Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Family Holiday in Brittany

When you are five, life is a confusing mix of alluring fantasy and half-learned reality. Little wonder then that until witnessing proof to the contrary, my little nephew was convinced that sharks did not exist - a fact about which he corrected me repeatedly whenever the subject was raised. Presumably he perceived them as a mythological creature in the realms of dragons and unicorns - the likes of which he is now emphatically grown up enough to refute.

It was the most charming experience to observe my nephew's little face as we entered the shark tank at Saint-Malo Grand Aquarium during a recent holiday in Brittany. "Wow" he exclaimed - much as one might upon encountering a real live pixie during a walk in the woods - "sharks really do exist". The magic of the moment was magnified by its resemblance to a certain scene in The Box of Delights in which the hero Kay Harker (played in the classic 80s BBC version by my nephew's father, my brother Devin) cries "A phoenix! I've really seen a phoenix!"

This was one brilliant moment in a holiday full of memorable firsts: for us, the first time taking Isaac away, for him the first time properly abroad (Guernsey family trip notwithstanding), plenty of new foods sampled and the beginnings of new language skills introduced. It was a completely different kind of holiday for Ant and me, who usually spend our days thinking about where to eat in the evening and our evenings eating and drinking too much. Because there was no chance of a lie in and I was struggling with a grotty cold for the first few days, we tended to be tucked up in our four poster with a good book before 10 o'clock.

The medieval cottage we rented in Dinan - much like the town itself - was like something out of a fairy tale. A huge stone fireplace, crooked beams and a rugged spiral staircase all made for a wonderful atmosphere that infused our days and nights. Isaac was in awe of his huge attic playroom and looked tiny curled up in the corner in his bed at night. Apart from the odd drunken student staggering loudly back towards the Youth Hostel at night, it was serenely quiet - despite being in the heart of town. I relished the lack of television and internet connection which gave us the rare opportunity to actually read books and have lengthy conversations.

Besides the awesome aquarium adventure, we explored many of Brittany's other delights including Dinan's castle ramparts and picturesque riverside, the sprawling sandy beaches of Saint-Malo and Dinard and the rockier coast further West. Isaac seemed to grow in confidence as the days went on - swinging form the trees in a fantastic adventure park, clambering over rocks at the seaside, ordering his own pudding - 'une glace du chocolat' - in French at a restaurant and steering the little motor boat we hired to explore the river. There was so much inspiration in the way of castles and knights and boats and pirates and the like, that we barely heard mention of the dreaded Spiderman or Optimus Prime and instead fostered Isaac's growing interest in all things Asterix.

While we were entertaining their Son across the Channel, Isaac's mum and dad (my brother and his girlfriend) were enjoying their first holiday away alone since he came along - in the pictureqsue but apparently sodden Isle of Mull. So I like to think I can take at least part credit for the engagement that ensued as a result of this rare romantic break - about which you can read here. Congratulations to the future Mr & Mrs Stanfield - and thanks for the loan of your boy, he really was a treat.
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