1. Set off early to beat the traffic. The three kids are in the back with comics and doudous. You have an iPad with films on it but it’s to be used in emergencies only. Everyone has been to the toilet. You remembered to put the sun shades in the car windows and have carefully selected music for the journey. This is going to be good!
2. Oh, other people decided to leave early too. Well, that’s OK, it’s probably only going to be like this until we get out of Paris.
3. Seriously, when are we going to get out of Paris?
4. “Can we have the iPad?” “Read your comic.”
5. Your exit from Paris is marked by green fields in which there are cows grazing.
“Look, kids, cows!”
“I can’t see the cows.”
Middle child starts crying because she can’t see any cows. You decide not to point out any more wildlife.
6. Eldest child wants to change the music. “Shake it off! Shake it off!”
7. Smallest child drops her doudou. No one can reach it. “You’ll just have to wait until we stop.” Child starts crying.
8. Can you use the emergency lane to pick up dropped doudous?
9. “Look, wind turbines!”
“Why is that one not working?”
“I don’t know.”
“All the other ones are turning but the middle one isn’t.”
“Why is it broken?”
“I don’t know. But all the other ones are working!”
“Why is that one not working?”
You decide not to mention any more wind turbines.
10. You stop at a motorway service station for a coffee/toilet break. Men can just stroll into the loos but the queue to the ladies is enormous. Which is great because you are travelling with three girls. Eldest child insists she doesn’t need to go, so joins Papa having a coffee. 20 minutes of waiting and all bladders have been emptied.
11. Eldest child decides to go to the toilet. You practise deep breathing.
12. You pass the time by wandering around the shop. Then quickly realise this is madness because middle child wants you to buy everything you walk past, including fancy lavender soap, battery chargers, clay frogs, laminated posters showing the Kings and Queens of France and jars of caramel beurre salé.
13. Phew, back in the car! “Can we have the iPad?” You exchange looks with your partner. Both of you know the right thing to do. But you are weak so decide instead to do the easy thing. “YES!” squeal the kids. We’re on holiday, you tell yourself.
14. At least you can put your music on now.
15. “Can you turn the music down? We can’t hear the iPad.”
16. Now the children are arguing because they can’t all see the iPad. Like the beaten weakling you are, you hand over your iPad too.
17. You stop for lunch. You (amazingly!) find a free picnic table. It may be 10 metres from the car park but it feels like bliss compared with being in the car. The sun shines, you eat sandwiches, you’re on holiday! This is great!
18. There’s a wasp. There’s another wasp. F***, there are a lot of wasps here. You suddenly realise why this picnic table was free: it’s clearly where wasps come to play The Hunger Games. “Don’t move, they won’t sting you if you….” Middle child lets out the loudest scream you’ve ever heard.
19. WHAT THE HELL DO YOU DO WHEN A WASP STINGS YOU? OH MY GOD, WHAT IF SHE’S ALLERGIC? IS THERE A HOSPITAL NEARBY? WHY DO I NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO? I’M THE WORST PARENT EVER!
20. You try to calm a sobbing hysterical child while googling ‘wasp sting’. You manage to remove the sting with a credit card, soothe the child with cuddles and a lollipop, then get back in the car.
21.”Shake it off! Shake it off!”
22. You reach a point where two motorways meet. This means only one thing: traffic jam. Your car slows to a crawl then eventually stops. Your partner checks his traffic app to see how long the delay is likely to be. The map of France show a thick mass of squiggly red lines indicating that you’d better get comfortable because you aren’t going anywhere soon.
23. You study the scenery, the other cars, the dashboard. Nothing moves.
24. “I’m bored.”
“You could have a nap?” Both of you know this suggestion is madness and it should be treated with contempt. You go back to looking out the window.
25. “That car has an S number plate. Which country is S?”
“No, Spain is E. Is it Slovenia?”
“Think that’s SLO…”
“We should have a SLO number plate! Geddit? SLO…W!!”
You go back to looking out the window.
26. You’re moving again, THANK GOD! It feels strange at first, especially when the car picks up speed. You relish the feeling of movement, the knowledge that – finally – you’re getting somewhere. Then all too quickly you get bored.
27. Time for a toilet break. Because of pressure from the backseat, you have had to stop at an aire de repos instead of the usual aire de service. It only has basic facilities but that’s OK because this time there’s no queue for the toilet! You enter with your wriggling child to discover, quite literally, a hole in the ground. You look around, thinking there must be some mistake. Have you travelled back in time? Is this some kind of situationist prank? No, toilettes à la turque, still exist in France. Your child is equally flummoxed; this situation wasn’t covered in Princess Polly’s Potty Book. With the grim forbearance that is becoming the hallmark of this journey, you do what’s necessary and pacify yourself with the thought that at least it’s not as bad as the poo pits at Glastonbury ’93.
28. It’s hot now so you get out the trusty brumisateur and give the kids in the back a good old douse of its fine, cool mist. They squeal with delight. This is easily the best bit of the trip so far.
29. “Slovakia? Serbia?”
“I’ll google it.”
“No! That’s cheating!”
30. Time starts to lose all meaning. You can’t remember how long you’ve been in this car and are starting to forget life outside the confines of this tin-like container. The kids are lying limp in the back, somewhere in between sleep and awake. Batteries have long given out, as have you.
31. “Shake it off! Shake it off!”
32. This is weird: you’re not on a motorway any more. Suddenly you’re seeing houses and shops and people who are not in cars. This can only mean one thing…
33. IS THAT THE SEA?
35. “I can’t see the sea!”
“Doesn’t matter, you’ll see it properly soon! We’ll go for a swim too!”
36. Amazingly, the car stops. You get out – limbs stiff, head groggy – and see your hotel/gîte/mobile home/tent. The kids are running ahead, anxious to claim beds and be the first in the pool. You envisage days to come of sunshine, cool water and memories in the making. You’re exhausted, relieved and happy. You’ve already forgotten the car journey.
And on that note, I’ll say goodbye for the next few weeks as I’m off on holiday. (Yes, it does involve a long car journey.) Have a great summer!