Last night I went to the theatre: The Lowry Salford to watch ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’. I received an email from The Wife in the morning to inform me she would like to attend the play, and there was only three days left in the run. She added, ‘I was going to buy you tickets for this for Christmas, but I didn’t get around to it!’ So it was left to me to sort it, and to be honest, I wasn’t that bothered having read the book twice, the second time to teach it to two English classes. I couldn’t really see how the play would not just be a rehashing of the book in a condensed form. The first surprise I had was the price of the tickets: £44 each! ($66!) This is when the first dilemma hit me and one I was to be interrogated on just as the boom of lights and sound system of the play exploded – there was no curtain.
“How much were the tickets?” the casual enquiry from The Wife.
“£44 quid each.”
“What! Do you mean £44 all together?”
“No, I mean £88 all together.”
“If I knew it was going to be that expensive I’d have told you not to have bothered.”
“That’s where I had a the dilemma. I did not want to be accused of being a ‘tight Yorkshire Get.’ ” She gives me a quizzical look and I believed in my mind she was deep in retrospection to all the times she has called me ‘a tight Yorkshire Git/Get.’ With money and The Wife it is not long before little adages such as the one last night appear. “Oh well, you can’t take it with you.” Then she is deep in thought and I think she is about to supplement her adage with another stock one, but, “They’re bloody expensive, but you would spend that on a football match I bet?” I go quite, silent condemnation. I try not to tell her the price of football tickets; it would no one any good apart from players on wage day.
“I hope it is good for that money. Clare’s sister said the second half was good.”
“What about the first half?”
“She slept all the way through it.” (Put your own exclamation mark in.)
“So the second half was better than when she was asleep in the middle of seventeen hundred people?” She ignores my comment.
“Clare enjoyed it.”
“Did she sleep through any of it?” She looks at me like I’m being sarcastic. “No, course not.”
“Just her sister snoring away.”
The play started, but not before I had explained the pricing structure of the tiers in the theatre. I’d only managed to get these tickets as someone had rung through and cancelled just before I contacted the theatre, which saved me further financial accusation of non-prudency.
The play is amazing. It is worth watching for the post-modern computer-projector-LED wizardry inside the space age cube set and stage direction alone. What I thought would be a bit of a slog, shot by. I recommend the over-priced tickets, maybe as a treat, for say, a Christmas present to yourself.
We had parked the car on a side street in Salford Quays. I knew full well that you needed a parking permit and informed the The Wife so as we parked up. She was more concerned about not getting stuck in the traffic leaving the car park. The inevitable happened. Add another £35 to the night out and the hassle of paying it, something I visualised as a Christmas present to myself to alleviate the stress as I did so. There’s always a moral, or at least a lesson to be learnt, or several in this case, the main one being: Don’t buy your own Christmas presents, Christmas is expensive enough as it is!
The area of the blog that always attracts the most comment is always religion, and always from the religious, atheists don’t seem to be bothered, but the religious go out of their way to defend ‘their’ religion. I don’t want to get into that again. The second area that unusually attracted the most comment was when I very briefly mentioned our family gap year. Marking the dwarf in the football blog received a few enquiries and I will enlighten you with that story at some point, but I know a lot of people don’t like football full stop.
The blog in question was about being middle class, the one thing I wanted to be when I grew up (present tense now), not for the money, for the knowledgeable enlightenment–maybe in the next reincarnation! Without repeating myself, people could be divided into two groups; those ‘conservative’ ones that were concerned about the children’s education–and how on earth would they be educated away from the marvellous status quo of the English education system. To these I would have said: “No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land,” but I did not know that Hellen Keller quote then, instead I just thought, ‘so they don’t turn out as scared and as trapped as you are.’ Then there was the others, ‘you lucky bastards group’, that openly proclaimed they were green with jealousy. Fortunately both the schools of the children granted their blessings, but we’d have gone anyway.
