‘Eat your ice-cream, Erica,’ …. Holidays (1).

20 04 2013

It’s hard work blending families, getting to know one another, realising the full extent of what you’ve done and navigating all of the unexpected pitfalls that come your way. Pitfalls such as friends, or, I should say, people you thought were your friends. The ones who whisper, when you’re out of earshot, ‘Where does your mum sleep, Ella?’ Remember – we weren’t ‘out’. Just two women who had separated from their partners and begun sharing a house. Whatever you might think of that, it’s the way it was. And friends were the biggest surprise. A couple of close ones told me to be careful or I could lose my kids. They also thought it was okay for me to keep their secrets (that bed in the front room actually being slept in by the husband; secret business plans; mental health issues) but not to keep mine. There were, of course, the friends who saw nothing at all unusual in what we were doing and as a result disagreed heartily with us keeping it quiet. And then the real surprises – the people we’d never really ‘clicked’ with before, coming out in support and ending up being the kinds of friends you’re glad to have. Thank you to those friends. It meant a lot.

So … after all that … we needed a holiday. We ended up having two the first year – one to a nuns’ retreat on the Isle of Wight (interesting, that one, but good and happy) and one to Estartit in Spain. Seven of us went on both of these trips because my ex came as well. Do you think that’s odd? It didn’t feel so at the time. It felt perfectly normal, especially when his new partner joined us for a few days at the nuns’ house. 

What do I remember about these two holidays in that first, heady year of change? Well … they were happy, as I’ve said, and I remember that Vinnie had to sleep in an unusually long bed during the first holiday … and the showers were strange and a man nearby brought us some fresh mackerel he’d caught … and, oh … all sorts of things. Close by was a decidedly posh hotel, so we had to be on our mettle. Four loud, funny, obnoxious and occasionally foul-mouthed kids did not typify the clientele.

For Estartit we booked a cheap townhouse with shared pool. The weather had its moments, it being September, and the place was nice. But I have two overriding memories, both involving Ella. 

The first was her sudden desire to make a new friend. As the outside area was shared, she’d spotted her prey early on – a Spanish girl about the same age who appeared to have no brothers or sisters. Ella had a phrase book and practised from it for hours. Eventually, armed with the Spanish for ‘Would you like to play a game?’ or some such phrase, she plucked up the courage to go over and speak. We waited with baited breath for the result. She returned much sooner than expected.

Jen: What did she say?

Ella: No.

Bless … And when I say ‘prey’ I’m being unfair. Ella was just ten and it was in the days before she became the more precocious version of herself. We were both proud of her for trying and both could see something she couldn’t, that it was most likely just embarrassment and lack of language on the other girl’s part that made her say no. I suggested that Ella persist, but she’d been bitten.   

The other memory is definitely more characteristic of Miss Precocious, and for me, hugely funny. We were sitting round a table in a small restaurant. All of the other tables were occupied, so we must have presented as an interesting group – one man, two women, four children, chattering away in English … loudly. 

Everything was fine until the dessert. The kids all chose ice-cream because it was always so spectacular. They were pretty quiet for a while, until we noticed that Ella had decided to ‘perform’. 

Ella: Eat your ith-cream, Erica.

Yes. Ella has suddenly developed a lisp.

Ella: Eat it, Erica! Eat your ith-cream. 

Erica, unsurprisingly, finds this funny, and so can’t eat her ice-cream.

Ella: Eat it! It’th nith.

I find it funny. It’s the kind of thing that sets me off.

Ella: What’th wrong with your ith-cream? It’th very nith! 

Erica and Max’s dad is finding this funny. As are Max and Vinnie.

Ella: Dethpite what they thay, ith-cream ith very good for you.

The people on the other tables noticed, probably because of five people’s uncontrollable mirth. I say ‘five’, because, of course, Ella had never been more serious in her life. But Jen, well … Jen finds things like this difficult. Having Ella ‘perform’ was one thing, but having the eyes of the restaurant on us was quite another. She put down her napkin and got up.

Jen: I’m going to the loo.

Ella, being the only one who can speak, is concerned.

Ella: What’th up Mum? Ith thomething wrong?

 

Perhaps you had to be there, but it was funny, despite Jen’s discomfort. What else do I remember about that holiday? Oh yes, more discomfort for Jen when it appeared I hadn’t brought enough money to the supermarket, so we had to wait while a queue formed behind us as the sour-faced checkout woman painstakingly cancelled the ‘unnecessary’ items, like chocolate biscuits and ice-lollies (we kept the beer and wine) on the cash register one-by-one. And speaking of money, when we arrived back at Stansted Airport I was stopped by someone carrying out a ‘government survey’ and one of the questions was about how much spending money I’d taken to Estartit. £700, I told her, for just over a week. Seven hundred pounds! Who would ever have thought I’d be nostalgic for the relative cheapness of the year 2003? Seven hundred pounds?!  (Sorry to go on … but I find this unbelievable …) By 2010, seven hundred pounds would have lasted about three-and-a-half days on a holiday abroad with the six of us, and as a result, we don’t do it anymore. (The following posts will give a taste of our holidays from 2004-2010, but back to Estartit …)

It was lovely to walk along the beach front at night and watch the children’s delight in those giant elastic bands that sweep you up and dangle you, then drop you, then lift you up again. We loved their cries of joy and squeals of excitement. Every evening it was the same, and I was taken back to holidays of my own (albeit in Colwyn Bay), and the childlike joy in simple pleasures. Bless our children of six, seven, nine and ten. We could take them anywhere. 

We had no idea.

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