He might have jetted off to sunnier shores, but Olly Mann can't fly away from his domestic concerns. He contemplates the new experience of taking a baby on holiday and the modern phenomenon of holidaying in a stranger's home.
It’s holiday time. I’m on a baking hot roof terrace, beer in one hand. A gentle breeze is seductively sweeping my hair, as the Mediterranean Sea twinkles on the horizon.
The feeling is familiar from previous sojourns: my sunburned lower shoulders; my bloated stomach digesting multiple portions of octopus; my secret wish that the airport workers resume their strike and I get trapped here forever.
Yet this break is different, in two fundamental ways: instead of travelling as a couple, we have a newborn baby with us; and instead of residing in a resort, we are staying in a stranger’s flat. These adjustments are completely transformative—to the extent that, for me, the very word “holiday” now conjures up an event so exhausting I need a week off to recover.
Firstly, the little guy. Taking a four-month-old baby abroad is like taking your grandma to watch Megadeth: the combination of participant and event is poorly matched, and you have to keep asking security staff the way to the lift.
My central concern for our son Harvey was removing him from his usual routine: morning feed downstairs, afternoon feed in the garden, evening feed upstairs, and so on. Any change to that pattern—me standing to answer the door, for instance—can cause hysteria.
"Taking a four-month-old baby abroad is like taking your grandma to watch Megadeth"
We thought we were being clever by renting an apartment. Here, we reasoned, Harvey might be fooled into thinking that the cold marble floor is somehow our beige carpet, the floor-to-ceiling IKEA furnishings are replicas of our country cottage knick-knacks, and that the top half of his pram, precariously balanced on a chest of drawers, is in fact his cot.
It’s with some paternal pride I report that he’s far too astute for this ploy to even slightly work. The moment we arrived, the waterworks opened and he made it most clear he was Not Keen On Spain.
But at least that was on private property, and only we had to endure it. On the flight, he’d given a vivid rendition of Not Keen On Flying, which was rather more public.
I’d told myself before we boarded the plane that if he kicked off, well, it was divine retribution for all those countless wailing brats that ruined my previous flights, it happens to all parents at some point, and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
But I hadn’t anticipated him screaming his lungs out from take-off to landing, spewing all over the seats, or whacking the passenger trapped in the window seat next to us in the face, numerous times.
All of which might have been more manageable if we hadn’t spent a sleepless night before panicking about whether we’d packed appropriately. Will he require long-sleeve vests? What if the flat has no microwave to sterilise his bottles?
Will they sell Pampers in Marbella? Does the car-seat count as separate luggage? Can you put insect repellent on a baby? If we take apart his rocker, will we be able to put it together again? OH GOD, IMAGINE IF HIS ROCKER WAS BROKEN. It’s the only thing in the world he truly loves.
"I find it unsettling to shadow someone else’s
entire life just because you’ve exchanged
credit-card details online"
Of course, babies quickly forget what once upset them and frequently adapt to new circumstances, and as I type this now, five days into the holiday, Harvey is happily at my feet, under a blanket, coated in factor 50, wearing a swimming nappy, a sunhat that’s slightly too small and sunglasses that are slightly too big.
But i can’t fully relax. In the back of my head, I’m wondering about Mick. Mick owns the flat. I’ve never met him—he arranged key collection from an office—but I feel I know him, because there are photos of him everywhere. In the kitchen, there’s one of him on the beach. Next to the TV, one of him sharing pizza with his granddaughters. In the bedroom, there he is at Madame Tussauds, with a waxwork of David Bowie. Which stares at us as we sleep. In his sheets.
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I know I’m supposedly part of the “disruptive” generation entirely at home in, erm, someone else’s home, but the truth is I find it unsettling to shadow someone else’s entire life just because you’ve exchanged credit-card details online. Don’t get me wrong: it’s certainly useful, when travelling with young children, to have the use of a washing machine, and a fridge, and two bathrooms. But I just can’t become accustomed to it.
As I cook dinner, I find myself wondering what Mick does for a living, and why he appears to be estranged from his daughter. I ask myself: why does he buy such cheap toilet paper, real tracing paper stuff, when he lives here himself half the year? Does he keep the good stuff in the attic? And what about that biological stain on the sofa? If it’s Harvey’s milk-puke, I should clean it up. If it’s Mick’s doing, it’s probably best left alone.
Still, right now, on Mick’s sun terrace, drinking Mick’s beer, I really don’t want to go home. And, oddly, I suspect Harvey doesn’t either.