The Storm Before Christmas

Some of you eager beaver readers may have noticed I have been quiet of late. In between stuffing turkeys and generally having a life of your own you must have wondered what I was up to. Right? Well, there have been hard times and winter dips. I have been unable or maybe reluctant to try to pluck a needle of wit out of the haystack of crushing doubt, the cowering in dark corners and downright drudge of bum detail. Or it could be laziness. Whatever it is, in my reticence to spill the real dirt of everyday life you have missed out on could be stories about throwing up in bed and late-night sewing projects that have brought me to the brink of hysterics. You have also missed out on the 4am massive diarriah clean-up operation. Bummer.

But it is the new year, a time for new beginnings. I will resolve just to write stuff, no matter what, be it drivel, or nuggets of delight you won’t be spared, life is not all that funny, often it’s shit and if there’s no hilarity to be found you’ll be getting the bum detail.

23 December 2013. We are heading to England for the Christmas knees up. We are in fact extremely organised. Bags are packed the night before. We wake the kids, strap them in the car and throw croissants in their mouths before they have a chance to whinge. We set off for the 4 hour drive to Dunkirk. This is the first ferry we’ve ever been so early for. No panic.

“Well done” I say to P when we reach the port. “You’ve done half the drive already”

Things only start to go wrong once onboard. The soft play area is closed due to bad weather. It’s absolutely the only thing to do on this boat for small kids and I’ve been promising it for the last 4 hours. Ah well. Obviously the captain must have decided that the softest, most padded area of the ship was far too dangerous for little heads to bump against in the event of rough waters.

Safety first.

We head to the cafe instead and buy lunch, mostly chips with mayonniase.

And indeed as we set off the sea does seem to be getting rocky. We wander around a bit, kill time staring out to sea. Then I smell something absolutely foul.

S has pooed, and it’s mega. I take his clothes off in the bathroom and discover that runny poo has exploded out of his nappy and all down his legs. It takes an entire pack of wipes but I’ve cleaned him and every surface in the bathroom that he’s touched. It’s getting trickier howevever since he’s clamped to my leg to stop himself from falling when the boat lurches from side to side and some of the poo has flicked up onto my jumper. Just as I stretch to the hand-basin, I begin to feel really seasick. The smell of shit and the memory of mayonnaise is not helping. I grab S, attempt to steady myself above the sink and dunk his legs in the soap and water. He clings to my neck.

“Whoooaa” he says

When we get out of the bathroom P looks worse than I feel. His face has a kind of pained expression like he’s concentrating very hard on not throwing up.

The cafe staff are handing out paper sick bags.

No one is really moving a lot anymore. We just lie there across the chairs.

“What time is it?”

“About another 15 minutes til we’re there I think” says P

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. Regretfully you will notice that the wind outside is very strong. Unfortunately as a safety precaution we will need to be towed into dock. We are now in a queue with two other ferries ahead of us. There will be a significant delay. We are looking at a wait of about 2 hours. We apologise for the inconvenience, but hope you will understand that weather conditions are severe and this is a safety measure.”

A gasp goes up amoungst the passengers.

“I don’t know if I can handle another 2 hours of this”

Time goes by slowly. S is bored. He’s the only one who doesn’t seem to be effected by sea-sickness. He wants to explore.

“I want to go over there” he points

He pulls me up. He has bare little legs. His trousers are covered in wet poo and I’ve stuffed them in a plastic bag. I grab him by the hand and we lurch along past a lot of people holding sick bags and immobile, sprawled with their heads down on the table. There is salt scattered all over the carpet. I assume it’s been sprinkled on the piles of vomit but I don’t really want to get close enough to investigate further.

We keep doing circuits, past the shop, bottles of Bailey’s slide off the shelves and smash, the lights and buttons on the fruit machines, the TV, costa coffee, more people lying in the aisle, the Christmas tree fallen on it’s side, someone being sick and we’re back to the start. So we go on for a few hours.

A is lying with a sick bag over her mouth. She looks up at me.

“Mummy, I’m tired, I feel sick and I’m bored”

“I know exactly how you feel”

Another announcement. – Now the storm has worsened, we are closer to the front of the queue but will have to wait another couple of hours for the wind to die down before we can dock.

“This is in the interests of passenger safety”

We pick up our stuff and kind of shuffle, crawl, stagger to the other end of the boat where they are showing a kids film on TV. You can’t hear a word of it and it switches to black and white every time there’s an announcement on the tannoy, but we have to kill time somehow. It’s either this or stare out the window at blackness.

