An afternoon in Southport

Almost six weeks since I last saw him, Michael finally arrived home from Ireland early last Friday morning ; circumstances kept us both busy on Saturday but yesterday the weather was looking quite promising so we decided to have a ride out somewhere and Southport was the choice. We arrived there at lunch time and with four hours on the car park ticket we went our separate ways, agreeing to meet up again at 3pm to go for a meal somewhere – it had been several years since I was last there so I wanted to be off exploring and taking photos and I didn’t expect Michael to trail round with me.
Starting off near the pier I walked along one side of the Marine Lake then went up onto the bridge which crossed the lake and took me to Princes Park, then from there I wandered along to Pleasureland, the large amusement park. On my last visit to Southport the funfair had been a partially closed small shadow of its former self so this time I wasn’t expecting to see much, however I was quite surprised to find that it’s now grown into a large vibrant and colourful amusement place with rides and attractions everywhere I looked.
After wandering round there for a while I made my way back to the lake and headed through King’s Gardens towards the pier then went down to Lord Street, the long main shopping street. With many nice old buildings, monuments and gardens I could have taken several photos along there but unfortunately I ran out of space on my camera card ; having the dogs with me meant that I couldn’t really go in any of the shops and as it wasn’t far off 3pm anyway I just made my way back to the van and waited for Michael.
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Southport pier
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Marine Lake
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Pleasureland amusement park
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Hook A Duck stall
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Colourful artwork on the carousel canopy
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King’s Gardens
As Michael had been a frequent visitor to Southport over the last few years he said he knew a nice place to go for a meal so I settled the dogs in the back of the van and off we went back to Lord Street and to the Westminster Tea Rooms – and this place wasn’t just any old cafe. With wood panelled walls hung with old pictures and mirrors, ornate coving, chandeliers, white table linen and proper napkins, tea and coffee served in silver pots, afternoon tea served on 4-tier cake stands and the waitresses in black dresses with white collars and aprons, it had a very 1920s feel to it and I felt as if I’d stepped back in time. The meal was good too and once we’d finished we made our way back to the van and I took Sophie and Poppie for a short walk along the lakeside before we set off for home, arriving back just before I needed to put the van lights on. All in all it had been a really nice afternoon, and the old fashioned tea room experience had made a nice change – I don’t know when I’ll get to Southport again but at least now I know of a really nice place for a meal when I do go back.
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The holiday from hell?

