Staring out to sea

I found this letter I wrote home, the first time I took my daughter on a long haul holiday back in 2010. She was seven months old. As this site is as much about therapy as it is about providing a record of the parenting journey, I figured I should post it

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Yesterday I spent most of the day staring out to sea.

I did the same yesterday.

I plan to do the same tomorrow.

It’s not that it is a particularly captivating scene. Nothing much changes. It’s big. It’s blue. And apart from the odd jet-ski ripping past and para-glider coming into land, it remains relatively constant.

So why is it so captivating?

Perhaps it’s the way that the crests of the waves capture the sunlight and send shards of light twinkling all directions?

Perhaps it’s the tantalising fragrance of salt, fresh limes and divine frangipane carried by the trade winds that ventilate the island?

Perhaps it’s the fact that we have secured a spongy raised water bed, right on the beach that is the size of a small room and with as many soft furnishings as an Ikea showroom that allows Asha to roll around to her heart’s content?

Perhaps it’s the fact that there is a nice man who keeps bringing us drinks and food all day long?

I dont know.

All I can say is that for a view that changes only once every half hour or so, this is strangely compelling.

So what of Bali? Well we have hardly seen any of it. There really is no need when you have a swimming pool right outside your front door and a beach about a cricket balls throw away.

Our hut is beautifully arranged, along with 7 others nestling in the tropical undergrowth, around the centrepiece swimming pool. We have an outside shower where you can enjoy a nocturnal cool down under the stars listening to the gentle burr of the Cicada’s and surrounded by the enveloping fragrance of jasmine. 

To one side of the hut there is a massage table under a thatched Pagoda shade, and everywhere else is lush green foliage, hidden statutes, paths and God heads, bright tropical flowers and the constant sound of gongs, wind chimes and trickling, running water.

What we have seen is reminiscent of both Sri Lanka and Zanzibar.

But unlike the former that has been torn apart by conflict and the latter that has been criminally overlooked by corrupt governance, there is something balanced about this island.

From the diversity of cultures, to the gentle ambiance of the people; from the sticky warm fresh fruit served with coffee and a smile first thing in the morning to the gentle flux and flow of everyday life. This just seems to be an island that gives something back.

Unlike the happy mania of Jakarta, the people here seem more considered, down to earth.

Asha is not a celebrity here, in the same way that she was in Jakarta, but people have much more refined views. They still take her, and fuss over her, and tickle her until she smiles her smiles but you can tell people are taking her in when they look at her.

And they have time to see her in a different way here.

One man we met was captivated by her and said she had amazing charisma.

Another, after many minutes of looking at her, compared her to the Hindu Goddess Krishna.

I have been glowing with the inner pride of knowing I have a charismatic God baby ever since.

Like I said, Bali gives something back.

And despite the fact that we have forced Asha across 8 time zones, made her stay up late far too many times, dropped her on her head on a hard marble floor, made her sleep in a room where even the mosquito’s sweat and watched her vibrate for 2 hours after feeding her some chilli fish she is just loving every minute of it.

She continues to squeal, gurgle and grin her way through every day.

She is very happy here.

And as I write this next to the swimming pool fringed with mini Baobab trees with fragrant pink flowers, I know that I feel extremely content here.

And I am sure my wife, who is currently indulging in a one hour body massage, is also feeling it too.

And later today we are going to go and stare at the sea.

Tomorrow we will do the same.

I will let you know if anything has changed.

xxxxx

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Bastard Holidays

You look tired, why don’t you book a holiday – give yourself something to look forward to. I’ve just been on one with my boyfriend and it was amazing

These were the simple words, uttered by a friend in the kitchen at work today.

Well my smug, well rested and bright-eyed friend, these are the reasons why a) holidays are actually bastard exhausting these days and why b) holidays are not bastard well meant to be looked forward to anymore

1/. For you packing means throwing a few clothes in a bag and walking out the door. For me packing begins weeks before the holiday begins, if not months. In fact I have started packing NOW in April for a holiday we are planning in August (* takes a hit of gin to stop the twitching)

2/. You won’t have your face clawed off by a bezerk toddler if you forget to pack Peppa Pig leggings.

