Regular followers of my blog will know that last week we had the bright idea of spending four nights away in our caravan. Our stay followed on from Dave’s parent’s holiday, so the caravan was already set up at a picturesque campsite in North Norfolk. That sounds like a great start, doesn’t it? The van had been cleaned out and tidied ready, no faffing with the awning in the middle of a boiling hot day, just turn up, unpack the (crammed full) car, make a cuppa and relax in beautiful surroundings where our angelic children would not dare to stray out of the imaginary 3 metre perimeter line surrounding our pitch.
Let’s just rewind a few hours, say 8 or so, from our arrival at the campsite. I was awoken (at the crack of dawn-no mean feat in July) by William. William had decided to make himself ‘holiday ready’ by drawing blue spots all over himself (forehead included) using nothing less than a sharpie which he had gone downstairs and acquired with the help of his trusty wooden chair. “I’ve got blue chickenpox” he proclaimed, with a massive grin on his face. In my head I was uttering all manner of profanities, but out loud (given that I was bleary eyed) all I could muster was “you’d better fetch the wipes”. We attempted to remove as much of the blue as we could (‘we’ included his ever loyal little sister, who wanted to keep her big brother out of trouble). At the point where baby wipes can remove permanent marker from skin, you do begin to wonder about their effect on delicate baby skin, but I was pretty grateful that they were able to fade bright blue to a slightly more muted tone. Anyway, first disaster kind of overcome, I went downstairs, finished ironing and packing (yawn) and gave Jess her dose of travel sickness medication. This was essential as we’ve had more than our fair share of trips ruined by vomit. However, the medicine also acted as a sedative, which meant that she slept all the flipping way in the car but was in full on party mode at bedtime.
Mid afternoon we arrived at the campsite and met up with Nana and Grandad, who’d decided to treat the children to a ‘caravan toy’ each. Jess got some soft balls, which she promptly lost under the caravan (and which we spent most of the holiday retrieving using a spare awning pole). William’s present however was the stuff of nightmares. What else could a boisterous 4 year old want more in a confined space than a catapult. Yes, really, a catapult. Not just any catapult either, it was one that shot water bombs. “Superb!” I thought, whilst remaining enthusiastic about his efforts, and trying not to laugh when he pinged it the wrong way at shot it at himself. Nana and Grandad left us to enjoy these wonderful toys and commenced their long journey home. Our thoughts then turned to tea. I, in my attempt to be a super organised domestic goddess, had planned to make corned beef hash. I’d steamed the potatoes the night before and refrigerated them, packing them carefully in a cool bag so that all we had to do was add the other ingredients for a quick tea. There was a small spanner in the works, or rather lack of, as we had no means of connecting the gas in the caravan. Dave suggested abandoning my plan and finding a fish and chip shop. I stupidly agreed. I say stupidly because it was a very sunny Sunday night in the school summer holidays in a tourist hot spot. We drove for miles, past lines of people queuing up streets out of the doorway of every single chippy. You could have cut the air with a knife as we accepted that fish and chips were one thing definitely not on the menu. Feeling dejected, we returned to the caravan and settled for the next best thing to fish and chips, which was Dairylea on toast.
After our banquet we set to work assembling the bunk bed. For weeks, William had been telling anyone who would listen that he had a bunk bed in the new caravan and he was sleeping on the bottom and Jess was sleeping on the top. He was ridiculously excited, up until the point where he actually got onto the bunk and announced he was scared. We tried bribes and persuasion (“of course I’ll be your catapult target tomorrow”) but he wasn’t having it so rapid packing away of the bunk commenced. The bottom bunk was about 7 feet long, so we put pillows at each end so the kids could share. I began the usual bedtime routine, because I was feeling confident that this year would be different, and the children would be asleep in their beds in the caravan after an idyllic hot milk and story and songs session snuggled up under one of my crocheted blankets. Yeah right. After two stories each, plus my whole repertoire of songs, there was no sign of even the smallest yawn from either of them. Dave (who was adamant that his idea of taking them out for a drive until they both fell asleep was better) refrained from saying “I told you so” (he really wanted to) and helped to put the curtain across their end of the van. Out of sight, out of mind does not apply to hyperactive children in a caravan at 9pm. They eventually gave in, but it was far too late for us to indulge in our usual cider and playing cards session in the awning so we gave in and went to sleep too. After all, the children falling asleep later is no guarantee of them having a lie in.
