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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 July 21; 335(7611): 160.
PMCID: PMC1925230
From the Frontline

Cortina en France

Des Spence, general practitioner, Glasgow

I remember my family holidays. Lying on top of bags in the back of the Cortina estate as it careered along the motorways of France. The wind deafened us because we kept the windows down, through fear of baking. We occasionally stopped at exotic service stations, full of the sound of crickets. We heard confused and confusing French rock music and smelt Gitanes smoke.

These were solid 24 hour rallies from London to Spain. We had no in-car DVDs, no iPods, no games machines—just the hiss of Neil Diamond and Rod Stewart cassettes. Seven of us were crammed in plus luggage. We played “knuckles,” “slappets,” and “paper, scissors, stone.” My father quizzed us on fractions, arithmetic, capital cities, and history. In the melting boredom we sang songs or enjoyed the sport of irritating a sibling until they became incandescent with rage. But mostly we just gazed through the window, sweating.

This summer, families will be spared these evocative and collective memories. Nowadays children slip through a largely homogenised and blander Europe. And they are pinned and restrained in their booster seats in silent, air conditioned capsules, plugged into a portable world of DVDs, computer games, and 30 gigabytes of music.

Holidays have become yet more poor quality family time. Despite all the sugary emotion we express for our kids, there is a dissonance as we dump them at kids' clubs and happily allow them to be glued to small screens the rest of the time. This is a variant of consumerism—convenient and inexpensive—anything for more “me time” to lounge and complain by the pool. Little wonder then that children struggle to speak to their parents: the truth is that we no longer seem to want share any real time together.

What is to be done? A national strike is needed. Ban the high tech social vacuums and boycott the kids' clubs full of smiling kids' leaders who wince inwardly when you tell them your children are theirs for two weeks. Instead, squabble over cards and board games. Kick a football, and throw a cricket ball. Sing a song or two. Ignore your children's complaints about being bored. Life is not about being constantly entertained—rather the reverse. Gazing through the window on holiday is time to reflect. And it is a catalyst for creativity and the gift that no expensive tutor or crammer school can give—imagination.

Share some misery this summer holiday. Perhaps our children might end up with their own collective family memories instead of multimedia shadows. Neil Diamond's Cracklin' Rosie still makes me smell sweat, rub my knuckles, and smile.

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