On the education issue, when we set off The Girl (Y4) was eight and The Boy (Y8) was twelve. They were both made to read every day, complete a journal and The Girl had to do maths (plural my American friends) as well, which she needed boosting in, ‘intervention’ as they say in the teaching game. I would be lying if I said they did this every day, but they always made up for any missing work. When we set off The Boy would have to be tortured and bribed to read – not allowed a Playstation until he could read up to his chronological age, which at the time was eight–this would be a sure fire way to boost the reading ages of the developed world, especially of boys if all parents implemented this. At one point we paid him 2p/page to read last thing at night: ‘come feed the brain, tuppence a page, tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a page!’ On many occasions in remote areas and late at night there was little else to do apart from games and talking. I will say BBC World News was always welcomed however depressing, so ‘The Boy’ defaulted to reading books, at the start he was being forced to read easy books like Horowitz’s Stormbreaker series, by the end he was devouring grown-up novels and had to be prized away from his tomes so we could switch the light off to slumber. So on the education front his reading age advanced about three years within less than a year and ‘The Girl’ came back conversant in her times-tables.
A study out of America a few years ago claimed that one of the reasons why middle class kids do better than working class ones is because in the long summer holidays they get taken to museums and on foreign holidays. On that premise the children had a lifetime of holidays in one go.
People always wonder if it was hard travelling with the children, the simple answer is: no. They get in the grove, and after the initial shock of arriving in Delhi in the middle of night to find to ourselves in the scrummage of passport control, wild rabid-like dogs outside the airport building, Geckos on the walls of the last minute guest house that freaked out ‘The Girl’ – this after I get an email on landing to say The 5* Hotel I had booked us into to help with the acclimatisation was overbooked and we were on our own! Those early days were worrying when The Girl is saying, “I thought it would be like one of our ‘normal’ holidays.” The Boy understood what lay ahead in India, but The Girl had never given it a thought and we had tried to brace her for the ‘change.’ Even worse she would not leave the hotel complex into the bustle of Connaught Square, “I want to go home,” was her initial default setting. So we decided to get out of Delhi – of all the places we went Delhi was the worst for beggars, the thing that really unsettled my daughter, and why wouldn’t it – girls her own age living on the streets, corrugated cardboard for a ground sheet. The puzzlement of how and why it was/is allowed to happen still puzzles when India can afford a space programme?
We soon left for the hills of Shimla, even when we arrived there, one vomit apiece from the children on the meandering mountain road. It was the gloomy end to the rainy season and it felt a little oppressive. I was strangely mistaken while horse riding in the hills of Shimla for Michael Palin (Monty Python), confusion until the taxi driver interpreted the guide’s pointing and local dialect to be, the horse Michael Palin rode during filming The Himalayas series for the BBC. It was here a few days into our eleven months away a friend rang me on my mobile, a friend I had told several times we were going travelling.
“Are you playing football tonight?”
“No, I’m in Shimla.”
“Shimla, is that a restaurant in Rusholme?”
“No, it’s in the foothills of the Himalayas.”
“The Himalayas?, Everest and all that.”
“I suppose so, but you can’t see the biggest mountain in the world from here.”
“What you doing there then?”
“I’m go-karting with the kids at the highest go-kart track in the world.”
This conversation could have gone on for a long time, not very desirable when I was getting charged for someone to call me. I know I was born in Yorkshire, but surely, ‘the Cheeky bastards!’
“We’ve set out on our gap year; we’ve been away about a week now.”
“Oh right. So you’re not playing footy tonight?”
“No, pencil me in for next August.”
The theme park was deserted except for one coach load of high-school children aged about thirteen. At one point they all congregated around an outside disco and did that Indian hand flicking dancing to a bangra track. It was both joyful and mesmerising to watch; they seemed so young and free and happy. Life appeared to hold absolutely no fear for any of them. Maybe it was their one day of freedom before they went back to sitting in segregated rows again? I wonder if Danny Boyle was surreptitiously watching them and stole the idea for the end of ‘Slumdog Millionaire?”
