Last weekend, we headed aaaaaall the way oop North to visit Grandmo for her 85th birthday.
Because a road trip isn’t a road trip without Maccy D’s breakfast! (NB: Little Miss had homemade PB&Js for breakfast. No Maccy D’s for her. Because we’re cruel parents who care about her health like that.)
Usually, my dad comes back from Azerbaijan for her birthday and he and I would go together. But this year, he wasn’t able to make it work (he’s coming back in two weeks instead). So, for the first time in seven and a half years I dragged the Other Half’s Southern ass to the deepest, darkest, coldest corner of England:
Sunderland here we come!
As it was bank holiday weekend, we were up at the crack of dawn and in the car at 6am to try and miss the worst of the traffic. (Granted, most people head south to the coast, but just in case…) Also, seeing as we’re still very much in the throws of potty training, we anticipated the usual five hour drive would take significantly longer…
We got there about 3pm in the end. Including a service stop pretty much every hour for a potty session (all successful – the only change of clothes needed was because she spilt a bottle of water on herself!) and an hour in Durham for a late lunch (which included one successful potty session and one spectacular accident with a poo on her chair and a puddle of wee under it……. Oops.)
But really, she was good as gold. Given we didn’t even own a car until shortly before her second birthday and the longest she’s done is the hour drive to my in-laws’, we were really impressed. She sat and read stories; played with her ‘laptop’ and Lambie; she sangs songs; she ate her lunch in the car without complaint… we didn’t even need to whack out the iPad and Lightning McQueen until the final two hours of a nearly nine hour drive. I’d say that’s pretty much a resounding success.
When we arrived in Sunderland, we were greeted with very uncharacteristic sunshine and a balmy 20 degrees.
Our hotel room looked out over the sea, which Little Miss was incredibly excited about – she kept asking to go to the beach, which we planned to do the next morning. (Though I didn’t quite have the heart to tell her it probably wouldn’t be warm enough for a paddle!)
We then hot footed it over to Grandmo’s and took her out for some tea.
Age is a sad and scary thing; seeing how much that short trip in the car to a café tired her out was alien to me – the woman who even five years ago was still doing five mile walks with the Ramblers (because apparently ten miles was pushing it a bit these days…!).
Sunderland: not quite the culinary capital of the world…
That evening, we had planned to get fish and chips on the sea front – a real family tradition for me – but unfortunately, the weather closed in. So we decided to cut our losses and go to one of the restaurants near the hotel instead.
Now, apart from when we were at Uni in Nottingham, a few weekends visiting his best mate at Leeds Uni back in the day, and one weekend at Dad and H’s in the Penines, the Other Half has never been north of Watford. (And I mean actual Watford, not the Watford Gap.) So, I had tried to prepare him a bit before we arrived. Coming from Surrey, it’s a smidge different to what he’s used to…
Not to mention he’s a total foodie and, well, Sunderland isn’t exactly the culinary capital of the world…
It was slim pickings, but we settled in a new looking bar that had a family sat in the window. The staff were incredibly friendly and Little Miss loved watching the lady making cocktails at the bar (girl after my own heart). The food was simple, and not the best we’ve ever had, but was far from awful too.
Then Little Miss did a poo under the table (in her knickers) while we were waiting for the bill. And that basically sums up that evening.
And thus began the comedy of errors that was the following 48 hours…
We had an awful night. Little Miss woke every hour from nightmares, until 4am when, delirious, exhausted and at the end of my tether, I finally brought her into bed with us, where she proceeded to wriggle and kick us to death – at one point even lying on top of me with her head on my neck, forcing my head sideways for about 20 minutes. But at least she was still and quiet?
At 6am, CBeebies saved us and bought us an extra hour of undisturbed sleep. Sweet, sweet sleep…
Sadly for Little Miss, when we finally opened the curtains at 7am, it was pouring with rain and a pretty chilly 14 degrees. This was the Sunderland I knew.
It was at this point we realised we had forgotten her wellies. Fools. No beach for you, Little Miss!
Little Miss with her small pig in a bun! A true Sunderland Stottie [sandwich].
Breakfast brought another Sunderland tradition: The Bungalow cafe with bacon and sausage sto tries (baps to you and I) the size of your head (yes, really).
It’s about as greasy as a greasy spoon gets with bad coffee and a through draft. But it’s got a lovely view of the pier and the lighthouse. And it’s tradition.
The rain stopped while we ate our small pig in a bap so we decided to brave the wind and drizzle and head down the pier to show Little Miss the lighthouse. We only made it about half way before we decided to cut our losses as the chain fencing between the bars disappeared and Little Miss was definitely able to skip through the bars and into the waves. (And no amount of Water Babies would have helped her if she’d fallen in!)
