More chalets

It's exciting to wake up in our little flat on another scorching hot day. Tommy gets to do Pontins stuff all morning. There's a photocall with Captain Croc, then it's Megamix Mick’s workout. You could quite easily stay here all the time and not get bored. If you're a kid. I get out of it by feeding Danny and making sandwiches. Today we're off to Portmeirion, with much excitement on my part. But we get stuck in traffic just past Rhyl, and the car overheats much like the rest of us. We're on the other side of Abergele when it makes a noise and gives up. It's clear we’re not going anywhere so we sit and wait for the car to cool down. Tommy and I watch a woman grooming her horse and Danny watches the trees. I don't know anything about cars so I'm crapping it, wondering how we're going to get back to Glasgow. Neil has his head under the bonnet and I'm trying to keep calm and carry on. But we can both see the humour because how many times did this happen when we were kids? We had to buy a new car once, a bright orange Volkswagen Variant that would be cool now, but was really embarassing at the time. Anyway, to cut a long story short we go to a garage, get it looked at and go back to Pontins for the rest of the day. Maybe if it's taken me this long to get to Portmeirion I'm destined never to get there.

The good news for Tommy is that we're back in time to see Barney live on stage. I hate Barney. He's probably my least favourite children’s character apart from Dora the Explorer. If we'd been a month later it would have been Sooty, which is quite cool. Anyway, it's really awful. Some poor sod in a Barney suit pratting about to some rotten songs. And they can barely get the songs in for making announcements about how you can't take pictures due to international copyright law. This is the kind of thing that makes me hate modern life. I go back to the chalet and it's beautifully quiet. The longer I'm here the more I like it. It reminds me of living in a tenement. It's nice to be surrounded by people who are in the same position as you, but not having to interact with them. A sort of alone in a crowd thing.

Afterwards we go to Ffrith beach along the road. There is a derelict pavilion, not derelict in a good way. Scary and shabby, but the beach is beautiful and empty. Tommy runs into the sea shouting "I'm David Hasselhoff", then flies a kite and makes sandcastles. It’s like essence of seaside. Danny falls asleep so I read Brian Eno and realise I'm perfectly happy for once. Not a care in the world.

Back to Pontins for dinner then out to Lunars Bar for Captain Croc’s fun time. Tommy seems much calmer today. He is off like a shot to join in the games and we hardly see him again. He is out on the floor doing John Travolta-style dance moves with one of the Bluecoats. So Neil & I get another quiet night. Danny is no bother, and lots of people come over to say hello to him. It really is nice, just the right level of sociability. There should be a word for the way we have become - Pontinised, or something. It takes us two minutes to walk home in the twilight and we all go to bed happy.

Next: The Great British Holiday Day 6: Prestatyn-Abergele

Llandudno Pier

It's day 4 of the holiday but day 1 of Pontin's. Nice to be somewhere we're going to stay for a while and it's another beautiful day. Neil, Tommy and Danny go off to hunt for Safari Sam (Captain Croc's nemesis) while I go to the laundrette. In the daylight I'm hugely impressed by the whole holiday camp set-up. l like the way that all the chalets are identical to the point that it's pretty hard to find your way home. There's lots of symmetry and clean lines. And all the chalets are arranged in U’s or triangles so everyone is looking onto some communal ground where the kids can play. It’s also very quiet, although it must be mayhem at high season.

In the afternoon we take a drive along the coast. We go through Rhyl, 3 miles up the road, which looks like it’s seen better days. I like seeing all these seaside places in various stages of decline/stagnation and regeneration. Most places are being regenerated now so it's always a surprise to find somewhere that is still a bit of a dump. Or am I being too hard on Rhyl? We pass through some other wee towns. Rhos-on-Sea is a nice surprise. I catch sight of the Harlequin Puppet Theatre – immediately my NTSH senses are tingling. It’s a marionette theatre pretty much unchanged since it opened in 1958. It doesn’t open til July and I press my nose up against the glass hoping that Mr Bim Bam Boozle is working away Geppeto-style in the back. No luck. Debate with myself: can I write about somewhere I haven’t been?

