The first weekend away. An auspicious landmark in any relationship, but especially with the new boyfriend still living at home with his parents and me 200 miles away in thin-walled student digs with seven sharp-eared housemates. Such was the allure of privacy, I didn’t ask any questions. “My mate’s got a place in north Wales we can have for the weekend,” he said. “No one will bother us.” I thought it sweet and funny to call him Danno, and told him to book it.
It was February 1988. Our relationship was just days old. In the sharp slant of a winter setting sun, we headed off in my Mini, him (6ft 3in) in concertina folds. We were too young, too hooked up on the promise of adventure and what I will euphemistically call romance to bother with boring old weather forecasts.
The “place in north Wales” was on the outskirts of Pwllheli on the gorgeous Llŷn peninsula, wild beyond belief if you’d grown up in Catford, south London, as we both had. It was also the sort of accommodation Alastair Sawday, he of those Special Places guides, had missed: this one was more of the Withnail and I Special Places variety. A decrepit, squalid, mouldering caravan, it was unencumbered with snazzy luxuries such as heat, lighting or a chemical toilet, but complete with a neighbouring rotting steel barn that creaked all night as it swayed in the gales.
Then it started snowing. It went from flurry to blizzard in seconds as we carried our bags of entirely inappropriate clothes from the car. It was snowing diagonally, upwards, sideways, into my eyes, ears and mouth. I bitterly regretted packing a LBD and heels instead of thermals, fleeces, hot-water bottles, Ready Brek (I still believed adverts at this point) and knee-high mountaineering socks.
This was, of course, years before torches on phones: using the new boyfriend’s lighter, we rummaged through cupboards, disturbing very cold Welsh spiders but falling with glee upon one woolly hat (I put my feet in that), an oddly elegant tall pink candle, two half-used tealights, a jigsaw puzzle and about 1,000 protein bars. Apparently the mate had invested heavily in these, way ahead of anyone knowing quite what a protein bar was. I set the table with two of them where plates would normally go; we hadn’t brought any food with us, thinking we’d go out to a pub for dinner. By this point, in one of the more exposed positions on the Llŷn, we couldn’t see the car through the snow, let alone the road to town.
I’d like to say that childlike excitement at the snow meant flirty snowball fights and making a snowman with a protein bar for a nose. It didn’t. The only time we went out was to pee. At one point, the door wedged shut under the weight of snow and I thought for a terrifying moment that we would have to go to the loo indoors in front of one another. We put on all the clothes we’d brought – in my case, this included a couple of racy bras on top of each other – climbed into bed with a protein bar and tackled the jigsaw by candlelight. It was of the Isle of Man, and only at the end did we realise three pieces were missing. We had just half of Douglas, and absolutely nothing in the way of romance.
Early the following morning, a moment of true winter joy. The view from the caravan door at dawn, all patchwork fields blanketed in deep, crisp and even snow, remains a favourite memory, largely because we were checking out. We grabbed what we needed – including a couple of protein bars, just in case – left the car until the snow melted and booked into a local B&B. The lovely owner, whom I actually hugged despite my double-bra ensemble over a sweatshirt, insisted on cooking us a fry-up even though we hadn’t stayed the night before, and gave us a flask of tomato soup to take out for our walk. There were radiators, lights, a bathroom. There may even have been some winter romance during our stay there.
And that relationship? Reader, I married him. Thirty-three years later, he is still banned from booking any holiday accommodation, whatever the season. But especially, especially in winter.