We’ve all got a memorable car journey. There are the funny stories, the poignant ones, and more often than not, the damn right embarrassing ones. In the second of our Memory Lane series, Miranda recalls how all her friends went to Reading Festival while she was forced to go on a very uncool family holiday to a seal sanctuary in Cornwall.
If someone offered me a two-week road trip around the beautiful and wayward Cornish coast tomorrow, I would pack my bags and wax my surfboard faster than you can say Doom Bar. When the same prospect was presented to me aged 16, I was ready to call Childline.
I could not believe the cruelty my mum and dad were capable of – imprisoning my younger brother Michael and me in the backseats of our Renault Scenic? My friends were going to Reading Festival to drink lukewarm contraband beers while I was off to look at Land’s End – and my social life going with it.
With two stroppy teenagers in tow, my parents were already fighting a losing battle. Their fate was sealed, however, when all hope of 99s and plastic cricket on the beach was extinguished by torrential downpours.
If there’s one thing you can rely on during summer in the UK, it is that you can go from sunburnt to soaked through in the space of 20 minutes. The weather was the only thing on holiday more miserable than I was and we were forced to spend even more time confined to the car.
The six-hour drive from London was bad enough. Our parents still had some hope to win us over back then, bribing us with McDonalds and letting us take turns choosing the music. A few days passed before it became clear that there are not enough McNuggets in the world to vanquish teenage fury. We even lost our democratic rights to the playlist after Michael loyally chose “Baby” by Justin Bieber every time his turn came around.
After these privileges were revoked a stalemate developed. Our parents became increasingly tyrannical, starting with mum’s coup d’état of the stereo – exclusively The Beatles and Queen – and culminating with dad’s joyless and totalitarian insistence on BBC Radio 5 live.
Michael and I fought back with a calculated resistance campaign. The house we were staying in had a treacherously steep and difficult driveway; the old Renault plus dad’s short temper meant lots of stalling. While mum calmly reassured, we sardonically counted aloud each time he stalled.
We had been poking the bear in this fashion for over a week now, and it was clear a truce had to be made. Sat in a tiny village pub one lunchtime, mum spotted a flyer on the visitor’s board – ‘The Gweek Seal Sanctuary’.
We have always been avid Attenborough fans, and besides, there was literally nothing else to do.
We arrived at the near-deserted seal sanctuary prepared for disappointment and passive-aggression. As soon as we set foot in this wholesome haven our anger dissipated. The constant drizzle and icy winds couldn’t detract from the joy of watching penguins being fed lunch – mum and Michael even discovered a shared and unspoken fondness for otters.
We all reunited around one seal who shared his name – ‘Diego’ – with our pet cat back in London. Our hearts melted in unison as the keeper told us Diego was one of the most boisterous animals there.
The Seal Sanctuary at Gweek is not just a place where seals go to heal, but where families come back together.
I don’t remember our trip to Cornwall for the 13 days of squabbles, I fondly remember that one day spent gazing into the eyes of the seals. *
*Well, that and I also remember that it was during this trip that my brother was finally diagnosed with dyslexia after he recoiled in horror at seeing “Mouse Cake” listed on a menu, with mum gently correcting him: “Moussaka”.