Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Heaven is a place near Newark.

I’m away from London. I'm half-naked. I'm sitting in a hot tub with three generations of my family, on a Monday night, somewhere near Newark. Funny how things turn out. My mother booked it. She loves this place because it keeps the children busy, and my father refuses to fly anywhere because of climate change, so here we all are... at Center Parcs.

My brother and I have left our partners behind and brought two kids each. He, because he has two kids. Me, because Eldest has his own plans these days; his own life these days, so I only have two kids left. Everyone on this mini break is related to everyone else by blood, I think.

“The WiFi just stopped working,” I say to my brother. “I can’t get a signal on my phone.”

“So?” Says my brother. “That’s good, isn’t it?”

“I have no way of contacting anyone,” I say.

“So?” Says my brother. “That’s good, isn’t it?”

“I've got to have the internet or I can't post my blog after I've written it."

“So?” Says my brother. “That’s…"

You get the picture.

“... what I like about it," says my brother, "the isolation. Come the apocalypse I’m going to hole up here.” (He keeps an emergency survival kit in the back of his car.) "The promised land."

I know what he means. It's a never-never land. A haven in the trees. A place where everyone cycles and says good morning. A bit like Holland, except without the cannabis and legalised prostitution, or culture.

Which reminds me, people can be snooty about Center Parcs. One friend told me she couldn’t think of anything worse. Another said take the Canesten Cream, when I told her about the hot tub. It can bring out one’s own snooty side, too. There’s a whole lot of wobbly tattooed flesh in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, I can't help noticing next day when I go to explore, which isn’t any one of those things, by the way. Well, not subtropical or a paradise, that's for sure, perhaps a place where you can swim, but barely that because of all the slides and the wave machine (although I did find a lap pool round the back that no one was using).

But so far so good. We’re having a party. The hot tub is heaven. The house my mother has booked is cool. All mod cons. A games room with bean bags and a huge telly. A sauna and steam room opening out on to a secret garden, with that tub. It don’t come cheap, of course. Four nights here costs about the same as a small car. But I'm not worried - my parents are paying and they're both on index-linked civil service pensions, a relic from better days. Your last tax bill probably paid for all this.

Fun and games. 

Some things about Center Parcs are priceless, though. Racing through the woods on bicycles behind my 76 year-old father, seeing his knobbly knees sticking out over the wheels, his salt and pepper hair sticking straight up. Watching the three young cousins tackle the high rope challenge, egging each other on, as the little boy behind complains to his father that the harness between his legs is hurting his “gentleman’s ends." Middle One and my brother doing the laser clay pigeon shoot. My brother making me fall about laughing afterwards, modestly pondering where to stick his winner’s certificate in the house. Flying off by myself on my bike for a sneaky flat white and a read at Starbucks, sitting surrounded by people drinking cappa frappuccino 'puddings' at 500 calories an un-recyclable cup, accounting for all that wobbly flesh (whoops, gone snooty again). Then later going off for a swim in that empty lap pool.

On the last day my mother wants to know what I'm going to do. “Er, the usual,” I say. “Swim, read, cycle, why?”

“I just thought you might like to do the Bollywood dance class,” she says. “Me and you.”

Yikes, I think. I’d rather stick pins in my eyes. The things I like about Center Parcs involve getting away from all the people in Center Parcs. All I want to do is read and swim. But I do what I gotta do because this is my mother we're talking about, and she's only happy when she's dancing.

“Yes, okay,” I say. 

And you know what, that Bollywood dance class turns out to be one of those priceless things. It doesn’t bring out the best of me at the time, I do it on sufferance, barely cracking a smile. But all the while I secretly squirrel away the memory for another occasion, hopefully far off, when I’m in need of one - a memory, that is - of me and my mum, doing stuff together.

Here we are, I think, attempting lotus flower hands, trying to move our heads independently of our shoulders, to that music from Slum Dog Millionaire, in front of a huge mirror, with a gaggle of sweaty male badminton players looking on through the window behind. And my mother is 77.

That night in the hot tub I realise something. 
“You know when I said everyone here is united by blood,” I say to my parents, who are sitting together in the foaming water opposite, glued at the hip. “I forgot. You two aren’t.”

“No,” says my dad. “It’s only love.”

Love E x


P.S. I miss Archie.

Jai Ho!

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