Our Easter plans didn’t really go to plan. That’s the joyful two fingers up of plans though isn’t it – try to rope life neatly in and she bucks and bolts. We had planned to go south, way, way south down the beach to where the muddy waters of the Ruvuma which boundary Tanzania meet with Mozambique and where the biggest, fattest fish are netted and dragged ashore. We almost got there, almost within finger touching distance but the rains came and took the road out and so that was that.
The children (can I still call them that? One is almost twenty, arrived from London wearing a blazer and promptly bought his dad a beer with his own money) were not overly impressed with their mother’s alternative budget accommodation option in Dar es Salaam. A fullfatfive is joyous. But it’s expensive, ‘you’ve only got to sleep in the bloody place’, I said, ‘how bad is that?’
Quite bad judging by the expressions that met my observation. One night of boarding school-skinny beds and an AC that hiccupped and coughed and spluttered but didn’t do much to lower the seething sweaty temperature in our rooms and Husband and I slunk next door to chichi Seacliff. I had dressed down for the occasion: if I look like I can’t afford to pay the full whack, I reasoned, perhaps I won’t have to? Getting caught in the rain en route helped perfect my yesterday shorts and t’shirt ensemble (I was wearing clean undies not, of course, that I was going to whip off overgarments to prove it: I was there to get a cheap room not get locked up.) I shuffled through the glossy foyer taking cognisance of the fact that nobody in there was dressed like me, and I wondered when they’d last had a punter in here who’d haggled the rates?
Husband bore down on assistant manager Cecilia which all the confidence of a man who blags his way into hotels for an nth of the price all the time. He doesn’t. We are not, I tell my children as my mother used to tell us, ‘hotel people’. I hoped they might believe that was because they were above needing miniature bathroom accessories and enough dry towels so that nobody nagged about all the wet ones strewn across the floor. But they don’t: they know it’s because we can’t afford to holiday in hotels.
‘We have a company account here’, said my husband imperiously. Cecilia gave him a quick once over, in his chaplis and – yes – yesterday’s shorts, he didn’t look like he ought to be using ‘we’ and ‘company’ in the same sentence. ‘What are your best corporate rates?’ (because whilst I tell my children they are not Hotel People, my mother in law taught my Husband that if he did not ask, he would not get). Cecilia told us. They weren’t good enough. Surely, surely you can do better than that grinned husband. She could. A bit. Not much but enough that we could afford the little dark rooms at the back, where the bathroom miniatures aren’t as plentiful and the towels not as big but where, at least, the AC worked.
And where we could eat enormous breakfasts which were part of the package. My children have always been, I am mildly ashamed to say (because its proof of the fact I am both a faintly errant mother and a really lazy cook) urged, on the occasions that we do masquerade as Hotel People to Eat a Bloody Good Breakfast because I’m Not Feeding You Lunch. It is why they steal breadrolls and croissants from the breakfast buffet and secret them up sleeves and into bags. It’s why they pile plates obscenely high with bacon and sausages and garner a side order of cereal, fruit and a cupcake for good measure and then make their way precariously, like tight rope walkers, back to a table where – given that all three have been admonished similarly – space is at a premium.
But my parenting (a verb now you note, no longer just a noun, such are the lofty heights that dragging up kids have scaled) tactics have backfired a bit over the years.
We arrived in a lodge several years ago, after a long and hot drive and the children scrambled, relieved, from the car and raced inside to explore. I was mortified to discover – having checked us in – that they were eating the bread from the (empty) post lunch buffet table. ‘It’s a bit stale’ said a disappointed Ben. I noticed, at dinner that evening, that the staff (who were too kind to say anything at the time, obviously taking enormous pity on a trio of kids that clearly belonged to a family so poor they couldn’t afford the standard safari wardrobe – Hat attired in Barbie Pink – far less feed their children properly) had propped a neat little sign up beside the bread basket: For Display Purposes Only it said.
So they all eat as if they aren’t just at risk of missing the next meal, but missing the next week of meals and they also order stuff which absolutely doesn’t fit the description of breakfast. Ham and cheese and salami are fine – the continentals are good with deli food at breakfast time. But ice cream and waffles? Ice cream and waffles! Who the hell eats ice cream and waffles for breakfast I ask my girls who are both tucking in with gusto, splashing chocolate sauce and maple syrup across it all.
We do, they grinned, and anyway no lunch Mum! Remember? No lunch.