Friday, 15 October 2010
Thursday, 2 September 2010
I have three children. Two of them are twins. And twins, from Shakespeare onwards, are the stuff of theatre. They’re generally regarded by singletons as mysterious and menacing.
Speechless at the Traverse was a true-life drama about two identical black girls growing up in Britain in the 1960s and ‘70s. June and Jennifer Gibbons refused to speak to anyone except each other. Nicknamed ‘the twinnies’ by their mother, they formed a dyad against a society they regarded as enemy to their intimacy.
In every mirror held up to our lives, however distorted, there’s often a disquieting grain of truth. My twins do not use silence as a weapon against a hostile world. But sometimes I shout out ‘Twinnies!’ to get their attention. Does that mean I regard them as one? Speechless was theatre that rattled me. It wriggled right into the heart of my family, into what we call each other at home. I have not shouted out ‘Twinnies!’ since.
The second show was Expectations, a conventional play about two conventional couples. But one had a child with a disability; the other terminated a pregnancy when they discovered their child had a chromosome condition. My teenage child who isn’t a twin is disabled – she uses a wheelchair – so this was another reflection of our family life played out on a public stage. I went to see it with my teenager (who had to go in the good’s lift and have buckets and mops moved to reach the venue). Sometimes a mirror isn’t just distorted, but held up under too strong a light revealing all your flaws. This is how Expectations felt; when the mother of the disabled child said the doctors who hovered around her, ‘make me feel like she’s not my baby,’ I remembered things I’d far rather forget.
This was our final Fringe performance. If next year’s Fringe is as big a sellout as this year’s, we’ll have to start booking now. Perhaps they’ll be a play that really holds up my life for inspection. A musical called Middle Aged Mama? I could sing along to it. I probably know all the words already.
Speechless is at Bute Theatre, Cardiff 15 September-2 October
Thursday, 26 August 2010
The Radisson is also a venue. Once, Fringe venues were leaky church halls down in the Leith docks. Now they’re unused business conference rooms if five star hotels in the centre of town. Whether that says more about the Fringe or the state of the hospitality economy, I’m not sure. But it means there’s a little more comfort for a Fringe goer these days, as the venue is likely to be warmer and the seats softer.
For a teenager to be interested in a play it has to be about themselves. So my seventeen year old opted for Clinical Lies, which isn’t only about a teenager but written by and performed by one, 19-year-old Eva O’Connor. Clinical Lies was promoted as, ‘an emotionally charged exploration of the turmoil of youth. A fragile 19-year-old girl offers a frank, witty and harrowing insight into teenage life, as she battles against her mother and her circumstances.’ I decided my own battling teenager could go and see that one on her own. Predictably, she loved it. She’s even reviewing it on her own blog - teentheatre.livejournal.com.
I failed miserably to find a show we could enjoy together. I tried Shakespeare’ Mothers. Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, but that only bored both of us. I tried My Hamlet, a one-woman show about a Danish prince with puppets. That left us totally confused. So I abandoned her to go to her own stuff, while I saunter off with the nine-year-old twins.
I wonder - is leaving her to see shows on her own being a negligent mother, like letting her sit all night before an unmonitored computer screen? Should I be paraded as an example of poor parenting for allowing her to be exposed to dramatic material, the content of which is a complete mystery to me? I don’t think so. But what’s so different about drama? Why do I allow her see and hear (the language is uniformly shocking) things on stage I never would on the web?
It’s odd, because I could easily stop her seeing shows when monitoring her internet use is far trickier. But I don’t want to censor her Fringe viewing. I think it’s fantastic for her to witness terrible tragedies and traumas on stage. Meanwhile, I’ll go to see James Campbell’s Comedy and Songs for Kids (‘suitable for age 6 plus’) with the twins.
Sunday, 22 August 2010
And our day just went from disgusting to very disgusting. After Prince of Cringe we saw The List Operators for Kids in the Pleasance Courtyard. I’m a list writing addict. I can barely move in the morning until I’ve written a list of the things I have to do for that day. So I thought this show would be for me as well as the nine-year-old twins. I was right. Double act Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins began by throwing pooey knickers into the audience. They constructed the world’s ultimate sandwich – slabberings of ketchup, jam, honey, crisps, mustard, marmite, and a gherkin. Then they ate it. We threw aliens made out of dishtowels at the Matt and Richard for no reason whatsoever. In return they vomited green paint over us. There was more farting than after an auntie’s tea. There’s nothing like a fake fart to get kids giggling uncontrollably, well mine at least.
