“Thinking of taking the ferry to France?” I said. “Here are some tips!” I said, like a girl who knows a thing or two about driving to France. Then this year happened.
It started out really well – too well really. We were more organised than ever, and managed to leave the house earlier than planned. This has never happened before (not for the once-a-year-holiday, nor for the five-times-a-week commute to work) so there was a hint of smugness as we congratulated one another on finally finding a stress-free way to leave for the ferry – just about enough smugness to tempt an easily-swayed Fate.
We had loads of time to spare, so stopped for some take-away coffees, and a couple of Danishes; the paper-bag well concealed from ever-hungry children – this was to be the grown-up snack for later, when the kids were asleep. We know how to do the ferry you see.
But there were some changes this year – not to the Oscar Wilde itself, which is always reassuringly the same, but to the kids. Of course, they’re all a year older now. Clara at six, is no longer interested in the soft play area that used to entertain her for most of the pre-dinner period. And Sam, at two-and-a-half, is like a hyperactive puppy who has just been set free in a giant garden. Or, I suppose, a hyperactive toddler who has just been set free in a giant boat.
But the biggest change of all was that we had booked two cabins instead of one, and our adjoining cabins were on two different floors.
There was no real reason to assume they’d actually be adjoining, but I’d never thought to ask. We hadn’t packed or prepared for cabins that were two floors apart – the girls and their dad on the sixth floor; Sam and I on the eighth. All of our overnight luggage was in one bag, and we had brought just one tube of toothpaste and one bottle of water – not big problems, but setbacks we didn’t need. As I considered the conundrum presented by the two-Danishes-in-one-bag, and listened to Clara saying she didn’t like the ferry anymore, I silently agreed. This year would be different.
Abandoning our luggage and our toothpaste dilemmas, we spent some time between the two play-areas and the coffee shop. But with a bored six-year-old, a dizzy five-year-old and a loose canon two-year-old, we soon retreated wearily to the sixth floor cabin – the one with the food bag (the girls and their dad had won that toss).
Within minutes, Sam had locked himself in the toilet. We tried to unlock it from the outside with a coin but it didn’t work. Just as we were about to look for a member of staff (to do what?), he figured out how to turn the lock back and let himself out. Then he unpacked Clara’s bag, and put her eyeshadow all over his forehead (eyeshadow being essential overnight packing for any six-year-old travelling by ferry of course). He messed up Emmie’s neatly laid out sticker-book stickers, and then climbed on his dad’s head to try to reach the TV.
“Eh, do you two want to go to your own cabin now mum?” asked Emmie, giving me a pointed look and nodding crossly towards Sam. “Not on your life,” I replied, “we’re in this together.” And indeed we were, with all four of us searching for him during the frantic five minutes when he was lost later on at the kids’ disco (“Me hide again now mummy?” he said chirpily when I found him). We subsequently lost Emmie, and worrying that we might soon be reported to the captain for negligence, we decided it was time for bed (after finding Emmie, needless to say – we didn’t just give up)
Which is how by 9pm, I found myself in pyjamas, in a darkened room, with no wifi, no TV, and nobody to talk to. Or another way to look at it; by 9pm, I was in pyjamas, in a darkened room with a gently snoring toddler, a glossy magazine, a new book, a glass of wine, and a hard-won Danish. Ferry ads say that the holiday begins the moment you get on board – actually, add on a few hours, and maybe it does.
For the return journey, we had one cabin instead of two – hurrah! And by 11pm, all three kids were lying down in their beds – hurrah! Except, they were wide awake; the two girls were in fits of laughter as Sam entertained them with fake burps. For fifteen minutes solid, over and over. And it was still funny apparently. Next year I’m booking the adjoining rooms on different floors.