Lil’s Bus Trip – Judy Leigh

I have to confess to loving Judy Leigh’s novels, and so it is with great anticipation that I am starting to read Lil’s bus trip. The anticipation – since I’m sure you are asking yourself about that – is about how to approach this undoubted gem. Should I stay up all night and binge read, lapping the words up greedily like the proverbial cat who’s got the cream – or can I manage a more measured approach; savouring each word, each sentence, like a favourite glass of good wine, or treasured chocolate? Will I demolish this indisputable luxury in one fell swoop, or can I ration the pleasure, in order to make it last longer, allowing me to revel in its glory? (Indeed, is this book a delicacy for me, or a luxury?)Time (and self control) will tell, but I hope that this time I can show some restraint and make the enjoyment last that little bit longer!

Unusually, I was really quite taken with the front cover of this novel. I loved the glorious WYSIWYG feel to it – overflowing with fun, colour and maybe a hint of romance, all enveloped in a fresh bright feel and an overwhelming sense of calm. I also felt incredibly drawn to the subject matter of the trip being embarked upon. I have always liked the idea of visiting the Normandy beaches, such are their historical draw; indeed in an ideal world, such a trip would be mandatory for European teenagers, from all the countries involved in WWII.

Octogenarian Lily is a wonderful character; a unicorn in a field of ponies; the type of person that persistently makes the world seem like a better place. I adored the fact that one of her supposed hobbies, was teasing Keith in the cafe! I have such a fondness for personalities that defy societal ‘norms’ and those character expectations that seem to exist alongside today’s contemporary fiction. Similarly I have the utmost respect for Judy Leigh’s writing and the way that she gives voice to her amazing, often quirky characters. I also love Judy’s effortless recognition that, reflecting the real world, not all literary heroines are slim, stunningly beautiful and under 30 years of age. In a corresponding fashion, not all men in books are of the hunky variety.

I was greatly saddened by Lil’s main memory of 1953. Things have certainly changed for the better since then, as society has woken up to its peoples needs. I found some of Lil’s memories of that year difficult to read; the way she was ostracised by her family – made to feel a lesser person. Full credit to Judy Leigh for broaching what can still be an emotive issue and for describing what really did happen to many women back then. The issue was undoubtedly handled with the respect that it deserved.

Nonetheless in the current day, Lil sounded pretty happy, living in her assisted living complex just across the road from the sea. She reminded me of my dear old Nan, in that respect. She always used to say of her pensioner life-style, that she had never had things so good. She reminded me a bit of my dear old Nan – she always did have the most marvellous outlook on life and I can but hope to emulate that outlook on life when I am in my eighties and nineties. As for Lil, she lives a pretty good life, with green foil wrapped triangular chocolates as her panacea. What’s not to love! I must admit to almost being able to palpably feel the electricity in the air, when Herman turned up for a surprise visit.

Cassie, Lil’s Daughter and Lil’s friend Maggie find themselves booked to go on a minibus tour around three countries in Europe, organised by the local pub landlord. What a unique plot, surely guaranteed to raise some laughs in this house! I did feel sad for Lil’s friend Maggie who seemed to have devoted her life to pandering to her Husband Brian’s every whim. The friends were discussing the impending bus trip bus trip and Maggie was saying how she couldn’t possibly go, in case Brian needed her for some spurious reason. I know of course that this is a work of fiction, but I just felt so acutely aware that for some women, being downtrodden and treated in this demeaning manner, is a completely normal way of life. I felt that the author treated the topic in a thoroughly sympathetic manner, and hopefully she will have helped to raise awareness of this kind of ill treatment. I was drawn out of my malaise, to the extent that I was chuckling rather loudly to myself, at the eventual agreed approach – that Maggie would just go on the trip without saying goodbye – and see how long it would take for Brian to notice that she had actually gone away!

Jamie was an interesting multi-layered character – a bit like an onion. I felt for him, having to juggle coping with a chronic illness whilst enduring house sharing with someone that he is besotted with; worse still, the object of his affections is clearly oblivious to his devotion. I feared for Jamie; was he strong enough to cope without Cassie? Did he read more into their relationship on the romantic front, than she did and if so, how would he cope with the devastation of finding that out, or finding out about a relationship between Cassie and another man?

I liked the relationships between the travellers on the mini bus – how their rapport grew by the day, to the extent that they were happily teasing each other and exchanging banter, for example teasing Ken about the new book he was writing. I found it compelling that Lil was seeking out new friends and experiences; the antithesis of society’s expectation of someone who has moved to an assisted living situation. I saw this as a sign to people of a certain age – that you’re never too old to try something new. There certainly was still was plenty of life left for living, in the old duck that was Lil.

Vulnerability is a theme throughout the book and the author deals with it most eloquently. Denise feels left out within the travelling party. Cassie tries to reach out to her, but it’s not very successful as Cassie is part of why Denise feels like she does. No blame can be attributed to Cassie – it’s just that Denise has this overwhelming sense of Cassie being perfect and of not being able to live up that standard.The other susceptible person is Jamie. He is clearly missing Cassie, and is underplaying how he feels. This quite rightly leaves Cassie concerned about him. The point when Jamie realises that Cassie is still going to be away for another 8 days, is positively heartbreaking wrenching. As a reader I was concerned about Jamie too – a testament to how realistic Judy Leigh makes her characters – to the extent that you genuinely find yourself caring about them.

Humour also features strongly throughout the book, with my favourite moment involving three of the older travellers, pot brownies and strip poker; enough said! In addition I think that the book sends messages about age – that you are never to old to find love – or in fact to do anything, should you choose to do so! What a fantastic outlook on life!

This book really was a panacea. I managed not to make the mistake of staying up all night to binge read it and I made it last a little longer. It brightened up my life. Even though I am nowhere near as old as Lil, this book affected me.

It made me laugh (in a most unbecoming fashion, at times).

It made me smile.

It made me laugh.

It made me cry. (most unbecoming again; funny tears; big ugly wet tears).

It made me see that you’re never too old for love.

it made me see you’re never too old to travel.

It made me realise that you’re never too old for anything, and especially anything new. Just listen to your heart.

It made me see that each of us is our own person – and you can do what the heck you like (so long as it’s legal!)

It made me want to make the most of my life, however old I may be; to seize every opportunity that crosses my path.

It made me think of death but in a positive way – as in thinking of good life lived.

This was one deep, powerful piece of writing, disguised as a lighter work of contemporary fiction.


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