It was the best time we’ve had together for ages because, unlike every other family activity now offered including on the Fringe, it wasn’t remotely educational. It didn’t try to turn me into a quasi-teacher explaining things to my kids every two seconds in soft mummyish whisperings. We didn’t discover how gravity works or beef up on the effects of global warning, not even in an amusing way. I didn’t come out with anything new except a face that ached from laughing so much. We had a great afternoon. We learnt absolutely nothing. We just had fun.
Thursday, 19 August 2010
To escape it, you have to flee from the town centre. You don’t have to go far. We only took a short bus ride out to the Dean Gallery (part of National Galleries of Scotland) and sat in the wonderfully sedate café, supping on homemade vegetable and barley soup. We then wandered into their surrealism exhibition – Another World – wandering among the whacky paintings and objects, supping on the near silence in the galleries. The kids were certainly quieter and calmer. Refuelled and refreshed, we took the bus back up to the Royal Mile and a show.
I’ve mentioned the power of the poster before, plastered all over town. Now the nine-year-old twins have succumbed to the force of the flyer given out on every street. They collect them like Trump cards; we’ve got piles back in our room. I suppose I should be grateful as they’re free souvenirs and I don’t have to buy the twins some dreadful tartan knickknack to take home. But then they insist they go to shows in their flyer collection. Which is how we ended up standing in a queue for Prince of Cringe. I’ll let you know if the promise of the flyer proves true.
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
Only yesterday I was saying what a good idea it is to have a play with a familiar name, Jungle Book being a good example. Now I’m not so sure. It’s a big title to live up to. Some of the characters in the Next Chapter were familiar, but all the songs were new. There wasn’t a single tune we could hum along to. ‘It’s nothing like Jungle Book,’ moaned Savanna. Better for a child to have no expectations at all than to have expectations dashed.
But Savanna had a good idea for a cost free family activity at the Fringe. A venue trail. Each Fringe venue – over 200 of them - has a number displayed in a big banner on the outside of the building, whether it’s a highbrow theatre or a scuzzy bar. Savanna and her twin brother River obsessively clock each venue they pass, ticking them off. ‘I’ve seen 83, 52, 132 and 6 already today!’ cheered River before lunch. I reward the one who spots the most venues before supper with a pound, making it the cheapest show we’ve done. I think Savanna should suggest the idea to the Fringe for next year. They could even publish a family friendly venue trail with stickers.
While the twins and I were pretending to be animals, the teenager wandered off to her own familiar territory. She saw Farm Boy at the Assembly Rooms, mainly because it was promoted as the Michael Morpurgo’s sequel to War Horse, a play she’s already seen twice. She, too, had expectations dashed. How can you live up to War Horse? It was fine but not fabulous.
And tomorrow we’re going to see Prince of Cringe, a title none of us have ever heard of.
Monday, 16 August 2010
‘I want to go and see that!’ she says.
‘But we’ve already seen Cinderella,’ moans her twin brother.
‘But I like Cinderella,’ she says,
‘But I don’t want to see it again,’ he replies.
‘There are different versions,’ she moans. The conversation continues …
Now here’s a conundrum. If I were an obscure theatre group putting on a play for kids at the Fringe, I’d give it a title every child recognises. Cinderella. Oliver Twist. Something that sounds like a Roald Dahl title even if it isn’t. That way, any child will want to go and see it. We’re booked in for the Jungle Book. The Next Chapter tomorrow, just because it’s got the words ‘Jungle Book’ in big letters on the posters. You could call in poster pester power. And I succumbed.
But should I? Perhaps I should be introducing the kids to stories and ideas they haven’t come across before. If I can’t do that at the Edinburgh Fringe, where can I do it? But I’m also a lazy mum. I don’t want to have two whinging kids sitting next to me throughout a performance. I want to space out while they watch. So it’s Jungle Book in the morning.
And we went to see Hood this afternoon – because it’s about Little Red Riding Hood. But the great thing about the Fringe is even if the title is familiar, the content certainly won’t be. This production had a lot of singing and dancing, but no real script. I couldn’t really make it out, but the twins did. So I felt as if I’d ticked all the boxes – it was a story they knew, in a form that was new to them.