I finally arrived home yesterday evening from my ten days in California, Norfolk, and I have to say that of the 35 years I’ve been holidaying in that area – 20 of them camping at the same site – this is the first time I’ve ever truly felt like giving up and coming home early. In fact if I could have got a refund on my pitch fee I would have been back within three days, however I stayed, and now I am  back I’m wondering if it was really worth all the hassle as it’s been a holiday fraught with disasters and problems from start to finish.
Day 1, and just over an hour into the journey from home I stopped at a roadside truck stop and got a takeaway coffee, but I only managed to drink a mouthful of it before I accidentally knocked the rest of it all over the floor of the van between the two front seats – and that one minor mishap seemed to set the tone for the rest of the holiday. Arriving at the camp site I found that the pitch fees had increased substantially since last year and are now beyond my personal budget; finding somewhere cheaper at such short notice would have been almost impossible without internet access so I paid up – well I suppose someone has to pay for the demolition of the toilet block and the brand new statics and tarmac road which have appeared since last year. Finally on my pitch on the camping field I found that it was too windy to put the tent up so I spent the rest of the day and the evening in the van.
Day 2, and with more wind and on/off rain showers it was a morning spent in the van, though the afternoon was sunny and by 7pm the wind had dropped so I finally managed to put the tent up and get everything set out inside it, although I was actually sleeping in the van.
Day 3 arrived gloriously sunny and I planned a good day out to get some photos, but when it came to actually leaving my pitch I found I wasn’t going anywhere – after a short drive to the local late shop the previous afternoon I’d unthinkingly left the ignition on and the battery was flatter than flat. A quick call to the AA soon sorted that though and less than an hour later a very nice man arrived and soon got the van going again, and I went on to have what was probably the best day of the whole holiday.
Day 4 was nothing short of diabolical. The wind had come back during the night, worse than it had been previously, coupled with several prolonged heavy downpours, and when I unzipped the tent door that morning I was greeted by a scene of total devastation. Everything in there had been up-ended by the wind and was scattered all over, and one of the bedrooms had a huge puddle in the middle of the floor though fortunately the bag with my clothes and personal stuff hadn’t been affected. With dark grey skies, on/off rain and high wind it was another day spent in the van, although during the afternoon I did attempt to walk to the local shop but didn’t get far before I got caught in another downpour and got soaked to the skin.
Day 5 was another day of on/off heavy downpours though it did come reasonably nice for a while during the late afternoon so after a shopping trip to Asda I drove the few miles to Gorleston and took the dogs for a good walk along the promenade and gardens.
Day 6 started out beautifully and I had a lovely morning walk up to Hemsby along the cliff top and back along the beach. I’d planned to visit a large garden that afternoon and actually drove out to it but by the time I got there the sky had clouded over and the rain hammered down again, so that put paid to that idea and I drove back to the site and spent another afternoon in the van.
Day 7 brought yet more rain so my garden visit was put on hold once again and I went into town to do some shopping instead, though it did make an attempt at brightening up during the afternoon. That evening I went to visit some friends who live a mile or so from the site, however I’d forgotten that I’d left the half full kettle on the floor in the middle of the van and as I went round a corner it up-ended, though fortunately most of the water went down onto the side step rather than onto the carpet.
Day 8 turned out to be beautiful all day and I finally managed to do the garden visit, though I’d initially thought I wouldn’t be going anywhere unless I walked. Several lengthy bouts of heavy overnight rain, added to what had fallen over the previous few days, had softened the ground so much that when I tried to reverse off my pitch the back wheels got stuck in the mud and I couldn’t get out; luckily the site owner’s son had a 4 x 4 and a big chain so he dragged the van off for me. The garden visit was followed by a drive down to Redwings Horse Sanctuary to see my adopted pony Cauli then the day was finished off with visits to my friends Ady and Jane.
Day 9 was grey and showery in the morning though it did brighten up at lunch time and the afternoon turned out to be fairly pleasant, though not really sunny enough for long enough to go anywhere proper so I paid a second visit to my friends Eileen and Ron – it was Eileen’s birthday, and although she’s now lost much of her sight I still took a card for her.
Day 10 arrived gloriously sunny after several bouts of heavy rain overnight – it was also going home day so I abandoned the morning dog walk in favour of getting everything packed away and the tent taken down while it was nice. Packing up the van was no problem but I had a lot of mopping up to do before I could sort out the tent. On my shopping trip into town I’d got a cheap mop and bucket from Asda, knowing I would have some mopping up to do, but I didn’t realise just how much. It took ages, and I had several inches of water in that bucket by the time I’d finished.
After a good dog walk along the beach I finally left the site at 12.30pm though my problems still weren’t over; twice I hit queues of very slow moving traffic, the first lot caused by a broken down farm vehicle meaning two lanes were going into one, though there didn’t seem to be any reason for the second lot. Those delays meant that by the time I was heading west the sun was getting low and in my eyes and unfortunately I missed the correct exit off a roundabout, meaning I was heading for somewhere I didn’t want to be so I had to find somewhere to turn round and go back. I got it right eventually though and finally arrived home at 7.45pm.
So there you have it, a potted account of my holiday – or maybe I should say nightmare? Whatever it was, I certainly don’t want another one like it, in fact I feel like I now need a holiday to get over the holiday. I suppose there was one good thing about it though – with all that rain stopping me from getting out and about like I wanted to I had plenty of time for relaxing, and I didn’t spend much money either. Now that’s a bonus!
** A full account of the holiday, with photos, can be found starting here for anyone who wants to read it  🙂

Off on my travels again

Hopefully, if things go to plan – which they probably won’t – I’ll be leaving home at 7am tomorrow for my annual 10-day holiday in Norfolk. I really wanted to leave earlier than that – 5am would have been ideal as it’s a six hour journey – but I’ve had so much to do today and various things have conspired against me to make sure some of them didn’t get done, so I need to finish them off in the morning before I go anywhere. My friend round the corner is feeding the cats for me until Michael comes back from Ireland on Thursday, then he’ll take over until I get back the following Tuesday. The van is packed and my bag is packed so I only need to finish off the things which didn’t get done today then I’m off – so I’ll ‘see’ you all when I get back and hopefully I’ll have lots of photos for here and my other blog.

