I may be a masochist, but I actually find travelling with the kids fun. Even on the longest of journeys and this weekend was a case in point. The kids, my mum and I set off for Wales at 11 on Friday. It should have been 10, but things have a habit of slipping in our house. Six hours later we arrived at the festival we were going to after several rounds of One Direction and some detailed quizzes about flags of the world. Daughter three was slightly upset because a) she was forced to sit in the very back with only son yet again an 2) she had lost her earphones. There is a certain inevitability about long car journeys in our family. At least one person will lose something, generally earphones, immediately before we set off. There must be an earphone graveyard somewhere in our house, possibly the very same place where the tv remote control has disappeared to.
Half way to the M40 I realised I’d left the washing in the machine. Either the machine would self ignite, burning down the entire house, or the washing would turn to mulch by Sunday. In any event, it was too late to do anything about it. I knew the way to the festival, although it took six hours to get there due to motorway problems and we were only there for a short time before we had to make our way to the cottage we had rented about an hour away up some winding country roads through the Golden Valley.
It was very beautiful, but slighty far. The cottage was a converted farm barn and when we arrived, only son was over the moon. “It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s better than our house.” And indeed it was. It was tidy, for one, and had a tv in the bedroom. One down side was that there was intermittent phone and internet connection, but daughter one eventually saw this as a plus. “I think I’m going to use my phone less,” she said on the way home. “I feel better for not being on my phone.” This was despite the fact she had to get up fairly early both days as she wanted to go to the festival. The first day I was accompanied by daughters one and three. Daughter two hates the very words ‘literary festival’ as she has been subjected to rather too many in her time. Only son wanted to explore the farm. It was a beef farm and daughter one claimed to hear the cows mooing to be liberated every morning. “I bet they know they are doomed,” she said. “When I am rich,” she added optimistically, “I am going to create a wildlife park for cows so they can roam free.” She then stated that she was thinking of becoming a vegan.
The day went well with several talks. Daughter three stuck her hand up to ask a question during a session with a children’s author and then queued up afterwards to speak to her in person. Daughter three is no wallflower when it comes to meeting interesting adults. Daughter one’s high spot was walking into Hay-on-Wye and finding two Duran Duran records, one of them signed, for £3 a pop. We won a free copy of First News and daughter one suggested a whole new audience for a political magazine. They told her they represented all views. “Even teenagers?” she inquired.
All the while I was texting my mum who was in charge of daughter three and only son as I was slightly worried they might have fallen into a quarry or been attacked by a cow. There was radio silence. We headed back in the early evening. Unfortunately, although daughter three had written down the route on the way there, it didn’t seem to be that simple to find the second bush on the right on the way back. It was beginning to get dark. I was worried about the petrol situation, given the lack of any signs of petrol stations in the Welsh countryside. I had spotted two in Abergavenny, but that was a long way back. We went up several roads which turned out to be farm paths with no turning around space. The village near our cottage appeared to be unsignposted. We got back late and everyone was still alive and watching Spiderman. Apparently my mum had tricked only son to go for a walk down the winding roads by suggesting there was a McDonald’s in the nearby town – population three houses and a telephone box. He had picked me a rose.
The second day at the festival went well and highlights included finding Wi-fi – at last! – in the children’s tent and so being able to find out what daughter two’s homework was. She had to do a prospectus for a college in Baghdad and started work while a man with glasses sang a song entitled something like “There’s a terrible thing coming out of my bum” in the background to the accompaniment of jumping toddlers.
Daughter one was very upbeat, having gone to a talk on language and identity and another on feminism in the Middle East. Daughter three chose to come with me to something on China during the Second World War, during which she needed the toilet twice. On the road back, daughter one got slightly delirious with hunger and started singing songs about pasta. We arrived in Essex after several hours of songs about pasta. “I have a good feeling about this,” said only son from the back. “I think we may be near home.” And so we were.