This is the Road to Hell… Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I told you about one of the worst holidays we ever had, so I thought this week I will tell you about one of the best. We’ve not had many holidays, Miss F and I, mostly due to lack of funds, but also because holidays are not much of a break for me. In order to take time off work, I always had to work extra hard to get everything up to date, knowing that when I got back, I’d have to work extra hard to catch up. Also, I was the sole expedition organiser and leader, meaning I was responsible for planning where and when we were going, I had to pay and make all the arrangements. I was going to be the one doing all the driving. I was responsible for making sure all our clothes were washed and packed. I was also the one who would have to clean the house from top to bottom and get up to date on laundry before we left. Miss F once commented:

“I don’t know why you’re so obsessed with getting the house all clean and tidy before we go away. If a burglar breaks in while we’re gone, I don’t suppose they’ll care how dirty the house it.”

“No, I make sure it’s all clean and tidy because when I get back off holiday I don’t want to then have to turn around and clean the house before going back to work.”

We’ve also tended to stick to holidays in the UK. Again, lots of reasons for this. I hate flying. I hate the whole painful rigmarole of airports. My ears go funny when I fly and take days to right themselves. When you’re only having a week’s holiday, to lose two days travelling and feel ill for pretty much the rest of the time seems like a bit of a waste. There are some lovely places in the British Isles to holiday. We can go self-catering so I know there’ll be food that Miss F will eat. If we went on holiday abroad, funds would dictate we would have to share a hotel room, and while Miss F was small and going to bed early, what would I do in the evening once she was asleep? Sit and read and drink in total silence for fear of waking her up, trapped in the room all evening because no way would I leave her alone in a hotel room. At least, in a holiday let in the UK there’d be separate bedrooms from the lounge, so I’d be able to watch TV. Most holiday lets come with some sort of outdoor space, so I’d be able to sit outside and enjoy the balmy evenings. Finally, again, I would be the sole grown-up in charge of the whole expedition.

I had a friend who was a travel junkie. A self-processed sufferer of wanderlust, she was always off to some exotic corner of the world, and when she found herself unexpectedly pregnant did not see any reason why having a tiny baby should change her plans. She once said to me:

“I don’t know why you’re so dead set against going abroad with Miss F. I mean, you’re a sensible person, I know you could cope with any emergency like her getting ill or hurt.”

“Yes, I know I could cope if anything should happen to her. But, how would she cope if anything should happen to me?”

And, as far as I was concerned, that was the whole crux of the matter. Yes, I knew I could cope should Miss F fall ill or be injured. But, what about if I fell ill or even died for some reason. The thought of my little girl, alone, in a foreign country where she knew no one and couldn’t speak the language, with a sick or even dead mother. No. The very thought was enough to make me shudder. We’d stick to holidays in the UK thanks, at least if anything happened to me Miss F could ask for help and my parents were only a car journey away.

Anyway, so when 2015 came around we hadn’t been on holiday for several years. Well. I hadn’t been on holiday. Miss F had had several nice school trips and there had been the odd day out, but as far as a proper, pack your cases, load up the car, we’re going away for at least a week, type of holiday, it must have been at least five years since we’d had one.

Anyway, how we came to have this holiday is quite an interesting story. It was early in the year, probably about March, I was sitting in bed one morning having a cup of tea and looking around my bedroom. It hadn’t been decorated in years and was beginning to look very tired and dated. I need to decorate, I thought, but how could I, with this enormous bed in the way?

Now, this bed was one I’d had many years and was one I’d bought when I was still with my first husband. A genuine Victorian wrought iron and brass bed, it was a thing of sturdy, Gothic magnificence, but it was enormous! Five foot in width and about seven foot in length it dominated the room and decorating around it was going to be a nightmare. Even dismantled, this bed would still be a sizeable pile of ironware. And it was then that the plan occurred to me. Sell the bed. I thought I’d probably get quite a lot for it as it was a genuine antique, then with the money I made decorate my bedroom as I wanted it and buy a smaller bed. After all, there was just me in it, I didn’t need a king size bed, a double one would be ample, and it would give more room in my bedroom. We have a small single spare room that I was quite happy to camp out in while all this was going on.

So, I put the bed plus the mattress, the electric blanket, the mattress protector and two king size duvets on eBay for £700 and waited to see what would happen. Nothing did. There was a bit of interest, but no one placed any bids. So, I dropped the price to £600. Bit more interest then and a few more enquiries about it, and several people were watching it. Then I received a very interesting email from someone.

