The Egypt Trade: long protesters, short tourists

This article was written on 14/02/11 but put on hold for publication on http://life.hereisthecity.com/2011/02/27/the-egypt-trade-long-protesters-short-tourists/ on 27/02/11.

Like a reverse commute while the rest of civilised (sane) society was conducting a mass exodus last week, we were making a beeline for the country currently most touted on the news for its chaos.

On checking in at The Four Seasons in Sharm el Sheikh, we were greeted by a prominently placed portrait of Mubarak in the hotel lobby. Barely a week later at checkout, it had been discretely removed and the wall seamlessly painted over without a trace. Notwithstanding the fact of his having allegedly retreated, since his newly unemployed status, from Cairo to his holiday retreat down the road in this very Red Sea resort.

It wasn’t a decision lightly taken to embark on this long-planned trip to a country now mobbed with civil unrest. Indeed it was with much trepidation and foolhardy trust in the foreign office advice (as well as BA’s resolute refusal to offer even a partial refund) that we set off rather reluctantly at the height of the protests.

In a sense of foreboding, Gatwick was eerily empty (we were the penultimate flight of the day) with a post armageddon atmosphere. We made it from taxi door, through departure gates, security and check-in in under 15 minutes and, no, we weren’t ushered through priority check-in. Note also we were walking at funereal pace to cater to the speed of the lowest common denominator of our party: a toddler towing a Trunki.

On boarding, it transpired that bar a portly man and his equally portly other half, we were the only travellers in our cabin. Like an empty restaurant, this has to ring alarm bells. On the positive side, we had limited audience for extending apologies after hours of crying from the overtired 9 month old.

Five bleary-eyed hours of pacing the aisles with the fretful 9 month old; the 2 year old sleeping like a seasoned pro-traveller replete with eye mask, we touched down in the country that felt as familiar as our own given the compulsive viewing of everything Egypt related on the BBC news over the past week. With the exception that all was quiet and calm. Bar the local cab drivers squabbling over the fresh batch of tourists, there wasn’t a riot in sight.

Echoing the capacity of the flight, the resort was equally as sparsely occupied. For the large part the pool was a private affair and it was with much indignant harumphing if on the odd occasion we had to share it with anyone else. The breakfast buffet was a bursting banquet enough to feed the biblical five thousand but in reality only needed to feed about fifty.

The Egyptian people were warm, welcoming and gracious. Service was affable, efficient and the epitome of the term ‘family friendly’. Our room was equipped with nappies, wipes, cot, baby bath, toddler step stool, bottle steriliser, bottles, bottle warmer, an array of baby toiletries, jars of baby food as well as a microwave to warm them up in. The suite even came complete with washing machine, tumble dryer and dishwasher but there is a line to be drawn at full-on domestic drudgery while on holiday.

There was also a kids club where the 2 year old made pasta necklaces and a huge cardboard rocket that she insisted we bring home on a seat of its own on the plane.

At one point I gazed longingly at a Russian family who had brought along their own maid to deal with their toddler. Now, if the hotel could provide one of those then I would most definitely make a return visit regardless of any revolution. At dinner one evening I did attempt to palm off the 9 month old onto the willing Maitre D but, unlike the 2 year old who worryingly accepts M&Ms from strangers, the 9 month old just clung to me limpet-like glowering. It seems he too has learnt the power of protestation.

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We’re all going on a summer holiday

News on the latest media grapevines is that the credit crunch, if not over, is certainly getting less crunchy – things are smoothing over as it were. In chocolate terms, less Cadburys Crunchie and a touch more Galaxy. So it would appear then that the lid has been lifted for the reinstatement of the overseas summer holiday. Goodbye to stay-at-home chic. Who were we ever kidding anyway – Cornwall versus Caribbean? I know which one I’d rather make a beeline for.

The age old issue with packing up and jetting off at this time of the year is that, annoyingly, it coincides with precisely the time of year that every other family and their dog is embarking on the same game plan. Once the school holidays start, the flood gates are officially open. Gatwick airport becomes a purgatory on earth of package holiday makers: pasty white at departures; lobster red and blistering at arrivals.

So quite understandably, given we are yet to be bound by the constrains of national curriculums, we made it a point to time our trip to return just before the madding crowd was unleashed. And not a moment too soon; the day of our departure saw the pool area deluged with a slew of teenagers, keen to shake off the presence of terminally embarrassing parents. 