I wonder what Jungle Book will do tomorrow.
Photograph by Kenny Mathieson and Hood production by Peculius Stage
We (or rather I, as like most women I’m the scheduler in the family) had to reschedule. There was no breakfast show this morning, having been up half the night – later than even the latest fringe hardliners. Of course, my teenager is fine now, having a robust young body. It’s only me who’s a wreck.
So we started our first day gently at the very best place to start any Edinburgh visit - the Camera Obscura - a wonderful piece of Victorian technology that still captivates kids. [Unfortunately it doesn't have family tickets - see Kids in Museums family ticket watch ] From the top, a live image of the city lay on a round table before us. We touched passers by storeys below, lifting them off the table as if we were all-powerful giants and they were Lilliputians. We could pinpoint our hostel and navigate the old and new towns, getting to know them before wandering around the over one hundred fringe venues. We had bird’s eye previews of what was on offer, as we looked down on the theatre companies performing extracts from their performances in the streets. We could decide what to see from the vantage point of the Camera Obscura. I took out my schedule and began to scribble.
We stayed there all this morning. I suppose, at some point soon, we must see a show.
Smart City Hostels
Thursday, 12 August 2010
The first cage we walked into was awash with offspring. I’ve always thought my family was large, but not as large as Edwina and Ringo’s. They’ve got nine kids, and I can’t tell the difference between them although their keeper Steve, who was also in the compound with us, could. They’re all lemurs, with long ringed tails and big orange eyes. And, like very good children and unlike my own, they just eat loads of fruit, especially apples. I know, because that’s what we fed them at Paradise Park, sitting next to them on tree trunk seats as if invited for tea. My nine year old decided to have a staring competition with Ringo. He didn’t win. Lemurs don’t blink.
We also didn’t have a tiger for tea, but did have tea with a white tiger called Narnia, feeding her meat from our fingers. We held a Burmese python called Colonel Custard whose diet was one rat a week. We stroked a bearded dragon and baby meerkats. The meerkats’ status on the animal kingdom has been considerably enhanced amongst kids by their in appearance in a TV ad for car insurance. I’m not sure that’s what the advertising executives intended.
Like all south of England families, we’ve also been to Woburn Safari Park and stared at animals through our car windscreen. Ironically, that’s far closer to the African safari experience than Paradise Park. If you drive in a jeep through the bush, you need a good pair of binoculars to spot a lion. And feeding one is not an option, at least not an advisable one for the kids.
So if your kids want to stroke a lion’s mane, don’t take them to South Africa. Go to the South of England. Family travel is becoming more and more about the experience rather than the place. Now, we can do most things, almost anywhere.
A package including a one night stay in a family room at the five star Marriott Hanbury Manor Hotel & Country Club and a family entrance ticket go Paradise Wildlife Park costs from £218 per family of four at weekends in August and September and is bookable through Superbreak. Animal encounters bookable extras.
Woburn Safari Park
Tuesday, 6 July 2010
We’re going on a road trip! I like to say ‘road trip’, as it sounds romantic, like something Jack London might have embarked upon. Not that the nine-year-old twins have ever heard of Jack London. But it does make me feel as if a regular family journey from London to Mayo via Holyhead (again) could be an adventure. And I could possibly be someone other than a middle-aged mum barking at her kids in the back seat.
At least this time we’re going to equip ourselves better than the last. We’ve been roadtesting (ho ho) different bits of kit that could keep us happy when we’re in the car. The first is favoured by Wayne Rooney, also a parent, who used it on a recent flight to South Africa. It’s called the Sound Asleep Pillow, and looks like the sort of thing you find at the end of every bed. But it contains a very clever speaker, so undetectable you can’t feel it at all. There’s also a wire poking out of the pillow’s corner, to connect to your MP3 player. Rest your weary head on the hollowfibre, and you can hear your very own music, if slightly muffled as if being played by fairies. The pillow is marketed for grown ups, but it solved all our family road trip arguments about what music we’re going to play and how loud. And the kids didn’t need earphones, which meant I didn’t need to spend hours untangling them.
