The summer holidays begin full of promise, as ever. Karen has loads of ideas. It’s only when she begins to take her four kids on outings that she remembers everywhere is (a) crowded (b) expensive (c) leads to whining from at least three of them. Nothing ever changes.
Karen is a newly single mum from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. She has one daughter and three sons.
At nearly 11, Charlotte is the eldest so she whines loudest and longest. Damon is 9 and his speciality this summer is sulking.
They go to Wales for a few days to a friend’s cottage, the cheapest family holiday Karen can think of. It’s a long drive in the ancient Toyota, with plenty of time for daydreaming. What might it be like to go off to the Gower for a mini-break with a nice man?
Her reverie is broken by the youngest who wants to be sick, so they stop by the side of the road. Edward aims most of it into the plastic bag she holds out for him, but inevitably a few blobs fall onto Charlotte’s new pink T-shirt.
“Eeuw!” shrieks Charlotte, even though there are several spare pink sequinned T-shirts in the boot. At the moment everything she owns, whether it’s clothing, a pencil case, or her duvet cover, has to be pink and have sequins.
Karen is concerned for the next mile or two in case there’s more vomiting but she needn’t worry. In less than five minutes, Edward pipes up “I want salt and vinegar crisps!”
When they get there, they find acres of soft white sand, perfect for jogging off excess fat, building sandcastles, and losing young children. There’s a moment or two on every holiday when Edward can’t be found. For a four-year old, he can go a long way in just seconds. Ashley, being a year older, is infinitely wiser and spends his time searching the sands for buried treasure. He’s sure there are shipwrecks around here, and he’s determined to find gold coins for his mum. “Cos we need more money, don’t we?”
Treasure hasn’t been found in Rhossili Bay since about 1834, but that doesn’t stop people looking. Karen is pleased to see her children so happy, even if Charlotte is channelling Lolita in her pink sparkly swimsuit. Only Damon, sitting hunched in the depths of his hoodie, hasn’t got into the beach thing yet.
They stay in Wales four days in all, during which Edward behaves and doesn’t try to run off again. Karen feels a mite guilty for threatening that big red dragons would get him, but at least he’s stopped having nightmares about them.
They return to London with a carful of sand, a carrier bag loaded with shells, and couple of pieces of driftwood. Now the children are playing nicely in the garden. Correction: the younger boys are playing while Charlotte is on the phone to her new best friend Belinda, and Damon sulks under a tree.
Karen is about to ask Damon what’s wrong when she sees he isn’t sulking. He’s reading! An actual book! With pages and words and everything! This has never happened before, so it’s quite a turn-up for the books. Literally.
Now Ashley is crying because Edward has peed into his toy wheelbarrow. When Karen tells Edward off, he says he thought it was a toilet.
“Rubbish” says Karen, even though it does look a bit like a loo.
It’s now the last week of the holidays and it can’t be put off any longer. Buying school uniform and such is a hassle. They have to contend with umpteen other families looking for shoes that fit, while shop assistants try to fob people off with insoles. Karen steels herself for Charlotte’s inevitable hissy fit when she realises she can’t have pink heels with rhinestones.
But maybe some things do change, thinks Karen, because this year Charlotte falls in love with shoes that come straight from the pages of an orthopaedic footwear catalogue. Apparently they’re just like the ones her best friend Belinda has.
Back in the car with the shopping (and the sand, shells, and driftwood), Ashley says “You know what, Mummy? When it’s school-time I want it to be the holidays, but when it’s holidays I want it to be school-time.”
She smiles and knows exactly what he means.