One of the things I did for Sod Abroad was an incisive and (I hoped) witty analysis of the difficulty in squaring the responsible parent on holiday/having a rare old time circle. Basically, if you have young kids and you're on holiday it's a bit of a waste if you go to bed the same time as they do.
So I did this bit, see.. and I was warned by the grownups at the publishing company that everyone would see parallels with the Madeleine McCann case and we'd get told off by the Daily Express or something.
The fact that I wrote this before the poor girl was abducted cut no cheese with the publishers so, like a responsible writer should, I listened to the opinions of the people who were actually printing the thing and produced a shorter, filleted version of this chapter.
You people on the Internet though, you're impossible to offend aren't you? If by chance you're the one person online right now who is easily upset, click here while the rest of us read this, the full and unexpurgated chapter I like to call:
THINGS YOU CAN ONLY DO @ HOME #10: Getting a babysitter in
After marriage, life goes on. Even after parenthood, some pitiful semblance of life continues. There are, for example, at least three evenings every year on which you’re obliged to squeeze yourself into something uncomfortable and go out for a nice meal*. As long as you remain relatively close to home all you need to do is book a restaurant and find a local teenager who is willing to find a window in their busy schedule of happy slapping and self-harm so they can come round and look after your precious progeny. All it’s going to cost you is the price of the meal, a couple of taxis, five quid an hour for the babysitter and an eye-watering surprise the next time you get a telephone bill.
Stray too far from your home base though, and things get terribly complex. A dwindling number of hotels still offer a ‘baby listening’ service, which effectively means they leave the ‘phone off the hook and as long as your offspring are capable of stating the nature of any emergency in a loud, but calm and clear voice the receptionist will pop through to the hotel restaurant (which is as far as you dare go) and interrupt your meal to tell you that your child is choking on a miniature bar of soap. Any use of restaurants other than the hotel’s offering is strictly prohibited, meaning that this solution is only tenable for a weekend away. Two weeks of the same mediocre menu would test your ordering skills well beyond any realistic limit. Larger hotel chains are now abandoning this idea anyway as certain spoilsport elements within our increasingly litigious culture keep pointing out that parents are being charged for an essentially imaginary service.
Venturing further afield of course throws the language barrier into the mix, and whereas teenagers from outside the UK apparently lack the imagination to make low-resolution videos of common assaults or get themselves pregnant at 13 there’s still something slightly questionable about them. It may be the chain-smoking, it may be the reckless scooter driving, for that matter it may be a pernicious inability to name more than two Carry On films but whatever otherworldly quality denies them Britishness makes them unsuitable candidates for the immensely important task of caring for your little bundles of noise.
So., if you’re going on holiday you can’t have a night out without taking the kids. They’ll get tired in the restaurant and either fall asleep or descend into some kind of blood sugar psychosis which will put quite the crimp in your fantasies of sophisticated continental dining.If you can’t have one nice meal the whole time you’re away, it rather throws the whole raison d’etre of the holiday into a cocked hat, doesn’t it? Your option of course is to save a thousand quid and go for a blowout meal in that nice little Italian place around the corner. It’ll probably have better, more authentically Italian food with no laminated picture menus, the waiter will spend more time bringing you food and a little less time leering down your wife’s top - plus you stand a better chance of getting home to find your kids in one piece and not having been taught to smoke like Alain Delon.
*If you don’t know what they are I’m not going to tell you.