Saturday, 9 August 2008

High roads and low

Family holidays...the strangest of times...especially when you're in a bizarre multi-generational set-up like we are. Here are a few of this summer holiday's highs, lows, shocks and weirdnesses...

1.High – Somehow I hadn't managed to come up with a 'book I was really looking forward to reading' by packing time but luckily we stop in Ballater on the way north so I go into the second-hand bookshop there to put things right. Deeside Books has a good and varied selection and if you can get past the non-stop bagpipe music it's worth a look. Ballater is much more Scotland-for-the-tourists than anywhere round here (Angus). In Ballater it's bagpipes, tartan, shortbread, thistles and whiskey all the way...welcome to the highlands!
2.Shock – the hotel we are staying in up in the Cairngorms is full of families (and by this I mean children and when I say 'full' I do mean 'really quite seriously full'). We don't normally do anything like a conventional family holiday but this year we are trying something different (a person can try to fit in now and again). The hotel foyer is huge and busy and a bit like an airport lounge (and boy do I hate airports). Oh well, Small Girl is very excited.
3.Shock – my god, the hotel has 'entertainments for children' every night! We have never stayed anywhere with 'entertainments for children'. Small Girl goes to the magic show on the first night – it is OK.
4.High - as the magic show is only OK we go and watch 'Miss Potter' in our room (while in-house mother sleeps in front of yet another Agatha Christie TV adaptation in her room... down the corridor a bit). I've seen Miss P before but I still cry like a bugger when poor old Ewan McGregor kicks the bucket. It's a highly sentimental film but a very watchable one and it's good to watch some TV together (usually I surf or work while SG watches whatever Barbie nonsense she is trying to burn her brain with). In this film Small Girl likes the animation but is disappointed not to actually see EMG as a corpse ('I want to see him dead!'). As for me, all that stuff about Miss P doing the book her own way and being pooh-poohed at the start...I can't help but like all that (whether it's accurate or not...and I suspect a lot of it isn't – any Potter experts out there?).
5.Low – the hotel bar has 'entertainments for adults' too – on one night there is a man in the biggest mullet I have ever seen singing 'Loch Lomond' and 'Sweet Caroline'. Eeek. We go back upstairs and luckily we can't hear the horror from our room.
6.High – the breakfasts are fantastic. The dining room is still FULL of families (i.e. children and very tired adults) but the food is great. Big hotels have their advantages and in this one the food is a big plus. I like food a lot so this may well make up for the guy with the mullet and the airport lounge business.
7.High – we came to the hotel in question mainly for the swimming pool. We don't normally go to places for the swimming pool but this year we have. The pool is surprisingly bearable (if you avoid rush hour – i.e. just before tea) and, apart from in-house mother who hates swimming, we all use the pool as much as we can.
8.High – there is a herd of reindeer living in the Cairngorms (imported from Sweden). We go and see them and it is very interesting and educational. Small Girl tells me with some certainty that these are the very reindeer Santa uses at Xmas (despite the obvious lack of a red-nosed candidate). Unlike me she is big on belief and, as yet, she remains unperturbed by problematic details.
9.Low – we have to go into Aviemore on an errand. Aviemore is a carpark with a Tesco attached. We are lucky and find the best café in the village for tea and cake (so low becomes high). They call Aviemore a village but I have to say it doesn't feel like one.
10.High – a red nose at last! Mr Bubbles the Clown is the next kids' show and he is really quite funny. All the kids get to spin plates and watching them all trying is quite entertaining in itself. You can be too highbrow you know.
11.Weirdness – With Small Girl put to bed I try to read one of the books I bought in Ballater ('Kim' by you-know-who...or Rudyard Kipling, if you don't). These are the oddest bits of family holidays (and family life in general)...from spinning plates to Penguin classics in the click of a hotel door. It's hard to concentrate on the book after the stimulation of the post-dinner activities but I do my best. The notes are by Edward W. Said and are very interesting especially to an anti-religious lout like me who learned most of what she knows about Buddhism from 'Absolutely Fabulous'. Said describes the Buddhist Wheel of Life as 'a diagram illustrating the Buddhist belief that all life is suffering and that the cure of suffering is effected by the elimination of ignorance and of the self.' This fair makes me ponder! Is our world not the self gone crazy and out of control? Personally I'm having a bit of trouble with the self and it's a bit of trouble that's been going on for about 20 years. If I just eliminated the self would that be the end of it? Hmmm. It sounds too easy! Plus how do you do it? Can you do it on the NHS? Does it hurt? Where does the self go afterwards?
