A chance to enjoy some quality time with your partner and children, clocking up 8,000 miles on a UK tour – with free accommodation and a huge amount of attractions thrown in, all financed by a leading guide book publisher? What’s not to like?
When I saw the remit for Ben Hatch’s Are We Nearly There Yet? I felt quite jealous. But within a couple of chapters I was pretty much thankful it was Ben, wife Dinah and pre-school children Phoebe and Charlie on this mammoth trip, rather than me. For once the reality of the undertaking sinks in, you know this is no picnic – however many free hotel stays, meals and tourist spots are thrown in en route. If the planning was something of a logistical nightmare, the actual tour proves even more sobering.
And just reading Hatch’s account of his family adventure to end all family adventures leaves you feeling drained.
Whether it was opportunism twinned with financial necessity, a spirit of wanderlust or devil-may-care, or just midlife-crisis-with-children that drove the Hatch grown-ups to take on this venture is open to question. But it certainly proved timely, not least with their daughter starting ‘big school’ on their return – the offer to write a British family tour guide for US publisher Frommer’s giving the Hatch clan a golden chance to bond before the reality of September to July school terms kicked in.
Whatever the case, it certainly proved a huge undertaking for a couple who met as regional journalists 20 years before. At times we’re witness to something of a learning curve for these rookie parents, from the moment they leave their East Sussex coastal home in a jam-packed (and soon smelly) Vauxhall Astra to travel the length and breadth of the UK in the name of family leisure time research.
There are certainly useful illustrations of how much children will get away with in trying circumstances. There are occasional victories for the grown-ups, but it’s mostly the kids who rule the roost – exploiting a situation where parents feel guilty for dragging them around such a tortuous circuit – demanding treats by the bucket and spade-load as they move from village to town and city and obscure museum to open-top bus and theme park.
Let’s not get too sociological about it though, even if social scientists could learn a lot through this rather unorthodox case study. We can just be thankful we weren’t there and instead enjoy the tragic-comedy of the journey for ourselves. In short, it’s bloody funny in several places for one reason or other. Often painfully funny.
It’s the author’s delivery that makes it so good, as you might expect from a son of one of the leading lights of British radio comedy – Sir David Hatch. He’s clearly picked up something along the way from his old man, be it through his reportage of the people and places he meets or the everyday vignettes of family life he records.
At times Hatch displays a taste for comic travelogue reminiscent of Bill Bryson or Michael Palin, but there’s a deeper side too, and it soon becomes clear that this is every bit as much a tribute to the author’s father. Along the way are reminiscences of past family holidays, or reminders of his father’s flagging health and battle with cancer via phone calls from the family or emergency trips to his bedside.
This is perhaps the main strength of Are We Nearly There Yet?- the touching anecdotes dealing with a dying parent something many of us can identify with. And Hatch expresses with skill his gratitude for all the good times and a public thank you for a healthy father-son relationship over the years.
One moment the author has you in stitches – a case in point a description of a Scottish family holiday in which his Dad loses his competitive rag while playing golf with his sons – and the next you feel for him as the true nature of the illness is realised – be it in a hospital ward or at the end of a phone.
Hatch may yet have a better book in him, but it’s unlikely to be as raw and personal, and there is plenty to savour here. And I for one look forward to the fruits of his next major road trip, his 2012 European tour – again with his wife and children in tow.
* Are We Nearly There Yet? By Ben Hatch (Summersdale, 2011) is available from all good book shops, amazon.co.uk and other leading internet stores