This is a true seasonal story which will make you all shudder.
About seven years ago, my now ex-husband, (this story should give you a few clues why) said he would be booking a Christmas break for himself, yours truly and his mother. How considerate, I thought. It sounded like a plan.
All was going swimmingly well until about three days before our departure. I was walking down Regent Street in London with a friend when suddenly I had one of my occasional "premonitions" which caused me to jack-knife. This holiday is going to be a disaster, the gut feeling told me which I told my friend by way of explanation to my slightly eccentric behaviour.
Well, the day arrived and we got a taxi into Winchester to pick up a mini-bus on the first leg of our journey. It sped down the A34 and onto the M4, where it turned off at Membury Services but not into the main public area; instead it headed around the back, where the full horror of the situation suddenly came into view. This was the Shearings Superhighway and there was no turning back.
For those of you not in the know, Shearings Holidays are coach holidays taken by people, who are, shall we say, in the autumn of their lives. True, I should have checked the booking forms beforehand, but then we would have been in a Mexican stand-off as I would have refused point blank to go and this was Christmas....the season of goodwill.
Well, there I was strolling among the assortment of Zimmer frames and walking sticks, thinking "Beam me up Scotty". There really was no escape. Then after folding up mother in law's wheelchair into the hold of the coach, we set off.....bound for Newquay.
Five hours later, we finally pulled up outside the hotel and that was not before I realised that coach drivers talk to more mature people in a completely different way to other passengers.
But a bad situation suddenly got worse when we were allocated our room. Now, I have to say at this point that my ex never understood why it was a totally weird idea for a mother-in-law to share the same hotel room as a married couple. That is all I want to say on the subject, but I had the pleasure a couple of times! However, the room they allocated us was immediately above the kitchen from which all manner of noises - voices and clanking pots and pans were coming -and we could not turn off the radiator in the room so we were evaporating in the heat. I think there were some complimentary miniature bottles of a certain liqueur on offer in the room which quickly disappeared -guilty as charged!
We had to tough it out for the first night but complained and got moved to twin rooms the next morning. (Phew)! However, the first evening also revealed the choice of entertainment would either be bingo or olde tyme dancing.
Well what can I say? I was rather conspicuous among the clientele - my ex was 12 years older than me so he blended in better having almost reached the qualifying age for one of these holidays. So the conversations with other patrons tended to centre on medical issues though one gentleman and I did have an interesting conversation about a piece of public sculpture in Manchester whose shards had a habit of becoming detached putting anyone walking underneath at risk of decapitation.
There were two day trips out to both Truro and Padstow, but at that time of the year, the latter proved to be an extremely bone-chilling experience.
One other slightly worrying factor was the food, which was rather rich and creamy; unlike the rather strict diet to which I now adhere.
So what happens? It is Christmas Eve and I am taken ill: Montezuma took his revenge that starry night in Newquay. I was absolutely wiped out that Christmas morning, so much so, that the hotel manageress thinks she has the makings of an epidemic as someone else in the establishment is also suffering.
So Christmas Day turned out to be one of the miserable experiences of my life: I was weak and the last thing I needed was the dinner "and all the trimmings".
Feeling a little bit better on Boxing Day, my ex, who was a sports journalist by profession, decided we ought to seek out a pub to watch a football match. I think I had probably lost my will to live by then, but oh no, there was one more final twist in the tale.
That was our final evening at the Bates Motel and we joined the rest of the happy throng for a session of community bingo. Unfortunately the radiators in the room that night were turned up to stun level and my mother-in-law who had an irregular heartbeat suddenly shorted out in the heat of the moment. She completely passed out and I distinctly remember my ex telling me to finish her bingo card while he single-handedly removed her from the room under the intense gaze of seemingly dozens of prying eyes.
Fortunately, she came to again about ten minutes after her fainting fit but she had no recollection of what happened. I wish the same had happened to me.
As we boarded the coach to return to the normal world, it turns out she also thoroughly hated her holiday and said it was a total shambles. So how to make two women unhappy simultaneously? Take them on a Shearings holiday.
Scrooge may have Marley to haunt him. I have Newquay!