The next road trip item the twins tested was the Family Funboard, a lap-sized whiteboard with hangman, noughts and crosses and join-the-dots already drawn on it. It comes with two marker pens which wipe off, so you can challenge your car seat companion over and over again. The twins played 14 games of hangman between Birmingham and Bangor.
Now here’s a tip (but it only works if your backseats have trays). Stick a bit of Velcro on the bottom of the board and to the tray. Then your kids won’t have to keep unbuckling themselves to search for the Family Fun on the car floor. Unfortunately, it took a few hundred miles before I figured that out.
I bet it wouldn’t have taken Jack London that long.
Sound Asleep Pillow
Family Fun Board from Brightminds.co.uk
Thursday, 20 May 2010
So I flinched when my son was bought a book called 2010 Fifa World Cup South Africa Activity Book. (They could have thought of a shorter title.) I knew he’d have to feign interest. He smiled politely – his mother has raised him with the very best of manners – and thanked the donor. Then he did something very odd. He sat down and began to read it.
‘It has all sorts of stuff about different countries,’ he said. ‘Like the flag of Slovakia.’ In fact, it has the flags of all the participating teams, usually as stickers so you have to guess which goes where. What a great game for a travelling family.
When I was about my son’s age, I had a poster on my wall titled Flags of the Commonwealth. It was my favourite possession. My friends and I used to test each other. How many stars on the Australian flag? Name two African countries whose flags contain the same colours? Flags are fabulous things.
So we’re following the World Cup by flag. We want the country with the most colourful to win.
2010 Fifa World Cup South Africa Activity Book is published by Carlton Books £3.99
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
But back to going out for the day with the teenager. We’re going to the Clothes Show. It’s been in Birmingham and now it’s coming to London next month. As well as loads of fashion and cosmetic displays, there are catwalk shows and appearances by famous people in the fashion world. We went last year, and it’s a great day Mother and Daughter day out. It’s also good for the generational balance; my daughter was the knowledgeable one, as I’d never heard of half the brands of designer make-up we could try out or the names of celebrities who were giving expert advice. She knew them all.
But this year I might have the upper hand. This year’s show will recreate Carnaby Street to celebrate the iconic street’s 50th anniversary. I bet she doesn’t know anything about that. Not that I want to have a fight….
Clothes Show London 25-27 June
Friday, 7 May 2010
In a recent interview, the author said she was inspired to write by spending summer holidays as a child on a small, uninhabited Scottish island where there was nothing to do. So instead of kids clubs, water slides, soft play areas, rooms with play consoles and activities, activities, activities, she spent her holidays ‘drawing and making up stories’.
Like the Cowell family, we go on regular holidays to a small island, not off Scotland, but off County Mayo, Ireland. But we stash the car with so many of our urban belongings that now we have to take a trailer, to accommodate everything we think we might need. We always go by ferry – we abandoned flying some time ago, having discovered if we book a cabin on the crossing from Holyhead to Dublin, we get a couple of hours kip on the ship and are all prepped up for the six hour drive the other side.
But inspired by the Cowells, we’re going to pack lightly this trip. No more essential toys, essential games, essential bits of electronic kit. (Although persuading the man to leave behind his laptop and iPhone won’t be possible.) We’ll take paper and pencils, to draw or write with. I’ll report the results back to you. Fingers crossed, one of us will pen a bestseller.
Irish Ferries has regular sailings from Holyhead to Dublin
Cressida Cowell, How to Train Your Dragon, is published by Hodder Children’s Books.
The film How to Train Your Dragon is on general release.
Thursday, 22 April 2010
The most interesting aspect of the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland is how it’s exposed our attitudes towards going away. In theory, being stuck on a beach in Thailand or a hotel in Manhattan for a week longer than expected isn’t a hardship. But when it actually happens, it’s far from appealing. However much we might like to imagine we want to spend all our lives spread out on a sun lounger with no To Do list, that isn’t our dream life at all. For many holidaymakers, and particularly those with kids, each extra enforced day living the dream has felt like a nightmare.
The whole point about holidays is that they don’t last forever; they’re different from the everyday. However much a cosy hotel may advertise it’s a ‘home away from home’, we only want to stay there because it’s nothing like where we live. Even if we seek familiar food for our kids when we’re away, preferring to stay at accommodation that has a full English on the menu, we go there because at least the weather is different to our own back garden. We eat our fried eggs in the sun.
