Reverse road trip

More years ago than I care to remember I went to Cardiff to university. No-one in my family had been to university before and I had no idea what to expect. I had some messed up mental image that the Halls of Residence I’d been allocated through clearing would be like some perfect combination of a boarding school mixed with an army camp (neither of which I’d ever stayed at – what can I say I had a vivid imagination). The upshot of not really knowing, and deciding at very short notice to goto university, was that as I travelled to Wales in the back of my parent’s car for the first time I was a mix of anticipation, nerves and excitement.

My parents also had no idea of what it would be like. I remember my Mum talking non stop as we travelled over the Severn Bridge, I think she was filling the silence in an attempt to mask her own nerves. My parents dropped me off and returned home, and years later my Dad told me that my Mum cried all the way home. We used to joke that my poor Mum suffered from a severe case of ’empty nest syndrome’, our house had always been full and suddenly myself and my big bruv both left home within weeks of each other, with very little notice leaving just my little sister at home to fill the silence. Except of course in the holidays, and for some bizarre reason that I still don’t understand now, in the holidays of my first year at uni, I had to empty my room of all my belongings and take them home (and no they didn’t use the rooms for conferences, I truly have no idea why they did it) but it meant that my Dad would come and collect me and all my stuff.

We did this trip to Cardiff and back together four times during my first year, Mum came that first time but then it was just Dad and I. Dad and I are very similar, not in every regard but I have some traits I have definitely inherited or learnt from him – depending on whether I’m viewing them favourably or not they would be tenacity or stubbornness, determination and commitment or wilfulness, and passion or an argumentative streak. These shared traits meant that as a teenager Dad and I didn’t always see eye to eye and I really couldn’t wait to leave home, to leave behind dreary Torbados and move to the bright lights of a city. As soon as I left home I found that my relationship with Dad got better and better. It got to the stage when I really looked forward to those road trips, the time that Dad and I would share together to or from Cardiff. Don’t let me lull you into a false sense of security, it wasn’t all like a scene from The Waltons, as soon as we got home we’d regress into old habits, but those trips together became something I looked forward to. We would catch up, talk about what we’d been up to, I’d share news of my studies and the social, he’d fill me in on the local scandal or news and what was going on at Cadets. On more than one of those trips Dad arrived to find me in a state of disarray, never starting packing early enough, always distracted by a final night out, and Dad would swoop into action, skillfully packing boxes while I made tea and went looking for paracetamol. This all done on top of a full day’s work as a postman. He never once complained either.

This week I attended the wedding of one of my closest mates from university, in Cardiff and got to meet my new niece on the way home on Wednesday (she was born on Sunday night). When I was away Mum told me that Dad had been quite poorly, his haemoglobin level was down to 7.6 which I think is the lowest measure he’s ever had. He was given three units of blood and it felt a bit like an egg timer had been turned, once Dad gets a transfusion it has an almost instant effect on his energy levels, but it doesn’t last long. It didn’t seem fair that I’d got to meet Phoebe and he hadn’t when he’d been waiting for that moment for so long and had fought to stay alive for it.

I asked for Friday off on annual leave and decided that a reverse road trip was in order – instead of Dad taking me to Wales I would take him and the reward at the end, getting to meet his new granddaughter, would hopefully go some way towards repaying all the lifts and road trips and packing he did for me all those years ago. So Thursday evening Bobby and I set off on the path we took all those years before. We even ended up going over the old bridge because my sister and her husband live near Chepstow. We couldn’t have asked for a better trip, there was next to no traffic and we got up there in record time and Grandad got to meet Phoebe, something none of us had confidently thought was likely to happen:

Thursday night we spent under the uprights of the Severn Bridge in the Welfare House at camp and Friday morning we got to spend a couple hours with Phoebe and Libbie, her big sister. Libbie was beyond excited when her Mum told her we were coming and when we arrived she was in the doorway shouting ‘Grandad, come and meet my sister Grandad’. It has been a couple of months since she’s seen Dad, he hasn’t been more than half an hour from the hospital in months, but she was so proud of her baby sister and so delighted to see Dad. We all had breakfast together and then her and Bobby J had a full on session of Peppa Pig Sticker Album sticking.

An hour or so later we took a trip to the park (which is behind their house). Dad didn’t have his walking stick with him and so got to push Phoebe’s pram for support, and we got some fresh air and I got some great photos and memories. We got back to my sis’s for a cuppa and Dad was whacked. He was so pale and slightly breathless, nothing that a brew didn’t sort out though and we soon got on our way. We stopped at Bristol services and for a full five minutes I honestly thought he was going to die in the car park. Luckily we had no option but to carry on! I desperately didn’t want to get stuck in traffic and I wanted Dad to get home if he was going to be ill. Luckily the bank holiday traffic wasn’t as bad as it could have been, although it still took us twice as long to get home as it had to get up there. Dad has been exhausted ever since but Friday was the best day’s annual leave I’ve ever taken. I’m so glad he got to meet Phoebe and we got to spend some time together on our reverse road trip.

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