It took two weeks to acclimatise, not until we arrived in Manila, the rains almost gone did it feel like a real adventure. We had a lovely guesthouse with a wooden mezzanine floor that the kids adored, overlooking the mountains of the Himalayas, the first snow of winter arrived on the high peaks while we were there, also helped along by vast array of films to watch. The kids befriended a boy of nine, Sunny; who made his living shining shoes; having been sent away from his village to live with an aunt; as his parents could not afford to have him at home, it was a difficult concept for my daughter; but it is the abstract part of education that is very difficult to teach in the western world.
Before the acclimatisation was the going away. This was by far the most stressful part of the whole voyage. Getting the house sorted to rent out for almost a full year. It was probably a good thing that we did not give this as much thought beforehand as we probably should have, as it could have well put us off completely. There is a lot to do, a lot. Storage of surplus things, cancelling bills, sorting insurance out, extra furniture, estate agent, money, possible repairs, car, mail redirected, emergency contacts, phones, emails, etc, etc, etc.
The Wife was insistent we made a will with the expressed intent the children went to live with her sister if under some inexplicable event that we the parents died, leaving behind the orphaned offspring. Even my brother, who became executor of the will and a very meticulous person was a little taken aback when The Wife informed him, “All our dental records could be found at the local dental practice.” We stored a lot of our clothing in next doors’ dry cellar, which when we came back all mine had gone mouldy, which sounds horrendous, but in the Zen-like state I was in and the fact I could get all my worldly possessions in one travel case seemed superfluous anyway.
We rented the house to four professional women and they could not believe there was a piano, an instrument that no one in our family can play, but cannot be disposed of as it belonged to my Grandma, who used to be an ad hoc piano tutor, and it was won in a seven-horse-accumulator by my Granddad. I can still see their faces light up when I opened the cupboard to show them all the food they could have, and especially the well-stocked spice and herb cupboard. By this time we had lost the will to move anything else to another location, (this was before the Tories introduced food banks for the people), and anyway, the looks on their faces made the benevolence worthwhile.
However efficient you think you have been there is always something you miss. The only grit in the oyster shell was bloody Sky TV. I had rung them and they had assured me that my subscription would be cancelled, then once we were away they informed me I had to do it in writing, which they refused to let anyone in my family do for me. When I rang them I got a graphic design company in Edinburgh, who told me quite telepathically that I probably wanted SKY TV and I would be ringing from outside the country. A friend of mine used to live in a village in England and the Italian restaurant in the same village had a similar telephone number with just one differing digit at the end. When he first moved there he diligently informed the restaurant, which did nothing and he also informed all the patrons ringing up they had misdialled. He got so exasperated by the number of calls he answered he started lying. “Yes, how many people are in your party of dinners?” Then when it continued he got even more carried away. “Sorry we are fully booked for six months.” “We’ve had a severe outbreak of campylobacter food poisoning.” “We don’t have any pizza dough, a problem with our suppliers, do you fancy paella?” etc, etc. I digress, but you don’t expect to be writing a letter to Sky TV in Edinburgh from the foothills of the Himalayas.
It was a relief to get on the plane and the realisation that we could do no more now.
On the plane was The Wife’s cousin en route from Canada to India. Whom we completely failed to miss as she has not seen him for twenty-seven years and would have not recognised them anyway.
Not until we arrived in Manali did we start to get into some sort of laid-back rhythm.
What the first week taught us all hopefully was extra resilience. The Wife and I had travelled a lot before the kids arrived, but a lot is never enough with travel, as friend once stated, “Travel broadens the mind and gives you the opportunity to take the piss out of more people!” My Wife considered herself to be too young to have her first child at twenty-eight, but the Health Visitor put it all into perspective when she informed us she had just come from a house down the road that had grandma that was twenty-eight!
If you are going to take the plunge of travelling for any prolonged period of time with children, it is always the acclimatising and sorting out any organisation before departure that are by far the hardest part of the entire journey. Once your away and into your stride and the stress starts to evaporate in those first few moments, a weight is gently lifted, to be replaced by something else that will probably make you live a lot longer, and a lot happier whilst your do so.
If you have any questions you want to ask, do not hesitate to contact me.
Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late. http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ian+m+pindar
This book will be free on Amazon all next weekend.