So it turns out that actually, Bognor Regis isn’t that bad. Once we had stretched our legs, wrapped up in our warmest winter jumpers and lugged our mountain of luggage up the two flights of stairs to our apartment, we decided that now we were here, we might as well make the most of it. Our apartment was a decent size, clean enough and if nothing else it was a safe haven from the gale force winds and the torrential rain that hammered at the windows.
And after an all you can eat Papa Johns pizza feast which, despite Harry screaming hysterically throughout and Megan having a meltdown over Eva stealing her green crayon, passed uneventfully, we trudged back to our apartment wanting nothing more than to crawl into our beds and sleep.
As we got to the front door, the rain bouncing off the pavements, soaked to the bone as “somebody” forgot to pack the umbrella, both Gaz and I stood there waiting.
“Open it then!!” I said, wondering what he was playing at.
“I’ve not got the key!” he said indignantly, “I told you to get it!”.
And so we stood there, in the dark, with just a dim porch light and the torch from my phone as I emptied my pockets, my handbag, the entire contents of the baby bag (you wouldn’t believe how much stuff you can fit in there!) and as we stood, freezing cold, wet and tired I had the awful realisation that they key card was exactly where I had left it…on the kitchen table.
So we all trudged back to guest services, shivering with cold, Lewis moaning that his new trainers were totally ruined, only for the sign on the door to tell us that they were closed until 9am the following morning. Back we trailed into the main Skyline, hunted for someone resembling staff who finally gave us a number to call who told us they would be at our apartment within the hour. So we sat there on the steps of our apartment, blaming eachother for forgetting the key, tired, cold, raindrops dripping from the end of our noses, and I would have given just about anything to be back there on that hard shoulder, baking in the heat!!
But the following day, after very little sleep with a poorly Harry and the upstairs neighbours who stomped, stamped and shouted until the early hours, we woke to blue skies and sunshine. And everything felt a million times better!!
Lewis enjoyed a day of football, rock climbing, high ropes, zip wires and was off at the funfair with his new found friends. And we spent the day exploring, giving in to the girls repeated cries of “Horses!!” and although Harry screamed the whole time, it didn’t sound half as annoying when weather was so lovely.
And even when Megan had an unfortunate run-in with Evas ice cream, it still wasn’t enough to dampen our mood!!
The next day, when our Calpol and Nurofen supplies were running dangerously low, we ventured into Chichester to find a chemist and see the sights.
“Oooh a princess castle!!” Eva exclaimed as we approached Chichester Catherdral, a mistake which we foolishly did not correct. “We’ve got to be quiet in here” I told the girls, “No running, no shouting and no touching!!”. So it was no surprise that Eva ran straight in, knocked a pile of hymn sheets to the floor and shouted in her loudest voice, “Has anyone seen the princess??”. As I shushed her and hurried her past the priest, who did not look remotely impressed, Eva continued, “Princess! Princess!! Where are you hiding?”. As she ran past me into one of the side rooms I noticed Megan had sneaked the other way and was joining in with her cries, “Princess! Are you in here?” she shouted, on her hands and knees beneath the altar. By the time I had wrestled Megan into her pushchair, I turned to find Eva sitting, a bible on her lap, her little finger moving along the words reading, “Once upon a time there lived a princess who loved to play hide and seek…” Trying not to laugh, I fastened her back in the buggy and we headed back to find Gaz who was still exactly where we had left him, taking his ten millionth photo of a stained glass window.
It was only then that I saw Lewis, my beautiful, kind, thoughtful boy, taking a moment to light a candle for his little brother. And as he stood there, gazing at the flame lost in thought, my heart could burst. As tears threatened my eyes he slipped his hand inside mine, “Lets go and find that princess!”.
