Round the bend

Claire Calvey attempts a 600km road trip with her five-strong brood


Claire Calvey attempts a 600km road trip with her five-strong brood

‘You must be mad,’
my friend squeals down the phone after I tell her I’m planning a road trip over the long weekend. ‘Five kids and 600 kilometres, you’ll be certifiable by the end of it!’

She has a point, but I suffer from a Pollyanna-like optimism when it comes to what I can realistically manage with five kids. ‘I can do this!’ I tell her confidently, ‘how hard can it be?’

The day of the big road trip dawns with bright optimism; the car is packed up, the iPad and Nintendos’ charged, and a Nigella-inspired picnic packed, leaving just enough time for the obligatory argument over who sits in the backseat.

According to a study by car manufacturing giant Peugeot, the average time it takes for children to start arguing on a car journey, is 31 minutes. Had they bothered to consult us, they would have learned that it is possible to have an argument before anyone has actually entered the car, since we have the ‘backseat’ argument daily.

9.00am: Seating arrangements resolved and seatbelts buckled, we hit the road to the sound of ‘The best of the 80’s’ CD.

9.02am: Swivelling around in my seat, I glance at the five silent children, engrossed in various gadgetries. ‘I told you this would be OK,’I tell my husband smugly, ‘they are FINE!’

9.03am: ‘I need to pee!’ the eight-year-old boy announces triumphantly. ‘Yeah me too,’ adds his six-year-old brother. This is a common double-act they like to perform at the most inconvenient moments (I swear they do it to annoy me). I try to ignore them.

9.07am: ‘PEEEEE, we need to PEEEEE!’ they sing in unison, hopping up and down in their seats.

9.12am: Unable to listen to this irritating refrain any longer, we pull over. Scrambling out of the backseat, they jump out onto the hard-shoulder and relieve themselves. (As an aside, what is it about little boys and al fresco peeing?)

9.39am: A row breaks out; ‘He keeps looking at me!’ complains the six-year-old. ‘Because he keeps picking his nose!’ counters the ten-year-old, who lunges over to pull his hair.

9.42am: The fight has progressed to pinching and scraping, and the six-year-old is now bleeding. My husband pulls over once more to break up the fight.

9.52am: Silence in the car except for the occasional sob from the six-year-old.

‘Look at the scenery,’ my husband instructs the children. ‘It’s beautiful, LOOK AT IT!’ ‘No thanks,’ the twelve-year-old remarks drolly, not lifting her glance from the screen, ‘I can look at scenery on my iPad.’ (Honestly, I give up!)

10.08am: The baby escapes from his seat. We stop the car again and I wrestle the mini-Houdini back into his straps.

10.16am: Time for brunch I decide. Stopping the car again, I hop out and open the boot. ‘Where did you put the picnic basket?’ I call to my husband from under a pile of bags. ‘I didn’t!’ he replies, ‘I thought you did.’

10.17am: I’m beginning to have grave doubts about the wisdom of this trip.

10.25am: We stop at a petrol station to stock up on bags of Bombay mix, doughnuts and ice-pops; not quite the wholesome feast I had hoped for, but I’m certain Nigella would understand.

Apart from the sound of rustling plastic wrappers and teeth crunching, there is silence for a few minutes.

10.35am: ‘Let’s play eye spy!’ the ten-year-old announces suddenly.

10.36am: The six-year-old promptly pukes Bombay-mix all over the ten-year-old.

10.37am: We stop the car again and I try my best to clean up the vomit. The other children are starting to retch.

10.39am: ‘This isn’t going too well,’ my husband remarks. ‘I spotted a hotel a mile or so back; how about a change of plan?’ Suddenly the idea of a weekend spent beside a pool sounds eminently more sensible than one cooped up in a car with five kids.

We turn the car around and head back to the hotel.

Conclusion: Peugeot were right, 31 minutes in a car with kids is enough for anyone. The next time I get the urge to travel 600 kilometres in any direction, I’m either heading to the nearest airport, or leaving the kids behind!

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