“Hi there, I’m really interested in the bed, but I can’t quite manage £600. It’s to go in a holiday cottage we’ve just finished renovating and all the money I’ve got left to spend on a bed is £500. Would you be prepared to accept this and a week’s stay for free in the cottage?”

Well, this was unexpected. I thought about it, my excitement growing. Steady, I cautioned myself.

“I might be, whereabouts is the cottage?”

“It’s in a little village ten miles outside of York.”

Now I love York, I’ve been there lots of times and know how amazing it is, plus the Yorkshire Dales are beautiful.

“Here’s the link to take a virtual tour of the cottage. Let me know what you think.”

What did I think? The cottage was gorgeous, and the deal seemed too good to be true. I was still getting £500 for the bed, more than enough to pay for some paint and wallpaper, and I’d seen the new bed I wanted on eBay for £100 so there would be cash left over to save for spending money.

The deal was struck, she paid for the bed, I closed the auction once the money hit my bank account, and she arranged for a courier service to pick it up. Then, when Miss F got home from school, I told her the wonderful news that like all her friends, we too would be going away on holiday after all that year.

We went in August, by a coincidence the day we travelled up was Miss F’s twelfth birthday and she was wildly excited as I packed the car up early that morning. I wanted to avoid the rush hour, so we had a good breakfast and left at 10am. Google maps had promised us it would take about three hours. The car had been serviced and had a full tank of fuel. It was a chilly but bright day and our spirits were high as we drove onto the A14 heading North.

Our good mood didn’t last long. The sky got progressively darker the further north we travelled, before long the heavens had opened and torrential rain of monsoonal properties was battering the roof of the car. Traffic got slower and slower, grinding to complete standstills sometimes, before crawling forward a few more feet. It got worse. The weather got worse. By the time I finally crawled onto the M1 and the motorway went into three lanes, I was seriously wondering about getting off at the next junction and simply going home.

Sitting there in my tiny Nissan Micra, the rain belting down from a black sky, with lorries in front, behind and on both sides of me, it felt like the end of the world, and I couldn’t believe that we’d waited years to have this holiday only to experience this kind of weather in August and this kind of traffic on a Friday morning.

We sat stationary for almost an hour. I had no idea what was happening up ahead and there was nothing I could do about it. We couldn’t go forward and we couldn’t go back. We’d lost reception on the radio so resorted to guessing games to pass the time. Nothing was said, but I was getting hungry and I needed the loo, so I knew it wouldn’t be long before Miss F was complaining about the same issues.

Eventually, the traffic started moving again. We started looking for roadside cafes or service stations, anywhere that had toilets and sold food. We saw signs for an American Diner up ahead, great we thought. But when we approached, we could see a line of people standing outside in the pouring rain waiting to get a table. Nope, I declared, and on we drove.

By now it was almost 3:00pm, we’d been on the road for five hours and were still on the M1. We drove on. It carried on raining, harder than ever now. Our stomachs rumbled and our bladders protested. I knew we had to stop soon, but where? There just didn’t seem to be anywhere.

Finally, at the roundabout junction where we had to leave the M1 and take an A road heading towards York we saw signs for a service station. Not caring what it was, I pulled off the road and we parked the car. Dashing through the foot-deep puddles we were soaked by the time we staggered into the covered food hall and I could feel cold water seeping between my toes. Great.

But, first things first, we dashed to the ladies only to find – of course – a mile long queue. Nothing for it, we had to wait in legs crossed agony – now we were standing up, gravity was doing its part. Finally, we reached the top of the queue. Having sorted out that need, we now looked to our next one. Food. Please can we have a Burger King, asked Miss F, seeing as we’re on holiday. Quite frankly, if she’d had suggested slow roasted aardvark, I’d have been up for it at that point. The queue for Burger King was even longer than the queue for the loo. We looked at each other. Then spotted a little M&S shop next to it. Grabbing a basket, we loaded it up with ready cooked BBQ chicken wings, crisps, sandwiches and cake. I tried to keep things healthy by picking up some fruit pots, even though I knew the chances of Miss F eating them were slim.

We splashed back to the car and sat there with the windows steamed up glumly munching our lunch/dinner as the rain sloshed down. Sitting there, I was taken back to when I was a child, and days out with my parents, when we’d sit in the car parked at some seaside resort or other, staring morosely out at the rain belting down, munching on sandwiches, with my mother sporadically chiming in with – I’m sure it’ll clear up soon – and my father’s mood worsening because, quite frankly, he’d rather have been anywhere and doing anything else than this.

Lunch over, we set off again. By now I was so sick of being in the car and this hellish journey. I was beginning to feel like I’d been born in that bloody car. Was beginning to believe I’d probably die in it as well.

