Let’s Get Out Of Cumbria And Don’t Spare The Horses…
SO we were just coming off Junction 36 onto the M6 when I asked the Buddhist Big Sister: “So when did you officially break up from work?”
“I haven’t!” she snorted, booting the accelerator so hard that the Sat Nav fell off the windscreen.
“I’m not due to finish till five!”
She may be a child of the light on the path to mindfulness, but right now she’s spanking it south on ‘works petrol’.
A manic time trial to get past Birmingham before rush hour.
It’s a fixation obsessing many drivers heading south. It turns 40mph lapsed Buddhists into Lewis Hamilton on the last F1 day of the season.
The forecast for the week was seven big suns and sharks scent blood like my sister sniffs out holiday bargains online.
The eldest daughter and I were given 24 hours notice that we could join her and her 12-year-old son on a free week’s holiday.
As brother and sister, we haven’t holidayed together since the 1970s. What could possibly go wrong?
Despite our love-hate relationship over the years, we’ve both matured as individuals.
We’ve learned the adult way: it’s best to slate each other behind our backs rather than face-to-face.
Under the supervision of the Mother Superior, my six-year-old’s suitcase managed to contain every scenario of clothing for every weather pattern in the solar system.
“She’s going to Cornwall,” I offer, unhelpfully. “Not Neptune.”
Five minutes before we were due to skiddadle out of town, I grabbed a bundle of my own clothes off the bed and threw them into my trusty green holdall.
“If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light,” I said out loud, feeling very clever with myself for remembering the famous quote.
At that moment, the divorced Buddhist Big Sister screeched to a halt outside on the drive – scaring next door’s cat with Adele’s Set Fire To The Rain at full wap.
Later in the holiday, I would realise this track is a divorcee’s anthem; the song of choice for the perennially unlucky in love and self-pitying.
Whenever it came on, at whatever volume, she always moved deftly to ramp it up a notch.
I wanted to tell her that you can’t actually set fire to the rain because it’s wet, but kept my mouth shut.
When someone else’s paying, you watch what you’re saying.
I noticed in the boot, she had packed a case of Cider, two bottles of Rose, a king-size Gordon’s Gin, six bottles of Peroni and a cooler of food.
“You might want to bring your own drink,” she told me, laying down a marker that hers is off limits.
One of the first teachings of Buddhism is that we need to know who we are.
My sister does and so does her liver.
Four hours into the trip I received an annoyed text from home: from the Mother Superior.
‘Have you seen the ironing?’, she asks.
At the next stop, I checked my holdall and found I’d packed all the family washing including the kids’ Mickey Mouse flannels.
I have two pairs of shorts and one shirt. For the week.
But before we hit the South West Coast, we first have to make a stopover in Gloucester at a friend of the sister.
A Hot Gloucester Stopover In A Land Of Five Bed Barratt Homes …
So, we’re tanning it through back country rural Gloucestershire – trying to find our stopover to break the run down to Cornwall.
Whenever we pulled over for toilets, midges descended around our heads, so that it looked like we were all wearing giant, dancing afros.
It was a slow-burning Friday night and the 4×4 was horribly hot and stale.
The Buddhist Big Sister had made mincemeat of the M6, but by this time, I was in acute nicotine withdrawal and getting tetchy.
Her habit of drifting the car into the cat’s eyes while she corrected her hair and pouted, was also starting to grate.
She refused to let me take the wheel after a near miss with a dust-raising quarry juggernaut coming the other way.
Despite the 30C heat and the kids like flies in a bottle on the back seats, I discovered “the Awakened One” had been rationing the in-car air conditioning since Forton Services.
“This is like that horror movie – Saw!” I said. “Some evil fiend rationing our oxygen!”
She tutted: “It’s to conserve fuel economy.”
At the services, she pilfered complimentary sugar and milk supplies for future camping trips.
It’s this kind of sustained campaign of thriftiness which explains why I don’t have the cash to buy a Kia Sportage like hers.
I decide to stop moaning.
“Being overly judgemental isn’t a nice character trait,” she told me, turning into Mindfulness mode, then flicking two fingers at a driver who pipped at us as we again drifted into the oncoming lane.
Soon after, we arrived at her friend’s enormous five-bedroomed show home.
It’s got two garages, two American fridges and an unspoken ‘take-your-shoes off in the hall’ policy.
Touring the house, the host embarrassingly pointed out that the curtains alone cost £1,000.
She was a lovely, welcoming woman, albeit a bit OTT in the drapes department.
She had two kids to her first husband but was now on her (much wealthier) second.
He’s not at home tonight.
As the kids play and the Chateau Lafite goes down with the sun, it’s apparent that along with the big job, big house, big salary, he’s got big problems.
