Our last visit in Zaragoza is to a supermarket; stocking up on snacks for a longish drive to Puerto de Sagunto, a destination we’ve chosen using a family friendly algorithm which calculates the optimum next point at which parents can have lunch with wine.
It is easy to forget how fascinating children find the world and the relatively slight differences between our supermarkets at home and the one we visit for supplies deliver half an hour’s free entertainment.
The boys love examining different brands of yoghurt and squeezing their own orange juice, although the supermarket visit is somewhat marred by Hugh having a strop about getting new toothpaste. He’s noticed the one he currently has is marked ‘suitable for 3-5 year olds’, so that will obviously be unacceptable when he turns six on Friday.
James had started the day with a meltdown about not having tracksuit bottoms to wear. So, although it’s been mostly a nice morning, we’re glad to get them into the car. James nods off quickly but Hugh is resisting sleep and getting fractious.
“Shall I sing you (my made-up, nonsense lullaby) the bye-bye goblins?”
“I hate that song!”
Cheers Hugh! He never misses an opportunity to put the boot in, and I secretly admire his completely un-blackmail-able nature. If you tell him he can’t have dessert unless he eats his vegetables, he will just reply: “Fine then, because actually I don’t like pudding any more.”
James has his wilful, uncontrollable side but generally he is more open to negotiation of the ‘Do this or no biscuits’ variety. Second child syndrome? I tend to think so. This difference between the boys feels more nurture than nature, but who knows?
Eventually, Hugh goes to sleep and both boys only wake up when we get to the coast, north of Valencia. We’re worried we might be cutting it fine for lunch but the staff at the restaurant opposite our hotel don’t blink an eye about us walking in at 3.30pm.
Pretty soon we’re tucking into huge plates of lentils, chickpeas and veggie-stuffed rice, topped and tailed by a tuna salad and an orange, and washed down with a bottle of albariño. I do like albariño and I’m liking it more on this trip because it seems every time I order it, I get a nice “very wise, Sir,” little nod from the waiters.
For the first time since we crossed the Channel, I think I feel truly relaxed. There is something very comforting about seeing your children eating healthily with gusto: God I’m good at parenting, certainly much better than all my friends, an inner voice tells me while simultaneously slipping me little shots of serotonin under the table.
I think how easily we’ve slipped into the Spanish way of eating: breakfast and mid-morning snacks to keep you going until a late, substantial lunch then smaller snacks in the evening. It seems to suit our boys. It also triggers my Brexit thought for the day: the idea that European integration somehow involves national cultures being subsumed into one homogenised dystopia is one of the many ludicrous ideas peddled by supporters of Britain’s departure from the EU, and Spanish lunches still going strong at tea time are proof of that!
While I’m occupied with reflecting on matters of state, Hugh takes it upon himself to take me down a peg or two. When James, as is his wont, announces mid-repas that he needs a poo, his elder brother takes the opportunity to pick up his father on an issue that has clearly been rankling him.
“You’re not being fair. You never wipe Jamesie’s bottom, Mummy always has to do it,” he tells me, adding, for good measure: “You are capable, you’re perfectly capable.”
Moral being, never say anything to Hughsie you don’t want repeated back to you: this outburst having been the result of his mother Tissy’s campaign to get him to take on more responsibility for his own bottom hygiene.
And, with the deadline for a fully self-service system looming on his sixth birthday, it is clearly playing on his mind.
Lunch over, I wonder why we have come here as we are not going to have any time to see the Roman remains or the medieval Jewish quarter of Sagunto (Sagunt in Catalan) because we have to be in Granada, a good six hours driving away, tomorrow evening.
It is a bit frustrating because the town has a good story. In 219 BC Sagunto’s citizens resisted a nine-month siege by Hannibal that was one of the first acts of Carthage’s war on Rome. Rather than surrender they eventually burned the city and themselves.
But it is lovely and balmy, the boys like playing on the deserted beach and our off-season hotel room, with four single beds wedged in, is a bargain £30 for the night, so all’s well with the world.
We need to rest up and be ready for the splendours of the Alhambra. So, of course, I stay up in the bar until 3am.