During my many excursions to W H Smith and Waterstones bookstores, I have completely failed to notice the yellow and black cover of that literary masterpiece ‘Travelling with Kids for Dummies’. I can’t say that I particularly looked for it, but I am pretty sure that had it been there, I would have picked it up.
Unfortunately it wasn’t, so I didn’t. This probably explains why at 11.30pm on Thursday August 6th 2015, I put my seven year old son to bed, knowing I was going to get him up again in an hour and a half to travel halfway around the world.
To his credit he didn’t make a fuss. He got up, wrapped his blanket around him and went to sit in the car as I strapped the luggage on the roof and shoehorned our family of five (plus hand luggage) into the VW Beetle.
The first leg of our journey was the not-so-glamorous night time trip up the A34 to Birmingham International Airport for our 9.20am flight to Dubai. Given our track record on travel disasters I had decided to spare my wife’s nerves (and nails) and leave us four hours to make the 150 mile journey.
Having checked, double and triple checked that the windows were all closed, the doors were all locked and the animals had enough food in their bowls until our friends arrived to feed them, we finally set off – half an hour later than scheduled.
This didn’t particularly concern me due to the wide margin for error I had so wisely built into our travel itinerary. “Well,” said Loly, “that wasn’t too bad at all.” It was true, we were on our way on holiday and nothing seemed to be going wrong – for a full five minutes.
We gently navigated the first roundabout heading for Blackwater junction and the A338, which would then take us to the A31 and hence the motorway. As we passed over the bridge the flashing amber lights on the road below us coupled with the large orange ‘Diversion’ sign made it perfectly clear that things were not going to go to plan.
The A338 was closed and my mind was racing. Inside my head a tiny voice was shrieking obscenities as I grappled with the problem of getting to the motorway by an alternative route. For some inexplicable reason I had begun the trip with my smartphone operating in Satnav mode even though I knew the first ninety percent of the journey.
“What are we going to do now?” said Loly, a note of anxiety creeping into her voice.
“No need to panic,” I said, in my best, fake-calm voice. “I’ll just nip up through Lyndhurst and pick up the motorway at Cadnam.”
“In a hundred yards, take the fourth exit,” droned the satnav, blissfully unaware of the roadworks now behind me. I crossed the roundabout ignoring the monotone know-it-all voice. “Make a U-turn,” she chided, clearly irritated at my wilful disobedience. “In a hundred yards turn right, then at the junction turn right.” I reached forward and switched her off and we drove on in silence. Loly’s nervous eyes were lamps in the darkness, peering at the road as she nibbled on her nails.
In the back of the car, the two big ones were beginning to succumb to sleep’s persistent caresses. Heads were beginning to loll and mouths beginning to gape. While behind me, his face glowing by the light of his Ipad, the little one sat, eyes glittering and alert as he built his Minecraft palace.
Around half an hour after setting off we reached Cadnam and faced the horror of setback number two. The motorway was closed. In my thirty years of driving I have only seen the A338 completely closed once, and never the motorway, and yet here, on the day we had a plane to catch, they were both shut. I was close to panicking by now, but I knew that if I lost it we were all doomed. I headed for Ower and tried my luck with Junction two. This time the motorway was open and it was with great relief that I drove down the motorway ramp and got our car and our holiday back on track.
We finally arrived at the airport at 6.20am three hours before our departure time and in perfect time to check in. The next few hours passed quickly and we boarded the plane without further events. The Emirates experience was a pleasant one and we passed a comfortable flight to Dubai dozing and watching the inflight movies.
As we came in to land at Dubai I glanced at the kids and then at my wife. Aisha and Marcus were asleep again, but the little one was still wide awake. I marvelled at his endurance; he had slept for only an hour and a half the night before and by UK time it was now half past four in the afternoon. This kid was made of iron!
We spent the next seven hours in Dubai airport marvelling at the opulence on display, the sheer scale of the building and the hot water in the bottom of the toilets. Somehow I knew that the incredibly civilised surroundings we now found ourselves in would be put into stark contrast when we reached our destination.
At 3.30 in the morning (Dubai time) we took off for Columbo on the final four hour leg of our outward bound journey. Yet it was only as the plane began its descent that our little Raf’s eyelids finally drooped and he drifted into a sleep so profound that no-one could wake him. It was Saturday morning in Columbo, and since Thursday morning when he got up he had slept for just ninety minutes.
We were all exhausted. We had been travelling for twenty five hours but we were not quite there yet. Gently, I tried to wake Raf up, but without success. I shook him slightly harder and raised my voice, all to no avail. He was completely comatose. I tried picking him up and standing him but he just folded like a blanket. Never in my life have I seen anyone so completely asleep – It was if he were under a spell that just couldn’t be broken.
After a brief conversation with the crew, a wheelchair materialised and I placed him in it. We received many sympathetic looks as I wheeled my catatonic boy through Columbo airport. We collected the bags and passed through passport control where I held up his lolling head for the security guy to check his current face against the three-year-old version in his passport. The guard eyed us suspiciously but nodded us through anyway and we passed into the arrivals hall. The Britishers had arrived in Sri Lanka!