And however much we imagine we want to throw off all routine, we only want to do that for a fortnight. If holidaying became our ordinary life, we’d want to escape it. I sometimes long for the six-week summer school break to end and to return to the comfort of knowing we all have to go to bed and get up at a certain time. Regularity – and alarm clocks – are good for the soul.
So I’m going to appreciate our next family holiday a little more. I won’t spend the last few days wishing we could stay longer. I’ll just be glad for the break, and even gladder to be going home.
Wednesday, 31 March 2010
This set me thinking about recommended ages for travel experiences. Many tour companies now offer holidays for children with a certain number of years. Even family safaris often have an over-eight requirement. Taking your three-year-old on a Nile Cruise would generally be frowned upon. But the twins loved The London Eye Mystery, even though they were theoretically two years too young. So should we pay any attention to well-intended age restrictions on travel?
I think it’s fine as long as it’s only advice. I don’t think it’s fine if holiday companies start telling us that a toddler is too young to look at a Velazquez painting in the Prado. Or that my teenager is too old to hook a duck in the Tivoli fairground, when (she’ll murder me for letting you know this) she still shrieks when she wins a tacky prize.
We know our kids better than any holiday company. So I think it’s up to us to decide whether a break is suitable for them, whatever their age.
And some of us are younger at heart than we might first appear. The Unicorn is a children’s theatre, and The London Eye Mystery a play for young people. But I really, really enjoyed it. Far more than anything I’ve seen lately aimed at the age range I’m supposed to be – adult.
The London Eye Mystery is running at the Unicorn Theatre until 18 April www.unicorntheatre.com.
Takethefamily.com have an exclusive offer for their twitter followers with special priced tickets for 7pm shows of The London Eye Mystery. See Takethefamily's Twitter page for more details twitter.com/Takethefamily
Tickets for the real London Eye from www.londoneye.com
Monday, 1 March 2010
‘Let’s go to Spain!’ said my teenager. It was a good idea, and we all agreed, including the eight-year-old twins.
The trouble was, we were already there, in the heart of Murcia, less that half a kilometre from the Mediterranean coast, where palm trees dot the landscape and paella is the classic dish.
But where we were staying, it didn’t feel like Spain at all. We were in La Manga, a resort three times the size of Monaco. And it was a kingdom unto itself. Within the resort, we could have been anywhere. Sure, there were tapas bars and open air tennis courts, but there was also a traditional Irish sports bar with giant plasma screen. If we wanted to see Espana, we had to escape to it.
There was a wonderful beyond. Just a 15-minute drive away stood Cartagena, a small town with huge style and an almost complete Roman amphitheatre. We wandered up and down the terrace of stone seats and climbed on to the stage, becoming Roman players ourselves. My man gave us some lines from Shakespeare – ‘Frailty, thy name is woman’ – the only lines he knows. He shouted them into the damp, warm Spanish air. We imagined how it might have been when Augustus was Emperor and held sway in this area, commanding performances. Then we drove back to the resort, the car barrier lifted that shut off all entry roads, and we were in the world we knew.
Familiarity and foreignness were combined in one trip. How fabulous. But a bit of me didn’t want to be that comfortable, even in the evenings. I wanted my presumptions and concerns to be unsettled. If I go away, even on a family holiday, I want to see the world from a slightly different angle. Standing on the steps at the Roman Theatre, I did so. Back in the resort, I felt as cosy as could be.
I suppose every holiday doesn’t have to be an adventure. Does it?
See Takethefamily's pages Hotel La Manga Club Principe Felipe, Hyatt Las Lomas Apartments, La Manga, and Spain. For more information visit www.lamangaclub.com Best guide on Murcia is Dorling Kindersley’s Top Ten Costa Blanca from Amazon
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Our first Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley Green believes so. About to leave office, he’s determined to go with a bang not a whimper. Sir Al has declared England ‘one of the most child-unfriendly places in the world’, citing Norway, Canada and Australia among other countries where families will feel far more welcome.
