An hour or so more into our journey doing a steady 60 mph along a motorway and suddenly the temperature gauge had shot up, red lights on the dash board were flashing and steam was pouring out of the back. We pulled over onto the hard shoulder whilst Tom tried to cool down an overheating engine. Unfortunately having used up our drinking water rations already we had started on the emergency engine top up water and hadn’t managed to refill it yet. Eek! So I found myself stood on the hard shoulder of a French motorway in the midday sun, lorries rushing past us, a bewildered Oak in my arms, wondering why on earth I had ever thought it was a good idea to leave the nest and come on holiday putting my baby in unnecessary danger all for the sake of an adventure. Wouldn’t Devon have been just as much fun? Or a hotel mini break just as relaxing? Or even just a few nights in the van at the other end of the woods enough of a change of scenery?
I love travelling. It is one of my greatest passions in life. Nothing gets my spine tingling more than a hot sweaty spice scented Asian city, or the sun coming up over a palm fringed beach, or trekking to the top of a snow covered mountain. To quote my eight year old self when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, ‘’I am going to travel round the world on my bike and save the animals along the way’’. Well I haven’t quite managed that yet, but I have had a few adventures. A year backpacking took me to America, the islands of the south pacific, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia. A few shorter trips since to Morocco, Iceland and Sierra Leone have helped to ease those itchy feet. But there will always be more places to go and adventures to be had. My Auntie, who fuelled a lot of my desire to travel with the trips that she went on, told me once that when she gave birth to her daughter it had stopped her from wanting to travel as she was content right where she was. I have actually always worried that I would feel the same when I had children, I didn’t want anything to quench this desire. However giving birth to Oak has almost had the opposite effect; it has made me want to travel more. I want to take him to see the world, share the magic with him.
Tom hasn’t been bitten by the bug in quite the same way and has a strong aversion to flying due to his commitments to living a low impact lifestyle. But our holidays together have taken us around England, Scotland and Wales in tent, tipi and van. My love affair with ‘Bumble’ began just months after I met Tom, as I fulfilled a dream and decided to buy a 1982 VW campervan and fell head over heels in love with her bright yellow, flowery loveliness; mechanical faults, rust and all! My commitment to her over our four year relationship has taken us through three and a half engines, a new gear box, endless minor repairs and an infinite number of call outs to the RAC and the AA. After her last engine failure I had prepared myself for the worst and decided to sell her. One day. When I was ready. She sat under a tarpaulin in the drive, damp and unloved, as I couldn’t bear myself to look. Then after our first wedding as we were sat sipping champagne, emotions already over flowing, she drove around the corner, engine running, sparkling clean and looking shiny brand new! Tom and his brother-in-law had fixed her as a surprise and she was back in our lives once more. We had planned to go away to Scotland in her for a honeymoon tagged onto the end of three weeks of festival work. But alas, she failed her MOT just before we were due to go and needed a huge amount of welding done to get her through. So we had five weeks in a two man tent and a hire car whilst I was four months pregnant.
We have just got her back on the road again, taxed, insured and MOT’d, an extra seat belt fitted in the back for Oak and a tiny new Oak sized bed made above ours. I was determined to finally get her on that overseas adventure while the going was good. But was Oak really going to benefit from this holiday or was it all about me wanting to fulfil a dream? At this age he won’t remember his road trip around France, he won’t notice the different culture or language, won’t know that we have crossed the Atlantic to explore a different country. It is one thing hopping on a plane for an hour to somewhere hot, stepping into an air conditioned hire car to drive to a nice cool villa to relax in for a couple of weeks, but attempting to drive to the Pyrenees in a hot, noisy, unreliable van with a seven month old baby could have proved to be the holiday from hell.
Luckily we soon fixed the overheated engine and were back on the road, crisis averted. Other than waking up on our first morning and having to butcher a pair of my knickers to fix the coffee percolator after realising we had left the filter behind, and having to remove the roof rack in order to get out of a multi-storey car park which we got stuck in, the holiday continued smoothly with no major break downs to report from van, baby or parents. In fact we had the best two weeks so far, as a family of three. We travelled by Oak time, early in the morning or late at night so he could sleep. If he woke we just pulled over at the next stop and fed him, took off his nappy and let him play till he was ready to move on. We didn’t sit for hours in the sun or traipse around doing too much sightseeing or go on day long hikes. We relaxed and took each day as it came enjoying our family time together.
In two weeks Oak has been on a train through a cave, on a boat along a river and half way up a mountain where he was wide-eyed and wondrous at all the new sights. He has enjoyed his first swim, felt the sand between his toes and loved wriggling his naked body round in the warm weather. He is reaching out and grabbing things, putting everything in his mouth, has learnt to roll over and has become more engaged and active by the day. The persistent cough that he has had for weeks has finally cleared up. Maybe all this is down to a good dose of vitamin D. Maybe it is down to the fact he has had both of his parents giving him their undivided attention. Maybe it is because I am feeling more relaxed than I have in a long time and it is rubbing off on him. Either way, this holiday seems to have benefitted Oak as much as it has us.
So I am glad we left the nest and went on this adventure. It may be less spontaneous, need a bit more planning, a little less danger and certainly a bigger backpack, but I know we will continue to travel one way or another.