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Friday, 30 November 2012

Ben Hatch - Are We Nearly There Yet? 8,000 Misguided Miles Round Britain in a Vauxhall Astra

REVIEW BY BETH HILTON LIVE ON BOOKSHOW This book is mainly a comic travel memoir but it does cross genres because it also a touches on family relationships has a bit of actual travel guide thrown in. Writer Ben Hatch and his wife Dinah, a travel journalist, are commissioned by Frommers to write a family-friendly guide to English tourist attractions. So they rent their house out and take their children Phoebe and Charlie, who are three and two, and spend nearly five months travelling all over the country in their cramped Vauxhall Astra seeing how child friendly various tourist attractions are. They visit 1,000 attractions and move to a different hotel nearly every day as they research things like baby-changing facilities and kids' menus. Each chapter starts with draft copy for the guidebook so we know where they are and what they're going to be seeing then it's Ben's account of getting there, seeing the attraction and leaving again, with all its accompanying chaos. Some of the attractions they visit are very funny such as an Ostrich World featuring only two lonely ostriches and a museum simulation of the journey poo makes from toilet to sewage works, which the kids find particularly fascinating. All this is informative and light-hearted in tone but there's also another strand going on which is much more serious. At the beginning of the book we learn that Ben's dad, BBC producer Sir David Hatch, has terminal cancer so Ben goes to visit him a couple of times and there are frequent reflections on his relationship with his dad and his memories of childhood as the trip progresses. So what did I think of it? I don't have children so can't actually relate to much of it but I still found it very warm and funny. The antics of his kids are particularly amusing. Obviously they have no respect for important museum articfacts so do unfortunate things like throw jelly tots at the car ridden by field marshall Montgomery on D-Day, which end up getting the family thrown out. And they're also very bossy and embarrass their parents at every turn by revealing their secrets. This is a quote from Ben in an interview. He says: "During the trip my little daughter started treating her cardigan like it was a dolly, because she didn't have any toys with her. She made this cardigan sit in the highchair at restaurants over dinner and Charlie, our son, wasn't allowed to go in the buggy but Ella [the cardigan] had to go in instead." It was also very touching. Ben's struggle to come to terms with his dad's death and his sometimes troubled relationship with him is movingly described and made me appreciate my family more. So I would recommend this book to anyone, especially parents of toddlers or older parents who can remember what it was like to have toddlers. A bit of info about the author: He's written two other books before. The first one The Lawnmower Celebrity was loosely based on his time working as a McChicken sandwich station monitor at McDonald's and his second book The International Gooseberry is about a hapless backpacker with a huge ungovernable toenail. I've read that one and it's very good. He's also written three guidebooks with his wife. There's also going to be a follow-up to Are We Nearly There Yet with the family driving around France.

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