A brief jaunt over to the UK from Holland for a few days is something that I’ve done so many times before, that I could practically complete the entire trip on autopilot. I call it a trip, as opposed to a holiday, as these types of getaways are never really relaxing. We tend to spend most of the time visiting friends and family, and that often involves a lot of moving around from place to place. I seriously doubt I will come back relaxed in six days’ time.

This trip was originally to be with me and Joey. At least, that was the plan in my mind’s eye when I first conceived of the idea. I was on the cusp of verbalising this a few weeks back when, right at that moment, Jae just happened to mention that Joey went to the UK with me the last time. Jae also had ‘that look’ in their eye, as if to say, “Can you please take me with you for the next trip instead of Joey?” And thus, the trip has now become a Daddy & Jae trip instead of a Daddy & Joey trip. With a little luck, I might be able to arrange a trip with Joey in the coming months. We’ll just have to wait and see how things pan out.

Nowadays, I’m much more relaxed and carefree about pre-arrangements for travelling. Long gone are the days of meticulously planning the trip to within a minute of its life with military precision. Last night I chucked a few things into a bag and, well that was pretty much it. Ok, so I did make sure the passports and tickets were in order a couple of days ago. Some things just cannot be left to chance. As far as what to pack, there’s always the option of buying something that was left behind. That said, Sandy and I did pop into Action, a sort of ‘everything store’ to pick up a few extra chargers and cables. Preparing for a journey is just as much about the digital/electronics requirements as anything else nowadays.

I was up shortly after 7am this morning. The plan was to be pulling out of the garage by 8am. Technically, that would be 7:55am, since Sandy has would all the clocks in the house forward by 5 minutes. This is apparently one of the tactics she uses to ensure the kids get to school on time in the mornings.

For the past few days, Sandy has been fussing about making sure we leave on time. I remember her mumbling something about rush-hour traffic around Antwerpen or something or other. I wasn’t concerned. I had sort of worked out in my head how much time we needed for the first leg of the car journey, and when we should arrive. The travel advice was to arrive at the port of Calais for the hour-and-a-half ferry crossing to Dover a good 2 hours ahead of the scheduled departure time. Nonsense! It’s a 3-hour trip to Calais and the boat was to leave at 12:50, so I figured we had plenty of time to spare if we left at 8am. Cross-channel ferries often don’t even start boarding until a few minutes before departure, so I was unphased by it all.

It turns out Sandy was right all along to be concerned, for which I will never hear the last of it. With no stopping at all, we pulled into the port in Calais just 40 minutes before departure, thanks to rush-hour traffic congestion around Antwerpen, funny enough, and we then had to queue to get through customs and immigration, burning even more precious time. When I was handed the piece of paper to hang on the mirror, indicating our sailing time and row number, it depicted a departure time of 2:20pm. The staff member handing it over said we were too late for our crossing time, and we would be bumped to the next ferry a couple of hours later as a result. Oops! There was still a chance we might squeeze onto our intended ferry, but it would be down to the loading crew to decide our fate.

I wasn’t that concerned about the delayed departure time, as we were under no pressure to get to our destination by a certain time and the ferries depart quite regularly. What did worry me was that we might have to pay for new tickets. I bought the cheapest version of the tickets, which do not permit changing crossing times without a hefty fee. I still have flashbacks of Sandy calling me from the check-in terminal in Dunkirk a couple of years ago when she and the kids took a similar trip to the UK. They arrived with plenty of time to spare for the 12:05 departure in the middle of the afternoon, thanks to Sandy’s preparedness tendencies, only to find out that what I had booked was the 12:05 departure in the middle of the night. Arriving a full 12 hours too late, they were hit with a full-fare ticket penalty. As luck would have it, and only at the very last minute, we were ushered forward to take a place behind the last of a series of several dozen freight trucks. Mission accomplished – we were on the ferry and departing per the originally purchased ticket departure time. Phew!

The car trip to the port was itself rather uneventful. Jae and I did a fair bit of car karaoke, but Jae was mostly playing the role of, and I quote, ‘Passenger Princess’. Imaging a young Princess being escorted by a personal chauffeur, where the sassy young [spoilt brat] passenger has full control over the air vents, music choice and the like, all the while relaxing and scrolling through mindless TicTok video clips at their whim. Lovely!

The crossing to Dover was relaxing enough. The ferries are a good size with 8 or 9 decks and quite stable throughout the 90-minute journey. It was calm weather, and there was very little perceptible swaying. I didn’t get motion-sickness, which can sometimes happen. We found a place to sit and relax with a few rounds of cards during the trip.