The OH being his warm blooded Southern self against the elements on a typical August morning in Sunderland! Little Miss fairing a little more fool-hardily…
A birthday lunch to forget…
Grandmo, to be polite, is a hoarder. And not a tidy one at that. We try to spend as little time as possible in her house. This was a lot easier when she herself would be waiting at the door with her bag on her shoulder at 9am, asking why we were late to start the day! But she, sadly, is not the cantankerous biddy she once was and instead, wasn’t even ready to go out when we arrived at 10am.
I was a bit worried how we would fill the time on Sunday, but the only upside to being with a toddler and an old lady is that everything takes forever. So lunch – getting there, eating, getting back – took up most of the day.
Being her birthday, we chose a restaurant down the coast my dad said Grandmo likes.
UNfortuna, it was pretty tragic, even for old ladies in Sunderland. Grandmo’s never really been a fan of food, but even she agreed it was tasteless and none of us finished our lunch.
I ordered pork, they brought me turkey and proceeded to cover my chair in gravy (thankfully I was on a potty run with Little Miss at the time!); it did come with veg (an improvement on last night’s meal!) and two types of potatoes, but the OH’s cod goujons with pea puree were more like long fish fingers in paper thin batter with green soup dribbled on the plate – no other veg required apparently… All in all, not the best birthday lunch!
But at least the sun was trying to break through the clouds and we managed a quick, chilly jaunt along the river mouth before setting off back to Grandmo’s so she could have a rest.
More family tradition
I think secretly my dad would have liked to have been there to take Little Miss round Sunderland, as he did with me twenty-five years ago. He and H had sent Little Miss a kite to fly on the beach, but with the rain, we hadn’t been able to in the morning.
On the way back from lunch, the clouds parted just as we passed a massive grassy stretch along the coast. We parked up and jumped out of the car, with Grandmo watching from the front seat, and took Little Miss to fly a kite for the very first time.
I’ve always loved flying kites, so I was in my element. Little Miss seemed to enjoy it too, trying to chase it, then being frustrated when the kite wouldn’t chase her back!
We dropped Grandmo back at her’s and plugged ‘Newcastle’ (only 20 minutes west) into Google Maps.
Ending on a high
I thought the OH had suffered enough and so we headed into Newcastle for dinner on the Sunday night. We surveyed the options on Foursquare but in the end, opted for family friendly, safe bet, Pizza Express.
We felt like those cliched British tourists who go abroad and crave British tea and bacon butties. Only, we were from the South, craving vegetables and decent food!
But I won’t lie – it was glorious.
We had a lovely meal, laughing and drowning our sorrows in pizza (cheese-free in Little Miss’ case) and dough balls, punctuated by regular potty trips up and down two flights of stairs to the bathrooms.
The OH even had a desert – which I think I can count on one hand how many times he’s had a desert in eight years of knowing him, so he must have been feeling sorry for himself!
Little Miss ensuring she got every last dribble and drop of her raspberry sorbet!
And you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s where the story ends, at the bottom of a sorbet glass. Oh no…
It’s not over yet. Not until the fire alarm sings…
Back at the hotel that evening, we opted for a sad, parenthood style early night. By 9:30, I could barely keep my eyes open after the night before and the stress of dealing with Grandmo all day. (Not to mention running up and down two flights of stairs numerous times during dinner!)
And at 2am, the fire alarm rang loud and clear through the hotel. We jumped up and without a second thought, started getting dressed (amazing how things change once you’re a parent – before, there’d have been a very real possibility I’d have slept through the alarm entirely or I’d have wrapped a towel round me and sleepily dawdled out into the corridor, questioning whether there was even an actual fire…). In the rush, the OH managed to pull on my skinny jeans rather than his (yes, he’s that slim… the bugger!) and scooped up Little Miss in a blanket and two towels against the cold night air, who was just starting to rouse in a rather confused fashion.
As it turns out, my pre-parenthood self would have had the right idea. Our hotel was hosting two weddings that weekend and a drunken party-goer thought it would be fun to play a little prank on all the guests…
A fire engine came, which Little Miss was quite pleased by as she sleepily looked out from her bundle in Daddy’s arms saying, “there’s a fire. We have to find it. There’s a fire engine. It goes nee-naw-nee-naw…”
We got back to our room at 2:40am and fell into bed. Our alarm went off three hours later and we were on the road around 7am.
By 8am we were headed back to Sunderland as we realised we’d left the OH’s wallet in the hotel room.
On the upside, on the drive home, Little Miss was perfect. Not one accident, then slept for the final two hours.
So I see more road trips in our future. Just maybe not to Sunderland…