Friday, July 08, 2005

13, 13 and well ehm 13!

MY post the other day concerning what to do with my 13-year-old daughter over her long summer holiday got me thinking to the amazing summer I had when I was 13.


My Mum, Aunty, nine-year-old cousin D, 15-year-old brother C and myself all drove to Portugal in a Volkswagen golf. Would you believe we broke down a total of 13 times, funnily enough, but definitely not at the time.

a much newer and improved golf

Before I go any further, this might be a bit long, well it was a long drive to Portugal and this post concerns the drive and a little bit of the drive back, just to explain the 13 references you understand.

The plan was to drive the 100 miles to Dublin, catch a ferry to Holyhead, drive overnight to Plymouth to catch a ferry to Santander in Spain. And finish off the journey with a lovely drive through Spain to the Algarve where we had booked a villa for the summer.

We caught the ferry to Wales by the skin of our teeth due to traffic in Dublin (no change there then). The stress of hightailing to Dun Laoghaire ferry terminal wasn’t helped by cousin D repeatedly saying ‘We’re not going to make it, we’re not going to make it…’.

As I said we did and off we drive overnight through Wales.

However, somewhere in Wales my Mum continued on a road that we should have turned off from and we only realised after passing a signpost saying London was however far away it was.

It was at this point I became the navigator and not my Aunt. I would sit in the front seat, one of the massive pluses with being the navigator, plot our journey, keep an eye out for upcoming roadsigns and turn offs as well as everyone and again boring everyone with little snippets about where we were from the guidebook. Actually we did all enjoy this.

One quick turnabout later and hours extra driving back towards Plymouth, we got there in time to wave the other lucky ferry-passengers who weren't late and who were now on their way to Santander.

It's not a good feeling watching the back end of your ferry sail away.

In keeping with what would be the unearned and misguided optimism of that road trip, we booked into a B&B and made the most of our night in Plymouth. (At the time I remember V was massive and we watched it that night in the B&B, sorry that’s my only memory of Plymouth).

The next ferry to Santander wasn’t leaving for another five days so after some money calculations and phone calls home with promises of more money the plan was to catch the next day’s ferry to France, which we did.

And so begins the saga… And what a saga it was too.

We broke down 12 times on the way.

The month before the trip, Mum and I were in a car accident, where the front of the car was wrapped around a lamppost and thankfully we weren’t hurt. But it left us with the problem of what to do with the car we were supposed to be travelling to Portugal in?

One swifty car repair job later, and one which incidentally was carried out too swiftly because something they did or didn’t do meant that as we drove through the French, Spanish and Portuguese countryside the car kept overheating, and the fan belt would snap.

I learnt more about fanbelts than you would imagine the ordinary 13-year-old girl would know, we all did. We all became proficient at opening the bonnet and going ‘MMmhhh, looks like the fan belt again’.

At one point, we broke down in the absolute middle of nowhere, it was just after lunchtime and we were all looking at each other thinking ‘now what do we do’.

(Actually we always broke down in the middle of nowhere.)


After waiting for more than an hour for some divine intervention, our deus ex-machina came by in the guise of a farmer and my Mum stuck out her thumb and hitched a lift back to the nearest town, the one where we had already spent a couple of hours getting the fan belt fixed.

The offending article

Hours pass and she doesn’t return. Night falls and my Aunt has us praying a rosary for the safe return of Mum. Everytime, which wasn’t often, we could see car lights approach in the distance we were all on the edge of our seats hoping it was her.

Eventually she returned with a tow truck in tow and back we went to the town where we had already been.

In another incident in France my Mum offered me as a translator in a garage because I had spent two years studying French. Big mistake or should I say grande erreur!

It went something like this:

Mechanic: L’eau est chaud
Me: Yup, the water is hot (turning to Mum) the water is hot….
Cue everyone: Yup the water is hot.
Mechanic: French blah, blah, blah, blah and quickly, more French blah or bleh and even more quickly….
Me: ^*?!?%^%($”????? (blank expression)

Most of the other breakdowns we delved into the phrase books which had by now become absolutely priceless and invaluable.

Because of the detours, car repairs, B&Bs and other unexpected expenses, we ran out of money and spent four or five days sleeping in the car, all of us, all of is sleeping in the car.

