I had big plans for our Summer holiday this year. After what seemed to have been a long, exhausting Winter, we were desperately in need of some quality time together as a family, sunshine, sea and sandcastles, and if possible…time to relax!! And so instead of our usual five days away, we went all out, scrimped and saved and managed to book ten long days away in West Sussex. And I was SO excited, we all were, and optimistic that this could well be our best holiday EVER!!
And so I got on a mission, wrote list after list, told myself that this year we would be super organised and avoid any un-necessary stress. I envisioned the house being left spotless, fresh bedding waiting for our return, everything clean, ironed and packed ready for us to simply wake up on the Sunday morning, jump in the car and go! In reality, things didn’t quite go to plan!
By Saturday night the case was still empty (unless you include all of the crap left in it from last years holiday!), every surface was littered with jumbled piles of clothes and the house looked as though it had been thoroughly ransacked!! And logistically, it was an absolute nightmare. When you have two adults, three babies, Lewis taking up half the boot and the prams taking up the other, where do you even start with loading in the suitcases, the travel cot, the bags of “stuff” that we can’t possibly leave home without? And as if driving 300 miles south with four hot, sweaty and whiny children in the back isn’t bad enough, being surrounded by cases/boxes/carrier bags of last minute “must haves” just adds to the claustrophobia!
Lucky for me, Gaz reminded me of his genius Tetris playing skills from back in the day on his Game Boy and when push came to shove, quite literally, by midnight we had crammed every last bit of luggage in there!!
So Sunday morning came around and ninety minutes behind schedule (a fact that Lewis repeatedly reminded us of – minute by minute) poor Lew was shoved in the boot, totally hemmed in by the cases and prams, balancing his own bag on his knee, buckets and spades rattling around at his feet and we had barely made it to the end of the road before he started moaning about cramp in his legs!!
The girls were wedged into their car seats, cases and bags stuffed in the footwells below them, a multipack of Wotsits rustling at their feet every two seconds, alternating between crying, needing a wee, needing more food/juice/attention or screeching that the other one had dared to look at them in the wrong way!
And then a poorly Harry, burning up in his car seat after falling ill the night before with a temperature, refusing to feed and whimpering pitifully. We dosed him up with Calpol and Nurofen,stripped him off, said a silent prayer and hoped for the best!!
But we were off. Driving down the open road, blue skies on the horizon, the prospect of ten lovely, peaceful, relaxing days ahead. And breathe…..
And then it started. Megan decided that today was the day she would screech, on repeat, the most ear-piercing noise you can ever imagine. The more we told her to stop, the worse the screams became and at one point Gaz commented that we could loan her out to the CIA to torture prisoners of war for inside information. It was THAT bad.
And then the battle of the car seat straps began. The first time she managed to wrestle her chubby little arms out of the straps I managed to shove them back in and give her a stern warning not to do it again. The second, third, fourth, fifth time, as she looked at me with a look of sheer smugness, I was beginning to lose my patience. By the hundredth time, as I was hanging out of the front seat, wrangling with her in the back seat, sweating and stretching in ways I didn’t even know I could bend, I found myself losing the plot just a little. And as her screeches turned to full on psychotic screams, causing Eva and Harry to join in with her cries, we did what any decent parents would do in the same situation. We cranked up the radio as loud as it would go, gritted our teeth and hoped that at some point during the next four hours, they would give in and go to sleep.
At some point a few hundred miles in, as we cruised along the motorway, the music still unbearably loud to drown out Megans relentless screams, we just about heard an unmistakable blast and the slow grating sound of metal coming from our car. As we swerved onto the hard shoulder and skidded to a halt, Gaz jumped out and informed me, using a range of exaggerated gesticulations, that our back tyre had totally blown! And where as usually, this would involve unloading the boot, getting out the spare tyre and whacking on a new one, of course that would be far too simple. The S-Max is probably one of the few cars that doesn’t have a spare tyre and so we were there, stuck on the hard shoulder, no spare tyre, blaming each other for our lack of breakdown cover and thinking what the hell do we do now???
And then by some stroke of genius I remembered that Gaz has some fancy bank account with Natwest that gives you all sorts of benefits, one that could possibly include breakdown cover?! And as Google informed me that we were covered I thanked God that he had been stupid enough to pay £20 a month for his bank account all these years despite my constant nagging at him to cancel it! I called them up and we were told that somebody would be with us….”in the next few hours”.
And so we sat, the six of us, on the side of the hard shoulder, in knee length grass as cars zoomed past us, in the baking heat with nothing but a bottle of water and a bag of wotsits to occupy the children. But Megan, of course, wasnt happy to sit there safely, and it took my most vice like ninja grip to stop her wrestling and fighting her way out of our arms. As she screamed, thrashed, kicked and punched I contemplated whether Amazon sold childrens straight jackets as a back up plan for future situations such as this?