If we’re to believe Sir Al, we’d only ever book for Thailand, not Taunton. The cliché is that Thais, Italians, Spanish, Greeks all love their children – or at least other peoples’ children – far better than we do. How often have you heard someone describe the joys of a little café in an Italian square, where the waiter whips away their two-year-old, taking them into the kitchen to play with the sous chef? A few times? And how often has anyone mentioned a Cornish café to you, in particular how welcoming they were of your screaming, irritable toddler? Not often, I bet.
Cliches often contain a grain of truth, but only a grain. I don’t believe Britain is the child-shunning place it once was. (There’s plenty of examples on Takethefamily's website to prove so.) A high chair is no longer a rare piece of furniture in a restaurant. (Try asking for one in Greece.) An extra pull-down bed in your hotel room won't cost at least £20. (Although, sadly, in some places it might still cost £10.) Hotels increasingly have meals and mealtimes that cater to many generations, not just one. And at least we haven’t gone the way of the States, where there’s rampant age apartheid, with menus and museums reserved for kids only.
Travelling up and down the country with my small tribe, I've been increasingly and pleasantly surprised at how family-friendly Britain has become. So why don't we stop whining and give Britain a break?
Friday, 15 January 2010
Discussions around routine have been big in the news recently. Childrearing guru Gina Ford, who recommends parenting works best when we strictly observe the clock, is at loggerheads with, among others, a new father named Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats. Clegg has spoken out against the strictures of the author of The Contented Little Baby Book, saying instinct is as good as instruction.
I agree. As a family that travels much of the time, we have to throw routine to the European, African or Asian wind. It’s wonderful. And it definitely doesn’t damage the kids. In fact, it does the opposite. Without a routine imposed from above, kids develop their own rhythms. This sets them up far better for life than any timetables and ridiculous rules they are forced to adopt but don’t understand.
My lack of any regularity began with my first born, who first went abroad at ten days. Slipping between time zones, I had no idea whether she’d had her afternoon nap. I barely knew when afternoon was, and she certainly didn’t. It worked out so much better for all of us. She could sleep when she was tired – a rather simple idea that seems to have escaped Gina Ford. And we weren’t in fear of missing the Prada in Madrid because the Sunday opening hours would coincide with the time she was supposed to sleep.
Yet many friends of mine with small children plan their holidays around the ridiculous mantra of routine. They have to leave to drive to Cornwall at the strangest of hours, to keep in with their toddler’s ‘sleep routine’. They have to take a short haul flight in the late afternoon to make sure their four year old doesn’t miss his ‘daily afternoon snack’. Then, once they arrive, the joys, surprises and unexpectedness of a new place are all squashed by trying to squeeze their kids’ routine into a very differently shaped day, with different hours of light and darkness, different customary mealtimes, different bedtimes expected of children to those at home. But their kids have been so regimentally brought up, they find it impossible to adapt. They still have to have their biggest meal at supper in Spain, even though everyone else has a giant lunch. And though petit Jean and Francoise seem to stay up later than their British counterparts, my British friends still tuck up their kids early when they’re in Paris. Then they moan that they’re imprisoned in their hotel room for the night, when they could be enjoying an evening out with their children.
So don’t drill a routine into your kids. Take them travelling instead, and let them feel the different rhythms of the world. We can’t be slave to schedules.
Now, is it bedtime yet?
Friday, 8 January 2010
But very few of us have fires anymore, and huddling around the radiator somehow doesn’t have the same ring. So when it’s wet and windy, we don’t stay in, we go out. And we usually go to the wettest, windiest place we can find, which is usually the British seaside.
Last weekend it was Brighton. In the summer, the pier is most unpleasant. You can’t move for bags of hot doughnuts attached to human arms, walking along the creaking planks. But it winter, there’s no queue for this sugary treat. There’s no queue for the Hook a Duck. And a cup of tea in a polystyrene cup in the cutting wind tastes like the best drink you could ever have. My twins are big tea drinkers – have been since they were tiny. I think it’s part of the whole seaside experience.
We ate at Regency Restaurant and stayed at the Hilton Metropole (www.hilton.co.uk) for the sea view. The water’s never blue this time of year, just a solid wall of silver. But we could still spot surfers, immune to the weather like we wanted to be.
At the risk of sounding like Grumpy Old Woman when I’m still in respectable mid-youth with young children, I think we’ve all become a bit wimpish about breaks. In the winter, weekend break has come to mean Madrid, not Margate. But there’s nothing wrong with the South Coast on a cold day. In fact, we prefer it.
