Some of you may remember the disaster of our holiday last year, the ten days spent in West Sussex where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. For those who haven’t read about that holiday you can find my post about it here and here, and I think after reading that, you will understand why we were so apprehensive about having another Summer holiday this year. But it’s funny how with time memories can fade, how as the months pass you can forget just how utterly awful something was and start to think that actually, a Summer holiday would be something to look forward to, the perfect occasion to rectify all of last years wrong, and that actually, it couldn’t be any worse……could it??
And so, some may call us brave, some may call us stupid, we took the plunge. We booked ten days down in “sunny Devon” and the militant style pre-holiday preparation was under way. Intent on not making the same mistakes as last year, we sourced roof bars for the car, borrowed a roof box from a friend and gave the car a good once over, change of oil, topped up the tyre pressure, silently congratulated ourselves on being such responsible car owners and reassured ourselves that unlike last year, there would be no car trouble to thwart our plans!
This year we told ourselves that we would go minimalistic with the packing, reminding ourselves that the children wouldn’t need twenty seven pairs of socks each day, nor the five hundred and twenty t-shirts it seemed we had taken the previous year. So with the roof box on, the To Do lists written, car
bribes snacks purchased, we were good to go. And so I have no idea how, with just hours before our expected departure, the cases remained empty, the house still looked like a bomb had hit it and the children were so hyped up that not one of them was ready for bed!
By morning, after a late night and an early start, we began the annual task of loading the many, many cases into the car. Only this year we were feeling smug, loading our cases into the roof box and marvelling at how much room there was in the car, how we could miraculously see out of the back window, relishing in the fact that Lewis wouldn’t be moaning every two seconds about being cramped up with the pram hitting his head every time we turned a corner. Only by the time we filled the roof box we realised that actually, there was still a mountain of “stuff” that still needed wedging in, infact more luggage than any year previously, and as Gaz wrestled with the boot and muttered under his breath about where the hell all this stuff had come from, I suspected that his idea of minimalist and mine were two very different things!!
But we were ready for off, buoyed up with the thought of the Devon sunshine, lazy days on the beach, relaxing by the pool, doing nothing but building sandcastles, eating ice creams and soaking up the sun. And even when the roof box wouldn’t lock and the key jammed in the lock, even when after emptying it completely and jiggling it around in desperation it still wouldn’t work, when, after thirty minutes had passed, we had to call my Dad to come over, armed with his WD40 and his genius like mind for all things mechanical, even that didn’t lower our mood. And forty minutes later when we finally got it locked and on the road, we were in great spirits. This was going to be the best holiday EVER!
And although, a few miles in, we had to turn around and go back home for the long list of things we had forgotten, by the time we finally got on the motorway and found ourselves cruising along to the soothing tones of James Bay, it all felt too good to be true. When the children began to converse only in song, I bit my tongue and reminded myself that they were simply excited to be going on holiday. When Harry began to wrestle his arms out of his seat belt and lunge forward with brutish force, I told myself that he was just a baby, most likely wanting a hug. When Lewis started to ask how far until the nearest service station as he was needing a wee….already, I swallowed back the urge to tell him that he should have gone before we set off, that a two year old could go longer than he had, that we had lost time to make up for and no way could we stop already, and instead I told him not long now, just a few minutes up the road. And when the Satnav broke, right out of nowhere, and we were driving blind, I simply got on to Google maps, swiftly navigated our route and told myself there is nothing in this world we couldn’t do. Because nothing, absolutely nothing, was going to dampen our happy holidays.
After hours on the road, sitting through numerous traffic jams, refereeing countless arguments and saying things like, “Eva stop saying you will poo on Megans head!” and, “Megan stop calling your sister a wee wee stinky bum!”, as we approached Bristol Gaz suddenly let out a long sigh and declared, “We’re losing power!!”. And given our breakdown last year and the car horrors that unfolded, I had laughed out loud, told him, “Nice try!” and lowered my head back to my Sudoku puzzle. “Seriously!” he told me as he swerved the car over to the hard shoulder, “Somethings wrong!”. And as we came to a halt on the hard shoulder, traffic whizzing past us at top speed, he tried to turn the engine over and yet there was merely a short splutter and then nothing, just the worrying sound of silence. “Oh god”……
Experiencing a severe case of deja vu, I rang Green Flag, explained our situation and, although we remembered the drill quite clearly, was told to vacate the car, wait on the hard shoulder and somebody would be with us within 90 minutes. And so out we all got, huddled together against an overgrowth of nettles, the rain, of course, lashing down on us as we stood there, praying for a miracle. By chance, Gaz spotted an opening in some trees ahead and we found that if we could jump across a stinky, algae infested ditch, there was a tiny patch of earth for us to sit on, to keep safe and dry until the break down guy came along and saved us. And sitting there, wet, cold and miserable, I thought back to last year, to that roadside spider bite and the subsequent dramas that followed, and instantly began slapping, scratching and screeching at every tickling sensation on my legs, every crawling sensation down the back of my neck, and every rustle in the bushes. “Keep your arms and legs on the blanket!” I told the kids, fighting back the urge to cry, and asking myself why, oh why did we forget to bring the multipack of Wotsits
Two hours later, when ‘Joe’ popped his head through the trees, we were cold, tired and hungry. He informed us that we had to wait a little longer for his colleague to catch up in his truck so he could load on our car, take me and the kids in one truck and Gaz and Lewis in the other. And standing there, teetering dangerously on the road side bank, he regaled us with tale after tale of injuries sustained on the hard shoulder. His twelve broken ribs, various knocks to the head from wing mirrors, the side of lorries, the many, many occasions when he had stared death in the face and lived to tell the tale, unlike some of his colleagues who had not been so lucky. The kids sat there, mouths wide open, gaping in horror at the gruesome tales they were hearing, and by the time the other guy finally turned up, I was more than ready to get in the truck!