Got to the top but only found the bottom.
He’s been off work for months, even stopped playing his music.
Two glinting Epiphones stand untouched in the guest bedroom.
Ah, stress and depression, the twin curses of our office age.
He often sits silently in the huge conservatory – wondering where it all went right.
Big Sister absorbed all this information then launched into full-on counsellor mode in the garden – not drawing breath for two straight hours.
The night ends with me loudly dumping bottles into the recycling bin.
Apparently, the posh neighbours are hyper sensitive about noise.
The next day, on the final leg to Cornwall, I wonder what’s the point of having everything if it means nothing?
Better to be broke than broken?
But it doesn’t matter now because the lime green sea of the Cornish coast has come into view.
And Ben, our Antipodean voiceover on the Sat Nav, quips: “Windows up, grab those sunnies and don’t let the seagulls nick your chips!”
Arriving In Cornwall Where Things Are Not As They Seem…
So, we finally arrived at our site in Cornwall.
The lawns are obsessively-tended here and the hanging baskets get a lot of love.
We drove past a sign: CHILDREN UNDER 10 ARE ONLY ALLOWED TO VISIT – NOT STAY OVER
It didn’t register.
As the barrier slowly raised, the Buddhist Big Sister hissed at my six-year-old on the back seat to “duck down”
Then it all clicked – this was why she had offered us a “free holiday”.
Rather than forego a bargain, “Prudence” had booked us a week in a cottage on a gated retirement complex where kids are shot on sight.
I was about to remonstrate with the sister, but she had wisely fled for reception.
From a nearby guntower, an infra red sniper dot appeared on the forehead of my 12-year-old nephew and circled ever so gently, trying to fathom his age.
Arriving at our cottage, other rules became clear – no barbecues, no music, no playing on the grass.
It went on, but my attention was drawn to a loud wail in the other room.
“Nephew X-Box” had fainted after discovering there was no wifi.
Fortunately, our cottage was only a short distance from a much larger family holiday park and we were welcome to use the facilities there!
Later we went over to explore.
First impressions were that we had stumbled into an Olympic Village due to the majority of guests being attired in full sportswear but not outwardly given to exercise.
Exploring the main building, we opened the door on a darkened room and rows of tables of angry faces turned on us.
Two hundred albino vampires are indoors playing Bingo during Britain’s hottest summer for years.
The Buddhist Big Sister crinkled her nose – this is not her scene.
With an affected middle class flourish, she loudly announced: “I’m going back to the cottage…to make Gazpacho and do my meditation!”
Later, I took both kids back for the “Family Entertainment Nite”.
It was held in a dark cabaret lounge where a breathless young rep was loudly berating the drink-deadened audience into action.
“YOU’RE GONNA HAVE TO CLAP LOUDER THAN THAT LADIES N GENTS!”
Not when we’re ‘lolling on Facebook’ seemed to be the unspoken response, as dozens of heads played with their mobiles.
A production crew then arrived to shoot a video for the park’s website.
Feral kids – desperate for adult attention – surrounded them like Howler Monkeys attacking a car at a Safari Park.
Staff were forced to appeal over the mic for the dance-floor to be evacuated but only a few parents looked up from their phones.
It was only when they threatened to shut the bar that troops of male silverbacks emerged to retrieve their young – enticing them back to their tables with crisps and Laptops.
It seems there’s no place in the video for the park’s actual clientele – tubby boys with glasses and braided-hair girls with bad teeth.
Not when our model British family is waiting in the wings.
Chiselled “Mum and Dad” look too young and carefree to be actual parents.
“Grandad” was a smooth Blake Carrington who works for the same agency.
The star of the video – a little girl – had two real parents watching.
On the sidelines, they both adopted manic smiles and poses which she then repeated for the camera.
The whole set-up was quite possibly the ugliest, most manipulative charade I’ve ever witnessed.
The next day, I wrote a simple postcard to the Mother Superior.
All that was written on it was: “SOS”.
Chill your beans, stress residue medicine and holidaying with a lapsed Buddhist
So, we’re in a beer garden in Looe, Cornwall.
The kids and I have spent eight hours burning on the hot quayside – hauling crabs up the harbour wall using a long line and mackerel bait. It’s the best fun I’ve had in years.
My tape recorder has me describing Looe as ‘like Venice…with chips’.
But that’s unfair – it’s a drink-distorted exaggeration and a side-effect of ‘stress residue medicine’.
The Buddhist Big Sister had been insistent: “On holiday, you have to get rid of stress residue.”
“Stress residue is what’s leftover from work in your body that remains in your system when you start your holiday,” she explained, like a seasoned head nurse.
Apparently, if you don’t exorcise it, ‘stress residue can toxify with travel stress and you can’t switch off’ – ruining your break.
