Friday, 27 August 2010

Simple Pleasures

Wells-Next-The-Sea with just Alfie and Bonnie was to be our low-key get-away; crabbing, fish and chips, coastal paths, relax. But that doesn't mean lounging around in bed all day! I stabbed the map and held it under Alan's nose as he slept: ’Look! Picnic-spot here! Viewpoint there! Get up everyonewe’re on holiday!’ I’d planned a day soaking up the elements – shale underfoot, big skies overhead, blackberry hedgerows….the rest of the Youth Hostel residents had swallowed their All-Bran, donned sturdy walking boots and were half-way to Blakeney Quay already!

Alan turned over in bed. ‘Anyone for Bunjee?’ he said. ‘YES!’ Alfie and Bonnie both screamed, and leapt out of bed. ‘You’re the King of Guys, Daddy!’. And with that, my wholesome plans were wrecked. I stormed off to the kitchen to slap the sandwiches together, leaving Alan complaining about having to pass through a public space to have a wee wherever we went on holiday.

We’d started off with a bang the day before at The Old Gaol House of Kings Lynn, paying an entry fee so low we knew the Penal Traditions of North Norfolk would be of limited interest. Alfie ditched his audio-guide (‘too much talking’) to enhance my visit by shouting ‘WHAT’S THAT? WHAT’S THAT?’ over mine, so the stocks, pillory, and gibbet were all jumbled up in my head, but one of them fitted him well and got me a moment’s peace; he wasn’t having the best day, struck down by scenic-route-itis, which required a dose of apple bonbons every five minutes.

Continuing along our merry way towards Wells, I flashed the Youth Hostelling Association brochure around to build the excitement - ‘That’s where we’re staying!’ - but sarcasm was running high and it was ‘WOH! It’s got PARKING SPACE! A KETTLE! FAMILY ROOOOMS!!!! YEEEEHHHHH!!!’ They came good when we arrived though; Alfie carried his toothbrush up to our room in exchange for three apple bonbons, and Bonnie threw all the bedding on the floor to help make up the beds.

And here we were, first day, knocked sideways by the beauty of Holcombe Bay – and by the wind. I managed a veiled introduction to one walk along the Norfolk Coastal Path (‘look, there are loads of boats over there!’ (miles away), but as is often the case with nature walks, I find, we weren’t lucky enough to spot the Little Turn or the Common Lizard, 'abundant' according to the placard thing...

‘Imagine poor Josie and Maddy camping in the rain in Wales while we walk this lovely sunny trail!’ I exclaimed, trying to extort comments of wonder and joy at the scenery. ‘At least they can sit down’ was the response, so I had to introduce blackmail (‘if you moan there’s no ice-cream’) and the conversation proceeded along the lines: ‘How-far-is-it-I’m-not-moaning’ for quite a while until we caught cows mating which perked things up considerably, and we talked about where babies come from - ‘Out of a plum tree, silly!’ said Bonnie.

Crabbing was a mariner’s must-do, but despite offering those darned critters a menu more varied and nutritious than our own, would the little devils crawl into our net? Two days of all-weather waiting and we eventually ‘caught’ someone's discarded catch. 'Mummy you can choose your favourite crab for your tea,' said Bonnie, a twinkle in her eye 'It’s important to me.’ But I set them free when she wasn't looking and we discussed crustacean rights on the way back to the hostel.

Alfie’s bait was CHEAP BANGERS to which he awarded a Michelin Star and demanded daily, in earshot of the other hostel residents as they prepared their strictly organic evening meals. I shooshed him as best I could (CHEAP BANGERS! CHEAP BANGERS!) and hid the offending pink babies in brown bags in the hostel fridge. When Bonnie also shamed me by slurping a Pot Noodle 'I LOVE POT NOODLE!', I tried to salvage some eco-respect: ‘Fruit for pudding!’ I trilled, but I'd masterminded my own downfall: ‘YOU PROMISED US MALTESERS!!’

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Inflate Your Fun!

I am so sick of our spoilt children moaning about our lousy holiday destinations: ‘Can we please go somewhere good this year not cold and miserable?’ says Josie for the millionth time. ‘Josie, I know you’ve had it tough being dragged around North European areas of outstanding natural beauty all your life, but I am clearly not a beach babe; its sandwich, flask and ramble for me – frying next to a pool is not a holiday!’ ‘But everyone else goes somewhere hot with a pool!’ 'What about starving Africans?' (brilliant!) ‘AND WE ALL WANT TO GO ON A PLANE!!’ they cry since not having flown is laughable to their mates as, I don't know, having your hair cut by your mum. ’Stuff and nonsense!' I snapped. ’How about Youth Hostel hopping in Scotland?’

