The truth about kids on holiday

When the going gets tough...they rather enjoy it

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The Independent Online

Simple pleasures. According to VisitEngland, who have released a list of them just before our last Bank Holiday this summer, what most parents really like doing on a family holiday are things with an “old-world charm”. And quite a lot of calorific intake. In ascending order, the poll, taken from 2,000 parents, reveals that the top three holiday activities rated by mum and dad are as follows: picnicking in the Lakes, having tea in Devon, and eating fish and chips in Blackpool.

Very enjoyable activities they are too, only I fear that VisitEngland has rather cleverly skirted round the issue of the children of the 2,000 parents. For as we all know, simple pleasures that children desire on holiday are somewhat less straightforward than Pooh Sticks (number 17 on the list).

I am currently on holiday with my four offspring, and although they all like eating chips, and can be tempted by Pooh Sticks, what they really enjoy doing, no matter where they are in the world, is as follows: violent play with their siblings; competitive play, ditto; but above all else, shopping.

The idea of “going for a walk” for no particular purpose is a non-starter. Last year, I managed to get my lot around a six-mile Cornish walk by telling them that they were going on a treasure hunt. After an hour, the suspicions began to be aired. “Wot’s the treasure then?” they demanded. “Look about! It’s all around you,” I trilled. “The wonderful Cornish coastline is your treasure.” They stomped along in silence.

Of course I am as dictatorial as any parent, and essentially try to choose trips which interest me, shops or no shops. Once I took my lot as far as French Guyana, a hot, humid and scary place and former penal colony – and the setting for the film Papillon and the imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus (on Devil’s Island). This was a challenge. No hotels, no shops, no restaurants, no tourism to speak of, torrential rain and a lot of insects. Biting ones, too. Indeed, it was the moment when I was attacked by an enraged colony of large black ants that is the favoured memory. Was this due to Brechtian-style alienation working on our trip, or merely that in terms of simple pleasures, children rather relish seeing their mother suddenly rip off her trousers and hop up and down, slapping her behind with abandon?