He's a tin soldier man

Head on to Llandudno. Initial impressions are good - solid Victorian hotels like Brighton or Eastbourne and a prom awash with pensioners. As Father Dougal says, like a big tide of jam, but jam made out of old women. We go for a drive around Great Orme and stop at the Rest and be Thankful Café for toasties. I’m still struggling to find anything Welsh.

The view round the bay is stunning and the weather really makes it. It’s like a tourist board advert. We go back to the town, park up, get an ice cream from Cadwallader’s and go to explore the seafront. Tommy collects huge stones from the beach; we admire the old Punch and Judy booth then head for the pier. It’s a nice old Victorian one with a kink in it. Tommy suggests that Neil & I go and do some “adulty funless stuff” while he goes on the slide. On the way back down he tells us how he’s going to be a fireman when he grows up - it's all very elaborate about what he's going to do, with a role for each of his friends and Danny working the computer. I'm a wee sister, so I can't imagine what it's like having a younger sibling, but I'm delighted that Tommy sees their future together.

We spend so long on the pier that we can’t really face going on the cable car (much as I’d love to) or visiting Happy Valley gardens. It’s boiling hot and neither of us can face pushing a buggy up a hill. I feel a bit sad as I’d been looking forward to it but there has been so much to do that I can hardly complain. And we've had a lovely day not doing very much. We try to find a restaurant on the way home as we've eaten nothing but rubbish since we left Glasgow. There doesn't seem to be anything that is both decent and open. So we get fish and chips in Prestatyn and get back to the camp exhausted.

Next: The Great British Holiday Day 5: Prestatyn-Abergele

New Brighton shelter

We hardly have to go any distance today so everyone is relaxed. We mooch about Liverpool and spend ages in The Beatles Shop, which is great. It's like an indie record shop. Come away with some badges, two mugs, a Paul McCartney figurine (we have the other 3 already) and for Tommy, a fab Blue Meanie t-shirt. Then we're off through the Birkenhead Tunnel to look for New Brighton. Every road seems to lead us in the other direction so we give in and go Port Sunlight, a model village of the ideal community type, built by Sir William Hesketh Lever (of Unilever) for his workers. Also the birthplace of Pete Burns. It's nice enough but I'm not really in the mood and the boys definitely aren't interested so I take a few pictures, buy some Sunlight soap and move on. We double back to New Brighton.

Part of the success of this trip is down to complete ignorance about whole swathes of the country. I sit with the map in my lap, and we pick a few places we've heard of or like the name of and off we go. I assume that almost everywhere is grim and industrial so so far I've been pleasantly surprised by the beautiful beaches and the lovely houses around Liverpool. And we're in The Wirral now, which I know is posh. From Brookside. So anyway, all I know about New Brighton is that Martin Parr takes photos there and the funny thing is that the light is amazing. Everything looks like one of his photos – supersaturated colour. But apart from that it's really, really, not nice at all. Just shabby and sort of threatening. Bad vibes, man. And I'm sad but also relieved because sometimes I wonder if I'm just a total sap that likes any old rubbish. To dislike somewhere means I still have some critical faculties. Hooray.

Lifeguard station, Wallasey Beach

The drive round the rest of the coast is great. I can't get over the beaches down here, they go out for miles and miles and miles. Wallasey Beach is has some lovely art deco beach structures, including an art deco Brewsters, and West Kirby beach is the biggest yet. A couple sitting on deckchairs look like the last people on earth. This is really nice, wandering through other people's suburban life.

Pontins Prestatyn Sands

Soon we're in Wales and we cheer as we cross the border. Nothing seems very Welsh. As everyone from Wales seems to bang on constantly about being Welsh I was expecting something more. Dragons or something. Anyway, we get to Pontins Prestatyn Sands just in time to check in. I'm feeling quite nervous about how (or if) this is going to work out. Our chalet is basic to the point of spartan and with an old 60s bathroom. Rising Damp is on telly, which adds to the whole time warp feel, but it's nice and clean and quiet. After settling in we head out for dinner and get to the canteen as they're shutting up. Realise we're not on the Continent now and we have to fit in with good old British hospitality which means lunch from 12-2 and dinner from 6-7.