See related article: A Rainy Seaside Family Break to Brighton
Their influences aren’t glossy brochures but TV, books and, in particular, films. We’ve just seen Disney’s latest slick offering – The Princess and the Frog. The film was fine, but the setting was fab. All the love action happens in New Orleans, with very wicked Voodoo-practicing shamans and flighty Southern belles. Now the eight-year-old twins just want to pack their bags and head for Bourbon Street, hoping to meet a member of the Royal Family disguised as a small green amphibian. And I want to go there, too. Not to meet a Princess, but because I still carry the film’s soundtrack of trad jazz in my head, warming me up along the cold streets.
It was the same when we saw Pixar’s Up!. We all wanted to jump on a long haul flight to Venezuela, and search out Angel Falls that the film so dramatically featured. I hope this film-led holiday choice doesn’t apply to everything we see. On Boxing Day, we’re off to watch Where the Wild Things Are. I wonder where that will take us.
Thursday, 10 December 2009
The other thing it makes us do is dress up. There’s nothing like a bit of costume to make it feel and look like an adventure. (After all, how did the pith helmet become so emblematic of the Tropics? Or plus-fours the signal that someone was going to strike out across a Scottish hillside?)
Our latest costume adventure was to go fishing in Ireland, in a lake on the estate of the K Club, a country house hotel in County Kildare. It wasn’t that rural – only a 20 minute drive from Dublin – but it felt and looked like countryside in that damp, paint-box green Irish way. Just a short drive from the Book of Kells, the dress code was completely different to in the city. Our gillie Albert turned up in green corduroy trousers tucked into tall Wellingtons, a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows, a flat tweed cap and a camouflage waistcoat with so many pockets stuffed with so many lures and flies, he looked like a piece of bait himself. Albert instructed the eight-year-old twins to pull off their Gap sweatshirts and trainers, and kitted them out in waxed Barbour jackets, quilted blue waistcoats and miniature long green wellies, ready to wade through the bullrushes.
Albert taught them how to spin a line and pull it in quick enough to hook a trout. But they weren’t gazing in the lake to spot ripples from the fish, but to admire their own reflections. How fine they looked in their country gear.
Both the twins reeled in a catch; neither of us adults did. But they weren’t boasting about the one that didn’t get away at supper that night. They were remembering their waistcoats and jackets, and the way they could wade so deep in wellies that came over their knees.
The K Club www.kclub.com, County Kildare, Ireland.
We travelled there on Irish Ferries www.Irishferries.co.uk
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
This snow wasn’t general all over Ireland. And it wasn’t real. Above Brown Thomas’s sign I spotted the wind machines, pumping out the paper flakes. And I noted it was precisely 3pm. In Grafton Street, in the heart of Dublin, it only snowed on the hour. And every hour. Well, every shopping hour at least.
This snow was very odd, slightly irritating the skin, like little bits of scratchy white litter. But the dancing girl liked it, and so did my eight-year-old twins, as they tried to blow it back into the air with one big breath and gather the fallen pieces into their pockets.
I’ve written before about fake climates, like Lapland in Kent. How we love to go somewhere cold when it’s hot outside, and hot when it’s cold. (Read my 'Cold Comfot' blog) But that’s not the point I’m making here. The point is, of all the things we did in Dublin last weekend, that moment is the one the twins remember. They haven’t mentioned the Jungle Madness zone at the new(ish) children’s activity centre ENRG, nor Dublin Zoo (although they love zoos), nor even the funky Dublin City Gallery with the fab cafe. But they’ve told all their friends about the false flakes outside Brown Thomas’s.
And it’s been like that on most of our holidays. There’s been a moment, often a very small moment like this one, which they take home with them. So are we misguided to try and make our family holidays special? Kids don’t want to experience big sights or huge new adventures. They want something small that tickles their imagination – a magic moment. The problem is, you can’t plan for that.
For guaranteed snow, (in the UK), this festive season, head for Lapland UK in Kent, or the dazzling free Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park, or even one of the many snow dome, outdoor snow tubing or ice skating events across the country.
