AN INDIAN SUMMER
Colorado turns out to be an ideal family destination, say A. A. and Flora Gill
HOLIDAYS are cyclical; they mark the curves of our lives. Holidays are the measure of achievement and energy, they pace the distance run. I have recently achieved a further family, the tricky second album. I am looking into cots again and balancing heavy wobbly heads in the crook of my arm again, bewitched, bothered and bewildered again.
Unbidden, one of the first thoughts that born-again paternity has given me was, ‘‘ Oh good, British beaches again, Cornwall and Mull, Bournemouth beach huts, Hampshire chimes, the gritted good-for-you misery of north Norfolk and battered haddock in Scarborough.’’
There are few pleasures available to sophisticated urbane life that can compare with investigating a shingly, drift-strewn, sizzling, wave-hitting beach with a five-yearold. And just as I thought about that, I was also reminded with a skewer of sadness that I was entering the final Indian summer of holidays with my first family. Flora and Ali are 16 and 14. Their excitement at, and tolerance of, the old oxymoron ‘‘ a family holiday’’ will soon wax into gap years and group don’t-ask-athons in Phuket.
I want to make the most of their last summers as my children. It’s difficult to come up with holidays that keep them entertained without keeping me sleepless. I don’t want to go to somewhere that caters for children as if they were a disposable annoyance to be taken off your hands in the morning and dumped back after dinner. I don’t want to have to compare photographs to see what their holiday was like.
Summers are the bright colours in any family’s quilt and I think we’ve just found a pretty perfect place for ours: Colorado, on the edge of the Rockies, within striking distance of the arid Indian country of Utah and Arizona.
The US is not everybody’s idea of a holiday; Americans aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Many of my contemporaries twitch their noses in distaste. Who would really have theme parks, hamburgers and shopping malls instead of risotto, frescos and campanile? Actually, I would.
I’d certainly rather have rodeos, bears and beavers, trout fishing, riding fields of wild flowers, hiking pre-Columbian ruins and diners to 24-hour traffic jams, Mediterranean rip-offs, bad temper and the flabby pizza of the southern European coast. And, more important, so would my children.
No one under 20 shares the fashionable grown-up snobbery about the US or Americans. They like everything about it: the music, the films, the slang, the trashy fashion and the food.
The big skies of the West turned out to be where my growing-up kids and I could overlap for a couple of weeks. This is how Flora saw it: There are few options for a teenager’s holiday. There’s going down to the beach to hang out with surfer boys who are secretly afraid of water. Or you can go some place in the country to have random old people tell you how fast you’ve grown. Or you can spend nine weeks of the long summer holiday sitting in front of a screen. The complications of finding a suitable holiday are dramatic when the location has to suit each member of the family.
We were taken to Colorado, US. Colorado is not known as the most popular place for teenagers. When I mentioned it to a friend she asked if it was something like Sudoku.
After a long flight of screaming babies, beef or chicken and reruns of Friends, we arrived at Denver.
I was sceptical of the fortnight ahead. We drove up the Rockies to a house in the southwest, beside Dunton Hot Springs.
The landscape was huge and strangely familiar; it looked like a cross between a cowboy movie and a screensaver.
The first thing that struck me was how much sky there was. The space was amazing, and the colour, the warmth. Still, I wasn’t sure a view was going to be enough to sustain or entertain me and I doubted the amount of fun the mountains were hiding.
Within a few days, though, I’d been whitewater kayaking down a bumpy river, riding through fields and woods, had turned myself into a wrinkly prune in medicinal hot springs and had spent a great deal of time cheap shopping in Wal-Mart, weird hard- ware shops and Indian trading stations. And then there was camping in the desert.
I’m most definitely a city girl and my only experience of tents was on a school trip, which was one of the most traumatic nights of my life, but I discovered not all camping trips are the same. We set up under some red bluffs. I spent a long time tangled in material and rope, sticking pegs in poles in wrong slots. Eventually, I let the fathers do it, since it seems to be what they come for. Their excitement was really embarrassing.
With camping you have to adapt. A rolledup jumper for a pillow, chewing gum for toothpaste, a muddy river for a bath; but best is a tent under the stars for a bedroom. As it grew dark we made a fire and cooked, and passed round the food and the drink, toasted marshmallows, made up stories and sang and laughed. In Colorado I got wet and muddy and hot, and dressed up like Britney’s former in-laws. Without my usual cluster of competitive friends, I could relax. The things that usually embarrass me didn’t seem to matter out there. I fell off my horse, capsized in a river, sang songs round a campfire.
I’m just not going to do any of it back home and I’ve hidden all the photographs. The Spectator