Josie won; being cooped up with us lot for a week deserved some compensation. Lake Garda was her choice, a destination befitting a family of wealth and style..

We booked a massive villa called ‘Supertent’ which comfortably accommodates six if you’re happy to jump from the ‘bedroom’ door to your bed. But, hey, we'd be outside all the time, because the weather would be glorious.

One day of sightseeing proved beyond doubt that breathtaking porticoes and lake-side citrus groves did not make up for the torment of walking around in the heat. 'You wanted it hot didn't you?' I carped, triumphant. We resigned ourselves to camp-life ‘Good, now we’re actually doing something’ they said.

El familio Smurph (stripy swim-hats, pool rules) hit the pool – and charged with unrestrained vigour off jetty into lake, our ‘Inflate Your Fun!’ mini-floats bought in the camp shop aiding the smallest among us…we provided pretty sophisticated entertainment for the bemused Italians sipping Bardolino in their deckchairs…

Dusk fell and we were first in the queue for the (free!) pool-side entertainments (campers only - it was going to be shoddy). Everything from line-dancing – by God we showed them how to move - to ‘kidz-quiz’ (clever!): ‘‘Snow White had seven...?’ ‘DWARVEZ!! YEY!!’’ The flood-lit colour-changing pool was almost too much to cope with (‘How naff!’ we snorted, transfixed by its beauty) so, dance-dizzy, we strolled home, happy and tired, to the BBQ, Alan’s pride and joy.

‘Pastrami? Pollo? Proscuttio? What’s it to be?’ ‘ SAUSAGES PLEASE!!’ cried Alfie, so we grabbed a ‘GRILL PARTY!’ cellophaned sausage selection, and settled down to watch the chef at work. For unbeknownst to me, my husband is a barbeque KING!! A quarter turn for each sausage every 2 minutes – ‘TONGS!’ he’d shout, snapping his fingers ‘CHARCOAL – QUICK!!’. He homed in on the only other English family - potential friends! – ‘Oh dear! Wrong firelighters.’ (shake of the head) ‘Here, try this!’ and carried over our entire BBQ after our meal ‘I think you’ll find it does a pretty good job!!’ I told Alan to calm down - he was scaring them off. Car-less and emasculated, he took to tutting over their parking ‘Ha! They’re very near the tree!’ and monitored their movements through a vent in the tent, declaring to them one morning ‘Your car wasn’t here last night – where were you??’. We never saw them after that.

Next, the heavens opened ceaselessly for three days, my cheery ‘Good job we’ve got our macs!’ quickly turning to ‘Muddy shoes OFF the beds!’. This wasn't supposed to happen! Pac-a-mac family ran hither and thither between boat, bus and public toilet. All we needed was that essential Hello Kitty souvenir of Italy and we were ready to get the hell out of there. ‘Can we, like, not fly anywhere next year?’ said Alfie..

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Packed with Fun

We did it, today, we did it! We went to the library!! ‘Mummy, what are we actually doing in this place?’ said Alfie, mystified. ‘This is the library, Alfie – remember we used to come here every week - for videos – before the DVD machine and catch-up TV?’ I whispered. Then, booming loud: ‘You need a nice book to take on holiday tomorrow, don’t you?’. ‘But I’ve already got my Horrid Henry Annual!’ he declared, which was true, but hell, why not try something new this year?

I’d extended the invitation to all, repeatedly, through gritted teeth - ‘Hey, isn’t it lovely we have time to go to the library!!’ - but the girls were up to their eyes finding anything but that to do. Only Alfie, who had no plans except hanging upside down all day, accepted.

The library’s Summer Reading Challenge was on to tempt us! Six completed books (one a week being the idea) earnt a smashing certificate and stickers (‘d’you get any money?’) handed out at the end of the holidays at the Presentation Ceremony. What's more, there was a free magic show - bookworms have fun too you know! - though my older two would rather eat mud than be seen dead at this…

Last year, Alfie had met the Challenge head on, choosing six baby books - 'Boo Baby Boo!', 'Splish Splash Splosh' and the like. He’d read them all by the time we got home from the library, so we were back there the next day to pocket the goodies, instead of a week later, exchanging one quality chapter book for another and guess what? forming a healthy reading habit! No, according to my lot, why would you spend lazy summer days reading Enid Blyton under the shade of a tree when you could satisfy your literary appetite by scanning cereal packets for theme park vouchers which, who knows, you might be taken to one day? Now that would be fun.