It’s starting to get late in the evening and even the staff look pissed off, no polite smiles. Kids are either crying, running around like caged animals or throwing up and parents are commiserating with each other wordlessly. An ackowledging nod and a concerned frown. Why is nothing happening?

“Ladies and gentlemen, for the next 20 minutes the self service restaurant will be serving complimentary tea and coffee.”

I buy ice-lollys for the kids, basically to fill a bit of time, but maybe it’ll even help with the nausea. I have to pay €1.95 for a mini milk. S takes one lick and decides he doesn’t like it.

“Ladies and gentlemen” you can hear a shift down in his tone of voice “I’m afraid it’s bad news. We have been attempting to dock, but the sea is very rough and it has become too dangerous. The decision has been made to close the port at Dover. We will return to the water off the coast of France and wait until the storm passes. The weather report has shown this to be around 3 o’clock tonight and we expect the harbour to open again at 6am. We are very sorry for the inconvience, but our priority has to be to passenger safety”

Now people start freaking out.

“My dog is in the car!”

“Why can’t we just go back to Dunkirk?”

“People just want to get off this boat now, please is there nowhere else we can dock?”

“Why can’t we just go back to Dunkirk?”

The reception staff are losing their cool.

I am escorted down to the car to retrieve pjamas for the kids. I ask at the reception for a blanket.

“I can only give you one per family. We are not equiped for these kind of things”

We line up for our free meal. P is still a dull shade of green and none of us has much of an appetite. Except S, who is taking advantage of my lapse in normal parenting rules to feast on a dinner of white bread and jam.

“I’m hungry again” he chirps

I stagger back to the cafe to grab another handful of bread rolls.

Eventually we decide it’s time to look for a place to bed down.

“When are we there?” Asks A “Are we still going to England?”

We lay all our coats on the floor in the upstairs cafe. There are not so many people about up there so at least it’s quiet but there are bright lights. We try to make the pillow end under a table and we all put our hats on over our eyes.

“This is our own little house” says A smiling at her brother.

I’m impressed with her positive attitude. She seems to have found the only morsel of fun in the misery. I don’t think she learnt this from me. I am well and truly stuck in the misery at this point.

“Close your eyes!” I bark at S who has refused to put his hat on over his eyes.

“This is ridiculous! How are we supposed to get these two to sleep with such bright lights?”

I march off to look for a way to turn the lights off. How can it be so complicated to find a god-forsaken bloody light switch on a ferry?

Eventually, I ask someone on reception who offers,

“Okay, well the best I can do is to dim the lights like this….”

“That’s not going to be enough, the lights are still really bright!”

“Sorry but some people might want to read”

“Have you ever tried getting a three year old to sleep on a boat, in a storm, under a table with a light shining directly in his eyes??”

The kids are actually fine and end up sleeping through the night. I twist about next to them all night, adjusting the hat over their eyes so they can still breath and thinking about every doom scenario from every boat/ship/water/storm based disaster movie.

Once in a while I nod off for about 10 minutes and wake..,Shit we’re still here….Are the kids both alright? Where are the life boats? Okay, there’s nothing I can do…Try to sleep…..What if we still can’t land tomorrow morning? What if we have to spend Christmas on this ferry? Try to sleep….another 10 minutes….Shit we’re still here…Are the kids still alright? Where are the life boats? Okay…..and so it goes on…..

When we all wake up in the morning, we’re exactly where we were when we went to bed. Chugging back and forth across the same strip of sea. We can see the lights of the French coastline. We are offered slimey looking fried eggs and sausages, which we don’t touch. S eats yet more white bread with jam.

Finally at about 9am, after 19 hours circling the channel, we dock in Dover.

“We are very sorry for the inconvenience, which we know this must have been. This was in the interests of passenger safety.”

“Are we in England now?” asks A

We sit in the car waiting to drive down the ramp onto the dock. We can see the heavy rain outside.

“Yes, we made it……I love you all” I reply

It’s Christmas eve. Now just the 4 hour drive to Bristol. We’re still in time for Christmas.

One Comment on “The Storm Before Christmas”

  1. EMMA DURDY says:

    wowza x that was a good read to a bad crossing. We were on the Ijmuiden-Newcastle that night…a bit rocky but its a sleep ferry so sort of didn’t notice too much…came back on that Dunkirk one..not nice to be sleeping on there..well done..and Merry Christmas 🙂 xx

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