A great weekend in North Wales

On Tuesday afternoon I got back home from a long weekend at Manorafon Farm camp site in Abergele, North Wales – a weekend where, for once, I hadn’t been camping alone as Michael had been with me. I’d actually asked him last Tuesday if he wanted to come with me as I thought a few days of sea air might help his continuing recovery from the broken ankle but he’d refused and said he was quite happy to stay at home. I’d left the van packed up from my Anglesey holiday a few weeks ago so his refusal meant that I didn’t need to re-organise and re-pack it with extra stuff for him, however at half past midnight last Friday he suddenly said he wanted to come, the deciding factor being that as there would be electric on my pitch he would be able to charge up his phone. So at 6.30 on Saturday morning I was busy packing the van with camp bed, mattress, extra bedding and food etc, and instead of leaving home at my intended time of 7.30am we didn’t leave until 8.30.
Although it had been rather overcast when we set off the sun started shining not long into the journey and from then on the weather just got better and better. My usual route down the M56/A55 was abandoned for once in favour of the A548 running close to the River Dee estuary as I wanted to stop at Greenfield Dock to take a few photos – I’d read about this little place on Ruth’s blog but when I wanted to find it for myself last year I’d missed the turning off the main road so didn’t get there. There was nothing much there other than a little creek with a handful of small fishing boats beached on the deep mud banks but in the sunshine the views across the Dee estuary were worth a couple of shots and it was nice to have a short break from driving.
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The Dee estuary from Greenfield Dock
I’d originally intended to make a stop at Talacre beach further along the coast, but the later-than-planned start to the journey meant I was running out of time as I’d arranged to meet my blogging friend Eileen at 11am and I didn’t want to keep her waiting too long. Having met properly for the first time last August it was lovely to see her and her adorable little dog Annie again and a very pleasant couple of hours was spent chatting over a coffee and a walk round her local boardwalk before we said our goodbyes. It was just after 1pm when I got to Manorafon – I’d been able to select my pitch when I booked online back in May so I knew exactly where I was going and with Michael’s help, albeit limited because of his foot, the tent was soon put up and pegged down and the inside sorted out, then the rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the sun.
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Manorafon Farm
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One of the site’s many residents
Late morning on Sunday saw us driving the 43 miles to Anglesey; although it was only a few weeks since my holiday there I was going for a particular reason – to photograph Parys Mountain with the heather in full bloom, which it hadn’t been back in July. And it was certainly worth going – in the six weeks since I last walked round there the mountain had burst into colourful life with pink and purple heather everywhere, and needless to say I took far more than just a handful of shots. My walk round the mountain was followed by a drive up to Penrhos for a cheeseburger then it was back across the island to Benllech where we spent some time by the beach before finally leaving the island and going back to the camp site.
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Parys Mountain in bloom
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Benllech beach
On Monday, while on a morning dog walk, I discovered that the old castle up the lane from the site was partially open to the public so Michael and I had a walk round up there. It was good to see what progress had been made in the restoration over the last year but I was rather disappointed to find that the most interesting parts of the place have been closed off since I was at the open day last August. Later on we had a drive along the coast and I finally found Talacre beach and its lighthouse and got the photos I wanted, then on the way back to the camp site I called at Eileen’s with a brochure which I’d forgotten to give to her on Saturday. I’d left Michael at one of the amusement places down near the beach and on my way back to collect him I managed, from Eileen’s directions, to find and photograph a possible ‘escapee’ from the local zoo peering over someone’s high hedge.
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Gwrych Castle
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Talacre beach & Point of Ayr lighthouse
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Anyone lost a giraffe?
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The Pantri Bach Cafe, Pensarn
After some overnight rain Tuesday was dull and overcast though the sun did keep trying to break through the clouds. A leisurely breakfast was followed by the packing up process and by 11.15am we were ready for leaving the site; a dog walk down on the beach was followed by an early lunch in the nearby Pantri Bach cafe then it was time to set off homewards. The day brightened up as we got further north and we arrived home at 3.15pm in glorious sunshine, a fitting end to a very varied and enjoyable North Wales weekend.

