Monday, 1 September 2008

Pontins, Hemsby

We won't think about the drive over here, filled with tension and fear.

Not from Dig. Nor from Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, happy at the thought of a new adventure, and in perfect good humour, strapped right next to each other in the Kidmobile for nearly four hours. Four hours!

Four hours is an achievement. Sometimes I have driven all of no minutes before ripping the key out of the ignition and declaring Right! That's it! I can take no more of this! then fleeing to the sanctuary of the kitchen where no-one can hear me scream. And, bad mother that I am, I leave my warrior women out there, in the car, the entire metal box rocking from side to side until all ten rounds are done; when Tiger is victorious and Shark is conquered. Experience teaches me not to go back out to that car again until the screaming has stopped and the blows have all worn out and everyone is quiet, or at least when Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are no longer mortal enemies about to rip each other's faces apart over something of enormous consequence and importance, like the colour pink, a threat to the planet so huge that Al Gore should include it in his next video.

Well it wasn't Dig, Shark, Squirrel or Tiger who became so bolshy and dreadful that the title Bitch Monster from Hell should be bestowed, complete with dagger and iron club. It was Grit.

I am ashamed to say that by the time we arrived at the happy family outing location known as Dino Park, I was so utterly and forlornly miserable I could have strung myself up from the brontosaurus and cared not a jot about the toddlers crying beneath my swaying corpse. But people who are miserable tend to treat others miserably, for which I am ashamed, and guilty, and so even more miserable. Seriously, Dig did not, at that moment, deserve a cup of tea launched at his head for, you know, speaking. He did not deserve that, he really did not. If it was not for Dig's loyalty and constancy I do not think I would be sitting here now, alive, and that deserves better than a half pint of green tea aimed at the back of the head. And it was such a stupid waste of tea.

And worse, I am not sure why. Apart from the general feeling that it has all gone wrong before it has begun, that Pontins in the drizzle is not the best place to put a marriage on track, that everything is hopeless and we are all doomed, that the overwhelming pressure to have fun is gathering on me like a storm cloud rising, that armed with an autumn timetable the educational responsibility is growing, that after this week Dig is preparing to leave for several months to Korea and India and who knows where, that there is something along the lines of last chance saloon about us, and yet for all of this woe I cannot even blame the kids.

We finally do arrive at Pontins, and I am chanting under my breath oh my God like some deity might help me, any deity right now would do. Because first of all we see the perimeter fence which in a forceful shock reminds me of growing up around Nottingham Prison in the 1960s. That, and the way the guard in Teflon uniform stands at the barrier and quizzically looks at us, like, we're trying to get in? I'm barely able to stay in my seat, because my whole body is wanting to jump out of that car, grab him pleadingly by the ankles and demand assurances that we can leave the minute we want to; that we can go free and unimpeded and I do not have to stay incarcerated here for twenty years or have my clothes confiscated or be bodysearched or chained up with a bag on my head. Because, right now, looking at that concrete bunker of a reception block ahead of me, all these situations seem genuinely possible.

And it wasn't just this which made me want to jump out the car and run off. It was really the thought that somehow with this gathering Grit gloom I am throwing more at this marriage than it can take. It may have survived that weekend when, in a fit of spite, I painted the bathroom neon orange. It may have survived the Grit hissy fits, walking out the door threatening never to come back before reappearing a few hours later to slam more doors. It may have survived forgotten birthdays, ruined years, cold shoulders, silent Christmases, a non-speaking July, everything we could throw at it, even unexpected triplets. But it may not survive Pontins.

For a start, the clientele don't help. I am standing at reception picking up the keys and there is a man at my elbow eyeing me with disbelief. He says 'Just arrived?' and I nod, glumly. He shakes his head and gives a hollow laugh, then confides this is the worst place he's ever seen and he's off to a B&B in Great Yarmouth. He says the room was so filthy his wife was about to catch a hideous disease, so they complained, were given another one which was exactly the same with extra grease in the sink and added ketchup on the cutlery. It is difficult to look sympathetic while really you want to retch.