I have never known time to go so slowly, more so when we were under attack by every kind of creepy crawly you can imagine! I spent the entire time flicking off wasps, bees, spiders, random things with far too many legs to count and jumping every time I heard a buzz or a whistle. When a strange bruise like bite appeared on my arm I sat there, clutching Eva with one hand, googling “death by black widow spiders” with the other and wondering at what point would we look back on this and laugh?!
But then two long hours later, “Kevin” came along with his pick up truck and we flocked to him like six grubby, hungry, tired castaways! He loaded us all in, hoisted up the car onto the back of his truck and off we went. And for the next one hundred miles he regaled us with tales of his gangster past from life on the East End, told us about his pet dog who survived “Ebola of the tail” and as we swerved in and out of lanes on the motorway he scrolled through his phone to show us photos of his other dog, Slug. I sat there, clutching the girls, who were precariously balanced on the edge of the rickety back seat, thinking that this could only ever happen to us!!!
So we finally got to the travel lodge, 8 hours later, and as Kevin unloaded our car and told us that somebody would come and bring a spare tyre later on that evening, I went to check in. Only there was no reception, just a shell of a building and a sign cellotaped to the wall that said “Undergoing renovations”. I eventually found the reception, a porter cabin at the back of the car park and as we went up to our room we realised that this was unlike any other Travel Lodge we had stayed at before. The corridors were covered in polythene protective coverings, “Wet paint” signs hung on every wall and the stench of paint was unbearable. As we opened the door to our “family room” we were hit by a blast of furnace like heat and the realisation that the Travel Lodge and I had very different views of what constituted family sized! And as I threw down our bags I silently cursed myself for not choosing The Premier Inn.
We had booked a table at a lovely Italian restaurant in nearby Chichester, planned a pleasant stroll around the city, evening drinks by the local harbour and some much needed fresh air after a long, exhausting journey. Instead we found that the Travel Lodge was slap bang in the middle of a dual carriage way and there was no way in or out on foot without risking the possibility of being ploughed down by oncoming traffic. The Little Chef next door was, no surprise, “closed for renovations”, and with nothing but a dwindling multipack of Wotsits and a bag of Maltesers for dinner, we were well and truly screwed.
I spent the next hour ringing around local take aways, trying to order food only to be told that none of them would deliver as it was a nine mile round trip just to turn around at the other end of the dual carriage way. As the kids become more and more hysterical and hungry I found myself begging and haggling with the last take away on the list and eventually, after robbing us blind, he agreed to deliver kebabs and garlic bread. And at ten pm they finally arrived bringing the dodgiest looking kebabs I have ever seen. We were so hungry by this point that we wolfed them down, not caring if it was beak or bone, and the fact that they were swarming in mayonnaise means we wouldn’t have known the difference anyway.
By half past ten the guy finally came from the garage, took £80 of our holiday spending money in exchange for a new tyre and we finally piled into bed. Gaz and I in one, Lew, Eva and Megan squashed into two small camp beds shoved together and a poorly Harry, who by this point was burning up and screaming in pain, in his cot at the foot of the bed. By the early hours I was still wide awake, panicking about intruders as the door didn’t even have a lock on it, googling the possibility of having a delayed reaction to whatever parasite had bitten me on the hard shoulder, and telling myself that things can only get better from here.
After a couple of hours sleep we were rudely awoke by Megan screeching, Harrys poorly whimpers and Lews screams of “Megans pooed on me!!!!”. Through blearly eyes I looked across to see Lewis smeared in some kind of brown stuff, the crisp white sheets and pillow smeared with the same. As I jumped out of bed to see what the hell had happened I noticed Megan smirking, the empty bag of Maltesers in her hand and realised that at some point in the early hours, Megan had helped herself to the chocolate which had clearly melted in the oven like temperatures! God help the cleaner whose job it was to clean up that massacre!!
But we survived the night, checked out, walked over to our car and it was only after we had loaded in the children and sat down that we saw what had happened. The mother of all cracks right across the middle of our windscreen. As we sat there, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, dialling the insurance company and wondering how much this would cost us, we yet again reminded ourselves that things could only get better.
And after a 300 mile journey, a ten hour trip, the hotel from hell, all of our car troubles and a poorly Harry, the only thing keeping us going was the thought of sandy beaches and blue skies. So you can imagine our reaction as we rocked up at Butlins to be greeted by torrential rain, black skies, gale force winds and our first impression was, if I am brutally honest,…What. A. Dump.
We sat there in the car, not knowing whether to stay put or get out, looking at eachother with building hysteria before Gaz said what we had all been thinking, “We should have gone to Spain”.
“We might as well have gone to Blackpool!!!” Lewis piped up from the back.
And we did the only thing that we could possibly do in that situation, we laughed until tears ran down our faces, our sides hurt and we howled so loud that Megan, who had finally decided that NOW was her time to sleep, told us, “Stop laughing!! Too noisy!!” which only made us laugh even harder!!