Although, me being me, simply getting in the truck would have been way too easy. Instead, as Gaz took the children safely across, I was left to fend for myself, to manoeuvre my way across the ditch, down the grass verge and onto the hard shoulder, like my very own Krypton Factor. And just as I made the leap across the ditch, with the traffic speeding by and Joes words still ringing in my ears, I tripped over my flip flop, went flying through the air, with one foot dunking back into the ditch water and the other sending me down the grass verge, prickly shrubs implanting into the palms of my hands, and a thick, stinky trail of mud down the back of my trousers. And as I scrambled up, my heart beating out of my chest, I was faced with Lewis, absolutely hysterical with laughter, clearly relishing in my near death experience, and pointing at me from the back of the truck.
So into the truck we got, me, sitting on an old newspaper at the request of Joe to protect the seat from my soggy bottom, and the youngest three behind me, completely bewildered in their car seats, and Joe launches into another tale. Over the course of the next hour he told us about the time that he almost died when a lorry reversed over him while changing a tyre, the time he broke both arms and legs when he fell out of a tree, the time that, whilst driving along on his motorbike at 150mph, he crashed into the car in front, flew from the first lane north bound to the second lane south bound, smashed straight through some ones windscreen, at an estimated speed of 200mph, broke twenty seven bones in his body and remained in a coma for the best part of a year. He tells me how the lady in the car whose windscreen he smashed through visited him every day for 11 months, that when he woke up they started dating and fell in love and how they recently split up due to her fear of driving and his need to buy a new motorbike. And as he’s telling me all this I start to think that it all sounds a little familiar, that I can vaguely remember a film I saw of something very similar, and I start to question how anyone could survive that level of impact, if it’s possible to fly that far through the air, whether there are even 27 breakable bones in the human body? And at that moment my phone beeped and I received a text message from Gaz, ‘Just speaking with the truck driver, he said nobody has ever been injured on the job in the whole time he has worked for the company! Odd!!’. And it hit me, as I felt the growing sense of panic building in my stomach, Joe the truck driver is a pathological liar!!!!
By the time we arrived at the depot in Bristol, more than a little relieved to see the back of Jackanory, we were told that our car needed to stay in the garage, that we could borrow a hire car to continue our journey south, and yet first we would obviously need to transfer all of our luggage over. All of our luggage, and that from the roof box, which all of a sudden meant that we were dealing with mission impossible. So while it lashed down with rain, while the kids screamed and cried at being shoved into a strange car, we attempted to push, pull and cram every bit of luggage into the boot. It soon became evident that it wasn’t going to fit as we stood there, rain streaming down our faces, bulging carrier bags spilling around our feet, arguing over what we could ditch, “Don’t throw away my Crunchy nuts!!” Lewis screeched from the back. And yet somehow, with the foot wells piled high and knees up to our chin, we finally managed it, and we were ready for off…..again!
By the time we arrived in Exmouth it was dark, cold and raining, and we had no idea where to go. Both our phone batteries had died, drained from the twelve hours of GPS, we had no maps, there was nobody around to ask and we had no idea where our Premier Inn was. And for an hour and a half we drove around the same industrial estates, looked at the same concrete buildings, the same depots and warehouses and silently raged at each other that neither of us had thought to write down the directions. And then finally, in the distance, we spotted a crane, a steam roller, a taped off area and the familiar signs of “This hotel is under renovation” and we knew, like some kind of horrific Groundhog day, that this was our hotel, that West Sussex 2015 had come back to haunt us.
But little did we know that this was just the start………..