3/. Studying and thinking about holiday property room configuration is about as tedious as reading Mr Messy on a perpetual loop. Oh I forgot, you have no idea how tedious either of those things are. Bastard.

4/. Your journey to your destination will be a chance to watch the landscape go by, catch up on the latest movies, read a holiday novel or get some restful sleep. For me it will make Marlow’s journey up the Congo River look like a fairground ride. Because listening to two toddlers having a screeching competition for two hours whilst stuck in French traffic is not something anyone should have to go through. (* sets up Amnesty International on speed dial)

5/. Upon arrival at your destination you can fling open the French doors and flop onto your bed. I, on the other hand, will have to immediately set up a perimeter and carefully remove the car seats before the squashed raisins, brioche and colouring pens begin to fuse, multiply and morph into a deadly contagion like they did Last Time. (* sets up Centre for Disease Control on speed dial)

6/. Holiday property brochures always lie. For you this isn’t an issue. For me that bastard line in the configuration plan which turns out NOT to be a wall between rooms, but a line to denote a change in flooring materials, will mean sharing a room for TWO FECKING WEEKS with my wife and two bastard snoring children. This means wake up at 06:30, lights out at 19:30, no down time, no drinking and shouting loudly and definitely no sexy-time.

7/. For you, free standing glass cabinets and unfenced gardens will provide charming property character and a pleasing sense of boundless space. For me, these things will provide The Crazies with their first experience of near death base jumping, and free-range and self-guided toddler tours of local highways and electrical sub-stations.

8/. Your holiday is a chance to indulge in two weeks of pure hedonism, escapism and down time. For me I will need to put all my own needs on hold in order to plan and execute exciting child centred activities, fun and games EVERY DAY for two bastard weeks. But it will be the fact that I forgot the bastard Peppa Pig leggings that will dominate conversations for the entire journey home. In between the bastard screeching competitions of course.

9/. Your evenings will be spent on balmy terraces, enjoying fine wine, leisurely food and scintillating conversation. Mine will be spent ramming food down my mouth as quickly as possible, shouting loudly at my wife and watching while one child feeds fish fingers to a tank of expensive looking oriental fish, and the other asks an angry looking man at the next table why his nose is so big.

10/. You will lounge on a beach recliner and will luxuriate in a thirty second application of Hawaiian Tropic sun cream, the mere smell evoking a tropical paradise. I, on the other hand, will be spending half my days sprinting up and down the beach trying to marinate my slippery children with a dense pasty gloop just to get minimal sun cream coverage. And don’t get me started on the question of bastard sun hats; because this is a question where Superglue is the only answer.

11/. Because by the time I have finally cleared the laundry backlog from this damn holiday it will be time to think about packing for the next bastard holiday.

So there you go my relaxed and just-returned-from-holiday-faced friend. If I sound bitter, it’s because I bastard well am. Bastard Holidays can feck right off.

The diary of a (yet another rubbish) family holiday – Part 2

Since child number two arrived it has been over fourteen months since my family has been away from the house and on holiday together. Given that previous holiday attempts with child number one were less than successful, it was with a sense of anticipation, fear and trepidation that we set out on a week-long family holiday over the recent Easter break. We shouldn’t have bothered. We should have stayed at home. This is part 2 of that diary (here’s part 1 in case you missed it)

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  • Family holiday day 5

Black cross put back onto front door of plague house, quarantine procedures re-established and disinfectant on standby. We consider cancelling holiday and returning home. Daughter shows signs of improvement. By evening daughter is bouncing off walls again, happy, charismatic little self once more. Unfortunately son spends day screaming with teething pain. Calpol not working. It must be serious!

When children are in bed, wife finds “Contagion” in DVD drawer of the Plague House. We proceed to watch it, touched by the beautiful irony the universe is serving up. Film finishes and we spend rest of evening washing hands, trying to avoid touching face (which the film tells us we do subconsciously more than 2,000 times a day) and disinfecting surfaces some more.

Wife complains that DVD has made her skin crawl and spends an hour in bed itching and touching her face. Surely Plague House hasn’t also got fleas?

Hands red raw from over-washing. Becoming concerned that I might have OCD.

I wish I was back at work.

