As is invariably the case when sleeping in a new bed, I woke to some back pain and general all-over discomfort this morning. By and large, however, I slept reasonably well. The young man at reception did come through for me last night with the extension cable, albeit I had to go and remind him. As such, the room is littered with cables trailing in all directions. How Joey or I didn’t trip over any of them during the night is a wonder.

It wasn’t long after mobilising that we headed down to the ground floor for breakfast. When I booked the room a week or so ago, I booked it with breakfast for one guest only. Joey rarely wants to eat anything in the morning. Indeed, it’s an ongoing challenge to ensure he is fed at all. After years of persistent refusals to eat whatever the rest of us are eating, a sort of apathy sets in. We’ll offer something, and Joey will say no. We’ll offer something else, and he’ll say no. You go around this merry-go-round a half a dozen times before eventually throwing in the towel in exasperation. This little pantomime plays out at pretty much every mealtime in our household, day, after day, after day. Predicting a continuation of this well-established pattern, I didn’t want to waste money, and so the idea was to take him with me in the hope he’ll eat something, and I’ll subsequently pay for the cost if he does. Otherwise, it’s just money out the window. I explained to the staff member in the breakfast hall this morning and she made a note of it. In the end, Joey ate a few flakes of cornflakes, a bite of a small pancake and the inside of a croissant. I guess that’s technically considered having ‘eaten breakfast’, so I’ll probably get charged for it. The staff member was no longer there when we finished and left, so there was nobody to inform what he ate. I guess I’ll find out when we check out in a couple of days whether they added the breakfast charge for Joey to the bill.

Back in the room, we chilled out a bit while breakfast was still going down. I was relaxing on the bed, contemplating how long it might be before the next challenge to the holiday would happen. Was it premature to start thinking this holiday was going to be a success after all? It does have to be said that yesterday was surprisingly crisis-free for the most part. Alas, the answer to the question was ‘not long’. The tranquillity was abruptly shattered by the thunderously loud, not to mention extraordinarily annoying, sound of a general fire alarm ringing out of every room in the entire hotel – most loudly from ours. A fire alarm should encourage people to leave the building, and this one was certainly on task. We collected the essentials and made our way to the stairwell. We’re on the third floor (that’s three floors above the ground floor, for my American readers), so it wasn’t too much of a problem to make it to the ground floor. A smattering of other guests and a few staff were milling around by the main entrance. We didn’t stay long enough to find out if it was a drill, false alarm, or an actual fire emergency. If the hotel was still standing later in the day when we returned, we’d have at least learned that one of those scenarios was not the one.

The hotel is literally a couple of minutes by car from the Lakeside shopping centre. We could probably have walked, although that really would have meant taking our lives into our own hands. Car is king in this country. The roads and other physical infrastructure around these parts was never really designed with pedestrian flows in mind.

First up on the shopping agenda for today was a visit to a major toy shop here called Smyths. A lot of times, toy shops don’t have a huge selection but that’s not the case with this Smyths. It sported a dozen or more long aisles with a huge assortment of just about everything. The aisles towered four or five meters high into the warehouse ceiling space. Joey was in his very own personal version of heaven. For the past few weeks, since we announced the trip, Joey has been trying to earn spending money for the occasion. We have a chart stuck to the mirror in the front room that tracks his daily earnings. By the day of departure, he had amassed around £70 of spending money. I also treated him to a little extra as well. As we were walking through Smyths, I could see the wheels turning in his mind, trying to figure out on what to spend his money. Normally, it’s a formidable task to get Joey to understand the concept of not actually needing to spend everything he has right now all in one go. For the longest time, Joey was unable to grasp the concept of spending less today so that he can spend more tomorrow. At times, it has been painful to watch that impulsiveness trip him up. Today, however, there seemed to be a shift in understanding. I had fully expected him to blow the entire load in one visit to the toy shop but that’s not what happened. He was content to spend a portion of his allowance and to think it over further before deciding what else to by later today or tomorrow. We were in there for over half an hour as well, which in ‘Joey in a toy store minutes’ is almost an eternity.

Having emerged from the toy shop with a beaming Joey, our next stop was to be the Lakeside shopping centre itself – the inside part. The plan was to pop into Primark to see if we could pick up some new clothes for Joey. He has grown overly fond of his Snuggy – the one with the repeated burger motifs – and Sandy thought it would be a good idea to see if they had any at this Primark here in England. As luck would have it, they did, albeit it only one. Fortunately, Joey was happy with it, so I bagged it. We picked up a few other sundries while there. Joey doesn’t cope well with crowds or people. It wasn’t especially busy in Primark, but it’s a large shop and there were plenty of people moving about in all directions all the same. Joey’s behaviour was telling me his bucket was nearing full, so I led him out of the shop and into the main shopping centre itself. Not far from us was a snack stall selling hot, freshly-made pretzels. Joey loves these and had been looking forward to this moment pretty much since first learning about the trip. In fact, he let on today that it was the anticipation of visiting this pretzel stand that brought him around to accepting the idea of going at all. The icing on the cake was that just a few meters farther was another snack stall selling his second favourite treat in the whole world, which is glazed doughnuts – specifically Krispy Kreme doughnuts (or ‘donuts’ to my English-language-bastardising American friends). Between them, the pretzels, which we ended up doubling back for a second helping today, and the doughnuts, would buy me at least an hour’s worth of ‘happy Joey’ – cheap at twice the price.