I grabbed a few thin books (I’d be doing the carrying once we left for our holiday and Alan’s bad back kicked in) and returned home to dread the next day getting four children with Nintendo withdrawal and a mild-mannered husband with freak outbursts closely associated with being with us lot, from London to Lake Garda. ‘We’ll have such an adventure children!' I exclaimed – 'let’s count all the modes of transport we're gong to use! First the car, then the shuttle to the plane, then…’

‘IT’S 3 O’CLOCK!! – SCREEN TIME!!!!’ They'd gone.

‘..then the plane, then the Italian underground…’ I trailed off. Anyway, it was time to pack, which presented a problem. The girls had been much much too busy shopping for yet more necklaces with clocks and birds and teacups hanging off them, and resting from these arduous excursions over lunch with friends, to find a single moment to unpack the dirty clothes or cheese sandwiches left in their bags from Latitude two weeks ago! I must have forgotten that crucial 45th reminder. I now had to decide whether to get stroppy and make them do the work, thus missing the plane, or do it all myself, which would make me stroppy. I’d give them a break – Lord knows they needed it – and do it myself.

But first, I yanked open the marital bedroom door to check Alan wasn't lying down, instead of doing his packing. Far from it! - Imelda Marcos himself was stuffing three pairs of identical brown trainers into our one hold bag ‘in case the other pairs get wet’(!?) ‘We are going to Italy Alan not Wales’ I said. ’Monday and Tuesday: sunny; Wednesday to Friday: cloudy and sunny’ he replied (obviously been googling the weather again). ‘Quick! Get the galoshes! ’ I said, but he wasn’t in the mood…wet socks were no laughing matter.

Thursday, 5 August 2010


First day of the summer holidays – bliss! Everything in place - a week camping in Lake Garda for the whole family, another in Wells Next the Sea with Alfie and Bonnie (‘Sounds damp and dreary, Mummy’ Thanks Bon) while the girls were at Camp, ripping another new tent and losing the poles...Courses in dance, athletics, football, art; strict ban – maturely accepted - on Nintendo/PSP/Computer games before 3pm allowing time to get bored and rediscover imaginative play. Right. By the end of the holidays they’d choose monopoly - or building dens! – over shooting squeaky blobs on a screen, and I’d be on the brink of liking work again.

‘Come on everyone, time to go to the dentist!’ I called, bright and breezy. Keep things pacy, that’s the trick! ‘Every day can’t be fun, fun, fun’ (‘why not?’) ‘but we can make it a nice walk and talk together!’

Two minutes up the road, Josie was yelping at the nail sticking out of her 20th pair of useless vegetarian shoes: ‘Buy leather next time!’ I comforted; the little ones wrestled me to the ground, fighting to get the most arm round me, and Maddy scolded them every time I did, reversing any effect: 'You're not our Mum, Maddy'. ‘HELP!!’ Bonnie screamed, ‘Alfie said I was THE WORST THING in his LIFE!!’. Alfie launched himself at her throat, catching me in the cross-fire. The bickering and fighting (’She looked at me’’I was talking first’) was rubbing away like sandpaper at my strategically high mood, which was supposed to spread to them. 'OOOOWWW MY FEET!!!' Josie continued, bottom of the list for attention at present, but whining anyway.


Congratulating myself on excellent crisis-management, I checked to see if anyone we knew was on the street. I counted to ten. Bonnie began again: ‘The dentist! You could at least think of one interesting thing for us to do – I’m sure you could manage that!’ I tried switching-off, imagining blue seas and tropical beaches, then I thought about people with real problems, like terminal illness, to put things in perspective, but my heart was still pounding and out it came:


So far so unravelled, things were going to get even better, as I’d volunteered to be the night-guard at Josie’s camping-expedition-cum-squalor-fest with her friends that night. I was up for a fair whack of thankless rubbish clearance, but hadn’t counted on Josie’s social cudos being so tainted by proximity to me that she could only address me in secret out of the corner of her mouth. For the rest of the Golden Girls, speech was out of the question. I was invisible to the beautiful ones, and hid like a leper behind the tinted windows of my car, letting them get on with it, which they did by cackling through the night at in-jokes and rolling around in make-up and mayonnaise, emerging the next morning a little tousled, but still wearing the beauty of extreme youth. For my part, I had the longest sit down I’d had for fifteen years, and discovered how very much I loved my children when Alan was looking after them. Josie crept over to kiss me goodnight in my tent. All was well with the world.