In May 2000, I hit the road, taking three months out to go on a much overdue sabbatical. I was between jobs, so it was the ideal time to take a long-overdue extended break, as I had gone straight from the halls of learning into full-time employment.
I took to the road and headed south with my bestie, P, in her snazzy Mazda. No sat-nav, but it did have a sunroof. We took the ferry from Jersey, Channel Islands, to St. Malo on a cold and drizzly morning in May. Our destination, The Algarve. Our goal, to spend many hours barefoot on the beach.
We planned to take things slow, and our first pitstop was just south of Nantes. By the time we got there, the temperature had soared and was in the mid-twenties, so we spent the early evening drinking Kronenbourg 1664 in the garden of the local hostelry. The perfect start to our carefree sabbatical.
We were travelling light, although my Yamaha keyboard found its way into the boot. I still believed in my abilities as a songwriter in those days. On the back seat of the Mazda, was the ultimate in carefree holiday accessories, P’s fourteen-month-old daughter, G, whose favourite toys were the talking Teletubbies, La La and Dipsy.
When I first told my mother about the trip, she had been, predictably, horrified. Actually, she went ballistic. Fortunately, it was over the telephone, and she was on the other side of the English Channel. Talking to her, you would have thought she had been born into an era where single women never went anywhere without a spinster maiden aunt bodyguard. She spat out words such as quite mad and totally insane. Concluding with, utterly irresponsible, when referring to the incarceration of fourteen-month-old G in the back of a car while we went joyriding through France, Spain and Portugal.
Despite what my mother thought, we pre-planned both the outward and return journeys. G was always at the forefront of our minds, limiting each drive to around three hours. The motion of the car, lulled G to sleep most of the time, apart from our penultimate drive through Portugal on the way home.
We had overnighted in Sintra after spending the day taking in its 19th-century Romanticist architecture, historic estates and numerous royal palaces.
The following morning, and on the road again, I badly misjudged how long it would take us to drive from Sinta to the Douro. It took a good five hours, so it was hardly surprising that the now seventeen-month-old G vocalised her displeasure at the top of her lungs from the back of the car. Every half a mile or so, she would give La La or Dipsy a squeeze, so they joined in with her protestations. Speeding up a busy Portuguese highway that day demanded an unusually high level of concentration.
Once in the Douro, we couldn’t find the pousada where we had booked to spend the night. It turned out it was in the middle of nowhere, corralled by acres of port-wine terraces. But, there were no refreshments at the pousada, water, wine, or food, and no village, let alone a shop. Stunningly beautiful scenery, but it was all strangely inhospitable. Our room had one antique four-poster bed in it with, what felt like, a 16th Century straw mattress. The rough flagged flooring gave the impression that the previous occupants may well have been four-legged. Thankfully, an en-suite bathroom had very recently been attached. The Algarve had been tourist savvy for years but, in 2000, the Douro wasn’t quite ready for errant tourists, especially those packing a small child.
We all survived. G was, thankfully, emotionally unscathed by the experience, and we’ve all been on holiday together since, many times.
This is one of the many snippets of my life to date that came to the fore during Lockdown. After writing this precis of our three-month getaway, I can honestly say, hand on heart, that it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. If the situation presented itself, I’d do it again, like a shot.