The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - PLANET CELEBRITY -

Screens. They were ev­ery­where when we were on hol­i­days. In ev­ery res­tau­rant, around ev­ery pool, un­der ev­ery para­sol, there were chil­dren watch­ing screens. Smart­phones, tablets, iPods, Nin­ten­dos, por­ta­ble DVD play­ers – there seemed to be a small screen for ev­ery child in Spain. In one res­tau­rant, we snooped on an ex­tended Ir­ish fam­ily – six adults, ten chil­dren, six glasses of wine, ten screens. They were un­de­ni­ably all hav­ing a lovely time.

We missed the dead­line for screens. On our first hol­i­day with The Small Girl, The Hus­band and I used to take turns walk­ing her in her buggy along the seafront while the other one ate din­ner. She was a howler, that one, who sim­ply re­fused to sit in a parked buggy and read a cloth book about a duck. As a re­sult, on that hol­i­day, we didn’t have a sin­gle meal to­gether. But it was in the car that we re­ally could have done with screens. In fact, when newer, younger par­ents com­plain to me about any as­pect of child-rear­ing now, I refuse to have any sym­pa­thy for them what­so­ever, be­cause they have never known the stress of trav­el­ling by car with chil­dren who do not have screens. Colic? I laugh at your colic. Eczema? A stroll in the park on a summer’s day. If you haven’t driven to Kerry with three small chil­dren in the back of the car and not a sin­gle screen with which to se­date them, you have not been to par­ent­ing hell, my friend.

The Hus­band, to his credit, main­tained that it was worse for me be­cause I was the frontseat pas­sen­ger. He, the des­ig­nated driver, could al­ways zone out a lit­tle from the back- seat may­hem. I, though, gen­uinely found it so stress­ful that for a cou­ple of years, I sim­ply re­fused to travel with them. It was the bick­er­ing, the squab­bling, the end­less ‘move your leg’, ‘stop touch­ing my foot,’ ‘he ate my crisps,’ ‘she spilled my juice’ that drove me so close to dis­trac­tion. For a cou­ple of years, The Boy, bored sense­less by the long jour­ney and the busi­ness of be­ing a boy, used to punch The Youngest in the arm about ten times an hour, caus­ing her to (over) re­act by yelp­ing like a stran­gled puppy. Some­times, to dis­tract them

I’d try to get a game of I Spy go­ing in the car – a game that would then ef­fort­lessly de­scend into re­crim­i­na­tion

from each other, I’d try to get a game of I Spy go­ing in the car – a game that would then ef­fort­lessly de­scend into re­crim­i­na­tion and carnage. ‘I spy with my lit­tle eye some­thing begin­ning with T,’ The Youngest ven­tured one time, when she was about four. ‘A uni­corn,’ came The Boy’s con­sid­ered guess. ‘Cor­rect,’ said The Youngest. That was the level of it.

We tried loads of things. Count­ing cars of dif­fer­ent colours – a game that al­ways in­volved who­ever hadn’t cho­sen red or sil­ver col­laps­ing into tears. Say­ing the names of the coun­ties aloud from read­ing the reg plates – a very, very lim­ited pas­time on a mo­tor­way lead­ing out of Dublin – and a game called My Gaff, in­vented by my friend Rob­bie and me in the 1980s, which in­volves point­ing to fancy houses on the side of the road and shout­ing ‘my gaff,’ then point­ing at wrecks and ru­ins and shout­ing ‘your gaff’ (ac­tu­ally, this is far more fun than it sounds, though still prob­a­bly not as much fun as watch­ing back-to- back episodes of Dora The Ex­plorer on an iPad. Also, there are no gaffs on mo­tor­ways).

I re­mem­ber once talk­ing to my Dad about all of this, and he re­minded me of the ex­quis­ite tor­ture the four of us used to ad­min­is­ter to our par­ents on long car jour­neys. Ad­mit­tedly, most of these jour­neys did be­gin with my brother an­nounc­ing aloud his in­ten­tion to ‘ tease, thwart and tor­ment’ my lit­tle sis­ter all the way to West Cork – and then be­ing as good as his word – but as I pointed out to my Dad, at least there was stuff to see out the win­dows then. In the case of our fam­ily, this did fa­cil­i­tate my older sis­ter read­ing aloud, from The Shell Guide To Ire­land, de­scrip­tions and his­to­ries of ev­ery town through which we passed, while chaos reigned on the seat be­side her – but My Gaff would have been bril­liant back then.

Now I have teenagers and, fi­nally, screens. And be­cause one of the for­mer is six foot tall, I now sit in the back of the car for the trip to Kerry, sand­wiched be­tween two screens show­ing films I don’t want to watch. Not for the first time in my life, it oc­curs to me that my tim­ing sucks.

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