IT comes to us all; the moment when you realise that this is the last family holiday.
Your offspring have shambled behind you with increasing resentment for a couple of years and finally you have to accept it. They are off, floating their own boats with anything from nightclubs to bungee jumping, climbing El Capitan or getting smashed on ouzo and there’s nothing you can do about it. From now on, it’s just the two of you.
If this is you, don’t waste too long snivelling. Fast forward a few years and there they are again, older, wiser and a lot more tired. Come on Mum and Dad, they say, come with us for a lovely, sunny family holiday, just like it used to be. It’ll be great. Especially now we’ve got the baby.
As grandparents of five, we have often drunk from this poisoned chalice. We adore our grandchildren, and they do us the courtesy of liking us back, but oh dear me, those holidays. It started so gently. The first damp bundle was irresistible, bouncing along in his vastly expensive travel system, complete with suspension that would do credit to a top level Range Rover. (I know exactly how much the Nordic highchair plus pushchair and probably space rocket cost because we paid for it, despite having managed ourselves with a secondhand pram, but hey, things are different now. Apparently.
The kid howled his way through a week in a log cabin, but it was all right, because him, me and the travel system did enough loops of the park to take us to Moscow. At moments of greatest stress I sang the Volga Boat Song.
The parents found it so relaxing that when the next couple of children turned up, we were on call each time. Oh, the modern day fun. Swimming pools; are you prepared to face the world naked when they wriggle under the changing room door? Beaches; one set of parents insists on industrial quantities of suncream, to be applied just when everyone’s having fun, while the other goes for the full Foreign Legion. Peppa Pig channels Beau Geste, complete with kepi. Other children, smooth skinned and nicely brown, run happily about, while British families behave as if they are holidaying in a nuclear waste pit. No wonder the foreigners think we’re mad.
They don’t always go abroad. If we stay in England it’s a quick trip to the outer circle of hell they call Soft Play, where rather than train children to be civilised, we put them in a cage and see if Lord Of The Flies is a novel or anthropology. Single dads litter these places, taking zero notice of their progeny. “Granny!” the kids bawl, when some toilet related disaster occurs on a distant ledge. And off I go, clambering through the jungle netting, wet wipes in hand. “You’re too big for this,” declared a would-be Red Queen. How true.
In Devon once, one of ours, revolted by a cream tea, or more likely the strange slate tray it came on, had me thrown out of a rather chic café. He was lying under the table drumming his heels and shrieking. I was in a trance, wondering if four o’clock was too early for gin.
I’d tried all the usual stuff, quick round of Wind The Bobbin Up, bubbles, threats, but sometimes, there’s nothing for it but a walk on the wild side. On Dartmoor, even babies eventually shut up.
So I have a few tips. First of all, do not take the travel system. Not even the Queen takes a throne with her on planes. A little, folding pushchair will do.
Second, go nowhere near Disney Paris, unless you like paying a fortune to stand in a queue. If you must go to a French theme park, make it Parc Asterix, where the French mock the Germans something cruel, under the pretence of Gauls v Romans. They even call Obelix’s dog Idefix, (idée fixe, to you philosophers) which had me giggling all day.
Third, do not get left alone with a strange car seat until a parent has shown you how to lengthen the straps. Because however scathing they are when you fail, chances are they don’t know either. Anyone who does know is ritually slaughtered, I think. It’s some sort of rule.
Mostly though, don’t take it too seriously. Bit of chocolate, lots of stories, make sure you drink the wine and not them. My husband has his own survival strategy – a rucksack neatly packed with a fully charged Kindle, handkerchief, tissues, paracetamol, hand gel and a map.
I treasure the memory of the day he was about to set off on a long and vital tramp to a bakery. On his own, needless to say. He had on his smart hat and a beautifully ironed linen shirt. He looked vastly content. Towards him toddled his granddaughter, beaming through a veil of yoghurt and not, nappy at half mast, arms outstretched. She scored a direct hit. Ah, holidays. You don’t get fun like that every day.
Liz Walker is a writer and grandmother from Penistone.