For those of you with kids, it was probably with some sadness — and some relief — that the summer holidays came to an end. My new wife, unbelievable as it might sound, is one of those weird, twisted individuals who (whisper it) actually likes spending time with children. I know, I know, it shouldn’t be allowed. But the fact is, when September 3 came around, she looked quite dejected, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because it marked the 73rd anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland.
This is the first chance I’ve had to reflect on the events of the summer and I have to admit it was an enjoyable six weeks. But even if it hadn’t been, at least we didn’t have to endure the daily misery of the school run and the route from Kings Langley to Watford, which, as anyone familiar with the South Herts area will know, makes central Tokyo look about as busy as a bagel shop on Yom Kippur.
I’m amazed the holidays went so well. Not that they were entirely without incident. It was never going to be easy pleasing all three children and my new other half, or should I say all four children seeing as how the age gap between my wife and my eldest son is about the same as the one between her and me.
Because of her relative youth, and the fact that I’m a music journalist, duh — plus I wanted to prove that I’m a Fun! Cool! Dad! — I decided to attend two rock festivals with everyone in tow. Nothing too hardcore — we didn’t camp in a muddy field in Somerset (mainly because Glastonbury wasn’t on this year), but we did do Latitude and Camp Bestival. Not Camp Bestial, no, Camp Bestival. Mind you, instead of braving three nights in tents and the stark horror of the Portaloo, we settled for low-rent B&Bs.
Both festivals bill themselves as family-friendly, and it’s true they are marginally less hazardous than some, but generally that means instead of hairy druggy types you get legions of homicidal yummy mummies prepared to mow you down with a pram to get a decent spot near the stage.
Going to the cinema, which we did a couple of times, can be a bit of a nightmare, and I don’t just mean the cost, although I’d like a quiet word with the business whizz who came up with the plan to charge less for a two-hour 3D Hollywood spectacular than a cup-full of candy bananas, strawberry laces and chocolate raisins. The exorbitant price of the confectionary led me to break the rules, if not the law, on a couple of occasions when I took to smuggling in much cheaper sugar snacks from the nearby Tesco under my coat — I looked as though I’d suddenly ballooned to twice my normal weight, and walked with a pronounced limp.
There’s also the additional saga, whenever Mrs Lester and I go out with the kids, of who sits next to who, and in a cinema this usually gets catastrophically heated, with all three bidding eagerly to sit next to the missus, which I never take personally (much) — besides, I get the consolation prize: schlepping to the car my increasingly heavy daughter, who invariably falls asleep during the action-packed finale.
Then there’s the pain of finding a film with sufficient shooting and fighting to appeal to my boys but with enough fairies and elves to appease my daughter. It’s virtually impossible, with the added complication that I’m more into fairies and elves than shooting and fighting.
I’m guilty of sexual stereotyping and invariably get wrong what I think they’ll each enjoy. You’d imagine the girl would prefer bowling and the boys laser quest. Not so. As for go-karting, which we remortgaged the house to take them to, it was my nine-year-old daughter who rampaged round the track like Lewis Hamilton after too many E numbers. I wouldn’t say I was competitive but when my sons overtook me I started using language normally only used in exchanges between policemen and Tory chief whips.
Afternoons with kids can drag. None of mine likes going to the park. Actually, that’s not strictly true. They don’t like going to any park that happens to have other children in them. They’re allergic to the under-30s, which is why they always insist I take them after-hours, when anyone their age is tucked up in bed.
Still, my kids’ idiosyncratic tastes do have an upside — they prefer cheap bargain breaks in this country to expensive holidays abroad. It’s fortunate, then, that my sister happens to work for a well-known luxury hotel chain and can secure rooms at budget rates. Which is how we came to take our annual holiday this summer in Bracknell. This was a glamorous step up from last year’s, which was spent in sunny Milton Keynes.
The fact that we’re related to someone at head office meant we could strut around like we owned the place and reprimand the restaurant manager for the less-than-pristine cutlery. My nine-year-old especially relished tutting at the staff, and I could tell the good feeling was mutual.