Welcome to day two of my Disney themed blog posts, posted November 12th, 2019 – my 30th birthday! It’s also the first day we get to spend in the parks, so if you’re following me on Twitter, be prepared for lots of excitement and probably a fair few pictures. I’m actually writing this on Saturday, and I’m already a bundle of nervous, excited energy. So much to do, so much to see, I cannot wait!
Don’t forget to check the end of this post for details of my Twitter giveaway. Also, the absolute best moment of this story comes at the very end.
That said, this isn’t the first birthday I’ve spent at Disney. This is a story I’ve shared before on Twitter, but doing it as a post allows for…well, a bit more, doesn’t it? So if you excuse me, I want to share something that happened to us 25 years ago this month, something terrifying (to us), amazing, and which ended with the best holiday of my life.
And my fifth birthday.
(Please excuse the lack of pictures – this is going to be a text heavy post, apologies in advance for that. This is a mix of my memories and things I’ve learnt since, mainly from my dad.)
(And a trigger warning – there’s a car accident in this story, no deaths, but it was…pretty bad.)
Way back in 1994, my mother entered a radio competition, which resulted in her winning a trip for two, to Florida. For the week before my birthday. With a 4 year old girl and 9 and 10 year old boys, it wasn’t like they could really go without us. So my dad did everything he could, borrowing money wherever possible, so all five of us could go, and so we had an extra week there, to make my birthday absolutely bloody magical.
I can still remember leaving school the day we were to travel to London, staying overnight before the flight the next day. The jealously of my classmates, the sheer excitement I felt, piling into the car, my neighbour running out calling not-my-name. “Helena! Helena! ” She had a present for me, she said, and handed me a small box.
A collection of puppy-in-my-pockets.
If there was anything I loved as much as Disney, it was dogs, and I was building a collection of the small toys. I kept them close in the car, playing with tissue to make flowers, something we’d just learnt in school – or maybe my brother had taught me.
Either way, I loved making them, and did so as we came over the bridge between England and Wales.
I was in the middle of one, in Swindon, when something…happened.
The car rolled.
And I mean, went full on upside down, over and over. Thankfully, we landed on the hard shoulder. Not thankfully, we were upside-down. My brother unclipped his belt and dropped to the ceiling. Dad got out. Couldn’t get to Mum, but managed to get me and my older brother out of the car.
It was only years later I’d find out people stopped, but not the driver. As far as my dad could tell after, someone undercut us, caught the side of the car, and sent us spiralling out of control.
With the people who stopped, one woman said to my dad, “I wanted to help, but I froze. I thought you’d all be dead.”
As we stood on the side of the motorway, a police car came rushing down. Remember, this is before mobile phones – someone must have called from a roadside phone, and the police were quick. They went past – Dad says he saw the officer look over, gesture to the driver. The police car backed up down the hard shoulder. When they reached us, he checked Dad over. Paramedics arrived and got Mum out, and as they realised we were all walking, the officer looked up, gestured, and a helicopter – about to land – flew off.
They asked if we wanted to carry on or go home. Paramedic insisted that, nope, we were going to the hospital before any other decisions were made.
Asked Dad if he was okay. “I’m fine,” he said, then blinked, and his eyes stung. He looked down, and glass fell out of his eyes. How the hell his eyes weren’t badly injured, we have no freaking idea.
We were taken in an ambulance, to Swindon Hospital. Mum taken away, Dad checked out, my brothers left in charge of me. I think we went to the play area, but all I remember thinking was that I’d never see my mother again.
As it turned out, she was actually okay. A deep cut above her eyebrow – we think Dad fell into her, knocking her into the window – but stitches on that and all was fine.
We survived, we walked out…because we were all wearing our seatbelts. And people wonder why I’m so insistent if I get in a car with anyone and they don’t put them on.
We had to go the garage – Manathome – to get our stuff when we were out of the hospital. Had to go in a taxi. And I….refused. Screamed, cried, did not want to get in another car. Reasons for that should be obvious. Dad threw me in, and off we went.
Walked into the garage, and the mechanics asked – “You’re not here about the Ford, are you?”
Readers, please note, I could not tell you any car we have had in recent years. I know my dad’s current car, but most, I can’t identify them for shit. I’m useless with Ubers – have to check the licence plate. But that car? I can remember it, remember loving it, remember it being a happy place, and remember being devastated we would never ride in it again. But damn if it didn’t protect us.
Why did they say that about the Ford, you may ask. (I’m making an assumption here)
Because they could barely believe anyone had walked out of that car alive, let alone WALKED OUT, with nothing worse than bruises, scratches and cuts, no broken bones or worse injuries.
Mechanic – “Today was not your day to go, was it?”
Hell no it wasn’t!
We got our stuff. I don’t know when it was – if it was in the ambulance or in the recovery vehicle that took us to our digs – but at some point, me and my brothers were asked, “Do you want to go to Florida, or go home?”
We nodded. Dad says we looked sorta terrified, shocked, but it was one thing we could agree on without needing to talk.
We were freaking going.
So we got to the digs – the very lovely pub which welcomed us, set us up in our rooms, and let us have free roam of the pub in the morning, leaving out cereal and other breakfast things for us.
On the plane, I cried when Dad showed me why there was a sign saying, “Do not flush toilet.” When we landed, I howled.
“What’s wrong now?” The question, I imagine, many exasperated parents put to their kids.
“You said we were going to Diiiisneeeey!”
I can’t imagine how frustrated they felt at that. Probably had to explain the whole concept of airports to me and how we couldn’t just land in the park.
We were in Florida.
Throughout the holiday, my parents received looks from different people – people who’d glance at my bruised mother, then look at my father, with his cut, bruised knuckles. A pair of old ladies approached my mother at one point.
“If you and your children need somewhere to go-”
“Oh, no, we were in a car accident.”
“Of course, dear, but we can help you if you need it…”
Dad always said he wasn’t even angry at them – at least they said something, rather than just giving him dirty looks like everyone else.
I was poorly – not enough to disrupt the trip, but I barely ate, had to use the toilet by the time we got to the front of every queue, could barely walk. I was four (then five) and had to be put in a pushchair. When they went to the doctor’s to have Mum’s stitches checked, the doctor looked me over. Gave them a prescription. They collected it, gave me a couple of drops, and…
I fell asleep in the middle of the shop, Great Western Boot Company.
I missed TWENTY-FOUR HOURS of that holiday.
BUT I had an amazing birthday, and the whole thing…a lot of that trip remains firmly fixed in my memories.
And after sleeping away a whole day, when we went to Universal, as we went past the Jaws ride, I spotted a hot dog vender.
“Dad, can I have a hot dog?”
He almost cried – it was the first time I’d asked for any food the whole trip.
At Universal, they had a Jurassic Park exhibit. We walked in, I spotted Triceratops, my absolute favourite thanks to Land Before Time, and bawled my eyes out.
“What’s wrong now?”
“They killed all the diiiinoooosaurs!”
However, Dad’s favourite memory, the one he says made the whole awful ordeal worth it, was when we first arrived and went to the Magic Kingdom.
Me, little four year old me, running up to Chip and Dale, hugging them, and turning to my brothers.
“See!” Triumphant, overjoyed. “I told you they were real!”
I am currently hosting a Disney book themed giveaway on Twitter. Just follow that link, make sure you’re following me on there, and retweet. Good luck!