We find some action in Lunars Bar. In a strange recessive gene thing Tommy, the child of two fairly quiet people is a complete livewire. He heads straight for the stage and Neil and I get a drink in peace. Within an hour he has made the finals of the 5-7 year olds' dancing competition. I feel very proud, and very guilty for trying to turn him into this vanilla uber-child that sits quietly and eats his vegetables. It's the Boden dream all over. Because it's great that he can do all this stuff without batting an eyelid. He is beaten in the final by a 5-year old from Liverpool who can break dance, but he takes it well.

For the rest of the night The Bluecoats do their stuff. They play games and sing The Court of King Caractacus, an old Rolf Harris favourite. Everything is geared around the kids, parental involvement not required. Then the star of the show, Captain Croc comes out and everyone learns his dance. I can see tears before bedtime if we try to get Tommy home but the Bluecoats know what they're doing and the evening ends with a "goodnight children" song and a crocodile march so Tommy leaves without a fuss. It's a promising start.

Next: The Great British Holiday Day 4: Prestatyn-Llandudno

Blackpool Model Village

We spend the night at Forton Services and have breakfast overlooking the M6. It’s the first time we’ve stayed at a Travelodge and not mentioned Alan Partridge. Head back to Blackpool because we spotted signs for a model village on the way out last night. Gotta love a model village. Tommy isn’t too impressed but Neil and I like it. It’s a beautiful day so we buy Tommy a kite and roam around Stanley Park for hours. I’ve never heard of this place but it’s lovely – huge, with an athletics track, boating pond, bandstand, Italian gardens and the usual parky stuff. It also has a big art deco café (real art deco with some cod art deco over the top) so we fill up on coffee and cakes.

Lakeside Miniature Railway

Next stop Southport where we’d been before but on a miserable gusty day. Today it is gorgeous. We stop at Rotten Row on the way in to see what’s happening. There's a tiny train – big enough to ride, but so small you have to straddle it like a horse. Neil and Tommy go to see some radio-controlled car races while I feed Danny and read Brian Eno's A Year With Swollen Appendices. I never get time to read usually, so this is great, and Brian Eno is such a good person to have on the journey - a sort of sensible genius. We head for the pier, past another model village then we get on the Lakeside Miniature Railway which is the sort where four (smallish) people can get into each carriage. I am rapidly losing all sense of scale. We ride from Funland to Pleasureland, which is nice.

Antony Gormley's Another Place

It’s evening now and we head for Crosby for Antony Gormley’s Another Place. It's one of the loveliest things I've ever seen. That’s enough for one day so we carry on to Liverpool. I love the drive through the outskirts and in along Stanley Dock. It's full of huge industrial structures that are quite grand. While Neil is out looking for the hotel Tommy & I talk about the Beatles. We all love The Beatles.

We spend the night in the city centre and attempt a family meal in Ask but Danny is restless and Tommy is jumping about like a chimp so we get pizza and take it back to the hotel. I feel vaguely defeated, seeing other families in there with kids (older than ours, admittedly) who can behave themselves. Lately I've been having a quiet mid-30s crisis, trying to reconcile what I am with what I want and what I have to accept I'll never be. It's peppered with depressing epiphanies and the day ends with another when I realise that I am not a hip young gunslinger, I am a sitting in a Travelodge drinking wine out of a toothmug.

Next: The Great British Holiday Day 2: Liverpool-Prestatyn

Blackpool bums

This holiday is an experiment in compromise. The goal is to keep us all happy, particularly Tommy, within the confines of a low budget, sustainable parenting (i.e. not giving him everything he wants or it will be a nightmare when we get home) and having a baby in tow. Realising that journeys are frequent flashpoints (a constant harping of "How many minutes now?" before we've even left Glasgow) we're going to Wales slowly, with the aim of stopping at lots of places on the way. So first we stop at Moffat for a picnic and a play in the park then on to Blackpool.

