"DARLING" I SHOUTED from my seat in front of the computer. "Darling, are you there?" Mrs Donnelly appeared, staring at me suspiciously, arms piled with clothes about to be loaded into the caravan.
In our house, terms like 'darling' are only wheeled out when something bad has happened. Mrs Donnelly was right to be suspicious. We were travelling to Ireland the next morning, having promised ourselves a visit for years. Planning for these trips is essentially left to me. I'm absolutely fine with that, but I am not a natural planner. It's not a strength of mine. And perhaps the best example of this came to light at 11.44pm on the night before we due to depart for our Irish adventure.
This was when I was printing out the ferry itinerary and noticed the time was different to what I expected. Helen knew we had to be at Holyhead by 1pm for a 2pm sailing. But the ticket I had just printed suggested that we actually needed to be at Holyhead by 9am for 10am. No matter how many times I checked, the times were still the same; I'd booked the wrong ferry. And now I had to tell Helen that we couldn't leave at 7am as planned. It would have to be earlier. Quite a lot earlier. According to my maths, we had to leave home at 3am. That was in three hours time.
Confirmation from the car of the time we left home.
It wasn't the Volvo's air-con providing the chilly atmosphere in the car that morning. I tried to pretend that Mrs Donnelly was quiet to allow me to concentrate on hooking up safely, but I suspect she had nothing nice to say and, in the words of Boyzone, thought it best to say nothing at all.
We managed to get on the go on time and after two hours of driving, were on the M42 with the roads to ourselves. Still feeling fairly fresh at this point, we then hit the M6, M50 and finally the A5 which runs all the way to Holyhead.
Oddly, it was as daylight started to trickle through that waves of tiredness started to hit me. I didn't feel like I was going to fall asleep, but I was aware that I was starting to fidget in the Volvo's squishy leather seats, rubbing my face and generally not being very relaxed. It was time to pull over. This was now tricky. We needed to push on in order to make the ferry but I didn't want to drive on tired. I looked across and saw Helen sat working her way though a Sudoku, fresh as a daisy, but with virtually no towing experience under her belt. We were at least speaking again, but mainly to agree on how everything was my fault.
"Darling. I don't suppose you fancy a little drive do you?"
Having recently tutored a novice caravanner, I had no fear of putting Mrs D behind the wheel. And being a game sort of girl, she leapt at the chance to have go. The North Wales roads were very quiet at 6am and she set off with a determination with rather took me aback. Despite its age, our Volvo is a very quick car, and I can now confirm this is still the case with a Elddis-shaped millstone around it's towbar. Aside from constant instructions to slow down before, rather than during the tight corners of Snowdonia's winding roads, Mrs D was a natural. Even swinging into a snug little petrol station in Betsw-y-Coed for some sans-plomb was done with aplomb.
Mrs Donnelly brushes up her racing skills with a caravan in tow
Her spell behind the wheel meant we bumped onto the loading apron at Holyhead with 30 mins to spare. Loading on the big Stena Line ferry was easy and we were the only caravan on board too, most choosing to go to Dublin rather than Dun Loghaire around 15 miles further south. There was another minor hiccup when we handed over the ticket and the kiosk lady peered over the top of her computer and then looked at me.
"You've got a caravan but you've not booked for it. Do you want to add it to the ticket" she asked.
"Oh. yes please. If you can. That'd be great, wouldn't it darling" I directed at Mrs D.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her shaking her head in disbelief.
The two-hour crossing on the modern, well-equipped ferry was very easy and a chance to relax. On the other side, some of the road signposting around Dublin is a bit on the minimal side, but within 45 mins of trundling off the ferry, we got a very friendly welcome at Camac Valley Camping Village, close to the N7 motorway in the outskirts of Dublin.
A rushed departure, vaguely panic stricken night journey and on-the-job caravan driving lessons meant I was not as relaxed as I might otherwise have been on arrival. And I had a lingering fear that the site was going to have no record of our booking. It was just how my luck had been going.
Our host sensed I was a man on the edge, but he wasn't going to be swept into my crisis. I asked the normal questions but his responses were a little indistinct and not really answers at all. More statements to pacify a jumpy man with a mad-eye stare who hadn't slept for a long time. Plainly amused by my constant questions, he looked up, smiled and pushed a sheaf of paperwork toward me.
Elddis happily sat on pitch at Dublin's Camac Valley site
I flinched at the thought of filling out any forms in my sleep-deprived state. I need not have worried: "We are a little more laid back than that around here to be honest. Here's a map, here's the bus timetable and these are the codes for the gate. You go and sort yourself out and just come and ask if you need anything," he said.
I walked back to the car, slid into the driver's seat two minutes after entering reception my rapid return meant Mrs D suspected my planning was about to let us down once more.
"Everything ok?" she asked, expecting the worst. "Let me guess. Are they expecting us? Today? Ever?"
I started the car.
"Of course" I said as we slipped serenly onto the site. "You worry too much"
"Yes Darling" was her cutting reply.
Song of the day