I would not recommend this at all. My brother was nearly 6ft, I was about 5ft5, my Mum 5ft2, Auntie 5ft2 and cousin D about 5ft. There wasn’t room to turn your head in the car and it was fairly minging to say the least.

We would buy baguettes and a bottle of water and we lived on this for days. We would all get annoyed with cousin D because he was incapable of drinking the water without leaving floaters and I remember constantly thinking about food, burgers, and fizzy drinks.

We stopped in a small beautiful village somewhere in the south of France and I popped into a bar to use the bathroom. On my way out I noticed a bowl of blackened bananas, that obviously no one wanted, so I stashed two up my t-shirt and ran out back to the car.

I guiltily produced the bananas to my aunt, who is one of the most gentle and good women I have ever met, and confessed my thieving secret.


She silently took them from me and divided them among us, those were the tastiest banana sandwiches we have ever had.

Have you ever heard of Paddy Reilly? No? He’s an Irish singer and the only music Mum and Auntie would allow on the car stereo was Paddy Reilly and Crystal Gayle (not that I mind Crystal but Paddy’s fecking ‘Rocky road to feckin Dublin’, that’s a different story altogether.)

But we all loved Blondie and Madness so of all the music we brought away with us, we were occasionally allowed to listen to Blondie and Madness, thank God for small mercies.

We used camping facilities to wash during the travelling days, and oh my god what an eye-opener that was for me at 13, my brother at 15 and cousin D at nine. The toilets were a hole in the ground that you stood over and let it all fall out and the women would strip off from the waist up and have a good wash in front of everyone. The two boys were in boy-heaven.

The journey was dotted here and there with visits to towns, phonecalls home, pleas for wired money, hanging about in banks, annoyance and finally jubilation when money would arrive and we could get decent food in one of the many wonderful patisseries and cafes we passed.

At one point driving through from France to Spain through the Pyrenees, which were absolutely beautiful, the rain came down in torrents, right on top of our uncovered and not waterproofed suitcases and luggage on top of that brave wee car.

So the first stop after the rain in Spain (okay, okay, the first stop in Spain after the rain) was in a small beautiful village, I cannot remember the name, where we washed our clothes in a horse trough and hung them over walls to dry before continuing our journey.

We spent a night in an industrial park in Bilbao and drove down through Spain, breaking down as we went.

The last time we broke down on the journey there was 200 miles away from our destination and we were towed back into Lisbon making us, if I remember rightly, more than 350 miles away from our final destination. But in comparison to the journey we just had, 150 miles was a wee jaunt down the road.


My brother, cousin and I were allowed, illegally, to ride in the car on the back of the tow truck, well there was no room for us in the main carriage of the truck. Great craic for us though…

Luckily the man who owned the garage, and plush it was, fancied my Mum and allowed us to spend the night on the fancy large leather sofas as it was nearly midnight before we got to Lisbon.

So we slept soundly and woke up all fresh and ready for the last small leg of our journey.

So if you have been following this story you will be wondering when the unlucky 13th breakdown happened (of course the others were lucky!!!).

The 13th took place on the homeward stretch of the fantastic journey.

The Lisbon mechanic fixed the car beautifully; we didn’t have one worry on that score the whole holiday. The fan belt was secure, working perfectly and keeping the engine lovely and cool. That wasn’t the problem, this time.

We stopped at a small walled village to pick up money which had been wired to us and my Mum when backing out doing a very narrow three-point turn, she backed right into a pile of logs, one of which pierced the back tyre.

She lost the rag and banged and banged the steering wheel as we sat in stunned silence and as villagers started to crowd around the car.

And remember this was only the highlights of the journey which happened some 20 years ago (Jaysus where did the time go?), the holiday itself is another story altogether…


Fi said...

What a fantastic adventure to have with your Mum! She must be a very adventurous not to mention brave person!

synjones said...

I feel that you have a fantastic adventure and your mum must be brave.Its a good article and you told that this journey which happened some 20 years ago, but its quit interesting.I think that you have enjoyed in this journey.

ferry to france

Ashley said...

Its really a fantastic story of an adventurous journey that I got to read from your post. Not to mention that your mum is a really brave lady. I have an upcoming trip to France and belgium next week and planning to go for a ferry ride there. I've heard that ferries are the most entertaining and adventurous part of travelling in that region.