Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Big Fat Family Holiday - I survived!

Well, the big fat family holiday is over and we are all back in our respective homes in Kent, Sussex and Wiltshire.  This is the first time I've ever holidayed in the UK, not entirely surprising for someone who had visited Australia before she ever went to Scotland. It's the first time I've been on holiday with my extended family. Would I do it again? You bet I would/wouldn't* (delete as applicable)

For reasons best known to myself, I had pictured sitting in the acre and a half  of gardens at the barn in the summer sunshine, a good book in one hand and an elderflower presse in the other while the children browned themselves gently on the beach.  The reality was far less pleasant. The West Country could easily have been renamed the Wettest Country with days of torrential rain and temperatures hardly out of single figures.  The 'narrow lanes' in the brochure proved to be a spaghetti bowl of windy, narrow byways with 8 foot high hedges on either side blocking out the views of the beautiful Devon countryside, light, oxygen, sanity.......  The barn was at the end of a particularly tortuous 5 mile one.  We all cheered when we pulled out of that lane for the last time. The road down to the beach required crampons and abseiling equipment.

Moira had spent the week babbling away happily, oblivious to the fact that she was directing us down cart tracks and no through roads. She suffered daily abuse but it didn't seem to dent her enthusiasm.

We visited the South Devon Chilli Farm to sample the Bhut Jolokia, one of the hottest chillis in the world. It was an experience akin to ironing your tongue. On the first and last days we did get onto the beach at Slapton Sands (no sand)  and Blackpool Sands (no sand) a lovely beach that was just a little too Boden Mummy meets Organic Mummy for my liking.  The children all seemed to be called Raphael and Xavier or Kitty and Tilly (or anything else ending in a 'y'), the mummies were all toned and missing their daily workout at the gym back home in Richmond, the dads fortunately couldn't get signals on their mobile phones so we were at least spared the loud twatcalls to the office. It did have a lovely beach cafe selling organic food but by the time you'd paid the £6 parking fee -  yes Dear Reader, £6. They didn't mention that little surprise in the tourist guides - there wasn't much left over.  We had only gone for lunch but having forked out £12 between us just to park I insisted we stayed there till sundown among the squalling children and fractious parents. 

I took The Boy and The Girl to Exeter for the day which was much more their thing to be honest. We live in the country so we don't really need to holiday there as well.  We munched delicious nachos in the sunshine at Giraffe, casually wondering about the man with the red hair who was wearing a ball gown, before they bankrupted me in Jack Wills. I loved Exeter. It has a nice vibe. I told The Boy he may go to University there.

Top holiday moments were both thanks to my parents.  "So what are these jalapeno things?" said my mother as she put a forkful in her mouth - I've never known her speechless for so long -  and the moment when my dad's false teeth fell out in the middle of dinner in a restaurant was not to be missed.

My top tips for family holiday survival in no particular order are:

1.  You're staycationing. It's not a hot country. Take a coat

2.  No dogs, not even  well behaved ones like my sister's. Dogs bark. They bark especially at 5am every morning and wake you up. They don't however, wake up their owners

3.  Jump leads are good - unless you carry distress flares of course. That way, if you have an unexpected flat battery you don't have to try and direct the breakdown services to an unknown location somewhere in South Devon. Imagine the scenario......

"This is ABC Breakdown, how may we help?"
"Er, I have a flat battery"

"OK, that's no problem we'll send someone to you as soon as possible. Where are you?" 


"Could you be a little more precise?"

"South Devon?"

"What is your nearest town?" Dartmouth, it's about 10 miles away"

"Village then?" 

"Well I think I passed a signpost a while back saying 'You are entering Little Aresendofnowhere, please drive carefully' a while back" 

"OK, can you give me a landmark"

"Can you give me a laddder?"


"Hedges, lots and lots of hedges. That's all I can see"

"OK, is there anything behind the hedges that might make it easier to find you?"

"Damned if I know. They are all about 8 feet high."

4.  All snorers should be forced to share a room, preferably in another holiday cottage a few miles away.Perhaps give them some hotel coupons.

