My parents always made sure we had at least one week away every year. Long before air travel and foreign holidays became in reach of the common people our chosen destinations would be limited to South Wales, Devon or even as far as Ireland or the Isle of White.
My earliest memory of a summer holiday was the annual day trip to Blackpool. My granddad was the treasurer for a local fishing club, and each year the club would pay for the children of the members to join them on a day out to the bright lights of northeast England. We would all climb aboard a large coach, and as we entered the vehicle we would be handed a goody bag and some pocket money to spend at the UK’s poor cousin to Vegas. I am still amazed how, as children we could make a plastic bag full of ‘half penny’ chews, ‘sherbet dips’, liquorice sticks and 'refreshers' last the full 4-hour journey from the Midlands, and then manage to make the $2 pocket money last the whole day at the pleasure beach, although admittedly we could never make it stretch far enough to pay for a go on the bumper cars!
The rest of my youth was spent in damp caravans, chalets (a name invented by Butlins for a garage with windows and a door!), tents and even a farmhouse in Ireland. The weather was almost as changeable as accommodation, from glorious baking sunshine that would burn my younger brothers ears, to continuous rain that hammered down on the caravan roof like falling meteorites.
Entertainment was the beach, crap cabaret, the beach, penny arcades that used to pay your winnings in tickets tokens rather than cash (which you then exchanged for really naff gifts at the end of your stay), and the beach. Or if you were very unlucky and the rain didn’t subside, you would try desperately to tune the black and white TV to the 3 available channels in the vain hope you may be able to see Blue Peter through the snow storm interference, and if you were very, very unlucky - having to play monopoly, scrabble or cards with you parents.
My fondest memories are of my dad letting me sit on his lap and drive his green Austin Princess (Registration COX 613V if anyone knows its whereabouts I would be interested) on the beach at the age of 8 or so.
Sand so hot it would literally burn the skin off your feet and make you dance like a demented sand crab. Sitting in cabaret rooms with a glass of dandelion and burdock and a pack of Smiths Salt & Shake, while Ted Rogers called Bingo numbers out then talantless shows dragged on the rest of the night, and spending hours and hours of glorious fun on the beach with my brother, getting into trouble, getting lost, getting buried and most importantly getting out of our dads way. So why am I reminiscing all of these obscure memories and tedious experiences? Well as you may have guessed I am writing this BLOG whilst sitting on yet another plane, this time returning from our annual family vacation. Two weeks with my two young children, who along with me are extremely fortunate to travel to places I had never heard of when I was young – come to think of it, I don’t think my A’ Level Geography teacher, would have heard of half of them!
Living in Asia opens airplane doors to exotic and tropical sounding places, from shanghai we are in an Olympic stones throw of Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, The Philippines, and Thailand to name but a few.Take my daughter Alex, at 6 years old, she has visited all of the usual UK holiday spots, Cornwall, Norfolk, South Wales etc. and she has also been to some pretty exotic ones; Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Lankawi, and is just finishing two weeks in Singapore and Bali – she has more Visa stamps in her passport than James Bond, my son who is now 10 years old has even more than her. They both lead extremely privileged childhoods, I don’t have enough allotted BLOG space to list all of the toys and electrical gadgetry they have, or the thousand and one TV channels at their disposal, the TV’s, DVD’s, Computers, and games systems under their control (most of which gets packed into our suitcase along with the non-universal charges).
So when at the end of our two-week, twin island adventure you ask what did they enjoy most? Your eyes widen and your heart races as they spend seconds and then minutes to provide you with an answer. All that planning and investigation, altering you adult plans to ensure that the hotel isn’t too grand, the food too rich or exotic, and the tourism trips too long or boring for them, the time spent searching for cool things to do, hours in ‘gift’ shops buying another cuddly scorpion or anteater. Paying extra for flights that fall into sleep patterns and limiting your self to just one change of clothes because your baggage allowance has been taken up with DS, PSP, Wii, eePC, ABC, BCD chargers. All of this aimed to try and reduce your stress levels, and keep the children entertained, fed, watered and hopefully get yourself back into their good books after months of working late and crying into your Blackberry every night, rather than reading them a good night story.
You realise you have given them so many choices over the last couple of weeks, will they choose the incredible Singapore Zoo, the magical night safari, the excitement of swimming with sharks (inadvertently), inspirational visits to ancient temples and witnessing a ceremonial Indonesian cremation, viewing volcanoes and rain forests, island archipelagos from the airplane windows, playing in their own private swimming pool, eating dinner as the sun went down, whilst the sea lapped at their toes at a beach side restaurant, maybe it would be the time they laughed uncontrollably as their father unceremoniously attempt to mount a floating, inflatable sun bed, which one hit would hit the spot? Which experiences will they decide made their holiday? Perhaps the decision was too difficult so I offer them a Top 5 option. So after some debate between them the answers;
1. Ben 10 (Carton Character)
2. Monster Hunter Freedom 2 (PSP Game)
4. Aero’s (Cadburys chocolate bar)
5. Staying up late!
Now don’t get me wrong, I am old and wise enough to realise that the temples and funeral service cant compete with the Disney Channel, but I had hoped some of our other excursions would have at least made the top 5 – we waded in the turquoise blue Indian ocean with 5 foot wild reef sharks for Christ sake, we watched as wild baboons shoved their big red assess into our faces, and we even drove (unwisely) down mountain passes in a knackered old Suzuki APV to find untouched, unspoiled and unpopulated beaches – drives so scary that even the blondest dumbest Aussie surfer wouldn’t dare traverse to catch the a ‘radical’ wave.
I found myself encouraging them to answer how I wanted them to answer, a top 5 that included spiritual, emotional and evangelical experiences, they seemed bemused at my suggestions.
So now as I sit here on my way back to 237 un-opened emails, 40c degree heat, the Olympics and a moody dog, I try to put some logic into why they answered in the way they did. I guess its obvious really, how can a lush tropical Forrest hugging an enormous volcanic calderas, compete with a boy who can change into monsters and aliens? Or how can a barren, wild and deserted golden sand beach beat the graphics, sound effects and monster splitting, head ripping, gut disembowelling joy of the latest PSP game? The truth is they can’t, well at least not to children brought up with international travel as a given, 3 dimensional aliens as role models, and food that tastes the same and is delivered within 30 seconds of ordering – anywhere in the world, it can’t.
Our children (mine at least) spend half of their lives living in a world where you dodge laser gun totting aliens, race around the streets of San Francisco in a Ferrari at over 200mph, Google earth your way into the Queens Bathroom, and can choose the same pre-prepared, pre-packaged processed meal from every street corner, stretch of sand, mountain pass or third world village fast food outlet.
Real life, real food, real culture, real experiences, real tastes, real sounds, real sights have been replaced by a better than, much improved, series 2 world, that comes in a shiny box with a multi-voltage adapter. I guess I should end the BLOG by saying –“give me the damp tin tube in rainy Tenby, or the bag of swizlers and Blackpool, those were the days” But I wont, because despite my children’s Top 5, I still had a fantastic, memorable, anecdote creating, relaxing and spiritual awakening experience that was nearly as good as the effects in the new Iron Man film!