Morning arrived far too quickly, with William bounding onto my bed (as much as you can bound in a caravan) and announcing that he could “feel a poo”. Everyone knows that caravan toilets are not for number twos, so I threw on some clothes and took him over to the (thankfully quite close) toilet block. It had the usual large amount of early morning traffic but there was a spare cubicle so I sent him in. A couple of minutes passed, with me loitering outside the door, when a rather loud and proud voice announced “I just did a wee and a poo at the same time”. Awesome. Luckily the other campers were amused by this little gem, whilst I failed miserably to pretend he wasn’t with me. We returned to the caravan, past the van selling bacon baps (which William was very keen on visiting), where Jess was awake but Daddy was not. I decided to leave him in peace and feed them their first breakfast (my children have the eating habits of Hobbits and I knew very well that a second breakfast would be on the cards before we could go anywhere). All went well, ish, no major arguments and I even managed a cuppa whilst it was still hot. However, Daddy was still asleep when we finished so we decided to have a play with the catapult. I drew a target on a piece of cereal box and set it up and we learned about aim. This seemed like a bright idea, until he started aiming at Jess. I may as well have attached the target to her, but being bonkers she just went along with it and they were both having a whale of a time. A very noisy whale of a time which woke Daddy up, but never mind, we were on holiday.
We set off out for the day, enjoying a quick trip to the beach and a leisurely fish and chip lunch at a restaurant (we got there early to avoid the queues) before heading to Blickling Hall, a National Trust property. When we arrived a very enthusiastic lady told us all about the dressing up area where you could take a photo in front of a grand backdrop as a memento of your day. “Fantastic, great photos for grandparents” we thought, and headed that way at the end of the tour of the house, during which the children managed to behave in a semi-civilised fashion. The children loved trying things on and in the end plumped for a knight’s costume (complete with sword) and a flowery hat and necklace combo. They actually looked quite cute, and we waited for our turn to use the photography area. Quite a lot of shots later we determined that our children weren’t very ‘National Trust’ and decided that the natural finger-up-the-nose-and-slightly-crazy-cheesy-grin photos were the ones grandparents loved best anyway. We vacated the house and returned for the caravan for yet another tea consisting of Dairylea on toast.
Bedtime round two followed and I conceded defeat and went along with Dave’s plan of driving until they slept. This also meant one of my favourite parts of holiday; sunset walks on the beach with the family and some wonderful photograph opportunities (of nature, not the kids, I’d had quite enough of that for one day!) We headed to a shingle beach and whilst Dave did the dad thing with his super duper posh camera, I took the kids for a walk. The beach, however, had other ideas and was steeper than I had remembered. Being a big kid at heart, I decided we should slide down the shingle bank. The experience was quite exhilarating and the three of us had a wonderful time, whilst Dave was silently laughing about how we would get back up (it’s ok, I’ve watched Bear Grylls, I know how to climb, kind of). We decided we’d worn the kids out enough and got back in the car, and sure enough within a few minutes they were asleep. Operation Carry Them In Ninja Style worked and they were both tucked up with no fuss. We were winning!
Day 3 of holiday, and yet again I was woken up by William and his toileting needs. He offered to go to the toilet block alone as ‘he had a map’ but I felt it was best to accompany him the 50m or so, even though I’d have loved to stay in bed for a bit longer. Today we decided to go to a Maize Maze. It looked like the perfect day out, a maze, picnic area and a tonne of play activities (including my favourite bouncing pillows!) We started with the maze, where you had to go and get stamps on a little piece of paper and rehash the letters to make a word. After about 3 letters, and getting lost a few times, we worked out the word was ‘meteorite’ (no idea what the heck that has to do with maize but that was the word). However, William decided he had tired legs, Jess cried about something or other and demanded to be carried and we all felt hot and a bit grumpy as the maze was just enormous. Dave tried to persuade us that this was fun, whilst I contemplated returning to the ‘E’ stamping station and just doing 3 of them so we could get out of there quicker. However, I also believe in the saying ‘cheats never prosper’ and so we carried on properly. Eventually we made our way out, and settled down for our picnic whilst I made a mental note that next year we will not visit any mazes. After lunch we queued up for the tractor ride. I thought this looked like a great fun activity, whilst Dave said he’d wait for us on the hay bale mountain and waved us off. I thought he had an ulterior motive (either he wanted to play on the hay bales or he was going to get a secret ice cream without the children seeing). Shortly after our ‘tractor’ with several barrels acting as trailers following it entered the maize I discovered why he had left us to it. Several days of dry weather meant that the tractor threw up unavoidable dust clouds, all over us. Not only did it stick beautifully to our freshly applied sunscreen, it went in our hair and covered our clothes. Dave, looking rather too clean for my liking, smiled smugly as we emerged looking as if we’d rolled in the mud. Apparently he’d seen what happened as the previous tractor ride went (I was in the toilets, with William, as usual). On the way out we collected our reward for completing the maze from hell, it was a lolly and a temporary tattoo. Perfect, what more could mud covered children need for the car journey home than a sticky lolly?
