Parenting: Dad Chris Howard on the highs and lows of half term breaks

It’s the five words parents dread on a long car journey: ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ Cambridge coast-walking dad Chris Howard attempts to pull off a four-hour non-stop drive to Wales with the family

Chris Howard and his girls on holiday
Chris Howard and his girls on holiday

Over the years we’ve made countless long journeys up and down the country or across the continent with all three cubs in the back being both bored and entertained in equal measure. I expect there’s a fine art to it and a guide to best practice but I can tell you now, we’ve perfected neither! Our most recent overland expedition has involved bundling down to Wales for Easter. Whilst not the longest journey ever it’s still nearly four hours cooped up in our family van trying to entertain/distract each other from the boredom of chewing up tarmac and watching fields whizz by.

I wonder if every dad is the same as me and thinks it best to go straight through without stopping? As I turn the ignition and pull off the drive it’s like a challenge in my head that we CAN and MUST make it to our destination without stopping. We’ve got fuel and snacks so why would we need to stop at the services? ‘Just so everyone can stretch out and break up the journey,’ my wife advises. It’s one of those really silly things - innate only to men perhaps- but actually I don’t see why it’s so vital to go straight through, as long as we don’t stop at every service station enroute and get there in good time, then it’s fine. ‘In good time? What does that even mean?!’ I scream at myself. . . sigh.

Not long after hitting the road the inevitable curiosity of Thing One, Thing Two and Youngest Thing collectively bombard us in the front. ‘Can I pick a song now?’ Youngest Thing requests. ‘Ooh ooh, We’re Six!’ (from Six The Musical) Thing Two chimes in. ‘Oh Daddy, what does Duh Huh La mean?’. Thankfully at this point my wife answers because I’ve no idea what I’m being asked as I’m concentrating on the road ahead and not being crushed by the big yellow and red juggernaut bearing left into our lane. “It’s like a parcel delivery service darling. . .” my wife explains and I suddenly twig, DHL.

‘Daddy I’m hungry!’ Thing Two says expectantly. A rustling sound comes from a bag in the footwell and my wife produces three apples, a bottle of water, some Peperami, rice cakes and a tub of pomegranate. As she distributes suitably healthy snacks, I think to myself that I was sure I put a pack of Oreos in the bag. We can use those later to distract them from needing the toilet and having to stop at the services. That way I can still ensure we go straight through! A small silent victory in my mind.

At about the halfway point we’re asked to play a game which normally ends up with a strange variation of eye spy but occasionally it involves guessing the Disney character. After approximately 1,400 guesses from everyone, Youngest Thing reveals her something coloured red as ‘the seat belt button clip thingy’. Glancing at the sat nav I can see we’re making great time and closing in on the final hour. I begin to think ‘we can really do this now; we can go straight through!’ Aah, I’m so happy.

Then comes the one unavoidable thing. ‘Mummy, Daddy, I need the toilet!’ It doesn’t matter which of the cubs says it, as soon as it’s escaped the lips it’s contagious and they all need the toilet. ‘There’s a pot or empty bottle here somewhere,’ I think to myself before my wife turns to me and says ‘Gloucester Services is coming up’. Dying a little inside, knowing the decision has already been made, I raise just one eyebrow and console myself with the fact that it is in fact the best services in the world and it could be worse.

We pull off and park up as the light of all that’s good in the world unveils something more akin to a health retreat than a motorway services. There’s the deli, the canteen restaurant, showers, small family lunch seating pods, great big beautiful open spaces with hanging oak beams and well thought out arrangements. It’s literally like we’ve arrived on holiday. Although of course we haven’t, but we might have if we’d gone straight through. ‘Next time Chris,’ I tell myself.

‘Oreos!’ Youngest Thing exclaims as we get back in the van. Oh well.

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