When Karen, Maggie and I boarded the Eurostar for Paris — and then destinations further south and beachlike — little did we know that we would not only be enjoying a relaxing week in the sunshine, but we would also learn some valuable lessons along the way.
Now that they have been learned, and we are safely back below the cloud cover here in London, it is time to share what I have learned like all good boys do.
Think of the Children
Every country has them. Children. And parents. And politicians who want to show parents that they’re thinking of the children.
Good, you might think. The world needs more sensible things, like majestic water parks with free entry, or government mandated popsicles. And you wouldn’t be wrong — we could do with politicians approaching life more like children, and less like parasites. But that’s unfortunately not the world we live in.
No, we live in a world where politicians want parents to think they are making the children safer. And so they create a minefield of strange, unpredictable regulations which make life a hassle for the traveling parent. These regulations in no way make children safer.
For instance, in France, a young child in a hotel is required to have her own cot. Even if she is going to sleep in the same bed as her parents. It’s the law.
So your unsuspecting parents arrive in Paris. They are only staying the night — they have an early train to catch in the morning. They have rented the smallest available room to sleep in.
No good, they are told. You have a baby. The room is too small for the cot.
But she’s going to end up sleeping in the bed with us anyways, say the parents. We don’t need a cot.
Sorry, says the — incredibly polite, despite being Parisian — hotel receptionist. You have to have one. It’s the law.
Lucky for the parents in this story, there was a vacant larger room. A cot was prepared — a completely unsafe cot, piled with comforters and pillows — to be unused in the bigger room, which was actually smaller once you took away space for the cot. But it was certainly more expensive.
Of course, had the hotel been booked up, we would not have been allowed to stay there and been without a place to stay. I’m sure that sleeping on the street is safer for a child than being in a hotel room that lacks a deathtrap cot, though. Paris has lovely streets.
Lesson learned: Before you travel, find out what bizarre laws and regulations exist to keep your child “safe”. It could save you from scrambling around a strange city looking for a hotel while carrying a baby and a giant bag at ten in the evening.
Tell them about the Children
The second lesson we learned was that you need to make sure that people know about your children before you arrive.
This was, we suppose, part of the problem in the hotel incident above. But the fact of the matter is that, if your child is sufficiently young, they are invisible to the corporate interests to whom you have trusted your vacation. Maggie doesn’t need her own bed in the hotel. She doesn’t need a seat on the train. She even gets free entry to the zoo, even though the only reason we go to the zoo is so she can see the animals.
So when we book, Maggie is invisible.
This backfired, on the train, where we were put into the quiet car.
For those unaware, the quiet car is the one for people who like to meditate (or read or sleep), and would like to do so undisturbed by cell phones ringing, people talking, music playing, or babies laughing while they pull the glasses off their father’s face and bang them on the table.
We did not ask to be in the quiet car. But we did not ask to not be in the quiet car. (Actually, I don’t think that it’s even an option to request not be put in the quiet car. But telling them that you have a baby makes you automatically not-quiet. I would suggest claiming that you have a baby with you if you want to have a conversation on the train. If they ask you where she is when you show up without her, just say that you sold her. They’ll understand.)
So they put us in the quiet car.
We didn’t even realise that it was the quiet car at first. We just wondered why people were giving us such disgusted looks.
But we were in Paris at the time, and the worst offender in the “evil looks” department was wearing loafers and no socks. I figured he was just upset that somebody burgled his socks.
Then the train began moving, and the conductor announced to us that it was a quiet car.
Again, we were lucky enough to be on a not-full train, and moved to a different area where we were permitted to be noisy. It was wonderful.
Lesson learned: Always claim you have a baby with you when booking train tickets.
Don’t trust them after you tell them about the Children
So, we had problems about not knowing the rules, and about not telling people about Maggie. But part three of our journey, in which we rent a car and drive the rest of the way, should have been fine.
We were aware of the think-of-the-children rules: Maggie needed to be belted into a carseat that meets European regulations and is properly installed. (One of the few areas where the rules actually do something to keep children safe.)
We let the car company know that a small child was coming.
We asked if they had a car seat. They did.
We asked if we could rent the car seat. We could.
We booked the car seat. They said “done”.
We confirmed the car seat. They said “enough already – it will be here!”
And so it was.
We had heard all the warnings about renting car seats with your rental cars. As warnings are wont to do, they warn against the practice.
Car seats from rental companies aren’t properly cleaned!, they shriek, under the strange impression that their children would be clean, if it only weren’t for the car seat.
Rental companies don’t remove car seats from circulation after accidents! They cry. OK. That makes me nervous. But it sounds a little improbable.
Rental companies don’t pay attention to manufacturer recalls! That actually sounds likely. And worrying.
So we were a little nervous about using a rented car seat in the first place. But the real world practicalities of taking a tin can through a tube under the English Channel, and then a second tin can (from a different train station) across an entire fucking country had forced our hands.
A problem was not unexpected. But the problem was completely unexpected: the car seat was the wrong size.
And so Karen plunked down in a cafe while an appropriate car seat was procured.
Lesson learned: I have no idea. A boy scout-ish “be prepared”? A dire warning that the Rent-a-Car in Dax is not one to be trusted?
Whatever the lesson, it was an adventure, so I claim a lesson. We had a bad guy (the lady at the rent-a-car counter), a goal (find and purchase a car seat), and obstacles (rain, no idea where to find a car seat). It was a lesson in bizarre child seat video game battles.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I learned on my summer vacation. How about you?
Photos are by me, but not from the vacation. You didn’t think I’d have photos from last week off my camera already, did you?