For the last month we have been counting how many sleeps are left. For weeks we have been talking wistfully about sand and ice creams and sunny sea views. For days we have offered warnings-come-threats: if you break that, we can’t take it on holiday; if you don’t keep that clean, we can’t take it on holiday; if we don’t have a nice sleep, we won’t be able to go on holiday. The reality of sandy ice creams and sunless sea views doesn’t factor in our vision of our much looked forward to family holiday by the seaside. In fact, we manage to utterly ignore all practicalities until the absolute last minute.
The first problem to contend with is packing. Bunny has filled a bag already; her pink wheeley case is brimming with crap we don’t need to take. My first task is to persuade her that it isn’t necessary to take her entire collection of pebbles (there will be lots at the beach); neither will she make use of her Mr Maker googley eyes.
Next: clothes. Shorts, tshirts, flip-flops, wellies, cagoules, jumpers and hats. It’s all an option thanks to the blessed British weather. I settle for 3 of everything and feel grateful for the washer-dryer in our holiday rental. Before the girls, our top priority for holiday accommodation was proximity to bars, restaurants and night-life. Now highest on the list is the availability and variety of white goods.
Our changing landscape also extends to the simple action of getting in the car. Once upon a time our air conditioning worked, my feet weren’t trapped under and between bags of snacks and we didn’t have to wrestle children into car seats before getting off the drive. (Cue more vaguely concealed threats: if you don’t put your straps on, we can’t go on holiday.)
The whining starts almost immediately. There is the initial Topsy and Tim style excitement. We’re going on holiday! But it doesn’t last long. Within 20 minutes the first rendition of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ is sung from the back: a tune which is both expected and predictable. It is then on repeat for the duration of the journey. Almost like a thousand cover versions, it varies in volume, pitch and tone – that one holiday tune that gets into your head and goes around and around and around. It’s driving you potty, but you can’t help but love it. It may well be annoying, but your holiday wouldn’t be the same without it.
The same could be said of the sudden and urgent demands for the toilet – usually when you’re surrounded by stationary traffic on a motorway. Today’s trip is a little more traumatic, as Bunny locks herself in the toilet cubicle and can’t open the door. Chimp is balancing on a toilet that is too big for her (of course, I have forgotten our fold out seat); she insists she will do it by herself, but occasionally loses balance and starts to tip into the toilet, saving herself just in time. I am stood between their two cubicles, trying to keep an eye on both of them, holding onto the threads of my holiday cheer, encouraging Chimp to poo faster and not fall down the toilet and advising Bunny on the best strategy for unlocking the flipping door she shouldn’t have locked in the first place. I wonder if she could climb over the 7ft tall smooth door in a moment of desperation… then: click. It’s open. Chimp is done. Hands are washed. The toilet trip is over. Back on the road!
Unfortunately, no one seems to drive to my other half’s satisfaction. From slow caravans, to the fellow driver ‘sailing around in the middle lane with his arm poking out of the window like a twit’ – everyone needs a telling off. Including the two in the back.
They’re hungry. They’re not hungry. They want snacks. They don’t want snacks. Why haven’t they got snacks?! They need snacks. They need snacks now. But not those snacks. Not the snacks they usually love and have in the actual car. No, they don’t want snacks. They’re not hungry.
And, of course, along the way there is the obligatory game of eye-spy to distract them. We adapt it and use colours for Chimp – but I’m pretty sure both of them cheat anyway. It’s just a case of how long it takes them to notice the cheating until the squabbling starts. Then the tears. Then maybe, hopefully, a fellow passenger might wave at them as they crawl past in the fastest lane of Friday motorway traffic, and they’re distracted for long enough to forget why they were crying in the first place.
Cheat. Weep. Wave. Repeat.
The cycle continues for the rest of our journey. Only interrupted by some renditions of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ and repeated, contradictory requests for snacks it turns out they don’t really want.
But then – the sea! Like a miracle, just the sight of it silences the complaints which have plagued the car for the last four hours. The ice creams, sand castles, waves and (for us adults) cold, cold wine are all within our reach. We rediscover our holiday excitement again, and – apart from one last argument about directions – the fun can begin!