McGarrett (the little brother) turned 30 over the Bank Hols (welcome to the life of a thirtysomething, you old git!) and it made me reminisce about what I did on my 30th birthday, all those many moons ago. Aaaah, yes. I was on an Australian road trip. With two young children. And one in utero. In an Australian winter. In a campervan. Without a toilet. Where’s that husband of mine again? Surely, another reason to high-five each other in recognition of our amazing plans that resulted in one of the most hilariously ridiculous holidays known to man.
'Grey skies, grey camper, empty beach carpark. The holiday starts here!...'
Ned and I planned our big Australian trip around a family wedding in Brisbane that year. The plan was to attend wedding, then drive down in our camper and finally reach Melbourne six days later. That was the plan. So I’ll give you a little geography lesson here, campers. Australia is fucking big. It meant we spent a lot of time looking at this.
'And this...and this...939 kilometres to Melbourne. FML....'
I’ve never known roads like them, they are almost interminable and yes, occasionally you'd see something fun like a kangaroo or some sea but mostly it’s bush (and not the good kind, Ned would add…)
And you know you sometimes read those stories about people who’ve taken their kids out of school for a year so they can travel around the world in a converted bus and learn about real-life shit. Oh, the romanticism….look at their children (usually named after a herb…) unfettered and free to run on the beach and be young and spirited. Well, it’s all a big fat sodding lie. I’ll tell you what happened in our campervan. Firstly, I was pregnant with the Hound. I was about two months gone. Nothing better than a road trip where you occasionally need to puke. Or piss yourself. Many a twilight hour was spent lying in our camper, freezing my maracas off knowing I desperately wanted to pee but was too scared to go outside in case I got eaten by a dingo/spider/snake/all of the above.
Actually, it was so cold that Jon Snow (then four years old) pissed through the bed linen one evening. The same bed linen that gave me lines of bed bug bites across my shoulders. So the actual day of my 30th birthday was spent scooting around Sydney, itching like a bastard but trying to find a launderette who could wash duvets. And that was just the start. On that day, a one-year-old Arya had some form of stomach bug, maybe she was teething but she was miserable as frigging sin during that whole trip. She was lucky I didn’t throw her in the sea. This was her on the world-famous Bondi Beach. Look how thrilled she is.
Later that evening (still my 30th), she shat through two changes of clothes and more bed linen, scuppering all celebratory plans. Instead I welcomed in my thirties, eating the world’s worst takeaway pizza (the crust was about an inch thick) on a foldout bed, watching Paul Hogan. Ned had passed out due to severe driver’s fatigue. There were tears.
'The morning after, still wearing my birthday crown. Not even hungover. FML..'
Don’t get me wrong, that trip had some lovely moments too but it kind of set off a chain of mishaps that would curse all future family holidays. Like the time we thought we’d take the kids on a trendy city break to Ghent. Here’s a tip for you. Kids don’t want city breaks. They couldn’t be arsed if the cobbles are older than God. They want to run in circles and eat waffles as big as their face. We spent half the time making sure they didn’t run in front of moving vehicles, silently weeping every time we walked past a riverside bar where people (sans kiddies) drank beer and ate steak-frites in the sunshine.
'I should be drinking Leffe. I am not...'
There was also the Summer Cornish holiday where it rained. Every. Day. The one day the sun shone, we thought we’d go to a seal sanctuary. Yeah, nothing will raise the spirits more than watching blind, lame seals basking next to a pool full of green water. ‘Someone needs to put these poor bastards out of their misery,’ said Ned. Next to a group of small children who weren’t ours. Sigh. One day we went to the beach. Ned said they were just passing clouds. I huddled the children in the ‘sun shade’. Then the gales started. All I remember was carrying a small child up a dune, my feet sinking into the sand thinking the end of days was upon us.
(l-r: sick seals, Ned on a cold beach, me in an anorak.)
I hope this doesn’t make me sound ungrateful though. We are very lucky in general that we’ve been able to live and travel to some awesome places. However, I think our once grand plans for world travel have now been scuppered by having to holiday as an actual, full-out clan. For one, we can’t afford it half the time and two, it’s slowly dawned on us that kids really couldn’t be arsed about ‘travelling.’ They just want a big empty space to run around in, they want to be near a body of water, they want ice cream, they want sun. You can get that in Hawaii, you can get that in Bognor…they’re not bothered. Most importantly, they just want you around which turns the concept of a holiday on its head really.
Because this was our last holiday without kids.
And this is what we look like now.
Because we don’t go on holidays any more. They’re more team building exercises. You could be one of the clever ones who’ve sussed it out. Who’ve also realised the beauty of a kids’ club or taking grandma along so you can have a night to yourselves. But alas, we’re not so clever. Instead, when with kids, most of our holiday evenings have been spent sat in hotel rooms/ campervans/ chalets staring at each other realising we’ve spent the day doing the same old shit, just in a different place. Albeit, with sand now stuck in our cracks and all over the floor of the car.
And the pain doesn’t stop there because the holiday ends and you need to get everyone home again. Sometimes after a six-hour car trip along the A30 behind queues of caravans. Usually with a car filled to the brim with Happy Meal boxes. I have to do towers of holiday laundry. Ned and I both drink heavily in preparation for real-life routines that will start again the next day. We trawl through photos trying to remember what happened. We post the good ones on FB, obviously....
Because years later, you will look back on those photos and think about those trips. You’ll laugh with how it all went drastically wrong. You'll ask your child how they remembered it, hoping that maybe some of that real-life learning has filtered its way into their subconscious. Didn’t we make memories? Wasn’t that experience worth it? Didn’t we have fun?
Me: So, what do you remember about Australia?
Jon Snow: I remembered we couldn’t find a toilet so you got me to piss into a bottle…
Me: Anything else?
Jon Snow: No.
(l-r: things I thought he may have remembered. The 12 Apostles, deserted beaches, kangaroos?)