I am an “information junkie”. I have just come back from a session of cold turkey. No internet, no television, no newspapers. If you want to do the same here’s what you’ll need:
- Two small children
- Ageing parents with a house in the middle of France
- A bottle of Calvados
- Lots of cheese
- A good book (mine was ‘Riding the Iron Rooster’ by Paul Theroux but any good one will do)
- A smart phone stacked with games apps but with mobile data roaming turned off.
- Some Tomy Eggs
- A guitar
- An indefatigable but blind 18 year-old cat
- A large zoo
The cold turkey was unplanned but came out of necessity. To explain:
5 years ago my Dad retired out to France and we have just been to see him. We’d been over a couple of times with Boy when he was smaller but Dad had yet to meet Baby except on a Skype video call, during every one of which she waves, shrieks and puts her hand over the camera. Dad was keen to meet her, not least I think, to establish that she was a girl toddler and not a large shrieking hand that I kept next to the laptop in order to freak him out.
I’d already decided not to activate the roaming data on my smartphone just because I could see it ending up stupidly expensive in an unexpected sort of manner. My very information junkie nature would have had me constantly tweeting, checking the BBC for news and sport and uploading my holiday snaps to Facebook as they happened and Mr Vodafone sending me a resulting bill for £9876.43 just as I needed to do something like pay the mortgage. Also I couldn’t find how to turn on the mobile data roaming.
An unexpected side effect was that, having lost twitter, I’d lost a venting mechanism and so, as early as the ferry over, I became un-British. When Brittany Ferries say on their site that they are taking you on a ‘cruise’ what they mean is ‘a cruise with the sort of miserable penny-pinching, snobbish-in-the-wrong-place, French customer service that the rest of the world (except budget airlines) abandoned 20 years ago’. Example; SlightlySuburbanMum was sent off round the cafeteria to get our evening meals while I looked after the children. I had already decided on Beef Bourguignon and rice (9 Euros) and noted that the portions were doled out by two young, grim looking matelots with a ladle. She came back with my meal which consisted of 3 tiny cubes of beef, a bit of gravy and a couple of spoonfuls of rice. Twitter-less, a glass of red to the good and in a holiday mood I took it back and complained. Yes really. The chaps with the ladle, supposedly bi-lingual, suddenly could only manage a Gallic Shrug when confronted with my question in both languages as to whether this really was a 9 Euro portion of stew. Just as I feared I would turn into the world’s greatest sterotype by shouting louder in English a manager appeared, dumped more meat on my plate and, with another Gallic Shrug stalked off back in to the background. However, SlightlySuburbanMum had not been able to carry 4 plates and therefore now had to go back for her own. She got a portion the size of Rotherham. We were still eating stew when we docked at Ouistreham.
On arrival at my Dad’s three things became apparent during the first day. One was that his 18 year old cat, Cheech (sadly there is no Chong), was now totally blind and so both children were warned in no uncertain terms to be careful of her. Boy, who is a sensitive lad, achieved this by avoiding the cat totally or shrinking from her whenever she came near. Unfortunately, Baby, who is 20 months and did not understand the warning (no matter what terms it was couched in) yelled “CAT!” at the top of her voice every time she saw it whereupon poor Cheech would walk in to a wall. The other two things were that his French laptop did not work properly and that the new-ish flat screen telly which was tuned to the French TV channels would not be coming on at any point.
This was it. No twitter. No blog. No internet. No TV. No papers. I would have to *shudder* ENTERTAIN THE CHILDREN.
Luckily Baby is at the age where she needs three toys on rotation and lots of playing with. We mastered her simple farm puzzle. We stacked her magnetic insect stackers. We shelled and unshelled her Tomy Eggs. Then I taught her “The Wheels on the Bus” and we invented a game called “Round and Round the table” in which she walked round and round a table (I didn’t say it was a good game).
My Dad was a professional musician and guitar teacher all his life so while this was going on he was teaching Boy chords C and G7 so they could play Yellow Submarine to us. When the weather was crap he and Boy played 8 Ball Pool on my Dad’s DS and when it was good ALL of us played water fights with the water pistols (Baby, being unable to pull the trigger, was given the large Water Bazooka that doesn’t work any more. It was nearly as big as her).
When all that failed we went to the Zoo. There is a fantastic Zoo 3 minutes drive from my Dad’s house. It really is one of the best in Europe. We watched gibbons swinging on ropes. We failed to see the sleeping leopards. Then we came to the Lion cage. We told Baby it was a lion and she roared, just like she does when we get to the Lion page of Dear Zoo. Then boy roared. Then – joy of joys – the lions roared. All of them. It really is a loud and scary noise but of course, as I imagine happens in nature, warning calls then come out. Every. Other. Animal.
This left only one tension for day times. Routine, specifically meals. We have brought the kids up to have meals at regular times, have variety in their diet and for Baby to nap after lunch. My Dad and his second wife, Granny H, have a slightly more fluid approach. Sometimes they have breakfast and some times not. Then at some point between 12 and 2 my Dad will make exactly the same lunch. Ham, bread, pickles, salad, Dijon mustard. Every day. Really. He does, of course, know that this is not too suitable for a 20 month old and so we took over the kitchen at lunchtime but it did seem that meals were constantly being made but for only a small proportion of the house’s current inhabitants.
Evenings were easier. The kids were again fed separately then Baby was bathed while my Dad and Boy finished water fighting or singing the Beatles, then Boy was bathed and put to bed and then we sat down to a meal that was either convenience food heated in a halogen oven (if Granny H was on cooking duty) or a meal cooked completely from scratch (Chinese, a meat ragu) if my Dad was. This I have always found odd for Granny H is a good gardener and general greenie. She can re-use food my Dad cooks. She composts. She grows her own fruit and veg. The garden looks amazing and they subsist remarkably cheaply. Then she takes all that produce and gives it to my Dad and heats up some Lidl Pizza and Chips.
Nights at my Dad’s have always concluded the same way. The meal is followed with cheese and biscuits and putting the world to rights over a good deal of drink. When the world is put to rights you go to bed. If there is any time between the children’s bed routine and the food and drink routines these are spent reading, hence the good book.
Now repeat times six and you have information detoxed for just short of a week. To celebrate, watch a toddler yell ‘CAT!’ at a blind feline and observe said feline walking in to a wall.
On the way home we decided to break the journey up by staying at a hotel just by the Ferry port. I instantly turned on CNN and caught up one week’s worth of news in 2 hours, then we went for some Moules frites because my Dad can’t eat fish or seafood. That night, in bed, sleeping fitfully because we had an early start and I’m a worrier, I was woken by an ENORMOUS roar. I got up to investigate. I thought Boy might be upset but it was Baby, roaring in her sleep. She was dreaming of Lions.
P.S. To keep Boy happy on the car journey bits we played his favourite album by Bruno Mars on repeat while he sang along. I now know all the words, probably backwards. If any of you come near me with a Bruno Mars record or a ham and pickle sandwich I’m going to fucking rabbit punch you.