Being of a certain age when one should probably have settled down and produced a couple of little people, there is an inevitability that my travelling visits of Europe will involve stops to see people of a similar age who have settled down and produced some little people. This is not a bad thing, perhaps with the exception of an oversaturation of Peppa Pig and the lingering of theme tunes in my head. It offers time to be welcomed into family life and reconnect with close and dear friends and family, succumb to Lego construction and bombardment from cushions. There’s opportunity to immerse yourself in those very events which provoke memories of your own childhood, like travel sickness, 5 o’clock tea times, and an insatiable demand for chocolate. And children are infinitely entertaining, affectionate, cunning, sweet, annoying, lovable, lively, dramatic, naive, and everything else in between.
And so it was I arrived in Geneva and connected on a bus across the border to France to greet the newest addition to this extended family. Joy Caitlin Stafford, a niece of two months and very much living up to her name thus far. A contrast to her frenetic older brother whose dynamism and energy results in a big bundle of fun with an adorable French accent. And then of course there is my third child, named fromage.
Days out are obviously a big part of being a family and you only have to think back to your own childhood to remember summer days by the seaside in the drizzle, car journeys that seem to go on forever and trips to the garden centre. While Joy is just a little young to go too far, the boys were able to escape for a couple of trips into the French Alps over the weekend, with perfect weather for perfect scenes. The first spot was in the Vallee Verte, undeniably green and lush with wild raspberries ripe for plunder. Gliders taking off from a stretch of flatter grass added a touch of drama to the day and of course much in the way of child-like excitement. Excitement which quickly dwindles on the curvy drive down the hillside, inducing nausea and stony pale-faced silence.
Such drama was avoided on the second day thanks to tactical sleeping, after a decent loop walk around the ridges and hollows of the Plaine Joux. A picnic at the start was reassuringly accompanied by cow bells and glimpses of Mont Blanc’s uppermost snowy triangle. It was a beautiful day, warm and blue, with just a touch of breeze limiting the kite-flying escapism. Perfect to sit outside and eat…which means it is so busy that you have to sit inside and eat when you want to enjoy Tarte aux Myrtilles post-lunch. Still, there was enough time to stand and walk and hopefully burn off some of the calories around the Plaine Joux.
Leaving France and leaving Geneva I had a fair few hours child-free before reaching north London. Here, again, visits to friends and their offspring were on the cards, leading to trips to the park for picnic and play. Another day heralded a chance to be a little less childish with a trip into London town, looking at pictures, going to the beach, and eating ice cream. While the ice cream was delicious, the beach – Camden Beach – was everything you would expect a beach in Camden to be. Sand plonked into a large beer garden, people on deckchairs and, of course, children playing ball, rolling around and generally getting bored while the parents chug on another fluorescent cocktail under murky skies.
Cocktails emerged briefly during the final visit on the child leg of this journey, spending time with a family I love very much in Lytham, northwest England. The parents, who joined me in this child-free cocktail moment on a Saturday night, offered great comfort that comes with familiarity. The children, who are full of character and life, offered a pile of cushions on my head, trips to the park, drawing activities, all mixed up with those occasional doses of unprovoked affection that are so heart-warming.
Lytham always can be relied upon for providing a bleak, wet and windy day that reaffirms the truth of it being grim up north. Seventeen degrees cannot dissuade hundreds of people from dressing up as soldiers and dancing to Vera Lynn as they seek to resurrect the war in 1940s day on Lytham Green. Do you think Hitler would have stopped for a bit of rain and a chill wind? I don’t know, why don’t you go ask him, he’s over there…?
Agreeably though the next day was brighter and sunnier and much less 1940s. In fact it was fine enough for a barbecue, indeed an Australian-fashioned gas burner barbecue. I don’t know if I approve for there is something to be said for the smoky aromas of charcoal, especially when plumes of it fill your lungs. Still, I shouldn’t have worried, for the gas barbecue got very smoky and, in a ball of flame, endeavoured to blacken burgers and shrivel sausages with a marinade of burning plastic.
Pleasingly the kids were distracted, running around in the garden generally beating each other up and laughing at the same time, in that way that kids do. The barbecue was rectified and there was a full stomach on which to watch a very strange movie about bird-watching in the evening! Thus it was with a bit of sadness that I set out from Lytham the next day, in pursuit of that Snowy Owl without hindrance. The child leg at an end, and at least a few days before I am exposed to Peppa Pig again.