Day four saw our first, and our last, swim as a family of six. I often wonder why we have never taken them all swimming before and this, this hour of absolute hell, reminded me exactly why. Because taking four children swimming is hard at the best of times, but when three of them are just babies and there’s only four hands to hold them, it becomes impossible. Just getting through the changing rooms saga left me exhausted! Trying to wrestle three wriggly children into lycra, divert our eyes from Lewis and his cries of, “Don’t look at me!!”, blow up several inflatable contraptions, somehow dress ourselves and transport all of our paraphernalia across the changing rooms into a locker without it ending up drenched on the floor, was a mission in itself!
We finally managed to somehow wrestle Harry into his blow up seat, Megan clawing at me like some kind of wild cat and Eva wanting to jump straight in at the deep end into the most crowded, noisiest pool of all time. Lewis was straight off, enjoying the slides and the wave machine, while we sat in the toddler end, teenagers rampaging through it without a care in the world, while Megan SCREAMED and cried and clawed at my chest to escape the water. After half an hour of hell, during which we were caught up in the aftermath of the wave machine and swallowed half of the pool, and god knows what else, we gave in and called it a day.
And then began the impossible process of fitting five of us into one tiny cubicle, trying to change, dry and dress three children, and ourselves, and get out of there with our sanity intact. “That was fun!!” declared Eva as we left. “All that chlorine has gone to your head!” I told her, in need of a stiff drink!!
That night saw our first trip to the hospital. Harry had gone six days with nothing to eat and barely any water and we noticed that not only was he still burning up, but his little mouth was literally full of ulcers. As he seemed to be getting worse, and after a telephone consultation with 111, we were sent to the local hospital. After sitting for three hours waiting to be seen, while Harry literally screamed the place down, the doctor diagnosed hand, foot and mouth and said if his condition didn’t improve then would have to take him to a hospital ten miles away to be seen by a pediatrician.
The following day we found ourselves back at a different hospital, Harry now severely dehydrated, showing signs of another chest infection and still unable to eat or drink. That night when we finally made it home, and STILL he screamed on repeat, I should not have been surprised to be greeted by a poorly Megan, who was now burning up and crying in pain. The next few days passed in a blur of screaming babies, torrential downpours and one unfortunate incident after another. First Megan fell off a picnic bench into a thorn bush, then again she fell backwards off her chair at the circus and then, and you couldn’t make this up, we locked ourselves our of apartment twice over!!
Every meal time resulted in the children screaming as soon as food or drink touched their poorly mouths followed by the inevitable look of disapproval from other diners, the tuts, the glares and the evil eyes as our children ruined their dining experience.The first few times I tried not to let it bother me, hoping that other parents would understand how hard it is with little ones, but eventually I became embarrassed, all too aware of the judgmental looks from every angle, the mumblings of, “Would someone shut that baby up!” and the angry looks from the staff as they took in the massacre that we had left behind. As we endured yet another walk of shame as we left the restaurant I swore that from now on we would be eating at Burger King, and actually that turned out to be our most relaxing meal of all!!
And despite the fact that by the end of the week Megan had succumbed to hand, foot and mouth and had blisters popping up everywhere, we managed to fit in some happier moments. Lewis enjoyed kayaking, water gliders and played football for hours each day. We trekked up to the beach at Littlehampton, let the children loose with a bucket and spade and, despite the fact that it was freezing cold and raining on and off, they seemed to enjoy themselves! Harry ate several mouthfuls for the first time that week, and although it was only sand…at least it was something!
As our last day at Butlins came around we were tired, stressed and mentally drained. So when Harry’s hand continued to swell and the tiny little bite that we had previously noticed was now an angry looking blister, we realised that something was wrong. And after speaking to my friend, who specifically requested that I would give her a mention in my blog (Thanks Dr Walkingshaw!), who told me that it looked very much like a spider bite, we ended up back at our favourite holiday hot spot…the hospital.
And it turns out that while I had been worrying about black widow spiders and my own little bite, Harry had been well and truly chomped on by something very scary! The doctor said that it was most definitely a spider bite and started him on antibiotics immediately and our poor little boy was so brave and, despite all of his suffering, he still managed to find a few smiles.
