(Take Me) Spanish Caravan and
by John Peters
Weve barely started unpacking things in our new house when were
packing again to go on holiday. This proves a little awkward as I dont
know where anything is and I cant find any clothes to take, but
theres no room for them anyway once Oscars clobber has been
loaded into the car. But what the hell, weve got the essentials-
ferry tickets, passports and tent. We just hope its the right tent,
because the new one and the holey one have both been stored in the In-laws
garage, and they arent exactly sure which ones 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 Id known Id 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 Ive now got an excuse
to buy it.
Oscar has a whale of a time on the ferry to Spain, particularly when hes
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; its 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 (Im sure hes
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 Im one too now, and to be
honest Im much nearer their age than the girls. But, as I tell the
disbelieving teenagers, I used to go to Glastonbury, and I dont
smoke a pipe - not yet, anyway.
The Nottingham Mum says something that hasnt crossed my mind before-
I think youre very brave camping with a toddler, wed never
have dared do it with ours. Stupid more like, offers Helen, whos
still not completely convinced that this venture isnt 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 Im single - handedly
assembling the tent in the gathering dusk, Im beginning to belatedly
see my wifes point of view. Weve 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 were
setting off. Oh, about an hour-and-a-half, I reply confidently.
Five hours later were 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 Im 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 theres 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 were very glad to take it. Even if we could have seen
the giant ants nest hidden in the darkness, we would have taken
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 theres 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
cant 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, theres 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 hes even learnt
a Spanish word: Gakgak (Gracias).
Eating out isnt a problem with Oscar in that hes
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 shes a veggie and so too is Oscar, by default,
and vegetarianism isnt 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 hes 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 its going on
inside the tent. By bedtime hes 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.
Id 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 couldnt 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 elses tent or under the wheels of
their car. The only "free" time we have is during his late
morning nap, and after hes gone to bed, by which time were
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 arent what they used to be
©John Peters 0920/00
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