This is a father’s journal of travelling from the Isle of Islay in Scotland to Spain in February 2019 with my partner, Tissy, and our two little boys: Hugh, who will turn 6 during our trip, and James, who will be four just after we get back to Britain. Idea is to track the experience of a family road trip, what we see along the way and reflect on some other things, including parenting boys, mental health and Brexit, which form the background to our trip. Might be a bit rushed at times trying to write things up in the evening, but will try to refine it as I go along
So, this morning (Wednesday 6/2/2019) we landed at Caen in northern France on our way to Spain. We are headed for Blaye on the northern edge of the Bordeaux wine region for our first overnight stop, but our 14-year-old Volvo XC90 has being playing up on the drive down from Scotland and we are not sure we will make it. Slightly stressful start to a month-long holiday. This is how our day started, around 6am French time, on board a Brittany Ferries ship from Portsmouth.
I do like Brittany Ferries: Nice linen and pillows in their cabins and decent breakfasts. Hugh thinks of pain au chocolat as a kind of birthright since he was born, in Versailles no less, on French soil. He is looking forward to seeing lots of French flags and rubbing his Italian-born younger brother’s nose in it.
Hugh, above with his mother Tissy, has always been an early bird. He runs out of steam, sometimes quite combustibly, in the early evening and is always raring to go and ravenously hungry soon after dawn.
His younger brother James has a different set of Circadian rhythms. He sometimes sneaks out of bed after his big brother has gone to sleep and comes to join the adult party. He is not a morning person. He never wants to eat when he first gets up and often will only speak ‘eek, eek’ baby talk for an hour or more until he comes round.
The mystery of the two boys’ different temperaments and character never ceases to amaze me. My mother says I was like Hugh as a child, with a tendency to worry about things. I can’t remember ever feeling anxious as a boy — other than about that everlasting hellfire business — but anxiety has certainly been a feature of my adult life, so guess we can take Mum’s recollection as accurate on that.
Getting off the ferry, I notice the contents of the car-in-front’s boot:
I’m not judging: it is genuinely difficult to come up with a reason for why European teabags are so disappointing. Even when it is the same brand, like Twinings, it is never the same. Have often thought this must be entirely auto-suggestive but that didn’t stop me importing in bulk when I lived in France and Italy in recent years. The young me would have scoffed at such behaviour, while sipping awful French “expresso”.
All seems well as we start heading south in deep fog. But 15 minutes later, a warning light flashes up on the dashboard: Soot Filter Full: See Manual. Soon that flips the car into protected “limp” mode and we find ourselves struggling uphill. We know what is going on because we’ve been dealing with this for a few days now: It is all a bit infuriating given that we spent £1,400 getting the car serviced, repaired and ready for the trip on Islay. We’ve since had two RAC breakdown engineers and a Volvo garage in Oxfordshire trying to work out what was going wrong. The latter took £400 from us for fitting new pressure sensors to ensure the new particulate filter fitted on Islay would work: all to no avail. Another trip to a Volvo garage beckons.
Yesterday, at the Volvo garage in England, there was one of those all-singing and dancing coffee/tea machines and as many ginger-stem shortbread biscuits as you can eat. Today we have to make do with Nespresso and none of the staff are overweight. (we had a lot of time to reflect on socio-cultural-health matters). We arrived at the garage at 10am. Around 1130, the nice chap dealing with us started getting slightly agitated about it being “presque midi”. Initially I thought he was warning us that our hourly bill was going to be ticking upwards. But then I realised he was simply trying to negotiate us out of the way because they were closing up for lunch! Hopes were not high on an out-of-town motor showroom beltway: but France never ceases to surprise me. The place was packed and we had a fabulous lunch!
All’s much better post-lunch and the garage staff are cautiously optimistic they’ve fixed the problem. We part company with another 130 euros and we are on our way. Onwards and upwards now. The place I’ve booked in Blaye turns out to be fabulous, we have a nice wine bar early dinner, then baths and bed.