An entertaining and moving snapshot of family life on the road

Ben Hatch with his children
Ben Hatch with his children
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IF you’re someone who questions the impact ebooks and Kindles are really having, then Ben Hatch’s growing popularity may cause you to think again.

When his new book – Are We Nearly There Yet? A Family’s 8,000-Mile Car Journey Around Britain – came out as a paperback a few months back it didn’t cause any seismic shocks in the book world.

It was Hatch’s first book in a decade and his first crack at writing non-fiction. But after it was made available on Kindle, and along with some favourable reviews, it rose from virtual anonymity to top of the bestsellers list last month when it became the most downloaded Kindle non-fiction book in the UK.

But, of course, a book, whatever its format, stands or falls by the quality of the writing and the story it contains, and Are We Nearly There Yet? succeeds on both counts.

Tim Brooke-Taylor describes it as “Outnumbered in a car” and the book has drawn high-profile praise from such disparate names as Joanne Harris, John Cleese and Sir Terry Wogan.

In essence, it is Hatch’s account of driving 8,000 miles around the UK for five months with his wife, Dinah, and their two young children Charlie and Phoebe.

The book came about after he and his wife were asked to write a guidebook about family travel. At the time they were turning 40 and a little bored with their life in Brighton and thought an extended family road trip around the British Isles was just the answer.

Ignoring the advice of friends and family, they embraced the open road and the ensuing tale features deadly puff adders, Billie Piper’s pyjamas and a friend of Hitler’s as they hurtle around Britain in a Vauxhall Astra.

The journey takes them from Marlow, which boasts the house where Mary Shelley finished writing her masterpiece Frankenstein, to the Lake District, home to some of Britain’s most stunning scenery and... Ostrich World.

The family’s escapades later take them to Yorkshire Dales country, where the kids are told they’re going to see Wallace and Gromit, before unseen events result in Hatch spending more time in Leeds General Infirmary than he probably expected.

The book is part tourist guide, part parental manual on the various ingenious ways to keep toddlers entertained in a car while driving to obscure places even the map sometimes struggles to locate. Humour courses through the 345 heart-warming, and at times moving, pages, while Hatch narrates the story in a suitably self-deprecating voice.

As well as the trials and tribulations of travelling with small children, one thing that emerges, as if we didn’t know already, is that women are infinitely more practical than men. For all the male bluster about DIY prowess and map-reading skills, it is invariably Dinah who is the cool, calm and collected one.

All this could very easily come across as sentimental or worse still, smug, but it avoids becoming either. There is laughter and tears and if you’re after a last-minute stocking filler, then look no further than this.

It isn’t a perfect book, just a very good one that captures a snapshot of life in all its funny, sad, wonderful silliness.

Are We Nearly There Yet? by Ben Hatch, published by Summersdale, is available in paperback priced £8.99.