‘Staycations’ aren’t what they used to be – bring back double-decker bus rides and trips to the zoo

·4-min read
‘We climbed a huge oak tree in Gallows Field – even my teenager looked up from his phone’  (Shaparak Khorsandi)
‘We climbed a huge oak tree in Gallows Field – even my teenager looked up from his phone’ (Shaparak Khorsandi)

I have grumpily got over the use of the word “staycation” to mean a holiday in the UK. It used to mean a holiday where you stay in your own home and plan outings and fun as though you were visitors in your own neighbourhood.

We did this very often as children, when my dad would excitedly tell us we were “going to be tourists in London” and hop on a double-decker bus. This would not be one of those double-decker sightseeing tours, but the 65 bus from where we lived in Ealing; which, back then, would stop off at Kew Gardens and end up at Chessington Zoo.

You couldn’t want more from a staycation as a child in the 1980s than a Victorian hothouse and a couple of sad-looking tigers. The rest of our staycation for us kids, apart from the one day of outings, would be spent in an Enid Blyton-style idyll with our local friends, setting fire to old paintpots and climbing over rickety garage roofs into each other’s gardens. Trips to A&E were seen as educational and everyone wanted to be the kid with a plaster cast that the other children could draw willies on.

Back in the good old days, as long as you weren’t sleeping in your own bed, you were “on holiday”. We’d throw buckets and spades into the back of the car and drive off to Blackpool, Brighton, Bournemouth and Worcester (where my parents had friends we stayed with, and the bucket and spade remained forlornly in the car).

It didn’t matter that we weren’t going abroad. Being with our parents, who for once weren’t working or preoccupied with other boring grown-up things, was in itself hugely exciting. Having a father as rambunctious as mine meant whether we planned to go with them or not, we were always in a “gang”, with lots of other children to play with and other adults for my parents to party with.

Many a time in my childhood would we find ourselves in a convoy of cars driving up to Brighton together at midnight. My merry father would convince party guests that his friend, Mr Radman, had a hotel near the pier – and would not mind at all if twenty of us rocked up at 2am (if the family of the wonderful late Mr Radman of The Royal Promenade Hotel in Brighton happen to read this, thank you for your hospitality – and sorry for waking you up).

I nod sympathetically these days when friends have been fretting about getting “pinged” before they get on a flight, and stress about delays at airports; but to be honest I’ve been a bit baffled by the anxiety they are putting themselves through for a holiday abroad.

The faff of a 4am start with young children in an airport isn’t something I’ve put myself through very often, even in normal times. As I write this very column, I am in Darsham in Suffolk, by the sea, where my children and I have been having fun and having some memorable squabbles.

Yesterday, we climbed a huge oak tree in Gallows Field. Look I know the Greek islands are lovely but legend has it that people were actually hung from our oak tree in medieval times. Hung! Even my teenager had to work hard to stifle his intrigue and for a few moments, looked up from his phone.

What I am most delighted by is the return of festivals. Being in a field with a load of other humans – watching bands, chanting with friendly strangers inexplicably covered in glitter and just wandering about in wellies, being entertained – is our happy place. This weekend, we will be at “CarFest” where the kids can get involved with an abundance of activities and their mum can have a beer at 11am with little judgement.

Festivals suit me because I love watching live bands, sweary performance poetry and wearing clothes I wouldn’t be seen dead in outside of a field. Performing at festivals isn’t something every comic enjoys (entertaining a bunch of people who very often have come in to shelter from the rain isn’t everyone’s cup of tea) but from Latitude to Wilderness; Reading and Leeds to the mighty Glastonbury, I have had the best of times and the worst of times on those festival stages.

One Glasto, my son was three and groaning that he couldn’t sleep because “that lady won’t stop singing”. I cuddled him close and explained, “Beyoncé will finish singing soon, don’t worry”. That’s got to be a better holiday grumble than a flight being delayed by three hours.

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