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable time was had by all parties of the household. Mr A and I even managed to pretend to be members of the civilised childless sect for a few hours a day, indulging in uninterrupted sunbathing and reading, while our one year old took her daily afternoon nap. The biggest downside of a good holiday though is the bump of reality wrought by the return.

Suddenly I have resumed sole ownership of nappy change again – a chore too readily shared if not shunted. Though not without relinquishing the task one last time on the return flight (which surely still counts as part of the holiday) – a shrewd move in light of Mr A’s struggle in the restricted confines of the inflight toilet-cum-baby change. It turns out our less-than-ladylike toddler firstly kicked her soiled nappy to the floor, spilling and scattering its contents to the floor. Then while her repulsed and red-faced father was trying to retrieve the offending matter from the toilet floor, she found a new challenge in trying to kick him in the head while still lying on the changing table. Needless to say, the holiday was officially over at this point for all of us.

Parental Politics

The trouble with staying at a child friendly hotel is that you are inevitably signing up to a stay plagued by other people’s children – and lots of them to boot.

 

It is in this precise scenario that we find ourselves. At first, we revel in the prospect of child-free dinners amongst the civilised sect (aka grown-ups) and no washing up for a week (they have a baby bottle/cup/cutlery washing service, where the soiled goods are deposited in the ‘drop off’ basket, to materialise miraculously, a short time later, spotless, in the neighbouring ‘pick up’ basket). The hotel kitchen will even puree food to order to cater to the discerning palates of the toothless customer and there are enough highchairs in the breakfast room to host a baby G7 conference.

 

Our suite allows for separate sleeping quarters for the Little One and is equipped with sufficient baby paraphernalia to make Mothercare proud – steriliser, changing mat, nappy bin, baby monitor for a child listening service while the grown-ups indulge in some wining and dining come evening time. There is even a pushchair you can borrow if you couldn’t be bothered to bring your own (or couldn’t cram it into the car). This is Utopia for parents of small children.

 

The cherry on the cake is that there is a spa, pool and, conveniently, a creche – complete with Ofsted report. I am still beset with reservations about abandoning my one year old to the care of complete strangers but, seeing as our travelling toy stash is more famine than feast, we drop by one afternoon for a quick reccy. And I’m really quite surprised – in a pleasant way. Though the air of tranquility may be more a result of the total lack of any other children present, fighting over toys and causing a nuisance. I consider the option of giving away my child (for a couple of mornings a week) if I can find an establishment like this at home. We return the next day to find a rather sweet little boy called Oliver, who is obsessed with tractors, and a different carer in attendance. She looks beyond bored and when a colleague comes in later it transpires that she doesn’t know/ care/ remember (what’s worse?) the name of the sole child in her care. I make a swift mental U-turn on the intention to abandon Baby-Bel.

 

It is only at breakfast that it dawns on us that, where we complain about the noise and mess generated by our one sprog at home, here we have that of almost a dozen to contend with. At the breakfast buffet I offer to help a girl of no more than three foot high, with the scrambled eggs. She declines politely enough but when her father offers the same, she turns to him in what can only be descibed as a scarily precocious manner.

‘I’m four remember’, she deadpans (read, ‘I’m not an imbecile’).

Yikes. I am rather taken aback and scuttle back to our table to resume the task of spooning petit filous into the waiting mouth of our comparatively angelic child.

 

After dinner on the second night, I go to the ‘pick up’ point to collect our array of feeding/ drinking implements, to find that the mother just ahead of me is in the process of walking off with our Tommee Tippee beaker. Fuelled by the courage incited by two glasses of robust red, a kir royale and the giddy excitement of being unleashed to dine amongst the polite society of other adults (a novelty these days), I chase after her and insist that she return what is rightfully ours – stopping short of offering to perform a CSI-style dental bite mould on the beaker spout to prove ownership.

 

In the cold light of sober day, a two quid Tommee Tippee cup is hardly grounds for a playground-esque bout of fistee cuffs but it occurs to me that being an (ex) banker has put me in good stead for such baby battlegrounds – I am very competitive and (nearly) always win. After all, there’s no point in taking part if you don’t.

 

I suspect that this is just a taster of the parental politics that beset the war zone of first nursery, then school. I am looking forward, with dread, to dealing with a scenario like that of a friend, whose six year old came home from school one day announcing that she hated a class mate.

‘Why?’

‘Because she’s ugly.’

Now that wouldn’t happen in a Utopian world.