Today is the day we pack up and head back to home soil. It’ll take us all day to complete the journey. As is all too often the case, this was a whirlwind tour back to home base, much of which was a blur given the limited time we had available. This is one of the reasons I always write up a daily blog when we’re away. It allows me to reflect in the years to come on what happened on the trip. Paul asked me yesterday whether it was therapeutic for me to write these blogs. Possibly. I enjoy writing either way.

With a ferry departure time that will not wait for us, we had to be up and active a little earlier than we’ve become accustomed to over the past few days. I had set my alarm for 7:15, but I was already up and fully into packing mode before the clock struck 7. Joey lingered for a little longer, wrapped snugly in his duvet. Being a teenager, I’m already pleased he got out of bed at all this morning.

As usual, I went down to breakfast without Joey. I was a little concerned to see the hot breakfast buffet was empty, although there was a smattering of people dotted around the restaurant. Was it not yet open? It turned out they didn’t put the full buffet into use because there weren’t enough guests at the moment, so I had to place an order for what I wanted from the wait staff instead.

I swiped a couple of croissants for Joey again and found him still in bed by the time I returned to the room. He was lethargic and sullen again today. This is one of the more frequent personas Joey has. I did try to find out what was bothering him, but I think it was just fatigue and the fact that the trip had come to an end. Instead of responding verbally, he reached out for cuddles. This could mean a few different things. It could be insecurity, sadness, or anxiety. He always gets good cuddles from me when he’s like this. Oftentimes, simply being there and letting him know I’m there for him is the best thing I can do. I sometimes need to remind myself of this. Joey mentioned yesterday that the best part of the trip was spending time with me, which was heart-warming. I adore that Joey. I adore the sullen and moody Joey just as much, only that Joey brings with him more frustrations for us as well. It in no way diminishes our affection for him – although it does make us tired and want to pull our hair out sometimes.

We were packed and ready to go after about twenty minutes. Between our bags, Joey’s duvet and pillows, and all his new toys, it took us three trips to and from the car before we were all said and done. I handed the key pass, and the extension cord we had borrowed, to the woman at the front desk and we bid the hotel farewell. Despite some little eccentricities, the hotel, a Premier Inn, was perfectly fit for purpose. I’d stay there again if the occasion warranted it.

We still had a little time to kill, so we made our way one last time to Dad’s for a final goodbye. Paul and Rhianna were also there, so we were able to say goodbye to them also. Giving Paul hugs always brings with it the risk of being subjected to what we call ‘nipples’. Given half the chance, Paul never misses an opportunity to play ‘nipples’ with me. Essentially, the game of ‘nipples’ involves a surreptitious attempt at grabbing and squeezing your opponent’s nipples before they have a chance to get hold of yours. And, of course, I try to get him back if ever I get the chance. It’s a fun, if sometimes annoying little bit of banter between us. It has gotten to the point that both of us are so much on heightened guard when we get near each other that we’re constantly playing defence, nervously approaching each other in anticipation of a sudden nipples attack. In today’s goodbye hug, both of us reached for and grabbed the other’s offensive hand, resulted in what subsequently looked like two grown men dancing.

Departing Dad’s was such sweet sorrow, but the ferry waits for no man, and we had to get on the road. As planned, I made a last detour to the nearby Tescos superstore in Lakeside. There were several packets of sausages and bacon in there which desperately needed liberating, and I was just the right man for the job. To try to pep Joey up a bit, I also picked up a small box of doughnut holes. That put a little smile on his face.

With the car now stashed to within its hydraulic shocks breaking limit with chocolate, vinegar, chocolate, jars of gravy, chocolate, toys, chocolate, and now sausages and bacon, we set off towards the white cliffs of Dover in the Southeast corner of England.

The hour-and-a-half trip to Dover was largely uneventful, and, surprisingly, quite traffic-free. Not once did I need to slow down because of too much traffic. Just outside of Dover itself is the one and only McDonald’s for miles around and I asked Joey if he wanted to stop there, which he did. This McDonald’s, located right on the edge of a roundabout, is quite a small one with almost no parking to speak of. We parked and got out of the car (itself no mean feat) and Joey quickly found an isolated seat inside while I went to operate the automatic ordering kiosk.

As it was still before 11am, it was only the breakfast menu that was in operation. My heart sank when I saw this, as I knew this would be a hammer-blow to Joey, who still wasn’t in the best of dispositions this morning. Gingerly, I informed him we would have to order something from the breakfast menu (which didn’t involve the chicken nuggets he always wants) or risk missing the ferry if we wait until 11am, which was the time we were supposed to be checking in. He grunted his reluctance to instead making do with pancakes, the one other menu item he otherwise usually accepts.

When I went back to the ordering kiosk screen and searched for pancakes, I was again dealt a devastating blow. They were greyed out and non-selectable, typically indicating they are not currently available. Shit! The one thing that I could potentially order for Joey just wasn’t available. I checked at the front counter, and, sure enough, they simply didn’t have any this morning. Along with a now even more moody Joey, we made our way back to the car and continued to Dover.

The immigration and ferry check-in procedures at Dover were swift and uneventful. I followed the guided markings on the road and the overhead signage to where I needed to be. It’s not totally fool proof, as this fool can attest to. I’ve found myself having to drive around again having slipped into the wrong lane on more than once occasion in the past. As was the case on the other end, we passed through both the French as well as British immigration check points.

At the French kiosk, I handed my British and Joey’s British passport, along with my Dutch resident’s permit. The lovely French officer asked if Joey also had a resident’s permit, at which point I realised I should have given her his new Dutch passport. Doing so immediately made her happy and she bid us bon voyage. On this occasion, the British immigration kiosk was empty, so we just drove straight through it. That’s not unusual.

The next check point was the ferry check in kiosk. A camera at each of the dozen or more kiosks there reads the car’s license plate, and your details are automatically displayed for the person inside the kiosk. After another quick scan of our passports, and I was issued with a printed slip to hang on my rear-view mirror depicting the number of the row I need to file into.

For the next half an hour, Joey and I sat in the car waiting for the boarding to commence. I counted fewer than a couple of dozen cars waiting for this ferry, and perhaps a similar number of heavy-goods trucks. While we were waiting, I called Sandy to let her know we had successfully made it to the ferry.

Once on-board, we found our favourite spot at the table adjacent to the power outlet and plugged in. I sat joey on an adjacent table, the same one he sat at on the way over (it’s an identical ferry). I gave him the one remaining unopened small Lego kit that Sandy had previously arranged. Slowly but surely, my mind is turning to those things that now need my attention once we are back to our normal lives again. If only I could now have an actual holiday.