I’m facing that most middle class of first world problems at the moment – choosing my next company car. I have been rather smug about the fact that, other than childcare, the boys haven’t been the money pit that people seem to suggest that offspring can be. Clothes have been handed down from friends with similarly or slightly older kids and we have boxes lined up of garments stretching into their third year, with promises of more to come. Toys have been lavished upon them from all quarters and they are small, so they don’t eat a lot and the food bills have been negligible.
However, as we discovered last year when we attempted a holiday, we do need a big car. Last time I was choosing a company car we were in the process of trying for a child. One. Singular. Twins weren’t even part of the equation back then, so I picked a car that I thought would be suitable for having one child and from all the available options, a BMW X1 seemed to strike the right balance between size and having enough equipment to keep me happy. And if we had have only had one child, this would have probably been the case.
It is fair to say I haven’t really gelled with this car since taking delivery of it. It isn’t BMWs finest moment, but it isn’t helped by the fact that it isn’t big enough for our needs, which has really been the nail in the coffin of the relationship I have with it. I don’t exactly hate it, but I can’t wait to see the back of it, if I’m honest. We can’t get the double buggy in the boot without removing the parcel shelf and once that is in, there isn’t really room for much else. With the two car seats in place in the rear there is no room for anything at all in that area of the car.
The one advantage it does have is that it is tall, so getting the boys into their seats is a relatively painless process for them, compared to Mrs Aitchworld’s car, an old 5 Series estate, which despite having a cavernous boot, also has a relatively low roofline and I have bumped Henry’s head getting him into the seat of her car on occasion when using that car instead of mine.
So really, for the sake of head injury, we need to get a taller car for Mrs Aitchworld, which will cost money we will probably have to raid the boy’s accounts for. Well, it is for them, after all. And when it comes to a large car for me, well there aren’t all that many of them on a company car list. They tend to be more expensive and have higher emissions than normal cars, which is going to cost me money in the tax I pay for the privilege of having a company car. I’m penalised because I have twins.
Similarly, before Mrs Aitchworld got pregnant, but when I knew we were trying, I had a camper van. It was a thing of beauty – it was a VW and it was lowered, sat on fancy alloys, had two tone paintwork and side bars and other accoutrements. It was by far the coolest vehicle I have ever owned, and I have owned some really cool cars. No, really, I have. However, the interior, was poor when I got it, so I ripped it all out, kept the useful bits, sold the good bits I didn’t need and binned the rest. I then rebuilt it to my own specification. The front had three seats in it, so I figured a seat for me, a seat for Mrs Aitchworld and another for Aitchworld Junior. I didn’t bother putting seatbelts in the back, nor seats that could take them. The seats I installed were for lounging only. So when we realised we were having twins, I had to let it go. I also had an MX5. That had to go, because I would have only been able to fit one child in at once, which wouldn’t have been fair on the other. Or it just wouldn’t have got used.
I did wonder how we managed when I was a child. When I was born, my parents had an Austin 1300. This was followed by an Austin Maxi when I was about four years of age and my sister came along to extend the family and a larger car was needed. Externally, compared to modern cars, the Austin Maxi is relatively small, but back in the days before cars came festooned with side impact bars and hundreds of airbags, it was a big car. And the child safety seats that my sister and I had back in the day weren’t the size of your average armchair, like they are now. Getting us in and out of them wasn’t as painstaking as it is these days with modern seats and I would like to think my head escaped being knocked too badly (although some may think that is debateable).
Of course, that assumes we were put in car seats at all – I have already documented that I was put in a carry-cot in the back of the car with a seatbelt holding me in place when I came home from hospital and I believe I was driven all round Scotland in this manner on my first holiday just a few months later on my first family holiday. My dad was ahead of his time in that respect though, as he actually fitted rear seatbelts into his car at a time when they weren’t factory installed as standard and weren’t a legal requirement. Most people didn’t bother and the carry cot would have just sat on the rear bench seat possibly wedged into place, but more often not. Different times.
All of these memories (and many more) were brought home to me this week when we booked the holiday I talked about last time I posted. After much prevaricating, we booked a ferry over to France and intend to spend ten days over in Brittany.
Every few years, as a child, my parents would drag us over to France. However, my sister and I weren’t strapped into big armchairs that were, in turn, strapped to the rear seat of the car. In an Austin Maxi, the rear seat folded down forwards or backwards. This was quite innovative in its day and has never been repeated in any other car, to my knowledge. Folded forwards, it provided a large load area for furniture that needed moving, or junk that needed transporting to the municipal dump. Folded the other way, they formed a handy bed for children to sleep on.
And so it was that when we went on holiday to France as children, the rear seat was folded backwards into the boot of the car, where my sister and I were supposed to sleep all the way down to Portsmouth. All of the luggage went on top of the car on a roof-rack, loosely covered with a tarpaulin tied with bungee cords, but not tied tight enough to prevent it from leaking severely enough to ensure all the clothes in the suitcases were soaking wet when we arrived at our destination, should we travel through rain. This was the 1970s though, so it never rained in the summers, which, incidentally, were always hot and they lasted for months.
Although the travel arrangements will be different, or at least the safety systems will be, this is somewhat of a pilgrimage for both me and Mrs Aitchworld. Both of us have been dragged to this area of France as children, although at separate times, as there is a slight age difference between us. I haven’t discussed the safety arrangements of her childhood trips, but I assume they were equally as of their time as mine were. The reason we have picked France is because her parents have booked a large cottage over there that has room for us to stay and they aren’t averse to us taking advantage of the space, which means it should be a cheap holiday. Should be…
Back to the cost of having twins, I have no idea why I assumed any different, but the boys will require passports for us to go to France. I didn’t even consider this, so it’s a good job Mrs Aitchworld was on the ball and picked up the forms. Of course, passports cost money and we have double the expense. And, nothing to do with having twins, it turns out my passport only has a few minutes validity left on it, so I will have to pay for a new one.
As the ferry crossing is a night one, we have booked a cabin, but to get two cots into a cabin requires booking the largest sized and most expensive type on the boat. In fact it is so complicated that you can’t even book the option of having more than one cot online – you have to ring through to the ferry company to do this, and even then some of the staff don’t even know it is possible to book this.
And I think I have decided on what new car I am having. It will be tall and long, and although we won’t be folding the seats back into the boot to form a bed and the boot-space will be available for luggage, we will still need a roof-box on top to cart all the crap we have to take with us, which means we have to pay for a long, tall car. Or a van, in other works. But not the cool camper van I once had.
The low-cost ten days away all of a sudden doesn’t look as cheap as it did when we initially embarked on Project Holiday. As a nod to the ‘70s though, I have decided that I will be ordering the new car in a rather fetching shade of brown.