The Worst Journey of My Life3

I should have guessed that this year's annual pilgrimage to my parents house in the south of France would be a "my worst yet" winner. Consider the ingredients: four children under seven, an eight hour ferry crossing, the crazy decision to bring their bikes, 1000 miles and the insane idea that breaking the journey up with a further overnight stop would somehow help.

The car looked like a tinker's jalopy; bikes hanging off the back, an overfilled roof box with pink bedding sticking out and a pan lid pressed hard up against the boot window promising a general contents collapse should we try to get something out - such as, let me see, an overnight case perhaps? What was my husband thinking? "It was the only way to get it all in" Andrew said. "If you had not insisted on taking that bedding then I could have done it" he went on as if packing the car was the equivalent of completing the Guardian crossword. "In any case the bags are accessible - if you fold down Gemma's seat and move the standard lamp" he added sheepishly as we pulled off the drive. I should have got out while I still could.

Looking back, and I have only been able to do so with the benefit of three days recuperation, it is difficult to identify what was the lowlight. The cell like cabins deep in the bowels of the ship shook us until two of the children were sick. I escaped the smell to spend a fitful night on the Pullman deck and confusion over who had Adam left our three year old wandering Z deck lost amid rows of identical cabin doors before being found by cabin staff.

Ferry and recriminations over, I made the mistake of handing Luke his joke book only to have to listen with faux enthusiasm as he repeatedly asked us from the back seat "why did the skeleton not go to the disco?". "I can't stop him" said Andrew "If you want him to stop, you have to get back there and take the book from him. Besides it is good reading practise for him". Soon the extra it would have cost us to fly looked like exceptional value.

It was late, very late by the time we pulled up in front of the locked and dark motel for the overnight stop. Unable to get in, our inter-marital "discussion" finally brought Madame Lefevre to her bedroom window. "You must swipe the door with your credit card" she called at us, stating what would have been obvious had we not been tired, argumentative and suspicious that our online booking had not worked.

Was it all worth it? Sitting with glass in hand, the sun setting red on the distant Pyrenees and the kids being put to bed by their grandparents, I'm still not sure. The warm breeze is slowly dying in the evening air. I'll pour myself another and let you know.

G Stead

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