Donald Trump: that’s what I don’t think of when I look at this picture. In a world that’s been hijacked by a jowly dictator who sports the Tumbleweed of Doom on his head and has actual shit-for-brains, the spare simplicity of John John’s footprints in the sand as he trundles down the beach with a plastic cart full of hermit crabs is a tonic for one’s battered soul. Big Data be damned, I’ll give you an effective algorithm: children + nature + sunshine = JOY. There wasn’t much else going on for this past two weeks in Papagayo to be honest, and that was all for the best. We woke up, ate something, read something, swam in something, lightly terrorised some wildlife and then went to bed.
I say ‘not much else’ but there was a fair bit of action (just not in my immediate vicinity). Adam, for example, spent three days driving for two hours each way to find the perfect break to kite-surf in, a sport he’s learning… the hard way. He returned each evening looking like he’d been waterboarded then subjected to a sulphuric acid eye-bath. Essentially kite-surfing in its early stages is ‘Full-Face-Wave-Dragging’. Adam and the three oldest kids also went surfing on an extremely tiny wave that made everyone look like a champ. Poor JJ stood on a stingray which is apparently one of the most painful things you can do outside of childbirth (imagine giving birth to a stingray then?!?) and screamed solidly for half an hour. She was actually braver than most chaps are with a spot of flu, despite her foot swelling up and aching badly for the best part of three days afterwards. Hashtag Hardcore.
All four kids spent many long hours in the kids’ club marvelling at the phenomenon known as ‘toys’: there’s nothing like five months on the road to reignite your interest in Play-Doh and Hama Beads. This is after a decade spent trying to get JJ and Alice to sod off into some hotel-provided childcare to give us the chance to read a book in peace, without any success. This time, the boys lead the way: they have none of the wiles of the ladies who twigged they were being off-loaded some time around the year 2010 and steadfastly refused to cross the threshold of anything that smelt like a crèche ever since. I’m not saying it’s the number one reason why I’m glad I had Ed and John, but it’s up there somewhere near the top.
But the real joy of this fortnight has been watching the four of them fall in and out of love, endlessly, throughout the day and night: in the sea, at parties eating smores, on body-boards and on beaches. The absolute lack of any fixed schedule gave them ultimate freedom to choose how they spent their time and – given how much we’ve done already – we let them get on with it, largely unchecked. Sure, sometimes we’d catch them scrapping, or trying to bury their clothes, or strangling each other, or throwing hermit crabs that didn’t win races a little too heartily back onto the sand. But mostly they’ve laughed, played, cried, kicked, run, danced, drunk milkshakes and made friends with each other like they wouldn’t be anywhere else on Earth if you bribed them.
It’s our last night tonight and John John and Ed are getting ready for the jungle-themed disco. Smartie shirts are on and mohawks are being coiffed. You’ve got to love big American chain hotels for that: the spirit of Butlins shines through the forest of chilled towels and fifty dollar breakfasts and makes it – for the kids at least – a truly memorable family holiday. The tori gates and temples and pōwhiris might fade away, but FREE BAGS OF CANDY FLOSS AT 8PM most certainly will not.
Me? I may have to have one for the road and perhaps knock off a few more chapters of my book about how crazy the world is, outside of this particularly beautiful echo chamber. Zuckerberg/Nix/Assange – you can put this middle-class, shoe-fetishist, liberal-leaning, college-educated, bleeding-heart, unemployed Brit down as a YES to Don Julio Añejo, tacos, beach vacations and Costa Rica any day of the week. There: I’ve done all your dirty work for you.