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
I believe the simple answer is ‘No’. But then, nothing’s simple. There are all sorts of reasons – including cost – why we might want to transform term time into travel time. But the real argument for flouting end of term dates is that your kids are likely to learn more on the road than they are at their desks. Travel is always a good lesson – perhaps not in something on the National Curriculum, but definitely in life.
That’s where the Journey Journal steps in. Produced by small independent publisher Can of Worms, it transforms a term-time trip into a teaching session. Can of Worms publisher Toby Steed, with two young children himself, noticed that if a child is off school long term sick, for example, they’re expected to do some studying at home. But if they’re away from the classroom on holiday, nothing is expected on their return.
The Journey Journal, designed by geography teachers, is for parents and schools to hand out to these holidaying shirkers. Tasks it sets include ‘Drawing a typical (not traditional) local female’, ‘Complete this graph to record the weather (ie rainfall and temperature) during your journey’, and ‘Draw something that is okay in this place but rude in your place.’ Toby suggests filling in the Journal could be a condition of a school letting a pupil have time off to travel. I imagine some kids, when asked to draw a graph, might prefer to stay at home. But the Journal’s fun. It’s also very small, so can fit into anyone’s pocket. I’ll put it in mine when we next bunk off.
Journey Journals available from www.geographycollective.co.uk and CanofWormsEnterprises.
Related Takethefamily articles include:Florence with Young Kids
Horrible Histories in Mexico
On Holiday with the National Curriculum
A Mother’s & Teacher’s View
Related Takethefamily blogposts include:Returning Again and Again
Speaking in family friendly tongues
Putting the Fun Back into Holidays
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
I’ve often asked myself why we come on holiday to the same place several times, rather than go to different places each time. The world is so huge, it’s a pity to not explore each and every corner of it. But there’s something comforting in going on a family holiday to somewhere you know well, and even to people who may recognize you again. ‘Welcome back,’ are two wonderful words to hear, so more than a merely polite and obligatory, ‘Welcome’. It makes you feel as if your own home isn’t the only place that you belong.
So we’re back again, on Achill Island, enjoying collecting stones and seaweed on the fierce blowy beach and buying fresh hens from the man who keeps a wooden coop in his front garden. Although it’s not really a garden, more a patch of bog. Nothing much grows here above a few feet, because of the wind blowing off the ocean.
A friend scolded me for always bouncing back to this remote spot. ‘Why don’t you take the kids somewhere they can discover something new?’ she said. But they do, here on Achill. This time, we’ve gone hunting for black shells (mussels), picking them off the rocks at low tide. We’ve counted more than a dozen dolphins (or are they porpoise?) dancing in the surf. We’ve seen seals. Just because we come back to the same place, doesn’t mean we have the same experience. Every time is different.
My kids are lucky to have traveled all over the world. But it’s going back, not forward, that they enjoy most. I’ve had to stop asking them where they want to go on holiday, for fear that we’ll never make a new journey again. I know they’d always say, ‘Achill!’
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
How long is too long for a family holiday? I know Takethefamily.com's slogan is 'For family holidays that last a lifetime', but that's probably a little long for any of us. We all used to aim for a fortnight break in the summer, and hoped it might be topped up by the odd weekend away during the rest of the chilly year. If we were very fortunate, we’d slip out of town for a whole week at half term. But that was the pattern of our breaks – two weeks, one week or a weekend. Nine or eleven days just wasn’t the shape a holiday took.
But now, tour companies claim we’re demanding our breaks in all sorts of odd sizes. Thomson and First Choice say they’ve been surprised by the demand for ten and 11 day holidays, so have increased them by almost a quarter. I don’t think there are many other companies that are as flexible, without becoming bespoke.
I’m really glad Thomson is doing this, as we’ve always battled with the obligatory fortnight. It’s not that we don’t enjoy going on holiday, it’s just that two weeks seems an awful long time and one week not enough. We like ten days. I calculate that’s a day either end to settle in - discover the best bit of the beach buffet and the cheapest local cafe to purchase lunch - then a full week to actually ‘be there’. Perhaps it’s just my fidgety kids, but if the settled down middle bit extends to longer than seven days, they start to get bored. Instead of being a short, sweet adventure, the holiday itself becomes routine.
Our other ideal break length is a weekend. It’s surprising how refreshing just a couple of days away from home can be. So ten or two nights is our favoured formula. Just a pity more companies can’t offer us that.