And here we go with another whirlwind trip back to my old stomping grounds of South Ockendon, England. Unlike the last two visits, it’s not just me and one of the kids visiting. This time, the whole family is making the road trip together. What could possibly go wrong?

As always, this trip was a last-minute idea. From the first idea to confirmation of the ferry booking, it was all done within a couple of days. As such, there’s no real plan behind our itinerary. We have a vague notion of spending a day in London since Jae particularly wants to visit the London Dungeons. One of our good friends, Cara, is celebrating her eldest boy’s birthday, so we’re in for that. Other than that, however, we’re sort of making it up as we go. Let’s see how well that all pans out for us.

Sandy had already broken the back of the packing and preparations over the past few days. Consequently, we were unrushed and orderly with this morning’s early start. We got everything into the car with a barely few cubic micrometres of space here and there throughout the cabin. With a 2 pm ferry departure, we gave ourselves a generous margin of error in making the three-and-a-half-hour journey by getting on the road by 8 am. As it turned out, we needed and used all of that margin for error.

Our plan of attack for the journey to Dunkirk on Belgium’s West Coast was to make it about halfway before stopping for a Maccas. That is pretty much always our go-to solution for breaking up the journey and keeping the kids — especially Joey — on a level peg. Before we got into the car, this journey was always going to be somewhat unique for us. This time, I wouldn’t be at the wheel. Ordinarily, I am always the one to drive if ever we go anywhere as a family. I hate being a passenger under any circumstances, and we’ve learnt over the years that it’s just easier all around if I’m the one driving.

To understand why Sandy would be driving on this occasion, I must first back up a little. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a bit of a bad run with my health. First, I contracted a viral illness, as did the entire family. That knocked the wind right out of me, but we were all going through it together and slowly getting better. I then started feeling pains in my left side. I went to see my doctor last week and was diagnosed with pneumonia. I’ve been on a course of antibiotics for the past week, which has helped. As if a virus and pneumonia weren’t bad enough, I then started to get shoulder and neck pains. That was just a nuisance at first, but it rapidly increased in severity. By Saturday morning (4 days ago), the pain was so debilitating that I had to check in with the emergency out-of-hours doctor at the local hospital. I was in absolute agony — which was plain to see just to look at me. None of the usual medications, like paracetamol, Ibuprofen or Diclofenac, was making a dent in the pain. Whatever the problem was, it was buried so deep inside my neck and shoulder muscles that the doctor couldn’t localise it. The best she could do was to prescribe some industrial-strength Tramadol painkillers. Even with those opiate-based happy pills, it still hasn’t made a significant dent in the pain. Consequently, I’ve been a walking zombie for the past several days, unable to find a position that offers relief from the pain. As such, Sandy was insistent that I wasn’t allowed to drive — at least not for the entire journey. The problem is improving slightly, and I’m no longer on Tramadol, which does cause drowsiness, but Sandy simply wasn’t having it this morning. Reluctantly, I slipped into the car’s passenger side, and we all set off.

I’m a terrible backseat driver at the best of times. Throw in the grumpiness of being a bear with a sore head, and that’s a recipe for a potentially marriage-busting journey. All I could focus on, other than the fact that I couldn’t find a comfortable position in the seat, were the times I felt Sandy wasn’t changing gears fast enough, driving too slowly, too fast, not breaking soon enough, etc. Despite all that, I held my tongue and my outbursts as much as possible. I couldn’t help feeling I would have been better behind the wheel, but we soldiered on.

Since Sandy was operating the car, I used the maps app on my phone to locate a convenient Maccas once we were approximately halfway through the journey. We arrived shortly before 9 am only to find it wouldn’t open until 11 am. Oh, well, that was unfortunate. There was nothing to do but get back onto the road and press on. After another 10 minutes, Sandy’s instructions were to find another one 10-15 minutes up the road. I had several options to choose from but found one that the map app indicated would be 13 minutes away, so I selected that one, and we made our way there. Alas, upon arrival, it was the middle of a city. There was nowhere to park, and the Maccas didn’t seem to be there either. Perhaps it was an older listing that is no longer current in the Maps app. Much to the groans coming from the rest of the car — not excluding those from Sandy, since she was adamant it was my fault for choosing the wrong Maccas to stop at — we reluctantly double-backed to the main motorway again and pressed on. By now, we had used up most of our reserve time built into the journey, and we still needed to stop and eat somewhere.

We eventually stumbled into another Maccas that was located closer to the motorway exit, so it was not quite such a diversion, and that was open. Well, it opened 10 minutes after we arrived, but we sucked it up and waited. All was well in the world, and I mortgaged another half a liver for a couple of trays of unappealing and insufficiently nutritious food. When we tasted the refreshing ice-cool drinks, they turned out to be tepid and flat. Evidently, they were experiencing problems with their drinks machine. The staff offered us complimentary alternatives, but I had lost my appetite. I just wanted to get back onto the road.

I pleaded with Sandy to let me get behind the wheel, but she still had none of it. She said I could drive when we got to England.