At last, we saw the turnoff for the village. Carefully following the instructions we’d been emailed we bumped our way up a cart track and parked where we’d been told to. I switched off the car. Silence, well, apart from the non-stop rain that was.

I looked at the clock. It was 6:30pm. We’d been on the road for over eight hours. We could have flown to New York in less time. But at least we were here, even though I still had to unpack the car. Unable to park any closer to the cottage, we had to lug everything up a narrow pathway. It was dark. Proper dark. Countryside dark. So, we had to fumble around trying to find the key, get the door open and find the light switch. Miss F had carried one bag to the house, but was so excited to explore our new home for the week, that she dumped it just inside the front door and skipped off, leaving me to unload everything else and carry it all up that dark path in the pouring rain.

I was soaked to the skin. I had wet and muddy feet. I was cold and tired and quite frankly pissed off. Royally pissed off. I was stiff from the stress of driving for eight hours, and did I mention how pissed off I was. Bloody hell, I muttered to myself, this is precisely why I don’t do holidays! This is why I stay home, because this always happens to us.

Grumping and muttering the whole time, it took me four trips to unload the car and get everything into the cottage.

“Come and have a look, mummy,” my over-excited daughter sang out. “It’s absolutely wonderful.”

Struggling to untie the sodden laces on my trainers, I pulled them off and propped them up by the radiator to dry – yes, the lovely cottage owners had been concerned about how cold and wet it was so had popped over earlier and put the heating on. Feeling my jeans stick to my legs like wet blotting paper, I yelled at Miss F to come and help take things upstairs, rather than prancing about all over the place like a useless fairy. Chastised, she came down to help and I felt mean, but also strangely better for venting a little.

We carried our suitcases and wash bags upstairs. The cottage was very open plan and so new and shiny it almost hurt to look at it. Miss F’s room was big and comfy, with one of those beds that can be two singles or a superking. At her request, it had been left as a superking and Teddy was already sitting on it, looking somewhat lost in that vast expanse of bed. There was a gorgeous bathroom, with creamy marble tiles and a huge walk in shower that I eyed longingly. My spirits began to rise.

Then there was my room, and of course, there was my old bed. In the stresses of the journey I’d forgotten I’d be sleeping in it again. It was like greeting an old friend, and my spirits lifted even further. Telling Miss F to quickly change out of her wet things, I peeled off my sopping jeans and felt much better once I was in dry, warm clothes.

Downstairs there was a large open plan lounge, kitchen, diner, with a huge TV on the wall and a woodburning stove in the corner. A small cloakroom was under the stairs, and as we carried our boxes of food and drink into the kitchen and started to unpack, we discovered a homemade lemon drizzle cake with three birthday candles on it and a pack of matches lying next to it. I’d happen to mention to the owner that it was Miss F’s birthday the day we were travelling up, so she’d made her a cake. That cheered us both up, that she’d been so kind and thoughtful.

Finally, in the fridge, I found a little bottle of Prosecco and my spirits were completely restored to their usual levels. We finished unpacking, settling into our home for the next six days. That’s why I like self-catering holiday lets, you can take your own things and make it feel like home.

Neither of us were particularly hungry, so I made us a hot snack which we had with cake, and I had the Prosecco – hey, I was on holiday and I think I definitely deserved it after that hellish road trip. We switched on the TV; Miss F wildly excited to discover we had Sky movies. Bizarrely there was no sound and the subtitles were on, which took a bit of fiddling around with the remote to amend, and I assumed the previous holiday makers had been hard of hearing or something.

An early night seemed a good idea for us both, so Miss F soon went upstairs to her superking bed and I channel hopped, trying to find something to fill an hour or so. Ten minutes later she was back down, complaining that the TV was so loud it was booming in her room, keeping her awake.

The TV was on so low I could barely hear it, so I went upstairs to hear for myself and discovered that she was right. Oh, the joys of open plan acoustics. By some weird trick of sound, even thought the TV volume was on a low setting, it was echoing into her bedroom. What to do? Of course, volume off and subtitles on, so that mystery was explained. And that was how I had to watch TV after she’d gone to bed for the whole week, with the volume off and the subtitles on.

Going to bed myself, I cleaned my teeth in an unfamiliar bathroom where the water tasted “different” from home, and then settled down into my old bed – at least that was familiar. Lying there, listening to the rain hammering down on the skylight above, I wondered how the week would go, and I really hoped it would stop bloody raining!

Tune in next week for part two of the best holiday we ever had – it gets better, honestly.

Julia Blake

2 thoughts on “This is the Road to Hell… Part 2

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