Clare Mack­in­tosh

The chil­dren are fi­nally old enough to go back abroad

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE - Clare Mack­in­tosh con­tact @claremack­in­t0sh www.claremack­in­

Ah, hol­i­days B.C. (Be­fore Chil­dren). Re­mem­ber those? Fali­raki foam par­ties, Calais booze cruises, sun-baked Span­ish beaches… It’s an­other life en­tirely, back when you could see your feet with­out lean­ing for­ward, and be­fore walk­ing up­stairs sounded like some­one had strapped crisp pack­ets to your knees.

In the first few years after meet­ing my hus­band-to-be, we would take off to sun­nier climes each sum­mer. Him, me, a map of France, and a tent just bige­nough for a blow-up mat­tress and a bat­tery-pow­ered ra­dio. His Citroen Saxo (it was that or my MG Midget and its ten­dency to dis­card pieces of metal at in­op­por­tune mo­ments) had no air con­di­tion­ing, and in traf­fic we’d hang out of the rolled-down win­dows like pant­ing dogs, des­per­ate to pick up speed just so we could cool down. We’d take turns to drive non-stop down to La Rochelle, one of us al­ways wak­ing with a start in the early hours to find the other was driv­ing on the wrong side of the road in a (for­tu­itously) de­serted street. When we were too knack­ered to drive any more we’d pitch our tent at the first camp­site we found, drink­ing cheap wine and hav­ing noisy sex, be­fore emerg­ing at noon the fol­low­ing day, forced out by sun on can­vas.

They were heady, happy days. When we have kids, we said, we’ll still do this. Road trips, camp­ing hol­i­days, round-the-world back­packs. We’ll fly to for­eign climes, ex­plore ex­otic cul­tures, taste ev­ery food go­ing. Our chil­dren will be worldly-wise and full of ad­ven­ture. No pack­age deals for us; no kids’ clubs or en­ter­tain­ers or all-in­clu­sive ice-cream buf­fets. Oh, how lit­tle we knew about Life After Chil­dren…

With three un­der 15 months, and 500 nap­pies a month at their peak, it was a while be­fore hol­i­days fea­tured in our bud­get at all. A gen­er­ous in­vi­ta­tion to join the in-laws in Por­tu­gal sounded amaz­ing, but all I re­mem­ber is breast­feed­ing twins in the cool of the villa while ev­ery­one else swam in the sun, and the sound of three chil­dren scream­ing for a three-hour flight. Never again, we said. Kids don’t need to go abroad, any­way, we said.

We tried a ho­tel, once, on a short break to Lon­don, not re­al­is­ing we’d be trapped in a room from 7pm, drink­ing warm wine out of plas­tic tooth­mugs and speak­ing in whis­pers be­cause the ba­bies were fi­nally asleep. “We could take it in turns to go and have a drink in the bar?” I sug­gested. It wasn’t quite the hol­i­day at­mos­phere we’d hoped for. Self-cater­ing cot­tages were the an­swer. They re­mained the an­swer for sev­eral years. Wales, Devon, Scot­land… some­times in the sun, mostly in the rain, al­ways hav­ing a fun, if ex­haust­ing time. “I need an­other hol­i­day now,” was the usual re­frain on our re­turn, self-cater­ing hol­i­days be­ing re­ally quite hard work. They re­quire, of course, the usual chores – shop­ping, cook­ing, wash­ing up – but with­out any of one’s usual home com­forts (as­sum­ing you con­sider a wash­ing ma­chine, DVD player plus va­ri­ety of Dis­ney films, and a bed that’s ac­tu­ally wide enough for two peo­ple that aren’t hob­bits to be home com­forts).

A decade later, we have fi­nally started go­ing abroad again. The chil­dren are old enough to stay up as late as us. They’re old enough to spend a three­hour plane jour­ney im­mersed in a book, a film, or some un­in­tel­li­gi­ble game. They’re old enough to have in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions, to ar­gue their view­point and cel­e­brate vic­tory or con­cede de­feat with (mostly) good grace. They will load the dish­washer and make their beds. They love restau­rants as much as we do. They will play in the pool for an en­tire day, while I su­per­vise from a sun-lounger, slip­ping into the wa­ter only when it gets too hot. This is it! I can read books again! This is ev­ery­thing I’ve been wait­ing for! We have reached Op­ti­mum Fam­ily Hol­i­day Age.

Now the pres­sure’s on. By my cal­cu­la­tions we have ap­prox­i­mately five sum­mers left be­fore my happy, bid­dable chil­dren morph into gloom­ing, mono­syl­labic teens who sleep till sun­down, think Por­tu­gal is lame and mut­ter con­stantly why couldn’t I have gone to Ma­galuf like ev­ery­one else? Sorry, can’t stop – I need to get to the travel agency…n

ABOVE: This is ev­ery­thing I’ve been wait­ing for! We have reached Op­ti­mum Fam­ily Hol­i­day Age

Clare’s third novel Let Me Lie, pub­lished by Sphere, is out now. Book four is on its way!

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