The Plastic Hippo

February 21, 2015

Half term

Filed under: Faith,History,Society — theplastichippo @ 12:00 pm
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Castle Howard image via Mike Kiping

Castle Howard image via Mike Kiping

The prospect of yet another half term holiday has, until fairly recently, provoked little more than dreadful resignation. After years of forcing unwilling children into art galleries, museums, willow weaving workshops, face painting and truly awful organised “creative play experiences”, the endeavour to inform and equip young minds has always been an uphill struggle in a non-school setting.

Amazingly, even after inflicting the horrors of camping or enduring nights in freezing, derelict farm outbuildings described in the brochure as “luxurious holiday rental cottages”, the children do not seem to harbour any malignant hatred toward us. Even more astonishing is that after dragging them across barren fells in horizontal rain, so far at least, they have not attempted to kill me. Of late, though, things have changed; they have become older and frighteningly independent.

This half term, the luxurious holiday farm outbuilding was in a charming little hamlet somewhere between York and Castle Howard. Equipped with all modern conveniences, the selling point was that the hovel was not connected to the internet thingy and, as an added bonus the village had a decent pub.

Perhaps village is an incorrect description. The serfs who once serviced the Earls of Carlisle in their ostentatious and rather vulgar stately pile and the descendants who served as extras in endless television period dramas are long gone having been replaced by wealthy merchants commuting to York and Leeds. One evening in the pub we heard an excitable entrepreneur yelling at his hands-free smart phone something about “the product eco-system fast-tracked into the client awareness zone.” We found this utterly hilarious and did not try to conceal our laughter. Mercifully, Product Eco-system Man was so self-obsessed that he remained blissfully unaware of our derision and continued to shout about “his people” putting together “holistic strategies” to flog some tat. As a creative play experience, this was much better than a seven mile hike looking at lichens and topography.

We walked a lot and played Scrabble and cards and read books and when we stopped doing that, we talked. Separated from the things that separate us, we communed…err…like a family. Sometimes, the children cooked and washed up and asked questions more profound than “why is there no phone signal?” or “what was life like before Facebook?” It seemed like a turning point; the children were no longer children.

We decided on a day out in York. After feeding an arm and then a leg into the ticket machine of the only York car park with an available space, I handed out ten pound notes like a Conservative candidate on the campaign trail. One faction headed off to buy clothes, another resorted to a replica weapons emporium and I took myself to the Old Star Inn on Stonegate in the shadow of the Minster with strict instructions that I should be collected three hours later and that someone else will drive home to the luxurious outbuilding that we were temporarily occupying.

I like the Old Star and although the Ale is now ridiculously expensive, the ancient boozer retains its historical charm. In the lovely beer garden now re-designated as the smoking area, I made camp and read my newspaper. Overhead, a pair of F15 fighters, presumably out of RAF Lakenheath, circled the city for about an hour and a Chinook helicopter flew low heading west. I imagined how I would feel if I was in Damascus, or Donetsk, or Tripoli. It is probably coincidental that another two Russian heavy aircraft were intercepted that day.

By delightful serendipity, a charming couple from Michigan on a visit to York joined me in the beer garden as the F15s practiced bombing runs overhead. Our conversation centred on history and only occasionally did we need to raise our voices to be heard above the afterburners being engaged above our heads. When they asked me if the pub was haunted, I could not resist telling them that it was. “Who is the ghost?” they asked. I have probably damaged the special relationship by pointing at the sky and replying “you”.

It took nearly an hour and a half to drive back through the York rush hour to the outbuilding. Fortunately, I was in the back and rambling about the new world order to the children who laughed at me as much as they laughed at Product Eco-system Man. As a father, my work is done; they can now spot nonsense and hypocrisy from a thousand yards and are not afraid to laugh at it. All in all it was a splendid half term and something of a watershed. The children no longer required instruction or coercion or a meticulously planned itinerary of activities to keep them occupied. They have ceased to be dependent and have become rather good company.

Next half term, me and my darling wife will abandon them and fly off to somewhere nice leaving a weeks` supply of Pot Noodle, Lambrini and several sand bags full of oven chips. It won`t be long before they enrol us on a face painting course for the aged and infirmed or a workshop in will writing.

If I can offer any fatherly advice as a lasting legacy, then it would be to try and behave nicely, respect other people, avoid planting or dropping bombs and never drive into York in the hope of ever finding a place to park during half term.

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