Road trip

Wish you were here postcardIt’s not going to win any prizes as one of the Top Trendy Places You Must Bankrupt Yourself To Stay In Before You Die, but there’s something comforting and nostalgic about our annual cheap-as-chips holiday getaway to Butlins, which we’ve just come back from. Not just because of the memories of our previous trips which they evoke, but also because they remind me of family holidays from my childhood – and the excitement of both the trip itself and the anticipation of it. 

While I didn’t give the trip much thought until a couple of days before, for Isaac and Toby there was a gradual escalation of anticipation and excitement. This began to crescendo a week beforehand and then went through the roof at the point at which we brought out their shared Trunki – which is used in part as a means of limiting the volume of things they bring with them – and they immediately filled it with cars and DVDs (and Cars DVDs).

It’s fun to watch. As a child, I can remember being given my own bag to pack before our annual UK summer holiday. I would carefully pack books, pens, snacks, drinks, a game or two, some cut-out crossword puzzles from my dad’s newspapers – yes, I was already a swotty geek even as a pre-teen – and a meticulously planned-out itinerary of which motorway service areas we would stop at en route based on their location and breadth/quality of facilities (courtesy of a Which? Magazine survey which I all but memorised). As soon as our car left the driveway I would then carefully unpack everything within easy reach, ready for the long trip ahead, with my finger tracing the route to our destination as we traversed from one page to another on the green hardback tome that was the AA Road Atlas. (That was back in the days before all road atlases were spiral-bound and ended up dog-eared within a week of purchase, before being replaced by sat-navs.)

I can see a little of my eight or nine-year-old self in both my boys. Having shoehorned seven people (the five of us plus my parents) and their luggage into our two cars and divided us, as has now become traditional, into a boys’ car and a girls’ car, I had the dubious pleasure of having the two boys in the back of mine. We really should have named them both Thomas, as the first part of our trip was like having a giant stereo Tom Tom in the back. “Turn right, Daddy.” “Slow down, Daddy.” “Go on the M4, Daddy.” “Can we go in the fast lane, Daddy?” “ARE WE THERE YET?”

Thankfully Toby fell asleep after about half an hour, meaning it was just me, my dad and the ever loquacious Isaac – the boy who knows every word in the dictionary other than ‘silence’ – who provided a running commentary on junction numbers, where Heather’s car was on the road relative to ours and the music playing on my iPod. (His playlist, of course – seriously, hasn’t he had enough of Gangnam Style yet?) It wasn’t until some time after lunch that the excitement which had seen him up at 4am finally caught up with him and we were treated to the not-so-quiet sound of his snoring in the back. To be honest, I preferred it when he was talking.

Experiencing the excitement through my children’s eyes isn’t something I’d miss for the world, though. As a working parent, there isn’t time to allow anticipation to build other than the stress of preparing for it – trying (and failing) to clear my desk at work, last-minute packing, fretting about what we’ve forgotten to bring with us – and watching Isaac and Toby go through the joy of all their pre-holiday rituals is a reminder not only of why we do these things in the first place, but of what it was like to be a carefree child looking forward to being whisked away to some cold, slightly shabby seaside holiday town for the week.

As a boy, for me the fun of going on holiday was as much about what we did before it as what we did when we finally arrived in Cornwall or Scotland or Wales. It was what turned a one-week vacation into a two-week event. Seeing my boys treat their holidays in much the same way is something that fills me with just as much happiness now as it did then.