More than 35 years have passed since the summer holiday during which my father forced us to walk around Brownsea Island in Dorset, the site of the first-ever Boy Scout camp. My sister and I miserably trudged the three-mile circuit of the island — rejoicing in the rhododendron bushes as only teenagers can, and slowly pushing our normally placid father to boiling point with our calculated contempt for everything on the wretched rock. How much more annoying we could have been had we understood the hilarious alternative meaning of a book entitled Scouting for Boys.
But Dad was an enthusiast, convinced that vindication was just around the next bend and kept hopefully pointing out fun items, such as the commemorative stone marking the site of the first encampment or the pond where Robert Baden-Powell washed his undies. It was, in short, a defining moment in my childhood, the day I realised that my otherwise excellent parents had absolutely no idea.
Now, as a father of teenagers, I can see an alternative explanation. While Dad may have thought we might enjoy a three-mile tramp, it is also possible that he did not care because the excursion was really for him. Sadly, he forgot the first rule of children: if they are miserable, they will make damn sure that you are too. We travelled home in a thundering silence.
I regularly think of this excursion when forcing the spawn on any kind of activity that might involve nature, sightseeing, cathedrals or museums, always working out how to keep them amused or interested while sneaking a bit of culture past them. But while I knew certain trips did not appeal, I assumed the issue was the destination rather than the company.
We have now been shaken out of our complacency by the girl’s objections to a family mini-break in Lisbon. We know, of course, that no European capital can compete with the pleasures of going to Five Guys with your besties or sitting at home on Snapchat. But it was not merely the fact that we were pulling her away from her mates that rankled. The real problem is that, for the first time, the boy will not be joining us. He will be staying at home, spending the days revising for his mock A-levels and clearing up the chaos from whatever bacchanalia he now feels free to organise in our absence. The girl, meanwhile, will face a family break without sibling support. The problem was not that Lisbon would be boring, it was that three days with just her parents would be boring. Where once she would have competed for our attention, now she will suffer a monopoly of it.
“You’ll just spend the time walking around and having coffee,” she moaned. This is terribly unfair. We will actually spend the time taking trams and having coffee. But she does have a point. The purpose of the trip is to hang out in cool cafés and soak up the atmosphere, mosey around the city, eat pastels and drink coffee. We will not be visiting theme parks, aquariums or any of the other places we go when trying to buy off sullen spawn. Furthermore, she suspects we might “just take a quick peek” inside the Gulbenkian Museum or offer impromptu history lessons on some of the city’s World Heritage Sites. And while I think this is all considerably more agreeable than schlepping around Brownsea Island and that she will actually enjoy the visit, she is not wrong to conclude that our enjoyment has been prioritised over hers. In the pantheon of cruelties, this seems fairly mild but to the girl we are practically parents in a Roald Dahl novel.
Already, she is planning her counter-measures. The campaign to bring a friend on our summer holiday has begun in earnest. This week she arrived in the kitchen with details of a hideous-looking resort in Greece, which she and a pal had decided we would enjoy. Disneyland may also be an acceptable alternative.
The message is clear. If we are so unkind as to force our company and a dazzling European city on her, then she is going to demand rather more input into future holiday plans. I can see the future and it is mouse-shaped.
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