Ben Hatch’s Are We Nearly There Yet? is a perfect example. A memoir, a travelogue, laugh-out-loud entertainment, a moving tale of life and death and a heart-warming affirmation of ‘familyhood,’ it should come with a label saying ‘Read me or miss out on something really special.’
In a moment of madness (or was it divine inspiration?), Hatch signed up with US travel publisher Frommer’s to take his wife Dinah and two children aged under four on an 8,000-mile road trip in a Vauxhall Astra estate to write a guide book about family travel round Britain.
For five months, they packed and unpacked the car, stayed at different hotels each night and visited four or five attractions a day. ‘You’re mad,’ said friends, ‘You’ll get divorced,’ warned Dinah’s sister and ‘One of you is coming home in that roof box... chopped up in a bin bag,’ predicted Ben’s brother.
What they did encounter was self-discovery, bad manners and kindness, sudden and unexpected illness, a car crash, bat attacks, confrontations with puff adders, a Nazi, Billie Piper’s pyjamas and, most poignantly of all, the death of Ben’s father.
The couple learned how to change a nappy using nothing but a KFC Lemonfresh wipe, how to steal hotel buffet breakfasts and turn them into lunch and what to do when your trousers are so crusty with dirt that you do not so much take them off at night as lean them up against things.
They discovered that travelling ‘en famille’ in a cramped space is an unforgettable adventure, they reassessed their lives past and present and their marriage, and they stumbled upon the things that really matter.
And amidst it all, Hatch takes breaks from the road trip to visit his father, former head of BBC network radio Sir David Hatch, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and who dies before their journey’s end.
And in turn, their readers start to hero worship parents who can take on such a venture, enjoy it and survive, they fall for the adorable Phoebe, aged four and Charlie, aged two, and become enchanted by the whole impossible, wonderful, hilarious, madcap enterprise.
For nearly half a year, normality for journalists Hatch and Dinah became getting lost on ring roads and fighting to get toddler food heated up. For Phoebe and Charlie, normality was being whisked from one strange town to the next and a growing obsession with talking about ‘poo.’
Six weeks and 2,000 miles in, Hatch noted that they were ‘starting to feel like a touring rock band minus the fans, the glamour, the adrenalin rush of performing, and with Organix Goodies Organic Alphabet Biscuits instead of hard drugs.’
From Brighton (where their home is located) to Birmingham and north to Blackpool (where Phoebe was sick in the car and passers-by ‘proffered knowing smiles as if to say, ‘That could so easily have been me in Yates’s yesterday’), the Hatch family had good times, bad times, happy times, sad times.
Are We Nearly There Yet? is an extraordinarily engaging and original book written with honesty, humour and humanity. Don’t leave home without it as you head off for your summer break, and thank your lucky stars it’s not an 8,000-mile, five-month round-Britain car trip with two tiny tots...
(Summersdale, paperback, £8.99)