I never used to choose where to go on holiday on the basis of how long I could cope with crying coming from the back seat of the car.
Then again, I never used to choose clothes on the basis of how well semi-digested breastmilk would blend in to them, but times have changed.
So me and the hubby discuss our options:
Me: What do you want out of a holiday?
Him: I’m happy with absolutely anything, just so long as I’m not at work.
Me: What about Butlins?
Him: I’d rather amputate my face.
[Side note: an unusual chain of events meant we ended up at Butlins Minhead straight after we got married. With my sister. And my brother-in-law. And their four kids. There’s nothing like having your ‘first dance’ to Whigfield’s Saturday Night to put your new husband off a place for life.]
We make a list of absolute must-haves we can both agree on:
- Running water
- A gas oven
- Some greenery
He suggests staying at home and buying a plant. We compromise on a week in a static caravan in Matlock – a whopping 47 miles from our house.
The first thing you discover when holidaying with a 5 month old baby is that packing requires some serious powers of foresight. You know those Pre-Cogs out of the film Minority Report that can see events in infinite detail before they even happen? That’s the level you need to be operating at.
The What If game goes something like this:
What if he starts teething? Husband pack the baby Bonjella and the Calpol.
What if he shits vertically more than twice a day? Husband packs twenty-one outfits.
What if he suddenly learns how to crawl and we need to baby-proof the entire caravan or else he’ll sustain a hideous head injury from which he’ll never fully recover? Husband packs me off to a psychiatric ward.
Of course, we can always buy things we need when we’re there, right? I Google the nearest major shopping centre from the caravan site. It’s the Trafford Centre. Which is a ten-minute drive from where we currently live.
We compromise by taking everything I say we should.
What this results in is a car so tightly packed with an EU Mountain of stuff for the boy, I have just enough space left for a jumper, a pair of shorts and the oversized knickers I’m forced to wear since my pregnancy piles decided to apply for permanent residency in my arse.
The outbound journey is surprisingly straightforward. We only go wrong once. And that was deciding to go on a static caravan holiday in Matlock.
The site is pleasant enough. Just the right mix of rusting farm machinery and smoking tweenagers.
But the caravan reeks of wet dog. And wet dog smells are like farts. You take a certain pleasure in them if they’re your own, but get someone else’s caught in the back of your throat and you’re in danger of losing a lung.
We try to open all the windows, but there’s so much chintzy curtain pelmet and tie-back to negotiate first, it’s like wrestling the 1980’s.
And what of the views we were promised? The verdant valleys of our imagination transmorph into the arse cracks of our semi-naked neighbours. Less DH Lawrence (who once lived nearby) and more Roger Hargreaves, if he’d given Mr Greedy a creosote tan and a can of Stella.
“It’s a home away from home” said the website. This must have been written for the only family in the UK who choose to live exclusively inside a fitted kitchen on a badly upholstered corner sofa.
The mattress is so hard, it cuts off the blood supply to our legs. I’m reminded of the teenage boy masturbation technique of letting your hand go numb so it feels like someone else is doing it. There is a lot less pleasure to be had in feeling like someone else is wearing your socks.
On the plus side, it is so cold at night, our son doesn’t so much go to sleep as enter a state of twelve-hour cryogenic suspension. I should count my lucky stars he’s sleeping so well, but I can’t shift the memory of when our pet hamster froze to death in his little plastic house and we had to snap his tail off to get him out. The next night he goes down in two babygrows, a sleeping bag and enough woodshavings to start a butcher’s shop.
Of course, me and the hubby are normally good at finding the funny in adversity – just look at the time I wet myself laughing when he knocked himself out closing the car boot – but our time together as a threesome is so precious that we’ve fallen into the trap of wanting everything to be perfect.
Which of course it can’t be.
Which of course it IS.
Because regardless of our material surroundings, we’re here. Here and now.
So we lighten up, settle in, hunker down, and in doing so learn a few more life lessons. Like:
- Don’t waste money doing fancy family activities with a 5 month old. The boy doesn’t care what he’s doing, as long he’s doing it with his fingers in his mouth.
- It is possible to breastfeed and hike at the same time, but it will feel as unnatural as taking an exam with your finger up your bum.
- England is the greenest and most pleasant place there is. And it’s free to roam.
- You will never win Natural History Photographer of The Year, but capturing that bee on that flower with your iPhone, and then it trying to sting your face, comes pretty close.
- Eating chips in the rain gets you really soggy chips.
- Backpack baby carriers are brilliant, until you try to get your child into or out of them, or try to get them onto or off of you. Then they are shit.
- The National Trust can always be relied upon for a buggy-friendly walk with a great view. And to try and guilt you into an annual membership.
- Waking up to the sound of rain on the roof is the most restful thing imaginable. Realising you’ve left your towels outside is the opposite.