“They were bored, broke, burned out and turning 40. So when Ben and his wife Dinah were approached to write a guidebook about family travel, they embraced the open road, ignoring friends’ warnings: ‘One of you will come back chopped up in a bin bag in the roof box.’ Featuring deadly puff adders, Billie Piper’s pyjamas and a friend of Hitler’s, it’s a story about love, death, falling out, moving on and growing up, and 8,000 misguided miles in a Vauxhall Astra.”
Can you think of anything worse than being cooped up in a small car with two young children for five months with no pre-booked accommodation to head to and no home to return to if it all went wrong? Well that is exactly what Ben Hatch did with his family when they left their home in Hove to embark on a voyage of discovery with the intention of writing a family friendly guidebook of the UK. The wittily titled book had me nodding my head in a ‘yep I’ve been there’, crying tears of laughter at the author’s expense whilst sympathetically cringing at the inevitability of certain outcomes. It is the perfect lighthearted read to make you feel better about any nightmare trips you may have already taken or are about to embark on.
Hatch’s comic writing style is very similar to that of Bill Bryson, but is perhaps more accessible and easier to read. Maybe it’s because I have a family of my own and can picture myself in very similar situations, either way it offers a warts and all experience of traveling in the UK with a young family. The book is clever in that it offers both a guide to family attractions, giving us informative advice and recommendations etc whilst also opening up and creating a true picture of family life. It is their real life that we are experiencing yet at the same time we are drawn into a story-like existence where the characters seem both real and fictional. Toilet stops, bad customer service and the funny things that Hatch’s children come out with are all laugh out loud moments but this is also intertwined with the highly emotional and frank openness of how Hatch deals with his father’s ill-health, leading to the final few months of his life.
With my own family holiday in the pipeline I can only hope to be that much more prepared having read this travelogue. Perhaps every new family about to embark on their first road trip should read this book before loading the car up and starting the engine. Let’s face it, no car journey with kids is going to be stress free but reading this book will remind us we’re not alone when we hear our kids scream out for the millionth time ‘Are we nearly there yet?’.
Next month’s book: ‘The Husband’s Secret‘