When I was little (*lights pipe, settles back into rocking chair*) I can’t remember having any experiences that announced themselves as such in advance. I can remember doing things that were out of my brown and orange Seventies suburban everyday: going on a Metro (Tyne and Wear, not Paris), riding in my granddad’s car with the plastic covers still on the seats, going to a supermarket for the first time (more exciting than you might think).
We had little holidays too: nights away in a tent which I persist in recalling also as brown and orange though I’m been told it wasn’t, and a short, unfortunately memorable, stay in a B&B near Whitby which had water running down the inside of the walls and which required children to be off the premises from breakfast till bedtime.
Hallowe’en was celebrated with bin bags, pillowcases and – for the daring – loo roll; Bonfire Night with turnips, damp sparklers and a sweating, swearing neighbour bent fearfully over an unexploded rocket. Christmas, in my memory, was magical, overheated, and largely domestic, though there was the occasional trip to see Santa at Fenwick.
There just wasn’t anything that we turned up to, booked and paid in advance, in the expectation of being provided with an Experience. Even when my youngest was a baby, nine years ago, I wasn’t aware of there being such a smorgasbord of tastefully planned and seasonally appropriate events throughout the year.
When did it all change?
I have spent this morning, in between work and admin, fretting about the fact that I have left it too late to book the expensive Christmas family days out I decided back in August to have no truck with. There are no tickets left for the Polar Express train ride (£95 standard class, £182 for the full-on film extravaganza). We can’t go and see the magic of a wintery Hogwarts (£93, plus travel and accommodation and add-ons) or spend the day in a local forest with Santa and his elves (£180). And ludicrously, even though I know that we couldn’t have afforded them anyway, I feel like I’ve let my children down. We’ll do something nice (and not requiring of a bank loan) but the bar seems so high that I worry that their childhood memories will be lacklustre things compared to those of their friends: sleekly engineered in technicolor, with commemorative booklets to match.
At the end of each term, school sends home multiple copies of the Primary Times and I sit, with a marker, going through the pages and pages of listings and circling the things we could do to make the holidays more fun (and go more quickly). There are wonderful, carefully planned and produced activities and walks and crafting sessions; museum trails and treasure hunts themed around witches or Easter bunnies or Santa’s fecking elves. We only do a few of them, once cost and logistics and CBA-dom have been factored in, but it’s still got to the point where they are slightly crestfallen if we go somewhere and they don’t get an A4 worksheet and the
bribe promise of a sweetie or a badge if they hand it back in at the end. And don’t get me started on the mission creep of birthday parties…
I wonder if, by the time they are adults themselves, my children will be capable of going anywhere if they don’t have a set of Enjoyment Objectives against which to calibrate their day on their return; if they will feel uneasy setting out to have fun without knowing where to direct their complaints if it doesn’t adequately fill the designated memory slot allocated to it. It feels very much, sometimes, like we’re raising a generation to outsource their leisure…which is possibly not a problem, until there aren’t the funds to do it or the ability to keep it in house.