There was a money exchange machine on board, but I was reluctant to use it. Changing money in Europe can be quite expensive. Most options slap you with huge commissions and fees. This happened to me during my previous visit. I made the mistake of accepting the machine’s exchange rate when drawing out £100 in cash from a local non-denominational ATM (from a private ATM network). That ended up costing me the equivalent of around £113. My strategy this time will be to find an ATM from a major bank and to draw the money out in local currency. My own bank will slap me with a small fee, but it will otherwise be the most cost-effective means of obtaining some UK banknotes.

I had lunch on the boat, but Jae was content to wait for another opportunity to present itself once we land in England. Meals on the ferries are reasonable, but at £12.95, my fish ‘n’ chips lunch was quite the sting to the wallet. To rub salt into that wound, they even charged for the sachet of ketchup. Bastards! As if that wasn’t bad enough, the battered fish was of the frozen variety, as opposed to freshly battered. It’s not the same.

Just outside of the port of Dover, we spotted a Maccas, so that ended up being Jae’s lunch option. Thereafter, it was a smooth run through to my hometown of South Ockendon. We went straight to Dad’s house, of course. He hasn’t changed since the last time I was here. And by that I mean that he didn’t appear to have deteriorated any further. His physical health has been in steady decline in recent years, and there are hints of mental decline. Fortunately, neither seems to be particularly bothersome at the moment, so that’s all-good news. Dad is eighty-six. My brother Paul and his daughter, RJ, were at Dad’s, so we got to catch up with them a well.

I showed Dad the new puzzle books I made especially for him. No doubt he will get a thrill out of completing them, a well as knowing that it was one of his sons which made them. I already have some more ideas frothing about more.

Paul and I went briefly into Lakeside to find a major bank with an ATM. I was able to withdraw some ready cash to keep us going for the week ahead. Who am I kidding? The £600 will likely last but a day or two

We bid farewell to the family and then drove the short distance to the hotel, which is just a stone’s throw from the massive Lakeside shopping centre. In fact, it’s the very same hotel that Joey and I stayed in not long ago. After unpacking, there were still plenty of ‘shopping hours’ left in the day, so Jae and I resolved to spend some time nosing around Lakeside. I gave Jae a generous spending allowance, so that lit a fire under their backside.

I did have a bit of a scare in the hotel room. I unpacked my CPAP machine, which I use for my sleep apnoea, and plugged it in to test it. I have one at home that my health insurance company provided me, but I bought one outright when first diagnosed in Australia. This is the one I brought with me – it’s the one I take with me whenever I travel. When I plugged it in, however, there was an error on the display – something about the power supply not being correct. Shit! This is potentially very serious. I cannot sleep without the machine. I tried plugging it in to different sockets, used different adapters (which Sandy had the foresight to predict the need for) but just couldn’t get the damned thing to power up correctly. After a half an hour of stressing about this (aren’t I supposed to be on holiday?), it inexplicably starts working. I don’t know what I did to fix it, since I was frantically plugging and unplugging it in various permutations of cables and sockets. The bloody thing only needs to work for the next week anyway. It’s being exchanged for a new one as a part of the Philips CPAP machine recall program that’s ongoing at the moment. Just before we left, I booked my appointment to go in and exchange the machine for a new one.

With the stress of the CPAP emergency now fading, we set off for some retail therapy. Jae was like a kid in a candy store in Lakeside – brash with a wad of readies in their back pocket. The agreement was that the £100 spending money just handed over was to be theirs to do with as they please. It is, after all, Jae’s holiday as well. I’d pay for meals, but that was otherwise it. We spent much of our time in Primark, where I was somehow conned into buying Jae a pair of boots. It’s hard to explain how this happened, given I had already just given Jae a sizeable wad of pocket money to spend. At one point I even turned to Jae and asked, “How did you manage to con me into spending money on your shoes when you have your own pocket money?” With a wry smile, Jae simply replied, “I’m a professional.”

By the end of the evening shopping spree, Jae had depleted her pocket money by approximately half. We did have fun picking a few things out for other people as well. Sandy, Joey, and a friend’s daughter all benefitted from this. We will no doubt enjoy handing those things over when the time comes.

Before wrapping things up for the day, we drove back to say goodnight to Dad. We’ll likely see him every day we’ll be here.

Jae tends to have excess energy that needs to be burnt off in the evenings, usually by way of a walk around the block. The hotel is kind of out of the way and in the middle of an industrial area, so I wasn’t keen on letting Jae roam around in the dead of night here. Instead, Jae burned some energy organising things in the room and photographing the day’s shopping takings.

I did my level best to write up this blog entry last night, but with nothing to compel us to get up and active early, I decided to finish it up in the morning instead – which I just did.