A strange occurrence on the plane

After having Monday’s frustration of trying to sort out Michael’s flight to Dublin I dropped him off at Manchester airport at 2pm on Tuesday in plenty of time for him to get through security and get to the boarding gate for his flight at 3.15. At 2.45 he sent me a text to say he was in the queue waiting to board the plane and he would text me again when he landed, so I sent a jokey reply telling him not to get off before it got to Dublin!
Now I know from the experience of going over to Ireland myself three times last year that whatever time you land in Dublin you can guarantee you’ll have a long wait for a connecting coach to Roscrea as the times never seem to coincide. Michael would just miss the 4pm Bus Eirann coach (the equivalent of our National Express) and would have to wait until 6pm for the next one, so before I went to work at 4.30 I had a look on the internet to see if there was an earlier alternative and found one going at 5.15. I sent him a text to tell him and immediately got the reply “Still at Manchester, not gone anywhere yet” so I rang him to ask why. He said he couldn’t really tell me just then as there were too many people around so he would ring me once he’d finally landed in Dublin.
He rang me at 6.15, the flight had finally taken off just before 5pm and must have taken a reasonably direct flight path as he’d managed to get out of the airport just in time to get the 6pm coach. The reason for the flight delay seemed rather odd to say the least. His seat was an aisle seat just three rows from the very back of the plane and it seemed that a couple further down the plane had been sitting in seats booked by someone else so the other people had asked them to move, which they did and they went to sit somewhere else. Then two other people had come along and ousted them from those seats too and they ended up sitting across the aisle from Michael. He said there had been no shouting or arguing at any time and he’d actually got talking to the guy who seemed to be quite a pleasant person, but then a cabin crew member had come along and asked to check the couple’s boarding passes. The next thing he knew the steps were put up at the back of the plane, a couple of police officers arrived and escorted the couple off the plane and into a waiting police van.
Unfortunately that hadn’t been the end of the delay – the couple had baggage in the hold so everything had to be taken out to find what was theirs then it all had to be put back in again afterwards. Apparently a big cheer went up when the plane finally started taxiing to the runway ready for take-off, an hour and forty minutes after the scheduled time. Assuming that the couple in question had the correct boarding passes – they must have had to be able to get on the plane in the first place – it remains a mystery as to why they were taken off the flight. I suppose the incident added a bit of excitement to Michael’s day but he wouldn’t have been a happy bunny if he’d missed his 6pm coach because of it!