Revelling in my temporary bliss at keeping Joey content for a bit longer than anticipated, I suddenly realised that I had promised Jae I would be on the lookout for some apparel for her which featured her favourite bands. In Jae’s case, those are Slipknot and My Chemical Romance. I had the misfortune to be subjected to some of their music in the car the other day when Jae insisted on bringing me into her musical taste world. I love to peak into my kids’ heads as much as I can. Truly, it’s an honour and a privilege to be given the chance. To be honest, however, I’m not certain I would call the assault on my auditory sense music. Indecipherable noise reminiscent of a screeching cat running its nails down a chalkboard might be closer to the truth. I’m not knocking it. If that’s what Jae enjoys, then that’s perfectly fine with me. It’s just not my kind of hideous noise music.

We found a shop that looked like it sold heavy metal apparel. Its interior was dark and foreboding, so I knew we were in the right place. Strangely enough, it wasn’t long before I found a range of t-shirts that met the brief quite well. Having just come out of Primark with a dozen or so T-shirts for myself at just £4 a pop, I was a little unprepared for the sticker shock with these heavy metal band shirts. I mean, why buy a car when you can buy a T-shirt for twice the price, right? I did ask one of the helpful, if somewhat moody, teenagers clad in all black clothing and make-up working the tills whether the T-shirts each came with their own mansion and accompanying staff, but it turned out they didn’t. A few SMS messages with Jae later and I mortgaged the best part of my liver, spleen and half a lung to offload the shop of one T-shirt for each of the two bands. The confirmation of this clearly put a smile on Jae’s face, judging by all the emojis I received. This parenting thing is a breeze. All you need is deep pockets, right?

With the epiphany of NEVER being able to afford a house again slowly fading, we made our way back to Dad’s house, via a detour to pick up some lottery scratch cards for his birthday, which he apparently enjoys doing. He was his usual chipper self. Joey and I sat and listened to yet more memories being recounted, which was fun.

Dad mentioned a few things he needed, so we popped over to the shops to pick them up for him, including some art supplies for one of my nieces. I have so many nieces, nephews, cousins, and every other conceivable type of relative that live around these parts that it’s a genuine challenge to keep track of them all.

By around mid-day, it was time to feed Joey again. Options are limited, so I offered him a trip to a nearby McDonald’s, which was just fine by him. While there, I had a call with Jacky, one of my sisters, and we arranged to visit her on Sunday at her house. She made the mistake of asking Joey what he wanted to eat. After the mandatory few iterations of Joey rejecting suggestion after suggestion, she also gave up and landed on a roast lamb dinner with some chicken nuggets in the wings as a plan-b contingency. Welcome to our world, Jacky.

With extremely delicious and nutritional lunch out of the way with (and I use the words ‘delicious’ and ‘nutritional’ quite wrongly), we weren’t yet out of the car park before Joey spied the Smyths toy shop literally just around the corner, so that instantly became the next destination. With all due consideration for the second time today, Joey made his choice after closely inspecting a range of toys on offer, leaving just a £6 remaining balance in his allowance by the time we exited the shop. Joey is many things. Shrewd might be one of them. He ‘negotiated’ his way to a bit more budget than was the original plan by pointing out that it was pay-day today. This brought with it additional funds for him by way of his monthly allowance. Crafty little bugger.

With little else to do, we made it back to Dad’s again. As it turned out, there was something on the agenda for this afternoon. That was a video conference call with me, Sandy, and someone from the social care network that we are routinely engaged with in respect of the children’s social, physical, and mental well-being. The topic for the more than an hour-long discussion was what ‘the system’ can offer Sandy and me by way of respite. Events in recent weeks and months have taken their toll on us both and our buckets doth overflow. It was an at times arduous discussion, but a necessary one. Is there a light at the end of our exhaustion tunnel? That remains to be seen. We discussed various options and will work through those in more detail in the coming days and weeks. Watch this space

A suitable distraction to help me climb down from a stressful process over the course of the video call was to pop over to the shops again for Dad. Shortly thereafter, Uncle Paul showed up. I’m not suggesting he’s a negative influence on Joey in any way but suffice to say I have some damage control to do now for the next few years. We did all have a good laugh, though. Having said that, I get to introduce Joey to Uncle Richard tomorrow. God help us both!

I may have gotten the order or a few things in today’s blog a little mixed up. That’s probably to be expected. I am, after all, on holiday and clearly already knackered after just twenty-four hours. It has taken me the better part of two hours to write this blog entry back here at the hotel. Joey has been slowly settling. It’s just about midnight and he’s not tossing and turning nearly as much now. I’ll shut the lid now and pop off to sleep myself. I need to get some rest in, as I have a bad back and aching muscles to look forward to in the morning.