Of course I wasn't expecting Pugin wallpaper, pile carpets and silk lined curtains but I probably wasn't expecting the stale stench of cigarette smoke, sweat and chip fat billowing at me from Cell 132. It's fair to say I had a warning, apart from the unhappy holidaymaker at reception. The door itself looked like someone had attempted to stab it, with mysterious looking skewer marks, particularly around the lock. Outside the door in a puddle of its own water was a rotting bedsheet. It had clearly been there some days because it was turning green and had become a hostel for wildlife, probably those that had moved out of Cell 132, unable to bear the state of the carpet. The moment I saw that beauty, I resolved that not one part of my human body should touch it in case I withered and died. I would keep my shoes on, even in bed if necessary.

Bed? I think I have a bed, do I? Of course you do not, Grit. This is a Pontins holiday camp. Naively I turn to Dig and say 'There are only two bedrooms'. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are already squabbling over who gets which bed in what room. Stupidly, I go round the bedrooms, looking under beds, opening wardrobe doors, in case a third bedroom is hidden somewhere, and I just can't see it. There is an awful dawning moment when I realise our increasingly frail marriage must survive four nights on a pull out bed under the grimy sofa. Yes. The sofa covered in felt tip stains, a layer of smeared grease from last week's fish supper and an oblique stain which I do not want to think may be fluid from some part of a human body.

Meanwhile Tiger and Squirrel are all but coming to blows over what they are both calling the best bedroom. The best bedroom, like the best room, has a cupboard door wrenched off, and a grime layer of debris layered over the carpet. Under the bed are some yogurt pots, and I swear we didn't bring them. In this 'best bedroom', we discover the entry door doesn't fit at all. We discover this when Tiger tries to slam it to keep out Squirrel and she discovers it's too large all the way round to fit into the doorhole. This novelty, with consequent discussion about what might have happened to all the doors around here, stops the wars and diverts the entire family for a good while, which gives me time to wash the cutlery, hide the waste bin with a plastic bag so I don't have to look at it, and wipe down the plastic chairs. The application of soap and water to the chairs is pointless because the grime is ingrained so deep I could use a pressure hose and a vat of caustic soda and they would look the same.

And Dig, the much abused, maligned, green tea Dig. I am so grateful to Dig, because even though I am torturing him once more in the pursuit of that wild and maverick character we call home education, he stands by me loyally. Stoically he reminds me that it is not the worst place we have ever stayed in, because he says, Do you remember Hotel Rat in Panaji, India? The place with no ceilings? There was wire netting to stop the vermin falling on our heads. There was one communal tap in a drain for all the hotel guests, and do not look at the toilet, because you do not want to know. Just hold it in till Tuesday. Dig adds gently that once we would have considered a Pontins apartment to be the height of luxury and would have hotfooted it back to reception to book several more nights.

And so I end by saying Dig, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the thing that is home education in our lives and what it drags us to, and all because basically I cannot give up, no matter the hardship and misery it brings on us. But I am glad we are still married.

And sorry about the tea.


sharon said...

And you actually had to PAY to stay in such obvious squalor?! At least when we holidayed there as kids it was clean - and that is not as seen from a child's point of view, my mother would have had us all out of there in no time flat if confronted with dirty accomodation. I'm sorry it was so awful to start with, I'm just hoping the next installment show some improvement.

Thanks for the commiserations on childcare. I actually prefer multi-age groups, it's easier to divide and conquer you know lol! Now off to do a bit of baking before the guests arrive.

Will try to find time to e-mail you later this week.

Sam said...

I hope it wasn't really as bad as you describe! I went on a Pontins holiday with my family when I was about 12, and I have carefully blanked it all out.

Emma said...

I have been looking forward to this post!! We were there, and I have to say Grit, you are so polite. :-)

Minnie said...

Aw....See!!!! Told you you'd be ok:o))) lol

Pig in the Kitchen said...

oh Grit...grit grit grit. I don't really know what to say. Dig is a marvel. My thoughts are with you.

Completely relate to the knowledge that husband is departing soon, which brings out evil side to nature.

My husband left this morning for 2 weeks. I was not the nicest wife this weekend...


Merry said...

All i can say is that we didn't hold our marriage together so well in a comfort plus villa in centerparcs.... you are an inspiration.