According to my Instagram we’ve just come back from an incredible, month-long family trip to Japan. We covered a lot of ground – pretty pastries in Ginza, a wild ten-year storm in central Hokkaido, chest-deep powder snow, icy streets and bowls of steaming ramen tucked away in hidden alleys.
There were many hashtag-able moments. So many, in fact, that the 12-year-old had to step in, cautioning me about the unwritten rules of Instagram – flow, consistency of theme, crafting the perfect caption and, above all, restraint. One post per day. Tops.
With this in mind I ended up with a pretty impressive array of pictures, resulting in many likes, new followers and complimentary comments. It was the #tripofalifetime.
We all know that social media is BS and contrary to the curated story I presented on Instagram, the holiday was often no picnic. Of course there were fantastic experiences and pinch-yourself scenery (most of which were documented, cropped, polished and posted) but there were also plenty of outtakes deemed completely unfit for social media consumption by the pre-teen.
Maybe the old cliché about a picture being worth a thousand words was made for the social media era – although I don’t need a thousand words to demystify the story behind some of the misleading images I posted.
A lovely pic of the teen and pre-teen sharing a moment on the chairlift. Just as well I took my phone out in the -15 degree cold because it was the only time it happened. One grudgingly-agreed-to run together. You may also note that the teenager has no helmet on. This became the source of several ‘heated discussions’, an ultimatum and a week of moody-teen/parent residual anger.
A snowy streetscape before a day of ice-skating – #familytravel bliss, right? This was the start of an hour-long trek to find the ice rink made famous by the Sapporo Olympics. No wifi meant no Google Translate and no map. We eventually found a 70s relic that looked like it was about to collapse.
Living the igloo life! What you can’t see behind this picture is the massive outlet shopping mall in the middle of an industrial area. Getting there was an hour-long bus ride, sardined with half the population of Sapporo and their wheelie-bags. The husband, who was still on Honshu and spending a week of quality dad-and-son time with the teenager (and that’s a whole other blog post), had seen an ad for heavily discounted Sorel boots, and we’d been tasked with bringing a pair home. Long story short, we went to the mall and all we brought back was this pretty photo.
The happy family shot. That big smile on my face is due to sheer hysteria and joy in equal measure: hysteria at the end of four weeks of living in Tokyo-sized hotel rooms with this lot; joy of being the cause of discomfort to the offspring as payback for the said four weeks. Naturally I am the source of butt-clenching embarrassment in so many ways but asking a kind Japanese guy to take a picture was the last straw for both of them. (Please note: teenager is wearing a helmet.)
The journey home. Apparently it’s best to #travellight when snowboarding by limiting your luggage to just a board bag and backpack. Those snowboard bags and the suitcase we named Big Bertha weighed a combined total of over 150kg. By their design snowboard bags are difficult to manoeuvre, particularly for kids and particularly on public transport. Our departure from Japan involved lugging these on and off a bus, a crowded train, another bus, two planes and another bus. It was no picnic.
Just as the lovely Jess Rowe has made #craphousewife a beacon of truth in the manufactured perfection of Mum-stagrammers, I’m proposing a new hashtag for the legion of travel bloggers and their endless posts of family holiday bliss. Family travel is hard and I’m disappointed that I was sucked into the fakery. Having seen the error of my ways, however, I’ll be stripping away the gloss next time to include the outtakes and tagging #familytravelsucks where appropriate.
No, not Prince.
I woke to the news on that Friday morning, the blow surprisingly acute. Prince dead? It was hard to believe and I wasn’t the only one reeling. Well-worn entertainment reporters were in shock, music historians spoke of his genius and labelled him a modern-day Mozart, purists lamented the loss of a truly unique talent. While I’m unable to lay claim to any particular musical expertise, I felt the loss just as keenly. As the day wore on a purple haze descended, taking me all the way back to 1985.
As a teenager I’d loved Prince’s music to the point of obsession. While most of the other girls at school were fawning over pictures of Wham! I’d sworn allegiance to Paisley Park: substance and innovation over manufactured, pretty-boy pop.
Countless hours were spent lying on the floor of my floral-wallpapered, teenage bedroom watching the needle on the record player move from track to track and poring over the lyrics and credits on the 1999 album cover. I couldn’t get enough of his funk infused sound. The loaded words and suggestive dance moves carried more than a whiff of danger. Where I came from, to love Prince was rebellious.
But now more than 30 years later, with Prince gone, I found myself listening, with a new appreciation, to the soundtrack of my adolescence, but this time it was in a very different bedroom.
We’d planned to re-do the 15-year-old’s room for his birthday and, despite the gloom resulting from Prince’s untimely death, we had a deadline to meet and had to push on. The re-vamp became a best-of Prince weekend (although it seemed almost sacrilegious to be washing paint brushes with The Beautiful Ones as accompaniment). It was somewhere between Let’s Go Crazy and Take Me With U, as I was scraping paint spatters off the timber floor, that I had a very real flashback of what it was to be cocooned in a teenage bedroom, door shut to everyone and everything.
The teen bubble: it pretty much dominated my life from 14 to 17 years of age. Vast amounts of time spent mooning about in my bedroom, pondering everything as only a self-indulgent teenager can – all with the incomparable soundtrack of Prince’s early catalogue. Now, as I rolled paint onto my own teenager’s walls, there were vivid memories of that adolescent sense of being consumed.
Consumed by everything. From lyrics (oh god, how could they be so, like, meaningful?!) to a particular riff (the one that would make you lift the needle off the record, move it back a bit, and lower it down, hopefully in the right spot, just to hear that bit again and again). Consumed with the tragedy of love songs that caused tears and an almost physical ache. Nothing Compares 2 U? It devastated me. That teenage world … it’s so extreme.
And suddenly I knew that we weren’t just doing a bedroom makeover. No, it was much more than that - we were creating a new cocoon, a haven: a space for all those heightened emotions, the introspection, the angst. The 15-year-old would be getting not just an amazing new room (although it absolutely is, thanks to Rachael Miklas @design_detail) but a place to retreat from the world. Somewhere to be alone, to play guitar, to sob into a pillow (maybe), to write angsty poems or songs about love (hopefully), to slam the door on his hard-ass but loving parents (surely not).
Who knows what the soundtrack to all this will be? Of course that’s up to him. I like to imagine that in thirty years’ time, maybe when he's doing his own kids' bedroom up, he'll think back to his 15th birthday room reno and the memories will be accompanied by that unique voice, those freakish guitar solos and the sage advice that “if the elevator tries to bring you down, go crazy, punch a higher floor…”.