There are a few things I wish I'd known before my wife and I started our family. I wish I'd slept more, banking enough to get me through the years of exhaustion that come with a child. I wish someone had told me about a baby's uncanny ability to know precisely the right moment to be sick. Most importantly, I wish someone had explained that now I was to be a dad I should abandon the notion of a holiday being two weeks of bone-idleness, lying in the sun reading. I wish they'd told me that holidays would be shorter, involve me carrying enough luggage to cripple an elephant and feature eating sandwiches in the rain in Devon.
Holidays are about relaxing. And when I think of a holiday that most encapsulates this I go straight to Corfu in 1990 with my friends Mick and John, doing, well, nothing. We'd wake up at noon, head to the beach, eat lunch around three, sleep, get up and head out to the bars until four in the morning, after which we'd sleep and then start the whole process over again.
Now contrast this with my first holiday as a fully fledged father of my daughter Olivia. The biggest difference was we didn't even get on a plane. My wife and I decided it was too much like hard work to pack everything we needed for our seven-month-old (travel cot, steriliser, milk formula, food, back-up food, litre bottles of Calpol plus every item of clothing she owned including a snowsuit - just in case). So my wife booked us into a "glamorous, child-friendly" self-catering apartment in Devon - for roughly the same price it would have cost to have holidayed abroad, as it turns out.
I was sort of looking forward to the holiday, but this evaporated the moment we hit traffic on the M6. Turning up at our destination several hours later, we discovered our "glamorous" apartment was about as charming as a bus-shelter. We'd fallen for the oldest trick in the book: the artfully taken brochure photograph. Then it started raining. Then the electricity went off. Then my daughter started crying and, as I was feeling a bit depressed, I joined in.
There are other things I wish I'd known about family holidays. Like how no one tells you that if you go somewhere hot, you end up indoors from midday onwards for fear of barbecuing your first-born. Or how your child ends up in the queen-sized bed while you end up sleeping on the camp bed. Or how when you add another child to the mix (my daughter Ruby) holidays get ever more complicated.
Still, I know deep down I wouldn't have it any other way. There's nothing so life-affirming as watching your child building a sandcastle or seeing the delight in their eyes as they play in the sea. And though I used to dream about spending my holiday doing nothing, there will come a time when my kids won't want to go away with my wife and me. When that day comes, I'll look back on my holidays and realise that, whether they involved fun and sun in Corfu or rain and pain in Devon, they were, without doubt, the best times I've ever had.
Wish You Were Here by Mike Gayle (Hodder & Stoughton, £11.99) is out now.
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