12.Low – hotel is a bit claustrophobic (despite been quite huge...sadly I find pretty much everything claustrophobic). Still (high) I do not freak out spectacularly as I might have done in earlier years. Am I in control of the self? (I did do some yoga once). Have I eliminated it? I ponder but I don't quite get it - if I don't have a self how can I eliminate anything? Religion always confuses me. I know it works for some people...but I really can't be doing with it myself (self? self? Who self? Will self? I'm not sure this is helping...).
13.High – one day we all play mini-golf. Big golf is dull but mini-golf is just perfect and one of the few things we can all do (with our age group spanning 8-84).
14.Weirdness – after mini-golf I have some reading time and pick up a book I bought second-hand a while back - 'A Choice of Emily Dickinson's Verse (Selected with an introduction by Ted Hughes)'. I wonder if ED ever played mini-golf (unlikely). Again it is a little hard to concentrate (what with these thoughts of golf and strange juxtapositions) but I do my best. I very much enjoy 'I died for Beauty' and it makes me think of Larkin and Keats and, hey look, I can think grown-up poetry stuff on holiday! I've read the Ted Hughes introduction before but I read it again because it is marvellous and reaffirms some of my own poetic instincts (yay eccentric punctuation, yay bugger the taste of the day, yay intense ladies who don't go out much, yay only being appreciated after you're dead...actually can I amend the last one..?).
15.High – we do get to walk out in the beautiful countryside a bit. Not as much as we will do when Small Girl is big and off doing something else (and we are a lot older and creakier...) but some walking is always better than none.
16.High – there are some highs that are personal and I won't be sharing them with you!
17.High – we meet up with a relative who lives locally and is lovely. Families aren't always crap. Not always.
18.Weirdness – one night the kids entertainment is a Snakes and Spiders show. They have real pythons and a real tarantula and they get them out of the cages. Strangely this is much less frightening than the guy with the mullet earlier in the week.
19.Low – one morning I overdose on the amazing breakfast options and have to lie down for a while.
20.High – the Beloved and I play tennis in the rain. It is only light rain. We are so British.
21.High – we go to Grantown-on-Spey and visit another bookshop (The Bookmark). We are so excited by this small, independent, friendly bookshop that we buy an armful of assorted books for all the family. In fact there are lots of interesting little independent shops here... no sign of Tesco, either....see the link there?
22.Low – I do some dancing at the kids disco one evening after a large meal and nearly have to lie down on the dancefloor to recover. I don't actually lie down, you understand. That would be shameful!
23.Low – some lows are personal and I won't be sharing them with you. I can't even hint.
24.High – after struggling to fit proper books into this weird week in wonderland I give in on day 5 and pick up one of the other books I bought in Ballater – Toby Young's 'How to lose friends and alienate people' (great title!). This book is at least 95% fluff as TY goes off to NYC to work for 'Vanity Fair' (always seems an odd name for a magazine...can't say I've ever read it). I wasn't even sure which writer TY was (there's another Toby isn't there...Toby Litt? Don't know much about either) but now I know that TY is the one who was friends with Julie Burchill and edited 'Modern Review' (never read that either). Young is probably unbearable in your face but it is quite a funny book and perfectly suitable for reading in between clown shows and huge meals. It even has a quote/endorsement from la grande Burchill on the front (which reminded me about the whole Joanna Lumley poetry endorsement nonsense of we're back to Ab Fab...). I hate the way books have become such slaves to the endorsements and reviews – some books have pages and pages of 'great' reviews at the front of them these days and they only make me suspicious (wouldn't one good review be we need to see thirty five?). Young's book (which I'm about halfway through) is very funny on New York high society and the desperate fight to be someone in the world of fashion and magazines (fashion, turn to the left...etc.). It is about as far from the elimination of the self as it is possible to be and is a lot about the self, the feeble self, the need to have other people think your self is better than their self. One thing I have achieved in amongst my lifelong mid-life crisis is that I really don't care about who's better than who, about who thinks who is better than who...hey, maybe I am more sorted than I realise! That would be pleasant. 'How to lose friends...' is most of all amusingly self-deprecating and, being British, that is a type of humour I can cope with.
25.Weirdness/high - on the last night the Beloved takes Small Girl off camping in the wild - hotels are not really his thing and 4 nights was enough for him. Tents make me REALLY claustrophobic so I stay in the hotel and watch 'Never mind the Buzzcocks' and, you know, my pal Andy is right the new guy presenter is very funny (he's called Simon Amstell and I'm about a year late on that one, no doubt). Amstell manages to be very rude and very charming all at the same time (where Mark Lamarr was only rude...sometimes unbearably so for me on 'Buzzcocks' - although I can put up with him elsewhere). At Amstell I laugh and least I think it was where did I put that yoga mat?


Dominic Rivron said...