One reason I might be nursing a neck and shoulder problem is possibly all the time I have recently spent sitting behind the keyboard. I’ve been working tirelessly over the past few months on editing and formatting my travel memoirs for release. When Sandy and I backpacked around the world around 20 years ago, I sat at the laptop every night and wrote up a summary of the day’s events – much like I am doing right now with this trip and every other family holiday we’ve had since having kids. When I was posting my travel summaries at the time, I had quite a following. People were enjoying my writing. So, after 20 years, I decided to do something productive with that enormous body of prose. Separating the trip into 8 segments, I have now completed and published the following books, which are now all available via Amazon (and many more places besides in the very near future:

All the above books are currently published in paperback and eBook form. Hardbacks are on their way. For the eBook lovers, I created a single box set that includes all 8 volumes:

More details are on this website’s homepage.

If you are reading this and have enjoyed my writing, I’d love to hear what you think about our travel memoirs. Each is full of hundreds of photos from the trip, including some spectacular shots of wildlife, marine life, monuments, geological features and much more. The writing is vivid and engaging. You’ll feel like you were there with us for the journey.

We eventually made it to Dunkirk by the recommended 60 minutes before boarding. Had we not built in so much extra margin for error time, there’s a good chance we would have missed our ferry. I started writing up today’s events during the 2-hour crossing and updated this website with all the newly published Amazon links as the travel memoir books slowly completed the Amazon review processes.

My shoulder still complained during the trip, so I tried lying down for a bit. However, I never could quite find a comfortable position. I did sneak out on the deck at one point to snap a few shots of the white cliffs of Dover passing into view as the ferry neared the port.

Once docked, Sandy finally relented and gave me permission to drive. We were soon back onto the British roads again. This was immediately evident with all the incidents of road rage and tooting. It was a stark contrast with driving on the continent — must be all the foreigners 😉

Whenever we visit the UK, a ritual for us is a trip to Sandy’s favourite restaurant — Toby’s Carvery. We located the one most conveniently located between Dover and South Ockendon and plugged it into the satnav. Sandy made a reservation via their website. Since it’s my birthday tomorrow, we were able to take advantage of a £10 birthday discount — a bonus!

While en route, we contacted the host for the rental property I had booked through We had to arrange a time to collect the key and make a £150 security deposit payment, which had to be made in cash. I had some Euros from Holland, but we still had no British Pounds. We decided to stop at the Lakeside Shopping Centre, where I knew there was a bank ATM from which we could withdraw without being penalised too much with charges and fees. The guest sounded like a pleasant Caribbean man.

Our dinner at Toby’s was everything Sandy had hoped for. The kids were well-behaved — even nice to each other — a pleasant surprise. The food was, well, okay. It was Sandy’s favourite restaurant, not mine.

We pressed on to Lakeside, just across the Dartford Crossing. Both Jae and Joey have a favourite snack they always enjoy whenever we visit Lakeside. Jae loves her bubble tea, and Joey is partial to hot pretzels. I withdrew some UK money, which was the one logistical issue we had to get out of the way. I gave the kids each their pocket money for this trip, which further enhanced their moods. Somehow, I still had to pay for their snacks. I’m still trying to work that one out.

Rather than stopping straight away to visit Dad, the primary reason for our being here, we went directly to the house. In fact, it’s just a few streets away — practically within walking distance. We met with Kola (not sure if I spelt that correctly). We immediately got on well. He gave us a brief tour of the small three-bedroom house. It’s a bit rough and ready, but it will suffice for our needs. Most of all, it’s ours for the next 5 nights, and we’ll have a base of operations while in the UK.

As agreed, I counted out £150 Pounds in cash for him. The deposit was listed on the page for the property as £250, but he previously agreed to reduce that to £150 for us. Once he saw and met with us, he dispensed with the need for a copy of our photo ID. He said he normally insisted on the photo ID if it were a younger group of people renting the house, but he was immediately put at ease when he saw we were just a regular family of four and not a rowdy bunch of kids.

With everyone fully topped up and the car mostly unloaded, we popped around the corner to pay Dad a visit. Dad looked well. He continues to get older and frailer, but his mental faculties are still intact, which is about as much as we can hope for.

Joey and I went to the nearby Tescos Superstore at Lakeside to pick up a few provisions for Dad and us for the coming days. Much to my own displeasure, Dad is a smoker. Despite Mum having suffered for many years from the ill effects of smoking, it doesn’t appear to have afflicted Dad. At 86, it’s one of precious few life’s pleasures for him that I struggle to be too upset with — even though I don’t outright condone it. Because of the smoking, Dad’s place can sometimes be a bit unpleasant for non-smokers, so I took Joey with me to the supermarket to help keep him on an even keel.

After spending a little more time at Dad’s, once Joey and I returned from the supermarket, we said goodbye for the night and returned to the house. We’ll be seeing him at least daily until we return to Holland.

At the house, we were all quite tired by now. We unpacked all the chargers, cables, plug adapters, etc., to maintain our digital lives for the duration. There was barely enough energy left to do anything other than crawl into bed, which we all did.

I wrote up a few notes to help me write up today’s journal entry in the morning. I ended the day just as I had begun it — in pain.