  • Family holiday day 6

Daughter woke up at 03:00 screaming in pain, with a horrific rash on her lady bits. Wife starts sobbing and reveals cause is probably due to use of new toddler wipes used the previous day. Wife spends next three hours beating herself up. The Baton of Screaming is back in play again. Everyone takes a turn with The Baton of Screaming. I consider battering myself on the head with it again. Anything for a few minutes of quiet.

I spend the next hour organising an out of hours, out of area hospital appointment. Bitterly cold outside. Snow is falling. Peace returns to house around 07:00. Wife and I giddy with tiredness.

Later in the day wife starts to complain of nausea and stomach pain and retires to bed early. I sit upstairs on my own and revert to Twitter for solace. Good old Twitter. There is always Twitter. Thankfully there is wi-fi in The Plague House. Wi-fi stops working. Wi-fi is also sick.

I wish I was back at work.

  • Family holiday day 7

No diarrhoea or vomiting for 48 hours and daughters rash has improved significantly. Happy house once again, so as a treat, we organise an outing to local play park.

Daughter insists on going on insane looking zip wire. Completes a couple of zips with my help, and then tells me to go away and let her go on her own. I hesitantly “let go” physically, emotionally and mentally. Surprised at how hard I find it to expose my daughter to risk.

Daughter spends the rest of the afternoon finally happy, zipping up and down the wire with her cousin. I stand by, watching nervously, wanting to run along side her every zip, but also amazed at bravery of daughter.

Sun comes out. Last day of holiday and finally all seems well. Wife comes and gives me a hug while daughter plays happily with cousin, and son messes about contentedly in sandpit. This is how it could have been.

Unfortunately, temporary happiness broken on last go of zip wire before dinner. Daughter gets thrown off like a rag doll, does double somersault in mid-air and lands heavily on back. Terrifying moment of silence. Daughter starts screaming. Daddy and mummy breathe sigh of relief and run to winded, but not wounded, daughter. Decide not to go to A&E.

Daugther later asks, repeatedly, why I didn’t catch her when she went flying off the zip wire.

  • Family holiday day 8

No further events. Exhausted family pack up and leave Plague House behind. Car breaks down on journey home.

Standing on the roadside wife and I agree that from now on we are going to scrap all holidays. We agree instead that for future holidays we will lock children in front room for a week with a box of Cheerios and a DVD of “Lord of the Flies” on loop. We will retire to bedroom with a bottle of gin, curl up and rock gently in a corner, weeping whilst staring at pictures of unattainable sunny, palm fronded beaches.

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The diary of a (yet another rubbish) family holiday – Part 1

Since child number two arrived it has been over fourteen months since my family has been away from the house and on holiday together. Given that previous holiday attempts with child number one were less than successful, it was with a sense of anticipation, fear and trepidation that we set out on a week-long family holiday over the recent Easter break. Frankly we shouldn’t have bothered. We should have stayed at home.

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This is part 1 of the diary. Part 2 will be released later this week.

  • Family holiday day 1

Bags packed and ready to go! However, son, recovering from a sickness and diarrhoea bug, vomits at breakfast time, bringing up bowl of half-chewed Cheerios.  I try to score points with wife in personal ongoing vendetta against Cheerios by suggesting they are too sweet for son. Wife scores most points by making me clear up son’s vomit.

Holiday postponed by one day, due to Breakfast Cheerio Vomit. Holiday suitcases remain by front door. Daughter spends day whingeing – repeatedly – about not going on holiday. Son also spends day whingeing and clinging to any adult in sight. Wife reflects it’s like being on lock-down in an old people’s home, where all the old people are on Speed. Stressful day ends with wife sobbing in bathroom.

  • Family holiday day 2

Son, hasn’t vomited in 24 hours, but is clearly still not fully recovered. Hold telephone consultation with rest of family (brother, sister in-law, two kids and Grandma), who arrived at separate, but nearby, holiday houses the previous day. We decide to travel to our holiday house, but under strict self-quarantine rules.

Both children fall into deep beautiful slumber on the three hour journey from Oxford to Kent. Wife and I dare to believe that the holiday is back on track.

