I think enough time has passed and I can venture to record our Valentines Day adventure (or disaster, depending on how Pollyanna you are) without stirring up too much anxiety.
We decided that the way to get around and see stuff while we’re here was to buy an older but decent used car to use and then sell it at the end of our adventure. After a lot of searching and hassle (it’s hard to buy a used car when you don’t have a car to get you around to see cars) we found this awesome Kia Sedona mini van. It had low mileage, test drove well and seemed like a good deal so we went for it. I drove it with trepidation to Emmeline’s school and back the first few days we had it and, aside from being tricky to drive on the opposite side of the road, it was great. Then, on the first Saturday we had it we all loaded up, excited for our first family adventure out into the countryside and it didn’t start. It had been cold, so we figured the battery had just died. So we borrowed cables and called on neighbors and tried to jump it. Still no dice. So, we called off our Saturday adventure and invited some friends over to keep us company while AAA came to tow it away. Turns out the alternator was bad, so we took it into the garage and had it repaired.
Then comes Valentines Day. Amy’s girls were out of school for the week so we researched to find the warmest spot in England and planed a little road trip down south to the beach in Bournemouth. Three moms, 10 kids, three cars. I picked up my car from the garage, it started like a charm with a shiny new (and expensive) alternator. I headed out on the freeway for the first time to meet up with Amy and her friend. I was sweating bullets as I tried to navigate with everything seeming backwards. After getting off at the wrong exit on various round-abouts and going too far on the freeway in the wrong direction I finally made it to our meeting spot. I put the car in park, chatted with Ames for a minute and then we were off.
But not really. When I tried to put my car into drive it just revved high like it was in neutral. Muttering to myself that this could not be happening I turned off the car, turned it back on and put it into drive and it went, for a few yards then slipped again. I turned it off and on again and it went again, no problem, until we were on the beltway, the huge M25 circular, going 60 mph and then suddenly I pushed the gas and there was no response. Luckily there was a place I could pull over. By this time our kids were irate! Hazel was screaming, and I mean screaming, in the back seat about how much she hated our car. Charlie was worried as could be. Emmeline was mad as a horrent. Peter was hungry for milk. And somehow, miracle of miracles, I was calm as a cucumber. I pulled over, called Jeff, called Amy, tried to calm down the kids and then waited. When I told the kids that we probably weren’t going to make it to the beach they came undone. (I didn’t think that they could get any worse, but they did). All kinds of weeping and wailing and cursing at the car from the back seat until Amy very kindly offered to come and take Hazel and Charlie in her car. The plan was that I would wait for the tow truck, try to get the car fixed (maybe it just needed transmission fluid?) and then head down to meet up with everyone. Surely I’d be at the seaside by sunset.
To make a long story short, I didn’t make it there by sunset. A very nice roadside rescue guy took me and Peter and Em and that blasted car to a transmission place. Emmeline loved driving in the big tow truck. Once there, the mechanic drove the car around and around the block and couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I was beginning to think that maybe I imagined it all until the mechanic checked the transmission fluid and saw that it was all black which he thought was a sure sign that the transmission was shot for good. Seriously? A brand new car? Money down the drain. I’ll spare you all the mechanical details….but suffice it to say, we determined the car to be unfit to take us down to the seaside.
Car or no car, I felt the pull of the sea, I was determined to make it to Bournemouth (you know how I love the beach in the winter). By this point I was sick and tired of this darn car getting in the way of us experiencing what we wanted to experience. I looked into renting a car and then decided to take the train. I loaded Peter on my back, consolidated our stuff into one rolly bag, grabbed Emmeline's little hand and asked the mechanic to please take us to the tube station. We rode into Waterloo station and boarded a train that got us to Bournemouth around 10pm.