The mud/dust/lolly meant only one thing-shower time. Fortunately our site had a family shower room so we could operate a child washing conveyor belt type system. What made it more challenging, like a game from The Cube, was that we were against the clock thanks to the 3 minute shower tokens. Sensibly, we took a couple in there with us as the children were filthy. And so it began, because adding to the challenge was the fact that our children have perfected the art of screaming like banshees when they come into contact with shower water. Baths are fine, showers are definitely not. What made the whole experience even more awesome was the location of the shower room. It was separated from the washing up sinks by a very thin wall. I refrained from yelling to the people washing up that the children were merely being cleaned and not actually tortured, but I was decided to focus on catching them and trying to get them under the actual shower. I (ambitiously) decided to use my 3 minute miracle conditioner whilst sorting the kids so it had plenty of time to soak. Just as I was about to rinse it off, I heard the dreaded click-the last shower token had run out. I had to, rather inelegantly, get my head under the sink tap to rinse out my conditioner. No one ever said camping was glamorous anyway.
After the showers we still went for our evening beach and rockpool walk and sleepy drive, and again were very successful in getting them to sleep without arguments. Our rockpooling exploits were less successful as all we found was a dead crab, which I proudly photographed before Dave informed me it was very still because it was no longer living. We took a different route back to the campsite that night, and it looked rather beautiful as we looked up the hill and saw it in a haze of barbecue and campfire smoke with the sun setting behind it. The smell as we pulled up made me want to light our own campfire but it was not to be, mainly because I just wanted to sleep after the shower trauma.
In the morning it was time to do a few jobs, like fetching more water. This is William’s domain-he really loves the responsibility of using the water roller to pull it back to the caravan, and it makes him feel like he’s super strong. Then we told the kids where we were going that day. We’d kept it as a surprise for them for the last full day-we were going to the Dinosaur Park! Even though it was raining we were all in an awesome mood because Dave and I had been looking forward to it for a few weeks. Once there, we went on yet another ‘finding all the stamps for the leaflet’ mission, and again it was flipping hard work. But we also managed to recreate a family photo which we took two years ago by the same dinosaur which was quite sweet. Other than that our day in the park was quite relaxed and fun, both children loved all of the play areas (I’m sensing a play area theme to this holiday). The journey home, however, was a bit more challenging. Feeling really confident about my sense of direction I chose not to load the sat nav on my phone. After a little while we realised that nothing we drove wast was familiar looking, and then saw a sign which indicated that we definitely weren’t heading for the coast. Apparently my geography degree did not come with in built sat nav. Whoops. Luckily, because we’d had such a nice day, we were able to laugh about my misdemeanour and decided to use the proper map, which got us back to the campsite just in time for tea. We had Dairylea sandwiches for a change.
That night’s driving mission failed and the children were still wide awake, mainly because they’d slept on our accidentally too long journey home from the Dinosaur Park. For one night only we manged the ‘perfect’ putting to bed (albeit 2 hours later than at home), with the story and the songs and the blanket. (I knew it would work eventually.) It was our last night, and finally we got our chance to sit out in the awning and chill out with the playing cards, taking in the relaxed atmosphere of the campsite and drinking cider (I didn’t end up with 10 cards in Gin Rummy this year either).
Despite all of the little things that went wrong, the shower hell and lack of cooking facilities (I will ever eat Dairylea on toast again), we had the best time and felt surprisingly sad as we packed it all away in the morning. We did the usual last day of holiday thing of wishing we had one more day, but sadly Dave had to go back to work. I can’t wait for next time, it may not be a glamorous holiday but the kids got so much out of it and it’s lovely to be able to do things you can’t do at home-even the trip to the bins feels like an adventure to them! For now though, I’m still knee deep in post holiday washing. I’m struggling to find a positive in that…