Holiday perspectives

With the school holidays over, we took ourselves off to Cornwall for five days last week, for what will probably be the last time as a family of three.

On a friend’s recommendation, we booked ourselves into the Bedruthan Steps Hotel, located between Newquay and Padstow on the north coast. (If you’re ever heading to Cornwall and looking for a family-friendly hotel, the Bedruthan is fantastic – a short (though steep) walk from a good beach, separate children’s meal sittings and entertainments, plenty of indoor and outdoor play areas, baby monitoring, basically everything a parent could possibly want.)

Being mid-September, we didn’t have any great expectations weather-wise – I’d have been more than happy with a couple of dry days – but in the end we couldn’t have asked for better. It was warm, dry and largely sunny throughout, enabling us to get down to the beach whenever we wanted, as well as incorporating visits to the zoo, the aquarium and Padstow (where Rick Stein’s restaurant is: a pretty but really very dull little town). With the hotel looking after the catering, we didn’t have to worry about preparing any meals for Zac; he was able to burn off his abundant energy splashing around in the sea, building sandcastles, or playing with any of the hotel’s many child-focussed distractions: the soft-play room, the giant trampoline, the see-saw and swings, or – best of all – going up and down repeatedly in the lift (go figure).

(In fact, the only thing we didn’t really manage to do was to get ourselves out to eat at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall in nearby Watergate Bay, but that was relatively minor in the greater scheme of things.)

Holidaying with a small child in tow is certainly very different to doing so without one. Before Zac came along, we spent most of our spare time travelling across the world from Washington DC to Wellington NZ, at least 2-3 foreign holidays every year, always haring around everywhere seeing as many things as we possibly could in the limited time available. We have stood on the edge of a volcano crater in Tongariro and in the remains of Pompeii, a town devastated (and subsequently preserved) by another volcano, Vesuvius. We’ve towered above the surrounding land on the Great Wall of China, and peered into the abyss of the Grand Canyon. We’ve seen great displays of art: the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the Mona Lisa in Paris’s Louvre, Picasso’s Guernica in Madrid, MoMA and the Guggenheim museums in New York. In short, we’ve had a great time just doing stuff.

Now, though, things are very different. The biggest thing I want from a holiday is to see my boy smiling, laughing and running around excitedly. If that means spending 15 minutes every morning and evening getting in and out of lifts, that’s fine by me. My needs are very much secondary compared to his, and if it’s a cliché to say that you see the world differently through a child’s eyes, then that’s only because it’s absolutely true. He is busy exploring a whole new world around him, and if it’s now a part of my job description as a father to help him discover his surroundings, then that’s a role I’ll gladly accept. I’ve seen my fair share of wonders in this world; it’s time I helped my son see the myriad of little miracles in his small but ever-expanding universe.

Some things never change, though. After five days of cooked breakfasts and three-course dinners, I have returned home having (as usual) gained weight at the rate of a pound a day. So it’s bread and water for me for the next few weeks …