped and thanked by the right people. Not those who understand nothing. This makes me a horrible person. I was truer when I was 14 and had no friends because I refused to conform and care what others thought. The less they liked me, the stronger I felt. The truer.

But this was hard, and now I want to be acknowledged. In the half-gale winds of our third walking day I’m shaken by nature and truth. I want to be thanked, rewarded and praised. I hate myself for it, but it’s true. I don’t deserve their unconditional.

There is no rest for the wicked, and no prize for the good. It’s a thankless task to be strong, it’s a quiet battle to do good and work hard. Happiness will allude me, and at my funeral they’ll play Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ to an empty church. And in the ground the worms will feast on me as they feast on kings and devils alike.

There is no karma, only useless fucking equality.

The last day is too windy for a walk. We visit the Blue John Cavern instead, going deep into its darkness and secrets. If I do become like my parents, will that be such a bad thing? To push and challenge physical and psychological boundaries; to be generous with praise for yourself and others; to share your thoughts and feelings and love; to be loud and not care about what other people think. Would that be so bad?

I’m torn between who I was born — like them — and whom I’ve tried to become — the English. Mamma and Pappa aren’t more impressed the more English I am. The English are more impressed the more Swedish I am. Who I am in this contradiction?

The car is silent on the way home. It is full of muddy clothes and shoes and a family who love each other. My parents say ‘good driving’ when I manage to navigate a difficult roundabout, or find may way home through Cambridge. In the ears of someone who isn’t there, I think it sounds patronising. But it’s meant for ears who are here; my ears. They appreciate me. They admire me, and praise me. They are the ones who are actually here, and will always be here. The judgement I imagine from other people can be ignored, for now.

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