Going round in circles

Yesterday (Monday) Michael decided he was  going back to Ireland asap as it’s a distant cousin’s birthday tomorrow and he didn’t want to miss out on a really good ‘do’, so off he went into town to book himself on the Holyhead/Dublin night ferry with the relevant coach connections at each end, only to find that the coach places at this end were fully booked and he couldn’t go. Now under normal circumstances he could have got himself to Holyhead by train and got on the ferry as a foot passenger but as from last Saturday our local station is closed for two weeks while the main Manchester/Preston line is being electrified; although alternative bus services to Manchester are being provided it would have been far too much hassle to do it that way, certainly on the last minute, so he decided he would fly instead. At least that way he would be in Roscrea in just a few short hours and on the same day.
Checking the flight availability online showed there was no way he could have gone that day as even a late evening flight cost almost £200 one way and he certainly didn’t want to pay that much, however I managed to find a flight leaving Manchester at 3.15pm today for a more reasonable £84 and a return flight next Tuesday evening for £79. As all his details are saved in his online Ryanair account/journey planner the booking procedure and payment was straightforward and within a few minutes I got a confirmation email with a flight reservation number. Thinking that I may as well check him in and print out the boarding passes straight away I clicked on the ‘check in now’ link in the email – and that’s where the fun began.
Although the return journey was showing up and I was able to print out the boarding pass for it there was no boarding pass showing up for the outward journey and it actually said ‘this flight departed on August 15th’. So I’m now thinking I’ve somehow got the wrong date but checks on three calendars, my phone and the pc told me that it was still only the 14th so why the strange message? Three separate attempts to check in and get the boarding pass resulted in the same message each time so eventually I found a number for Ryanair customer services and phoned them – and that’s when I almost lost the will to live.
Having explained the problem to the woman at the other end of the phone (who’s first language obviously wasn’t English) she asked me for a few of Michael’s details – and this was the conversation
Her – “Madam, I can see you have checked in for the return flight but you must first check in for the outbound flight before you can get the boarding pass”
Me – “I know that but the system isn’t allowing me to check in, it keeps saying the flight has already departed even though it’s not until tomorrow”
Her – I’m sorry madam, I don’t understand what you are saying. You must check in for your flight before you can get the boarding pass”
Me – “But it isn’t allowing me to check in, even the ‘check in’ button is blanked out”
Her – “I don’t understand what you are telling me. What is your flight reservation number madam?”
Me – “It’s 14**GR”
Her – “I’m sorry madam, that is not the correct number”
Me – “Well that’s the number in the confirmation email”
Her – “That is not the correct number. The number should begin with a letter”
Me – “Well that’s the only number I’ve got”
Her – “Madam, that is not the correct number. You must first put in the correct reservation number then check in before you can get the boarding pass”
Me – “Look, that’s the only reservation number in the confirmation email. It must be right as I’ve checked in and printed out the boarding pass for the return flight but there is no boarding pass showing up for the outward flight”
Her – “Madam, you will not be able to get the boarding pass until you check in first”
And so it went on….
Now it takes a lot to get me angry but this conversation was just going round and round in circles and I was getting more and more frustrated by the woman’s lack of understanding and a solution to the problem, so I cut the call before I said something nasty to her. Even Michael was getting annoyed just listening to my side of the conversation. The only way round it that I could see would be for Michael to get to the airport well ahead of his flight time and check in at the normal check in desk although this would incur a €50 check in fee, but then he was taking a risk that if the reservation number really was  incorrect he may be refused on the flight. By the time my scrambled brain had returned to something like normal it was time for me to go to work so I said I would have one last ditch attempt at customer services when I got back home, and if that failed then I would print out all my information and purposely drive to the airport and hopefully sort it out there.
The second attempt at going through customer services couldn’t have been more different. This time I got a really helpful guy with a softly spoken Irish accent, and within seconds of explaining the problem and giving him all Michael’s details he was telling me that the flight was now checked in and if I logged out of Michael’s account then logged back in again I would find the boarding pass ready for printing. So that’s what I did and sure enough there was the boarding pass – I don’t know what the guy did at his end but it certainly worked. Needless to say Michael was very much relieved when I went in his room and presented him with both boarding passes – and I’ve printed out extra copies just in case. I’m taking him to the airport later on today and all being well he’ll be on the 3.15 flight to Dublin – and I just hope that next time he goes over there, whenever that may be, the online booking system runs with no more problems.