However upon arrival at holiday house, both children melt-down. Daughter wants to go play with cousin, but nuances on the concept of quarantine are lost on her. Two resulting time outs for daughter. Son, teething for England, screams his way through the day, and nearly chews his own fist off. In order to delay onset of parental tinnitus wife and I take shift turns with son.

One brief conversation through holiday house window with rest of holiday party is our sole contact with the rest of humanity. Our holiday house is renamed The Plague House by my niece. Cold, wintry and miserable outside. Snow starts falling. It’s April.

  • Family holiday day 3

No sleep due to daughter and son spending the night in a relay race, passing The Baton of Screaming between each other. At 4am, after approximately NO hours of sleep, I consider picking up The Baton of Screaming and whacking myself over the head with it. Seems like the only chance for some sleep.

Son still unwell and doesn’t eat breakfast. Bitterly cold and miserable outside, barely reaches above freezing all day, feels colder with barbaric North-easterly blowing in off Siberia. Children really tetchy. Pattern set for rest of day.

We are locked into Plague House, with no contact with the other holiday party except for stolen conversations through Plague House window.

Highlight of day is when daughter has a poo on toilet, looks down and squeals “It looks like Makka Pakka’s house!” I can confirm it really did.

  • Family holiday day 4

The Baton of Screaming is dropped. The house is silent at night. Sleep results. Eight, lovely, unbroken hours of it. Both children wake up happier, smiling. Son attempts a few wobbly steps after breakfast, daughter back to usual charming and charismatic self. It’s been over 48 hours without an incident of diarrhoea or vomiting. Disinfectant is locked away! Recovery is complete!

Ring other members of holiday party. Sun comes out. Daddy and mummy rejoice. Celebratory decision made to go to Safari Park en-masse.

Arrive at Safari Park. Colder than hell, despite sunshine. Queue for hours waiting to get onto safari transport. Son goes quiet in pram, little nose frozen. All other children begin whingeing. Safari finally gets under way, vehicle passes through massive Jurassic Park style gates “Welcome to another world!!” announces driver triumphantly. This other world looks suspiciously like cold, empty fields. In Kent.

Son falls asleep, probably hypothermic. Safari passes field after freezing field, no sight of animals. Vehicle passes empty lion pen. Grandma suggests Friesian cows have kidnapped the lion and are torturing him for escape route information.

Vehicle eventually stops at an outdoor restaurant in the middle of nowhere, with no shelter, no cover. Bitter wind blows through restaurant, food takes over one hour to arrive. Son wakes up starving hungry, screaming for food. Food doesn’t arrive. Son eventually stops screaming, reverts to guttural protest growl and worrying thousand yard stare.

Food eventually arrives 80 minutes after it is ordered. Utter garbage. Utter expensive garbage.

Family huddle around a tropical lizard tank, along with 30 other people, to try and defrost. Tropical lizard tank is only piece of warmth remaining this side of hell.

Daughter wets herself. No spare trousers, so spare trousers borrowed off sister-in-law. Daughter refuses to wear spare trousers and escapes my grasp, running half naked out of the toilets and into the outdoor restaurant screaming “Get off me! Get off me!” I die of embarrassment in front of hundreds of startled onlookers. I suppress the urge to shout “It’s OK! I’m not a paedophile, I’m her father!”

Family troop back onto safari vehicle. Still no safari type animals. Plenty of squirrels though. Hands frozen with cold by this point. Children melting down. Final ten minute walk to car park is most miserable, cold walk ever taken. Cost of family outing totals over £300. Would have had more fun if we had spent the day sat in a big freezer, looking at pictures of squirrels.

All children put to bed, so I open the first bottle of wine of the holiday and pour into glasses. A split second later I am immediately alerted by crying coming from children’s bedroom. Daughter has vomited all over bed sheets and herself. Half digested, open-air-freezer-restaurant pizza stuck in her hair.

Daughter spends rest of night vomiting, one particularly strong hurl goes down my front, with splashback onto face. I note that vomit is surprisingly hot.

Wife and I painfully strip skin off hands through over use of soap and disinfectant.

I begin to wish I was back at work.

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Look out for Part 2 of – The Diary of a (yet another rubbish) family holiday – later this week