We recently went away for the weekend. It was to be a very special treat. A family mini break if you like. My idea, (although Mr G didn’t need much convincing), and all all in all it was a huge success – amongst the tears and tantrums, episodes of car sickness, and inevitable thumping, yelling and squealing coming from the back seat on the outward journey, the weekend was peppered with unmistakeable moments of enormous well being. We went to a Family Hotel in The Countryside. Not just a place where they included fish fingers on the menu, chucked a slide in the front and declared themselves family friendly, but a REAL family hotel where families are made to feel so welcome that you are significantly less mortified by your children’s feral behaviour than you would be normally.
Everything had been thought of. There were roaring fires, squishy sofas, swimming pools and play areas. And on top of the usual bibs and highchairs, jigsaws and storybooks, there was a trampoline, nature garden, Wendy houses and most importantly, a kids club. A club for kids. A club where adults drop off their kids and leave them there. Leave them there with staff. Leave them there with staff and go off by themselves to either the spa or the bar, (or in my case, back to bed with all the complimentary biscuits). Before I had children I was hugely judgmental of people who used services like this, but as I said, that was before I had children. As you can imagine, Mr G and I were giddy at the very thought. So giddy that we got a bit carried away and booked them into each and every two hour session available. Which brings me to handy hint number one:
1. Harbour low expectations of your fellow guests.
You may well be mini breaking with families who are less desperate for a child free hour or two/to go to the loo without an audience etc, than you are. If, for example, you are keen to take advantage of the Sunday morning kids club where you can hand your offspring over to the aforementioned staff and have an actual lie in, be prepared, for there may be a ‘minimum of six children’ policy. If you do not have six children yourselves then you will need to rely on your fellow guests to sign their children up as well, in order to make up the numbers. But ‘real’ family hotels do not come cheap. In establishments as pricey as these, you may find yourself surrounded by people who regularly get lie ins due to all their nannies etc, and the danger here is that they may therefore NOT sign up for the lie in club. Take heart – those selfish gits may have shattered your dreams of a lazy Sunday morning in bed with the papers (or Grazia), but at least you will be up early enough to take full advantage of all that is on offer at breakfast.
2. Be resourceful at mealtimes.
If the stacks of mini pastries at breakfast, or the pile of (different types!) of bread rolls at supper are too hard to resist, do not even attempt to do so. This is your Weekend Away. Your Family Minibreak. You deserve it all. It is perfectly possible to take more than is strictly necessary by hiding them in the high quality, oversized napkins. You can then save them for later and get away with not giving your children lunch. This also works well with mini yoghurts and bananas.
3. Be sensible in the spa.
Whilst a full body massage may well be appealing, it will invariably be the most expensive treatment. Similarly, a facial is all well and good, but what have you actually achieved? You are far better off going for something with visible results. Get a full leg or bikini wax for maximum long term satisfaction. The girl waxing you may well be confused by your referral to the procedure as a ‘massive treat’ but she is young and childless and will not understand how wonderful it is for you to have someone else see to your body admin. For a long time afterwards you will feel great – as you would if someone scrubbed your oven for you.
4. Calm the hell down.
Yes, you may find yourselves in front of a roaring fire on a sofa so comfortable you could die there, sipping gin and tonics and chatting about current affairs (or X Faxtor contestants), with your children tucked up in bed next to a highly qualified babysitter, BUT your fellow guests most probably do this all the time. Don’t let yourselves down by squealing with joy each time the waiter brings you nibbles. Even if you didn’t order them and they are FREE. When you sit down to a three course candlelit dinner with jazz playing beautifully in the background, express your gratitude with a formal ‘thank you’, rather than actually stroking the waiting staff as they deliver food so yummy it makes your eyes roll around in your heads like marbles.
5. When it is time to leave, you have to leave.
At the end of your family mini break your children will have had a blast, made new friends (most probably called something wildly posh like Rafferty or eye wateringly trendy like Zebedee), splashed hysterically in the pool, climbed trees, run up and down staircases (all of which are actually permitted), and played in front of the fire with a train set like something out of a Boden catalogue. You will have read, napped, talked to your other half about things other than the car’s MOT, and not washed up or wiped a surface for over 48 whole hours. You will all be well fed, rested, and happy. But check out time will be upon you before you know it. Ensure you pack your bags and pay the bill without fuss. (It is not cool to practically vomit when you see the total amount.) It was all totally worth it and in approximately ten and a half years time you will have saved up enough cash to come back and do it all again. Refrain from hanging around the croquet gardens with your suitcases in a desperate fashion. Instead, bid farewell to the staff, to Rafferty and Zebedee (and the token labrador), and then drive home gracefully in your Vauxhall Zafira, ideally via a National Trust property for a romp in the grass to complete your countryside experience. It is likely that your children will fall asleep on the return journey, refreshing themselves just enough to ensure that they will not go to bed at bedtime even though they have school and nursery the next day. Save from driving down the M4 with all the windows down (an option), there is little you can do to avoid this, so make your peace with it and enjoy listening to something other than their Charlie and Lola CD. Once you are safely back inside the M25, consider engaging in a lighthearted quiz or similar so that you do not end up on the brink of divorce over which route will get you south of the river in time for X Factor the results, and Downton. And when you are finally home, embrace all the washing that being in The Countryside results in. This was your idea after all, and a ruddy good one it was too.