Now that Christmas is nudging a little closer, my thoughts have been turning to sorting out the logistics of popping over to see my parents. This also inevitably brings to mind the various travel related mishaps that I’ve had over the years (late trains, snow, rough seas, flight delays etc.).
I wrote the following piece about one of the times things went awry, for a school newsletter a few years ago and have just been fiddling with it a bit more. It’s another of my attempts (along with The Cake Lady) to experiment with memoir writing.
Stranded in Wales: Our Holyhead Experience
A few years ago, I often travelled from Dublin to Birmingham using the Dún Laoghaire /Holyhead ferry route. After one particular visit to Birmingham, the return trip didn’t go according to plan. My daughter and I had planned to be back in Dublin in time for her dad’s birthday and we duly arrived in Holyhead to catch the last Stena ferry to Dún Laoghaire. But the departure area was strangely, evenly ominously quiet. Did I have the sailing time wrong? I was dismayed to discover that Stena had cancelled the evening sailing; our ferry had been sailing through rough seas on the way over to Wales and had been involved in a slight collision in. While no serious damage had occurred, repairs and safety checks meant that we were not going anywhere in a hurry. There would be no ferry until about 9am the next day; an Irish Ferries boat would then (apparently) be sailing the stranded passengers into Dublin Port instead of Dún Laoghaire. So much for my best efforts at forward birthday planning.
So I found myself in the somewhat daunting position of being stranded in a town I hardly knew with nowhere to stay. Oh, and not forgetting the small (very tired) child in tow. I was at least equipped with the necessary cash for emergencies (whether being prepared for emergencies is a legacy of being in the Brownies or from reading Paddington, I’m not sure but nevertheless, generally I am prepared). After patiently explaining our predicament to my tearful four-year old and then phoning home to break the news of the interesting situation, I set about trying to figure out where we could stay. After ruling out a night on hard moulded plastic seats, I thought that our best option might be to head back to Brum and start afresh next morning. The thought of a proper bed to sleep in was strangely tempting. Unfortunately, a quick glance at the train timetable ruled that idea out of court.
Fortune seemed to be smiling on me when I spotted a pile of glossy leaflets advertising a new bed and breakfast place in town. It looked decent and reasonably priced. The only thing that now remained was to find the address given in as short a time as possible. My daughter was still upset at not being able to get home for daddy’s birthday. I tried to persuade her that being stuck on the wrong side of the Irish Sea from the birthday cake and (her own bed) was a great adventure. At that point, she just wouldn’t buy it and I had no more treats in my armoury to placate her. Call it being prepared for emergencies, but only up to a point (this situation wasn’t covered in the Brownie Handbook). Fortunately, sharing the stimulating experience of being stranded in Holyhead was her elephant (Ella).
We found the address of the B&B without too much difficulty, but there our luck petered out. The sign read, ‘Full up, no vacancies‘. Well it was half term so I suppose this was hardly surprising. I decided that it made sense to ask anyway, since we needed help. The owner would probably be able to point us in the direction of another bed (or so I hoped). The proprietor confirmed that he didn’t have any vacancies, but then asked me to wait and said that he would see what he could do. We promptly crossed our fingers and toes (even Ella the elephant did). His side of the overheard phone conversation involved the explanation that he had a stranded mammy and child. It turned out that he had been speaking to his mother who just happened to run a small guesthouse nearby. To my great relief we were sorted. Then instead of just giving me the address and directions, our newfound friend (I regret that I failed to keep a note of his name) offered to drive us to his mother’s house. I wondered fleetingly whether I was being very irresponsible in getting into a car with a total stranger. But there are times when you have to trust your gut and this was one of those occasions.
I was actually grateful to have had the lift over to the house, as we were both rather tired and dispirited. We then realised that we needed to find somewhere handy to eat as the premises didn’t offer evening meals. It turned out that our most likely option was a local fish and chip shop that boasted a couple of tables for dining in. The only question remaining was whether it would be open on a Sunday night or not. To my amazement, our new landlady’s son then very kindly offered a lift to the chip shop. He even said he would wait to be sure the shop was open before leaving us; this was certainly well above the call of guesthouse duty. I did however feel that I should draw the line at phoning him for the offered lift back.
My daughter was finally reconciled to our Holyhead adventure by the experience of eating piping hot fish and chips hours past her normal bedtime. Thankfully, I found the way back to the B&B after only one wrong turning. I even managed to find an Aldi (or was it Lidl?) to buy orange juice. Cue a brief moment of self-congratulation upon my innate sense of direction. We were certainly glad to see our beds that night; it had been a very long day and we were still not sure whether we would get home on Irish Ferries’ morning sailing. Meanwhile things had turned out much better than I expected, thanks to the kindness of strangers.
Although we were yet to leave Holyhead to brave the stormy seas on our homeward trek…
I hope you liked the piece and would appreciate any constructive comments! I’ll be back with a Tolstoy update soon..