We’ve just come back home, from an afternoon in Llanarchaeron. It’s a Georgian mansion with model farm, walled garden, lake, walks in the woods etc. For some odd reason we always seem to go in the autumn or winter. This is the first time in years that we’ve visited when the sun was actually shining. It was pretty busy as they’re running a children’s Easter egg hunt over the weekend. But it was lovely to see families of children actually running around, enjoying the animals and all that fresh air and sunshine that so few of them seem to get these days.
And I started thinking about family days out when I was a child, and the sheer misery they caused. Of course some of it was fun. We visited some great places. We went away on holiday only twice and that was twice too many times. My father drove and of course, mother did not. Women didn’t, in the early 1960’s, not if they had husband who could drive. We didn’t have a car though, so dad would borrow his sister’s little green mini. So there we were, my younger sister and I in the back, and mum and dad in the front.
Just as with every family sunday lunch, it was important to dad that he be able to spend as much time as possible, actually being able to forget that he had two daughters. Sunday lunch was the only meal of the week that we had all of us together. Dad would read the sunday paper while he ate; mum, sister and I were not allowed to read. My sister and I had to be absolutely silent. If we wanted anything like the sale, we had to, absolutely quietly, gesture to our mother for it. Dad wanted to keep his head down, eat, read and pretend we were not there.
And it was the same in the car. However, I always managed to put a spoke in that idea. I had chronic carsickness and every time we went out, it made itself known. Of course I couldn’t help it; I now know it was due to an inner ear imbalance, which I’ve had all my life (just one more reason why I don’t ride a bike!). But according to dad, I wilfully and with malice, decided to be sick, all so that I would have to change places with mum and sit in the front seat with the window down. It didn’t matter how terrible I felt, it was all my own fault and he hated me for taking away mum’s company from him.
We’d eventually get to where we were going and we’d have a reasonably nice time. There would be sneers aimed at me at lunchtime about how I didn’t seem to be too ill to eat. Then all the way home there would be arguments and shouting. Mum and dad would nit-pick at each other and I would be terrified that dad would be so furious that he would crash the car. I’d sit as quiet as possible, hold onto my sister’s hand and keep my eyes closed.
It went on for years like this. A regulation two weeks of “days” every year. One year, I don’t know why, mum and dad thought it would be a great idea to go on a two-week touring holiday of Scotland and invite dad’s sister along. Dad’s sister who hated our mum; dad’s sister who hated me for looking like our mum. Dad’s sister who wanted to keep her brother all to herself. She would sit in the passenger seat at the front, unless she was driving, in which case dad would sit there. Mum, my sister and I were squashed into the back. And you can bet that no matter how sick I felt, I never allowed myself to be sick enough to have to sit in the front. Luckily mum had discovered anti-car sickness pills and they helped. That was two weeks of arguments and quarrels, in-between actually doing some sightseeing.
About 11 years later, mum and dad had forgotten how bad it could be and took my sister and I on two weeks touring around Wales. (It led to me having a life-long hiraeth for Wales, which is why I live here now.) Every evening we’d go through the same thing. We’d go to a tourist information office to find out where the b&b’s were. Mum would turn up her nose at most of the places we’d stay in. She was clearly very uncomfortable with having to actually stay in other people’s houses. Privacy was absolutely vital to her. (Unfortunately I’ve inherited that tendency, though I recognise it and try to suppress it.)
But I have no need to go on days out or holidays with any of my parents ever again. And i happy to report that days out with my husband and daughter never include arguments; no one is sick or punished for feeling sick; everyone’s wants and needs are considered, not just the male portion of the party; and we have a jolly good time together. We always do. The three of us generally get along well and we actually enjoy spending time together. That is the important thing: everyone has to be on the day out because they want to, not because they feel obliged, or are made to feel obliged. I had 18 years of miserable days out, but I’ve now had 36 years of happy ones. That’s twice 18; time I scrubbed those years out of my brain.