Kentucky Derby ceiling

Blackpool makes all other seaside resorts looks like amateurs. I think Tommy will love it but I worry that (1) it will overstimulate him to the point of madness, and (2) we'll have shot our bolt for the rest of the holiday. We head straight for the Pleasure Beach and try to get the hang of the ticketing system. It appears to cost £29 (each) to get in, but we check and it's free entry, you can buy a wristband to get on everything but otherwise it's pay as you go with "tickets" to ride. As I don't do anything scary, Neil doesn't do heights, Tommy is too wee to get on a lot of stuff and someone needs to mind Danny we're not going to be spending a fortune. Tommy immediately wants to go on everything but we just wander for a while which is entertainment enough. I've wanted a go on the Mary Blair-era Alice in Wonderland ride since I saw it first time I was in Blackpool about 15 years ago. Sometimes having kids is a great excuse for doing something that would otherwise make you look like a nutter or a perv. We try to buy tickets and the machine eats our money. There is a long wait until someone comes to fix it but so far everyone remains good-humoured. We're not in any hurry. I go and feed Danny and by the time I get back Neil and Tommy are eating chips from a bucket with a spade in place of a fork. Now that's holiday. Eventually we get into our Cheshire Cat and ride through Wonderland. It takes off with a rickety jolt that gives me and T the giggles. I realise we're actually having fun together. After that we wander around some more. Neil and Tommy have a few shots on things in the children's bit - I max out the picture card on my camera. There are so many beautiful old rides around like the Grand National and the Big Dipper. Tommy has his first shot on a rollercoaster and on one of those things that shoots you up a pole. He looks really happy. It's great to see him enjoying himself.

The Big Wheel

We've been here for hours and are getting hungry so we get ice cream and head for the pier. Tommy and I go on the Big Wheel which is fab. Great to be spinning so high up out at sea and it's a beautiful evening. As we head back to the car all the stag parties and hen nights are starting out and there are some truly hideous sights - 40-year old housewives dressed as bunny girls ripped to the tits before it's even 8 o'clock. But that's what I like about Blackpool - it's like your wildest dreams and your worst nightmares all in one. As we leave I feel very hopeful for what's ahead. This is only Day 1 and we've all had a good time. I think smugly how much Tommy must love us for this, and how we are great parents. Then on the way home Tommy says to Neil “Dad, why haven’t you got what cool guys have got?” Like what? “Like an earring and a necklace and a tattoo”, and I realise however hard we try we are never going to be cool.

Next: The Great British Holiday Day 2: Forton Services-Liverpool

Sorry no vacancies to-night

There seems to be a lot of debate about British holidays at the moment. Already today I've read this ridiculous Guardian article about camping (in a £1000 tipi) and seen something on BBC Breakfast that had lots of people complaining about how expensive and dismal it is to holiday here. Up til now we've gone abroad, but this year we couldn't afford it and I got the feeling that we'd be better off at home anyway. Although we've had some great foreign holidays it feels like we all enjoy different bits for different reasons and it's a struggle trying to find something that we all want to do. And Tommy shouts loudest so keeping him entertained is the priority. Now we've got two kids it feels like we're on a sliding scale of discomfort, that runs from hotels through self-catering apartments, holiday camps, caravans and camper vans until it hits the ground with camping. I'm not slagging any of these options, I'm just aware that none of them feel natural yet but I've a feeling they're going to be our lot for the next few years. So as an experiment, we booked a week at Pontin's. I realise that I often champion things here where the reality might not match up to my romantic idea of it and that maybe it was time to put my money where my mouth was. So to cut a long story short it was the best family holiday we've ever had. It was cheap, easy to arrange, not much travelling, lots of things to do and see and we all enjoyed it equally. I worry constantly about everything most of the time, but in this week away everything felt right. I've been trying to make sense of it for a week (because I did a lot of thinking while I was there) but so much happened I thought I'd report back in bits. It seems a bit fragmented but it's that or nothing and I'm interested in hearing about how it compares to other people's experiences, so stay tuned for a day by day account of our travels.

Next: The Great British Holiday Day 1: Glasgow-Blackpool



Trains to Pleasureland

Well, we had a smashing holiday. A week of sun and sand. We were by the coast pretty much the whole time and went to a new beach every day. It was like distilled essence of holiday - picnics, kite flying, sandcastles, paddling, chips and ice cream. It looked very much like Innocent's summer bingo card (via Russell Davies). I've got so much to write about I don't know where to start so in the meantime here are some ambient seaside photos because I like the way everything revolves around fun and pleasure there.

This is all I can hear in my head right now - Adam & Joe's "ball ball ball, footy footy footy" song (lyrics here). Praise be to You Tube.


I've done away with the likes and moved things around a bit. Just in case you're wondering what's different. Off on holiday now so no more updates for a week or so.

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