Only my son could do this

Back towards the end of June Michael, through no fault of his own, managed to accidentally break his ankle, resulting in a trip to A & E . X-rays showed it was a very bad break and he came out on crutches and wearing a supporting boot strapped up his leg, with an appointment to go back for another x-ray six days later when it would be decided if he needed a plaster cast or not. He came back from that appointment still with the boot on, another appointment for the following week and some medication which he had to inject himself with to prevent a DVT – that was assuming he did nothing but sit or lie and rest, however within minutes of getting back home he decided he was going to Ireland that night!
So in spite of having other things to do (I was having a weekend away myself and needed to sort things out) I spent the next hour or so on the pc, organising his journey. He couldn’t fly out as he needed a doctor’s note authorising the syringes he had so I booked him on the Holyhead to Dublin night ferry with coach connections at both ends then a flight back from Dublin to Manchester the evening before his next hospital appointment the following Friday. He had already left home when I got back from work that evening but he rang me at various stages of the journey to let me know he was okay and he arrived safely at the family home in Roscrea the following morning. All went well until the evening he was due to come back home then everything went pear-shaped, producing a string of complicated and confusing events.
The flight back from Dublin on the Thursday was 9.30pm and I’d arranged to pick Michael up from Manchester airport an hour or so later, however at 7.15 he rang me and his first words were “Mum, I’ve messed up”. Now to put you in the picture, over the last few months he’s become friendly with a girl in Roscrea and he’d called to see her before setting off to come home, only to be told by her next door neighbour that she’d had a bad epileptic seizure and had been taken to hospital 35 minutes drive away. As the coach to Dublin passed the hospital where his friend had been taken he’d decided (not very wisely as it turned out) to stop off there to see if she was okay, only to find out when he got there that she’d recovered from her seizure, checked herself out and presumably gone home. By the time he’d come out of the hospital and made his way back to the main road he’d missed the next coach to the airport and hadn’t a cat in hell’s chance of getting there in time for his flight so the only thing he could do was get the next coach back to Roscrea and start again the following day. He would miss his hospital appointment but it could be rearranged.
So once again using the trusty pc and various timetables found on the internet I came up with an alternative. Flying back was now out of the question as Friday and weekend flights are very expensive, so it was decided that he would wait until Saturday and come back on the night ferry; Saturday was also the day when I should have gone to Anglesey but there was no way I was going until I knew Michael was safely back home. Unfortunately there was nowhere in Roscrea where he could make a direct ferry booking, he couldn’t make an internet booking using his phone as for some reason he couldn’t get into the system, and I couldn’t book it for him from here as he would need a printed ticket, so the only thing he could do was get to the ticket office at the bus station in Dublin and make his booking there.
Now not knowing what time the Dublin ticket office closed I suggested that he get the 1pm coach from Roscrea which would get him to Dublin by 3pm, so assuming that the ticket office closed early at maybe 4pm he would be in plenty of time. However, even that didn’t go according to plan; at 1.45pm on the Saturday I got a text ‘Still waiting for coach’ so I rang him. The 1 o’clock coach hadn’t turned up and there was no timetable at the bus stop so yet again I got on the pc to check, only to find that the timetable I was looking at then wasn’t what I’d been looking at the previous day – it had changed overnight and there wasn’t now a coach at 1pm. The next one was 3 o’clock, which got Michael to Dublin bus station a few minutes after 5pm – just five minutes too late for the ticket office! The only thing he could do then was get a taxi to the port and see if he could get on the next ferry as a foot passenger, though he would have to sort out his own way of getting home from Holyhead once he got there.
However, for the first time since all this mess began he actually had a stroke of luck – the young woman in the ticket office got into the booking system and he was booked in on the night ferry for the full journey from there right back home; all he had to do was wait for the coach which would take him onto the ferry then he could relax for the rest of the journey. He did text me at one point ‘Now on ferry, just set sail’ to which I jokingly replied ‘Well don’t get off anywhere!’ and back came the text ‘Even that would be impossible for me now!’ He eventually arrived home just after 7 o’clock on the Sunday morning, the coach having dropped him off at the local Asda store ten minutes walk away – and I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to see him.
I finally went to Anglesey two days later than planned, leaving Michael home alone, and he went to his rearranged hospital appointment on the Friday that week. This time his foot was put in a plaster cast which goes halfway to his knee – and on his way back home he stopped off in town and booked himself on the ferry back to Ireland that night! He would have been going anyway as it was his birthday a few days later and he’d already booked the time off work as a holiday so he wasn’t wasting it. The following Tuesday I got back from Anglesey to an empty house and Michael finally arrived back the Sunday afterwards, though even that journey hadn’t been without incident.
For some reason the driver of the coach from Roscrea to Dublin had taken a different route round the city and hadn’t stopped at the main bus station where Michael had to pick up the coach for the ferry; when he realised that the coach was heading towards the docks on the way to the airport he had to ask the driver to stop and let him off. He then had a choice – a taxi back to the bus station and risk missing the ferry coach or onwards to the port. He chose the port, and though he had to wait a while he was able to pick up the ferry coach there. He’s been at home since then but I know he’s planning on going back to Ireland after his next hospital check up at the end of this week; if he does then hopefully things will all go according to plan but if they don’t…..then watch this space!