I’m leaving out a lot of not so fun details, like the fact that somehow we boarded the “Quite” car and we were anything but quiet. And the fact that through all the stress I kept forgetting to get food so the only thing we had to eat was some chocolate from our Valentines day breakfast, some Jaffa Cakes and some rolls that Amy had given us. And the embarrassing admission that all the anxiety somehow put me into this weird place where I felt sure that I was doing the wrong thing, that somehow we were going to die on this journey, that that Valentines breakfast was going to be the last happy moment in our family history, that someone was going to crash or something was going to go wrong in a major way. Totally irrational, I know but those thoughts were real and had me all tied up in knots by the time Amy picked me up at the train station. Boy was she a sight for sore eyes. She snapped me out of that irrational place and we went back to the funny hotel I had booked and met up with everyone else.
I hugged my kids more fiercely that night than I have in a long time.
Amy and Dana and I stayed up late in the hallway of our hotel talking (and laughing at the strange valentines day noises that were coming from the room next door). They helped me to think myself around feeling horrible that we had thrown so much money down the drain on that dumb car and I went to bed exhausted but ok.
Not my favorite Valentines day. In fact, I think my very worst.
But, the next day nearly made up for it. It was glorious. One of those incredible winter beach days with magic hanging in the air all around. It was warm, uncharacteristically warm. It was free and bright and big and open. It soothed my soul and quenched all my anxiety.
I’ll let the pictures tell the story here.
We were the only ones crazy enough to think of going to the beach in February in England. Look at those kids break up that perfect beach with their footprints running to the sea. The beach makes kids happy. It just does. All that freedom and fresh air and beauty and treasures. Seriously, isn’t every single face full of glee?We collected rocks and shells and buried our feet. The kids built sand castles and buried each other. Hazel begged for her swimming suit and when I said no she went in the water up to her thighs in her clothes. It was warm and wonderful. Did I say that already?Here the moms are. Side note: I love these pictures snapped by kids. It’s good to see the world from their perspective. Our hotel was hysterical. Doesn’t that room look like something out of a novel? An orphanage perhaps? We had three rooms, but this one was my favorite. The best part of the Hotel was the manager who I’m certain thought we were polygamist wives at first. When we assured him that we were not, he told us that he had never met any Mormons before and was amazed that we were so normal. Normal? Not sure if that’s the best word to describe these crazy kids. Charlie was in heaven having a few boys around. He’s been such a trooper playing with so many girls, but boy was he delighted to get some of that boy energy out with these kids.Here’s our room. Hazel thought it was the best because it had purple stripes on the wall. The stripes didn’t quite make up for the fact that the beds were horrid. There were springs poking into my body all night….even after I tried padding the mattress with all the clothes and coats we had brought. If there had been any room on the floor that would have been a more comfortable option. We split up the kids and packed everyone in the car for the drive home. On the way we stopped to see Salisbury Cathedral (an amazing old medieval cathedral with the tallest spire in England). It was a beautiful. This blue stained glass window (above) is part of Trinity Chapel. There is a slap below it where people used to pray to be cured of their illnesses. The blue window was designed to help us remember people who are in trouble or in need of healing. You could light a candle there and say a prayer for someone who needs extra help. Hazel and Charlie both decided they wanted to light a candle for their cousin Lucy. Isn’t this reflecting font beautiful?And here are my kids tearing up the place.We spent a good chunk of time playing on the lawn of the Cathedral – well, the kids played, the moms sat on a bench and chatted. Peter crawled in the mud.
We finished off the trip with a drive by Stonehenge. It’s pretty strange to be driving on a pretty big road and then suddenly see Stonehenge behind a chain link fence. It was a little bit disappointing if you ask me. Charlie has been DYING to see Stonehenge. He looked up for a total of 20 seconds before returning to his game on my iPhone. I know, we should have stopped and done it justice, but we were tired.
So, there you have it. Our first adventure out in the countryside. And boy was it more of an adventure than we bargained for.
That blasted car has now been passed on and we’re starting fresh, with another car, with slightly less of a problem with it’s transmission (a story for another day).
Thank goodness for the sea.
“Whatever we loose, like a you or a me,
It’s always ourselves we find in the sea. “
-- e e cummings