Alex Manson-Smith is a regular Mr Fox contributor and co-author of hilarious (and refreshingly honest) new book You’re So Mummy, released tomorrow. Here is an exclusive extract from the book, on the challenge to find a holiday that the whole family will enjoy…
Let’s say that you are fortunate enough to find yourself with both the time and money to go on holiday. Perhaps the stars have aligned so that you can afford to go somewhere in the school holidays that isn’t Wales. Whoopee! Hooray! Next comes the question: where the hell do you go?
Camping in France sounds like a solid choice – that’s what everybody did when you were at school. It’s always popular, not too flashy, you can tell yourself it’s educational because the kids will likely be learning French at some point. You know where you are with France, but it’s big enough that there’s always somewhere you haven’t been before.
But when you start Googling French campsites, it becomes clear that this isn’t entirely what you had in mind. Where are the tipis, the Airstreams and the tree houses? You thought they’d got rid of all that depressing green nylon, and that these days it was all sheepskin rugs and Moroccan pouffes. This looks suspiciously like actual camping, with sweaty tents lined in rows and nowhere to put your clothes.
You mentally hoick your budget and upgrade to something you don’t have to erect yourself. It feels pricey now. But even so, something is lacking. You weren’t expecting a fortnight at the George V, but it’s a mobile home in a holiday park. The website photos are probably the best it will ever look, and the website photos look like that place in Great Yarmouth where your gran used to take you.
You wonder what they’ve got over on Airbnb. Ah, this is more like it. Here are some places that look promising, in fancy-sounding destinations. OK, so maybe the wallpaper’s a little eccentric in this one. And that rocky, cliff drop of a garden doesn’t look too toddler-friendly. You’re not sure about being on the fifth floor without a lift, either.
Oh, but look! Here’s an apartment complex deep in the Tuscan Hills with charming, rustic decor and a shared infinity pool. And it’s surprisingly affordable – way more so than a hotel. Jerome from Brisbane says that ‘tranquillity is guaranteed – the only sound you’ll hear is the birds and frogs’. It looks idyllic. And at that price, a complete bargain. You start picturing sunset carafes of Chianti, wild boar ravioli, the odd daytrip to Florence.
Your partner bursts your bubble by asking, ‘But what are the kids going to do?’ Immediately you draw a blank. They will enjoy the views, and the sound of silence. You imagine your two-year-old throwing a fit because you opened his yoghurt for him, destroying Jerome’s tranquillity. You flash-forward to yourself, shushing small children while everyone else around the pool quietly wills you to die. It’s no good. Tasteful apartment in the Tuscan Hills isn’t going to work for you. Besides, with a rural apartment complex it’s just the four of you. No babysitting, no entertainment. Nothing but you and the scenery.
The problem is that you and your children have wildly different tastes. Everything that would make them happy is too noisy and garish for your delicate sensibilities. It’s like holidaying with Liberace.
So you decide to go the other way. You’re thinking kids’ clubs and waterparks, somewhere they can meet other children and bust some moves at the mini-disco. Maybe Eurocamp, or some package deal. But these are surprisingly expensive – that price is per person – and the snob in you is struggling to get on board with the plastic loungers and piano bars. You don’t want to spend your mornings doing aqua aerobics with the animation team, and your evenings watching magic shows. That probably makes you a horrible, pretentious person, but so be it.
For the hell of it, you try Googling some of the more upmarket holiday companies. You know you can’t afford them, but maybe there’s a trip to Aruba in August they can’t get rid of and have decided to give away at a knock-down price. These places look swankier, granted, with a better quality of stock photo. But there’s something a bit sterile about the manicured lawns and pool complexes. They look like the kind of prison you imagine Martha Stewart went to. In any case, it turns out that their idea of a special offer is not the same as yours.
So what do you do? You ask around, fishing for an invite somewhere, but your friends aren’t rich enough to have holiday homes of their own, or seem to be going on villa holidays you aren’t invited on. It looks like it’s just you lot. Still, that will be nice, you think. Proper quality time to do the rounders/board game-type stuff you should probably have done with them throughout the year, but haven’t.
But you still aren’t sure where to go. The problem is that you and your children have wildly different tastes. Everything that would make them happy is too noisy and garish for your delicate sensibilities. It’s like holidaying with Liberace. They, meanwhile, aren’t old enough or placid enough to fit in with your family-holiday fantasies of kayaking and horse riding against idyllic backdrops.
And with children there are so many other factors you have to consider, like the weather. Naturally you don’t want to go anywhere too cold, but it can’t be too hot, either. Then your day at the beach becomes 20 minutes at the beach before you start fretting about sunstroke and cancer. And what if it rains? What will you do then? After all, there’s only so long you can spend playing Connect 4.
You realise that you’ve been Googling holidays for some three days now, and could spend another three weeks doing as much without getting any further. Was it always so difficult to book a holiday? You miss travel agents. Do they even still have travel agents? Because you still don’t know where you’re going, only that it will be a compromise: somewhere none of you really want to go.You’re So Mummy by Alex Manson-Smith and Sarah Thompson is released tomorrow, published by Penguin. Pre-order now at Amazon.