5.  No dogs

6.  Take a map. Do no, repeat not, rely on Satellite Navigation. Sometimes progress isn't all it's cracked up to be

7.  Lush green countryside means one thing. Rain. Do not leave your vast collection of sudden unexpected rainshower-bought umbrellas at home resulting in the purchase of yet another (very expensive) umbrella

8.  Did I say no dogs?

9.  When renting a holiday cottage in Devon bear in mind that 'narrow lanes' actually means virtually impassible in the normal world.  Taking your car for a few practice laps round the maze at Hampton Court Palace is adviseable just to get you acclimatised.  Also, bear in mind that driving speed is directly proportional to the width of the road. The narrower it is, the faster they drive. An adrenalin injection is also adviseable to restart your heart after a Range Rover Sport narrowly avoids parking on your bonnet

10.  Don't forget to pack your sense of humour. You'll need it.

Our next trip (now already taken place due to Delayed Blogging Syndrome) is to visit The Husband in Bulgaria, where he has sold his soul to Hollyweird.  Watch this space......


auntiegwen said...

And I was conssidering Devon for next year, maybe I'll think again. I think you should have mentioned no dogs in your handy hints :)

Sarah said...

Glad you survived the family holiday.
Glad you liked Exeter too, that was where I went to university and had a lovely 4 years (well 3, one spent in Cairo) there. My mother went there recently and said it's changed quite a lot but mostly for the better.

Did you get to the Nobody Inn?

Steve said...

Or if you're going to staycation do it properly and stay at home. The food is reliable, the beds are clean and comfortable and you never feel like a fish out of water. Saves a tonne on petrol too. ;-)

the fly in the web said...

Mr. Fly's Belgian family had us firmly fixed as a staycation destination...they came, we stayed.
They provided us with some of our best holiday memories......the ton of spahetti found in a colander after elder son cooked dinner.....the two axe heads laid neatly on the wood pile after elder son....the collapse of table while being danced upon by ....

We had a great time with them...and they've already been to Costa Rica...but not en masse....yet.

I always thought there was something off putting about Devon...if it wasn't Something Nasty on the Moors it was Someone Nasty on the beaches...
Bulgaria has to have been better...did you see any of the old Soviet era hotels?

Wylye Girl said...

auntiegwen, oh no, did I forget to mention dogs? ;-)

Sarah, I've never been to Exeter before so I can't compare but it seemed really cosmopolitan but without the manic edge of some cities. Weather was great so that helped

Steve, I'm not about to start kidding myself that staying at home is any sort of holiday.... and the petrol was really, really cheap there too ;-)

Mac n' Janet said...

What we learned about traveling with family can be summed up in 1 sentence.....we travel better alone.

Trish @ Mum's Gone To ... said...

I love this! Brilliant writing. I remember Cornwall had similar scary winding roads. It was a long time ago but bloody hedges and walls: and I'm no good at estimating car width at the best of times.

Your Boden Family were also in Portugal with us: I had to laugh as that paragraph was so similar to my descriptions of the Beach Club Pool family we came across (if you didn't read it, it's the post where we were cheek to cheek with John Torode, no less).

projectforty said...

Having spent a weekend down a track in a converted mill in Devon/Cornwall/somewhereorother a couple of years ago, I decided that retirement would be much nicer in a medium-large market town with direct rail access to London or another major city. I, too, live in the country. I'm partial to a bit of glamping but won't stay in anything with walls that's got blunter knives and a smaller bin than my own.

Macy said...

My tip would be to choose your family carefully...

Wylye Girl said...

Fly, I see a definite theme developing there! Loved Bulgaria and the juxtaposition between the old Soviet era buildings and the new ultra modern, ultra lush ones

Mac n' Janet, I'm with you on that one

Trish, they get everywhere! Wait till you see who I'll be cheek to cheek with shortly!

Projectforty, that comment about knives and bins made me snort my coffee!

Macy, I fear it may already be too late!

Elaine said...

Glad to have you back, and good to hear that you survived the family holiday. Having holidayed many times in good old British 'summers' I have learned never to go without a raincoat, umbrella and wellie boots!
Earlier this summer I was in Cornwall - very similar scenario to Devon with narrow, narrow windy lanes and 8 ft high hedges! I'm told the countryside is beautiful. Just wish I could have seen some of it from the car.

Vera said...

Despite it all, you have survived! Remember that, and thanks for the, as ever, enjoyable blog!

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