She’s got a Masters in mindfulness and that pretty much makes her a surgeon in Our Mam’s book.
The cure, I discovered, involved me being left to entertain both kids for the day while she hunted down outlets serving stress residue medicine (aka pubs) and fully testing the wares.
Quite often, after indulging in stress residue medicine, the big sister would head back to the cottage and ‘meditate’ for hours on her bed.
In a faraway trance, emitting a strange mystic mantra which sounded to me exactly like snoring.
But it doesn’t matter – me and the kids love Looe.
It’s a hustling, bustling harbour town where huge muscular seagulls with dead eyes strut the length of parked cars like fearless youths.
We become proper tourists.
I buy four Cornish Pasties and the sister buys a gallon glass jar of cockles.
Sipping a drink and scanning the hillside apartments, she says: “I could live here.”
“So could I,” I reply. “And property prices have got to be cheaper than the Lakes…”
Later, we have a nosey in an estate agents’ window.
As her eyes slowly rose to the top row of properties, mine slowly fall to the bottom.
I secretly vow to start pinching sugar from service stations in order to save money.
We head for the bus stop where we find other holidaymakers are fretting about the bus being late.
“Chill your beans,” the Big Sister tells them. “You’re on holiday!”
At the last minute, late tourists arrive and swamp our ill-defined queue.
The Big Sister suddenly turns aggressively territorial – sucking us all into that cringe-worthy ‘we were here first’ bus scrum.
Using her superior upper body strength, she’s among the first on the bus but unknowingly fatally clanks her carrier bags in the process.
To the delight of the kids, the whole back seat of the bus is ours.
But on the first steep hill going down, the sister’s cockle bottle escapes its split carrier bag, rolls agonisingly down the aisle and smashes with a loud crash in the foot well near the bus driver.
Every passenger turns round as the whole sweaty bus fills with the overpowering reek of cockles.
The sister flicks her shades down over her eyes. “I could murder a pint of stress medicine,” she hisses.
I cut her short: “I think you’ve had quite enough for one day, young lady.”
Surfing, Tequila Sunrises and Fistral Beach
So, our Cornish holiday is almost at its end.
We have climbed cliffs, walked causeways, toured castles, been on boats, built sandcastles and swum in warm English waters.
We have played Gin Rummy endlessly.
We are Swallows and Amazons, although no-one wants to be ‘Titty’.
On our last night, we were in deep slapping seawater off Newquay with the light fading fast.
Shivering next to me on bodyboards were the six-year-old daughter and the 12-year-old nephew.
Out at sea, weeks of searing temperatures are stirring up one giant electric weather cocktail.
Huge waves and torrential rain are heading right here – to Fistral Beach – all powered by a supermoon.
Hunkered down in a beach hut bar ‘keeping watch’ is the Buddhist Big Sister.
If it’s a toss up between us shouting ‘help’ and the ‘hunky barman’ saying ‘Hi’ – we’re all gonners.
But I’d rather drown at sea than spend another night in the cottage watching Nephew X Box “on the buttons”.
Console games have a place in today’s home but all things in moderation, chum.
Working in the media, I can see how childhood obesity has happened; how our kids have been scared off the streets at night
And if anyone wants to know why UK kids become overweight, you only need listen to their equivalent of the Birdie Song.
Its chorus goes: “McDonald’s, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut.”
The exponents of this subliminal poison should be hunted down, frogmarched through a Type 2 Diabetes Ward then openly flogged in a town square – preferably within sight of Greggs.
In the body board shop, a surfer dude with a deep mahogany tan had asked me if I wanted to upgrade for training sessions.
I shook my head: “No way, Brah. I don’t need lessons. I watched Point Break back-to-back in the 90s.”
So we’re surfing off Fistral Beach; waiting for ‘our wave.’
When the big roller finally hit, both kids flapped desperately for the shore like baby seals fleeing a killer whale.
I slapped on to my board with all the grace and finesse of a side of beef being thrown onto a butcher’s slab.
Slipping off, I went under, clawing sand. When I came up again, the half light was filled with shrieks of raw enjoyment.
The kids were whooping it up on the shore. It was the happiest I had ever seen them.
They were both alive somewhere behind the eyes.
In that spiritual place where no phones or telly or video games will ever reach.
It would have been fitting to end this series here with some over-arching moral code.
But the truth is, all I could think of, that stormy night on a cold beach, was a line from Point Break.
“It was about us against the system. That system that kills the human spirit.”
Heading back to the beach bar, we couldn’t find the Buddhist Big Sister.
Then there was a loud shout from the corner.
She was beckoning us over with a Tequila Sunrise in hand.
“Oi, Keanu!” she shouted. “Over here!”
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