Mother and child revolution

Family travels: often there's a Great Wall between parents and their offspring. But Louise Jury and her mother enjoyed a cultural reunion on a trip to China
Click to follow
The Independent Online
You learn a lot about other people and their families when you announce you're going on holiday with your mum. Some friends express amazement that you could contemplate such a thing, as if the prospect of travel en famille appals them. Others appear impressed by such signs of parental pluckiness.

All that worried my mum was whether I could conceivably have a good time with her. "Are you sure?" she asked repeatedly. "Of course," I said - and we did.

The choice of trip was essential. We wanted it to be somewhere completely different from Britain, a holiday of a lifetime for someone who has had few opportunities to travel. But there were factors to bear in mind. We wanted to avoid places too hot, as my mum is a fair-skinned redhead and inclined to keel over in the sun. We preferred somewhere with ancient ruins and grand sights to keep us busy, rather than beaches and bars alone.

Although my mother is quite young, I contemplated some of the less comfortable journeys in my travel history and decided that some of them might not be appropriate in this particular case: overnight public bus trips half- way across Turkey, with the inevitable dodgy tummy and a bus driver inclined to let his hands wander all over you if you misguidedly sit behind him; a tiring journey to Auschwitz in a train with a failed heating system, one particularly freezing April.

My mum deserved a more conventionally enjoyable time than that, I thought. Missing a train and having to kip down in a station may be fine for the hardy traveller, but it was not the kind of ordeal I thought she should have to endure. And I wanted it to be something extra special for her, a holiday to enjoy and to remember.

Glancing through a selection of the brochures, I quickly ruled out some of the dodgy options. Egypt was slightly risky in the wake of Luxor and I've been there anyway. Sri Lanka, with temperatures rarely dipping under 80 degrees, was too hot. The people of Australia speak English (sort of) and most look much too Western. After a lot of thought and deliberation, we made up our minds. We plumped for China.

Although it is slowly opening up to the West, many seasoned adventurers of my acquaintance have not explored that far. Those who have been there spoke of the nightmares of Chinese bureaucracy for independent travellers. All things considered, joining an organised party seemed a good bet.

We were immediately welcomed into the arms of a group of people mostly in their 50s and 60s, with the odd honeymoon couple and widowed 71-year- old thrown in. Although most of them were couples, our mother and daughter combination fitted in perfectly.

And, as I anticipated, my mum and I got on just fine. The only conversation even approaching a dispute will be familiar to anyone who also has completely selfless and overly-reasonable parents. "What would you like to do?" I'd ask. "Oh, I don't mind, whatever you would like to do," Mum replies. "Well, we could do X, Y or Z." "Whatever you think, I'll fit in with you. It's all new to me," she says, wanting to be 100 per cent agreeable and totally reasonable. Just occasionally, I fancied banging my head against the wall under the pressure of the decision-making - and her wonderful niceness.

Yet, of course, as most of our schedule was packed with visiting Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the rest of China's innumerable treasures, this slight note of disharmony mattered not at all as we spent our time revelling in the sights of the China experience.

The itinerary often started with leaving the hotel at 8.30am and not returning before 9.30pm or 10pm, just the kind of schedule we wanted in a country we might never return to.

So my mum and I puffed our way to a high point on the Great Wall, where she took in the view, and I decided to trek a little further to where the restoration runs out and the wall begins to crumble. We bartered for matching "I've Been To The Great Wall of China" T-shirts, hers in English, mine, for the hell of it, in Chinese.

In Shanghai, she looked alarmed as I clambered on to the high harbour wall to take a picture of the front. At the sight of the Terracotta Warriors at Xian we both gazed in stunned amazement at the massed ranks of life- size clay soldiers. In Suzhou, a beautiful town of gardens and canals, we collapsed in hysterical giggles as two elderly Chinese women tried to sell us hideous live and wriggling shrimp-like things. Back in Beijing, we caught a cab downtown together for a well-deserved, and enjoyable, night out with the locals.

My mum says she would never have thought of going to China on her own, so was thrilled when I suggested we go. It was even better that I took all the hassle of making the arrangements out of her hands (not as selfless as it seems as I have done far more travelling than she has): "It was great, because you looked after me and did everything," she says.

Which, I'm afraid to say, is a very easy thing to do when your mum's as lovely as mine is.

Louise Jury and her mother paid pounds 1,495 each through Travelsphere Holidays (01858 410456) for two weeks in China. The price included transport, accommodation (mainly four-star hotels), meals and guided tours, and a visit to the Peking Opera.