For three years of my college life in Galway, I had a bus journey from hell from Navan, via Delvin, Mullingar, a change over at the bus station in Athlone, then on to Ballinasloe, Loughrea and Galway, stopping at every hole in the hedge along the way. I can still feel nausea if I see that familiar bus with, the red setter mutt sprinting, marked ‘Gallaimh’. I had no ambition to ever stop off in Ballinasloe again, but last week I did a Google, looking for a hotel and came across the Shearwater Hotel there. The swimming pool looked the business for little people and family suites were available at a very reasonable price. And better still, it was a half way point for myself and my stepdaughter and her daughter who lives in Sligo – a rare opportunity for my two to catch up with their big sis and their niece (who is only 8 months younger than them – don’t ya just love blended families ?)I made the reservation and patted myself on the back for being a genius. I may have checked the sleeping capacity, the mileage, etc, but did I check the weather forecast ? Hell no. It was only on Saturday morning, as we were preparing to leave, that I realised that there was a proper storm a’brewing. But, the pair were beating the heads off each other in the house, the rooms were reserved, so it was To (stay at home in) Hell or To Connaught. I chose Connaught.
As I drove through the increasing gales towards Athlone, I nervously laughed to myself, that while looking for temporary solstice from my personal storm, I was driving in the direction of a particularly nasty one called Desmond (my boys' middle name). Should we have turned back ? In my defence, this was hours before Teresa Mannion’s heartfelt plea on RTE to stay away from ‘treacherous roads’. How was I to know ? Besides, I’m the type of girl who ignores the fire alarm and waits til I smell smoke before shifting, so a yellow/red alert doesn’t mean a whole lot to me.The biggest trauma on my journey was an emergency pee stop at a filling station. Little woman was ‘bursting’. The toilet was quite frankly minging and Mya suddenly lost the urge to pee, insisting that she could wait until we got to the hotel. Little man, on the other hand, needed to pee now. The previous occupant must have used the toilet seat for target practice and had left all of the evidence behind. ‘Clean it Mam’, he insisted, his OCD tendencies coming to the fore. ‘But you only need to pee !’ I retorted, ‘you don’t need to sit on it’. There was no getting out of it, as he hopped from one leg to the other. Cleaning your own child’s pee is one thing, wiping up someone else’s required a whole other level of love. I scrubbed most of the skin off my hands and knocked back a shot of coffee to recover.
We found the hotel with ease. It looked as good as the website. A Lidl was located straight across the road. ‘What’s not to love about this place ?’ I thought. My stepdaughter and her daughter were diverted along their journey from Sligo by floods and I was a little bit anxious that they would arrive safely. Thankfully they did.
The children were beyond excitement to be staying in a hotel ‘suite’, complete with its’ own hallway and adjoining bathroom. The look on their little faces at the schmanciness of it all made the precarious journey worthwhile. We all roared with laughter at poor Teresa Mannion on the news. I’m really enjoying that the children are at an age now where they ‘get stuff’. I got a fright all the same, looking at the weather report, realising that it REALLY was BAD. I vowed to leave the building the next time a fire alarm goes off.The day after the night before, the planned leisurely breakfast was gulped down by little people who couldn’t wait to get to the swimming pool. We should have had a splash first : Note for future reference. Bless my innocence, I had a notion that I would have a relaxing R&R time in the sauna/steam room, with their big sister acting as the responsible adult, but my two wanted me to stay close and definitely in full view. I did get a go in the Jacuzzi, while waving like a mad yoke to reassure lil people everyone that I hadn’t run away. We stayed until we are wrinkled and I was foundered with the cold. I looked forward to a long, hot soak in the bathtub before we checked out, but my boy used the occasion as an opportunity to 1. carry out an audit on all of the plumbing in the bathroom, 2. interrogate me on what age various people would be when he would be 21, 40 etc.
When I made the hotel booking, I didn’t realise that Santa Claus was making an entrance on the Sunday. There was a craft fair, bouncy castle, a dance show, the works. One of those days when your children think that you are a genius for planning it all so well. Despite myself, I couldn’t but feel festive.I felt a bit lonesome heading home and wished that the girls didn’t live so far away. We both vowed to make a return visit to Ballinasloe, although next time, we might check the weather forecast.
We hit Athy just as the Christmas lights were being turned on. We parked up, dandered amongst the crowds and soaked up the atmosphere. The light projection on the heritage centre was enchanting. We stopped to look in Bradbury’s DEADLY Christmas window display. We hunched in together and picked out our favourite moving parts – small magnetic figures on a pond, a see-saw, nodding animals. One thing more magical that the other.I bought the pair a bag of chips, split between two bags.
‘Can we not get milkshakes too ?’
‘No !’, sez I firmly, thinking of the sugar fest the previous night in the hotel.
‘You are a big meanie Mam. You never give us ANYTHING’.
'Except memories', I retorted, 'I'm good at making them'.