After a personal annus horribilis, I felt like I really needed a holiday. But as a single mum who works part-time, in the midst of an all-encompassing recession, I was having difficulty even paying the window cleaner.
So when my dad invited me and the boys for a week away in the Med with him and his partner Marion, I naturally jumped at the chance. Ok, I realise that spending a week with two 79-year-olds isn't everyone’s idea of Xanadu, but I was absolutely delighted. My dad is such great company and, because he lives in England, we only see him once or twice a year. Even better, my big sister Louise, whom I miss terribly, too, was joining us with her son Joe and I couldn't have been happier or more excited.
There was another reason that I really yearned for a week away this year. My elder son Luke will be leaving home in September to go to university in London and I really wanted to spend some quality time in his company — and for him to have the same with his one remaining grandparent — before he finally flies the nest. As much as I dread the thought of him leaving us, I wanted to give him some fabulous memories of his last few months in the bosom of his family, and here was that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, courtesy of my dear old dad.
So off we flew to the Antalya coast of Turkey, to a beautiful resort on the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, leaving our cares behind us, briefly, along with the cold wet weather of Northern Ireland.
For the first two days everything was perfect. Our room had a balcony and, to my delight, a housemartin was nesting directly opposite us in the neighbouring eaves. Each morning I awoke to the sounds of its chicks chirping for food and the sight of the parents swooping for flies in the golden sunlight. Eventually the boys would wake up and join me on the balcony for a coffee before we went down to spend breakfast and the remains of the day with the golden oldies.
That quickly became our routine, so lovely, so comfortable, so relaxing. Just one week out of 52 without any cares to weigh me down and I was determined to make the most of it. But then, as I have long-since discovered, things don't always go according to plan.
On Day Three my dad took ill. Seriously ill, in fact. When he appeared at the breakfast table to join us he was ashen-faced. His eyes wouldn't focus and his legs wouldn't work properly and he was leaning heavily on my boys, who had jumped up in alarm when they saw him struggling, confused and disorientated at the doorway.
The hotel doctor didn't speak any English and dismissed it as a tummy bug, so I phoned my brother who's a GP in England. Food poisoning? Sun stroke? Dehydration? Virus? Blood pressure? Stroke? What should we do, who should we see?
A mad dash across a strange foreign town to find a pharmacy, without knowing what to actually ask for or how to ask for it. Another to find a wheelchair. A lot of confusion and barely-surpressed panic as my dad struggled to stand, see, hear or be heard and seemed to be getting worse by the hour.
Eventually, after much prevarication in broken English, intercontinental confusion and days of barely intelligible phrase-book Turkish, my dad was admitted to hospital.
Meanwhile, my boys, as always, were absolute rocks, quietly helping where they could and keeping me and my sister sane amid a nightmare scenario.
Then, the day came to return home but dad was declared unfit to fly. As we said our farewells at the hospital, hugging him among the drips and bleeps, none of us could be sure if we would ever see him again. I don't even have the words to describe how that felt. (Fortunately, the one stroke of luck from this whole saga was that my big, sensible sister was there. Without her, I don't know how I would have managed. She stayed with dad at the hospital as I accompanied the kids and the remaining elderly back to Manchester and remains with him there as I write.)
Just as I was throwing the mixed-up mish-mash of clothing into the last suitcase, I happened to glance out of the window onto the balcony. At that very moment one of the young housemartins was emerging from the nest to take its maiden flight into the great wide open.
Within a few weeks that would be Luke. Leaving at the start of his great new adventure of life as an independent adult.
It reminded me that life goes on, no matter what.