You bring back great memories of family holidays in the Aviemore area. The highlight for us was always the chairlift to the Ptarmigan cafe. There was also a small loch where you can hire boats.
I have a (nearly 20 year old) photo of my daughter feeding one of those reindeer somewhere. It sounds like Aviemore hasn't changed much since then!

Rachel Fox said...

Hi Dominic!
Yes my man and girl went out in a canoe on Loch Morlich too! I didn't see the chairlift...I know there is a funicular railway now (opened 2001) and I think maybe it has replaced your memories. We didn't go up in was a bit cloudy most days and there wouldn't have been any views. We did see beautiful views as we drove both up to the Cairngorms and back down again though. So much heather!

Ken Armstrong said...

A very enjoyable post. Really captures some essences of the 'family in a hotel' experience.

I always find it odd to end up in a little room with lots of family whereas, back at home, they might be at least spread out over a few rooms. At that point, large philosophical questions like, 'what am i doing here' sometimes pop up.

I adore you infectious book and book shop enthusiasm, you really should try bookmooch, have a browse at least.

Rachel Fox said...

Hey Ken,'s good to be back home for the space (although because of our onboard Grandma we had two rooms not just one).

And I know it was a typo but thanks, being adored is always a pleasure!

Colin Will said...

Sounds good Rachel. Better Half and I usually manage a long weekend in the Cairngorms annually, usually renting a wee cottage with friends in the Kincraig/Feshiebridge area. It's blissfully quiet, and the walks are invigorating, full of nature and empty of self! It's total magic in winter, but you see more in summer - Rothiemurchus Estate, Norwegian cakes at Inschriach, huggable trees near the Green Lochan, the Uath Lochans walks, Scrabble and wine in the evenings.

Rachel Fox said...

Colin - yes, family holidays once the family has grown-up...fewer clowns, more peace...I'm trying not to look forward to the future too much! We don't normally do the crazy family holiday like this - last year we rented a place with friends over on the west coast on the Lunga estate. That was beautiful, peaceful and really quite magical (and the sun shone). I think we may have to go back to the more peaceful version again next year!

I was hoping for some advice on the self question from you... I bet you know about the wheel and all that. Any words for the wanderers?

Sorlil said...

Man alive that was comprehensive, I feel like I've been on holiday with you now!

hope said...

Yep, there's no doubt your hometown should hire you as their P.R. person because you managed to take me on this trip as well. Thanks. [With a head cold, I could use some fun]. And you answered the question of "Where have all the mullets gone?" Thankfully they left America, sadly they found your nook of the world. :)

The more I read, the more I'm convinced that Small Girl and I would have a lot of fun together. Hey, maybe Rudolph was just on holiday and left the rest of the reindeer behind. ;)

Colin Will said...

It's a difficult thing to explain, but let me try an analogy. Suppose you're walking down a street, looking at the shop windows. You may be thinking "I can't see myself in these shoes" or "I bet those tomatoes would be tasty". That's the self in the streetscape. The trick is to just walk down the street, just existing there, without thinking about the self at all. And it's not easy. It's like if I said to you, "Think about a South Sea Island but don't think about coconuts." You'll think about coconuts - we all would. There's more to it than a blog comment will allow, but that might be a starting point: just go for a walk to go for a walk.

Ken Armstrong said...

Hah! Perhaps it's more of a Freudian slip than a typo, eh? eh? :)

"Run away with me, I adore you, we'll go to a big hotel and do things that start with a 'B' ie. bite big breakfast buffets and buy bucketloads of books."

Rachel Fox said...

Sorlil...'man alive' what a great expression! Definitely one to bring back into circulation...and sorry, yes, I did go on a bit. I didn't write for a week...well, nothing more than my day-to-day, keep-track-of-life diary...and so I went a bit mad when I got home. I feel really odd when I don't put words together for a while (in some form or other).

Hope...yes, the Rudolph question. We quizzed her on it today and she said 'Rudolph was definitely there. He only switches his nose on at Xmas'. She has an answer for everything (and then another question...).

Colin...just existing. I may need to come to you, as guru/teacher person for training! Today we had a family trip to 'Mamma Mia' at the flicks (except for one's Beloved - he took the bat option). There was a hen party in the audience so the MM atmosphere was just as it should have been. It was even trashier than I expected (though foot-tapping in places) but Pierce Brosnan's singing...I had to take the 'just existing' route for that bit. At least that's what I think I was doing...

And Ken! Good job I know you're a joker. Ho ho.

smith3000 said...

Good to have you back Rachel Fox.

Your trip sounds like fun. But how did we get onto the elimination of the self?

I will give it a go next time I walk down Market Street ..