Packing up the car for the journey home was bittersweet. I can’t say that I wish we could have stayed longer as by that point, I was well and truly exhausted. But I wish that our holiday had been easier, that the children had been well and that so many obstacles hadn’t crossed our path. When we waved goodbye to Bognor Regis I knew that we would never return, but my impression of it was slightly better that the day we had arrived.
We decided that a detour to the New Forest would be a good idea to break up the journey and yet we found ourselves queueing in traffic (unaware that the annual New Forest Show was on that weekend!) for well over an hour, creeping along one car at a time. We passed the boredom by terrorising Lewis with tales of the New Forest wild bear attacks for our own amusement and laughed ourselves stupid every time we made him jump! When we finally arrived all the girls wanted to do was look for the wild ponies and so we trekked for miles through wasteland, while Gaz sang the first line of Susan Boyles, Wild horses on repeat every two minutes like someone with Tourettes. After an hour of walking, fifteen minutes of that spent scraping horse poo off the bottom of Lews trainers (NOW they were ruined), we finally came across a group of horses and after the novelty of watching them do, well…not a lot, wore off, we trekked all the way back again.
Our last night was spent at a Travel Lodge up near Tamworth, and unlike our first stay, this hotel was fully functional. We had a lovely meal, Harry ate a full bowl for the very first time that week and although Megan screamed and cried, she was far too weak to thrash and kick so at least that made for small mercies.
On our final day we went to Drayton Manor, a theme park and zoo with Thomas Land for the little ones and the big rides for Lew and Gaz. And while they went off on the rollercoasters, we strolled around the zoo, enjoyed rides at Thomas land and even Megan managed at few smiles.
“Which was your favourite animal?” I asked her as we sat eating lunch in the sun, thinking of all of the different animals we had just seen. “Pigeon” she replied, and continued to slurp on her ice lolly.
When I spotted a new ride we hadn’t seen before, one that looked relatively tame but actually span upside down on repeat, I knew that it was Gaz’s idea of hell. Given that he is close to vomiting on the slowest of waltzers, I knew that this was his arch nemesis.
“Why don’t you go on that ride?” I ask casually, commending myself on my cunning plan, “Looks good!”.
“It looks like it will make me feel sick”, he said, “I’ll only go on it if you go on The Apocalypse!”.
I froze, last year we had been here and they had tricked me into going on The Apocalypse and there had been actual tears. For the past 12 months I have re-lived the fear of it, watched Gaz and Lewis laugh hysterically at the memory of it and the thought of going back on it made me feel physically ill. “Deal” I said, and as we shook on it I crossed my fingers behind my back like a six year old and watched him and Lewis queue for the ride.
And I stood there, waiting for the moment that the bar came down and there was no escape, and I exploded with laughter. “Daddy’s going to be sick!!” I told the girls as the ride started turning, and by this point I was choking with hysteria. As I watched Gaz’s face turn from pink to white, to a deathly shade of green, tears streamed down my face to the point that there was no sound coming out as I laughed, creasing over like a demented seal. I barely even felt the tap on my shoulder, shaking with uncontrollable laughter and a lady behind me asking with a concerned expression, “Are you okay??”.
“Daddy’s going to be sick!” Meggy piped up.
And as we piled into the car for the last time that holiday, hot, sweaty and ready for home, I actually felt a little bit sad. Because really, when you look beyond all of the hospital visits, the car trouble, the screaming children and a run down holiday resort, the main thing is that the children had a blast. And while it may not go down in history as our “Best holiday ever” (God help us if it does!!), it was all about making memories and I suppose that this one is a holiday we wont ever forget!!
So as we finally arrived home, after another few hours in the car, grateful to have escaped any more disasters, we walked in and my first thought was, “We’ve been burgled!!”. As I took in the mess that greeted us, our house ransacked and in complete disarray, piles of stuff on every surface, just as I was about to reach for my phone to call the police, I suddenly remembered. This was exactly how we had left it last Sunday morning!!
Home, sweet home.