A weekend break – for grown-ups only

Only rarely these days are Julie and I able to slip away for holidays or weekends without the, er, 'pleasurable' company of Master Gregory. Indeed, it's easy to forget that there really was a time when the joy of travel meant so much more than endless rounds of crazy golf on windswept seafronts, paying £2 for outrageously brief fairground rides or enduring the chaos of child-friendly pubs for the sake of chicken nuggets and chips.

Only rarely these days are Julie and I able to slip away for holidays or weekends without the, er, 'pleasurable' company of Master Gregory. Indeed, it's easy to forget that there really was a time when the joy of travel meant so much more than endless rounds of crazy golf on windswept seafronts, paying £2 for outrageously brief fairground rides or enduring the chaos of child-friendly pubs for the sake of chicken nuggets and chips.

Though I'm ashamed to admit it, I've now become one of those tiresome parents who is guaranteed to say, on the first day of every holiday: “You don't want to waste your spending money on that, Gregory. There will be plenty more shops, so why don't you keep looking around and find something nicer?”

Did your mum and dad used to say that? Yes, I thought so.

Our long weekend in Lille recently was an unusual experience: almost four days away from home and - more to the point - total freedom from the sometimes endless demands of seven-year-old Gregory.


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Although I am occasionally accused of exaggeration in this column (something I'd never do in a million or even a trillion years), he can be rather demanding.

To some extent, I blame myself. Throughout his first few years I would roll around the carpet with him, waving virtually every colourful toy from the Early Learning Centre catalogue in front of his face.

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“Look at this, Gregory. Look at that, Gregory,” I'd whoop, wholly overstimulating the poor little lad's brain to the extent that he now finds it hard to entertain himself for more than 10 minutes at a time.

“What are we doing this morning? And this afternoon?” he'll ask. “And what will we do when we've done that?” And so it goes on. Ah, the pleasures of parenthood.

To make our Lille getaway possible, his grandparents moved into Bullock Towers, serving as Gregory's full-time Redcoats and caring for our snarling schnauzers, Klara and Trudi.

Breaking the news to Master Bullock that cruel and heartless old Mummy and Daddy were flitting off for a jolly holiday in France without him was always likely to prove tricky. Announcing our plans needed carefully chosen words, diplomacy and, frankly, a pack of downright lies.

The honest approach would have been: “Gregory, we can't wait to leave you behind while we have a well-earned break, travel on an amazing train that goes under the sea to France and enjoy ourselves without any of those usual arguments in gift shops about your constant desire to buy totally unnecessary teddy-bear key rings.”

Instead, we opted for the dishonest version: “Daddy's got to go to a really boring business conference and Mummy is going to keep him company. Only grown-ups are allowed and you wouldn't like it anyway.”

Boring business conference? There was nothing of the sort - but when tears or tantrums threaten, bare-faced deceit is by far the best policy.

Our journey through the Channel Tunnel by Eurostar was a particular treat because we'd been upgraded to first-class free of charge. Naively unaware that complimentary meals and drinks were part of the package, however, Julie and I had filled ourselves up on rolls, crisps and muffins at Waterloo station to avoid going hungry.

So when a drinks trolley began to shake, rattle and roll its way down the carriage towards us, laden with champagne, wine and beer, I nudged Julie and muttered: “Say 'no' to whatever they offer. It's bound to cost a small fortune and we don't want to be stung by some massive bill.”

When it emerged that there was in fact nothing to pay - and an airline-style meal was there for the taking - I was soon quaffing champers and grabbing handfuls of wafer-thin mints with gusto. Surrounded by calm and sophisticated business passengers, there was no disguising the fact that I rarely travel first-class.

From the moment we reached Lille, of course, we missed young Gregory terribly. There was no one to chase and harass poor pigeons in the city squares, no one to spill orange squash and burp loudly in the chic cafés, no one to demand the toilet urgently in the midst of relaxed shopping strolls, and no one to be, well, our fun-filled and spirited lad.

We even found ourselves in tacky souvenir shops, saying: “Oh look, Gregory would have loved this teddy-bear key ring if he'd been here.”

How could we possibly leave him at home next time?

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