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The Small Faces
a tribute



(Take Me) Spanish Caravan and Camping
by John Peters


We’ve barely started unpacking things in our new house when we’re packing again to go on holiday. This proves a little awkward as I don’t know where anything is and I can’t find any clothes to take, but there’s no room for them anyway once Oscar’s clobber has been loaded into the car. But what the hell, we’ve got the essentials- ferry tickets, passports and tent. We just hope it’s the right tent, because the new one and the holey one have both been stored in the In-laws’ garage, and they aren’t exactly sure which one’s which.

The night before we leave I stay up late making cassette tapes for all the family to sing along to in the car. I record the Beatles, Abba, nursery rhymes and an Easy Listening album featuring people like Andy Williams and Shirley Bassey. If I’d known I’d be doing this a couple of years ago I would have asked to be garrotted on the spot. But Oscar likes it when we all sing along, and - okay I admit it - I do kind of like this mush from my own childhood. And I’ve now got an excuse to buy it.

Oscar has a whale of a time on the ferry to Spain, particularly when he’s charging around the dance floor during the karaoke and disco. Despite the swell he holds his feet well and only falls over a couple of times, which is better than I normally manage on the dance floor. An older woman of two takes a shine to Oscar and tries to swap dummies with him but he comes over all shy despite my encouragement. She plays her cards all wrong though; it’s a big mistake to try and separate Oscar from his mimi.

In the restaurant we get chatting to a family with teenage children from Nottingham. One of the many ways in which parenthood transforms your life is that all of a sudden you become part of Family World again, after (in my case) an absence of nearly two decades. You find yourself talking to other parents from all walks of life because now you obviously have something in common with them.

In the case of the Nottingham family I feel a bit disorientated because the Dad has a moustache and is smoking a pipe (I’m sure he’s wearing slippers under the table), while his daughters are talking about their recent trip to Glastonbury Festival. Who am I supposed to relate to? I identify with the parents because I’m one too now, and to be honest I’m much nearer their age than the girls. But, as I tell the disbelieving teenagers, I used to go to Glastonbury, and I don’t smoke a pipe - not yet, anyway.
The Nottingham Mum says something that hasn’t crossed my mind before- I think you’re very brave camping with a toddler, we’d never have dared do it with ours. Stupid more like, offers Helen, who’s still not completely convinced that this venture isn’t foolhardy. I lie awake in my bunk that night thinking, are we being brave- or, as my pragmatic Other Half suggests, stupid?

A couple of days later, as I’m single - handedly assembling the tent in the gathering dusk, I’m beginning to belatedly see my wife’s point of view. We’ve spent a couple of relaxing (as far as you can relax with Oscar around) days hotelling it on the coast prior to heading up to the Picos de Europa to pitch camp. A Dad from Meriden, whose family are staying at the hotel, seems bemused (and, I like to think, slightly impressed) that we should want to forego twenty - first century beach side comforts for a stretch of canvass on top of a mountain. How long will it take to get there? he asks, as we’re setting off. Oh, about an hour-and-a-half, I reply confidently.

Five hours later we’re still sat in the car. Today, it transpires, is a national bank holiday, and every single Spanish man, woman, donkey and its Significant Other are celebrating the occasion by roasting in their cars on the Northern coast road. Oscar is amazingly good, entering into a slumbering state, like a lobster on ice, for most of the day. I wish I could but I’m driving, or at least trying to. The singsong holiday tapes are starting to grate and I turn the cassette player off mid - Waterloo. No more Abba! I snarl.

We finally escape the traffic, crawl up a long, narrow, winding gorge and make it at last to our destination. This would be great if we could find anywhere to stay but all the sites are full, so there’s nothing for it but to drive all the way back down the mountain again. Eventually we find a site with a vacant plot, the last one left in Continental Europe, and we’re very glad to take it. Even if we could have seen the giant ants’ nest hidden in the darkness, we would have taken it.

Despite the ants, the near hernia I sustain putting the tent up, the constant rain for two days, the five - mile trek to the toilet block and the hassle of sterilising milk bottles, camping turns out to be a great success. Even the wife admits as much after a couple of nights. Oscar is in paradise, living in a place full of people, tents, cars and bikes where there’s always something happening. Bight! Bight! He shouts as someone cycles past. Tactor! Tactor! He points out as the farmer goes by.

Spending a couple of weeks in the constant presence of our son is certainly demanding but rewarding too, and it feels like an honour to be able to spend so much time with him. We invent new games, like the mimi game where I persuade him to give me his dummy then suck on it so hard he can’t prise it from my mouth. And the rodeo game on the beach where he rides my tummy before finally being thrown off. He finds these games hilarious; and because he does, I do.

Having Oscar with us means we get to interact more with local people too. In Spanish society kids are totally integrated - they go everywhere with adults, at any time. Adults are always going up to kids and talking to them too, there’s none of the paranoia you get in Britain. This is one of the main reasons we came back to Spain, after having had a great time with Oscar the baby last year. Now he’s even learnt a Spanish word: Gakgak (Gracias).

Eating out isn’t a problem with Oscar in that he’s welcomed everywhere, but highchairs are very thin on the ground and he quite understandably resents being stuck in his pushchair throughout a whole meal. Because of this we end up eating in shifts when we go out, but more often than not we opt for cooking at the tent. This actually suits Helen better as she’s a veggie and so too is Oscar, by default, and vegetarianism isn’t a concept readily understood in Spain. You ask for a dish the waiter swears has no meat in it and it arrives not so much without as flavoured with bits of it. Whilst eating out in Spain is cheap, cooking for your self is even cheaper, and we probably spend less than we ever have done on holiday.

Oscar sleeps soundly at night, much better than in hotel rooms. I think he feels cocooned, like he’s back in the womb, in his own room. He even sleeps through an extremely loud rock concert one night that goes on until six in the morning and sounds like it’s going on inside the tent. By bedtime he’s exhausted after a whole day in the fresh air running wild. So are his parents, having spent a whole day in the fresh air running after Oscar.

I’d say this is the only real drawback to camping with a toddler. Last year, despite the rigmarole with feeding and interruptions at night, we could relax more because he couldn’t escape. Also, in a house or hotel there are walls to confine him, but in the great outdoors you have to be extra vigilant and constantly ready to run after him to stop him from getting into someone else’s tent or under the wheels of their car. The only "free" time we have is during his late morning nap, and after he’s gone to bed, by which time we’re too tired to do much else apart from have a nightcap and crash out ourselves. The usual mini- library we take with us has remained virtually untouched. Holidays aren’t what they used to be…

©John Peters 0920/00


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