Book Review: Are we nearly there yet? by Ben Hatch

Details from Amazon:

Book Description

Publication Date: July 1, 2012

The story of a madcap five-month family trip to write a travel guide—embracing the freedom of the open road with a spirit of discovery and an industrial supply of baby wipes

“Hurry up,” I shout at Dinah, whilst on the overhead telly Ray Mears’ Survival is playing extraordinarily loudly because Charlie sat on the volume button of the remote. The kids writhe about in the V05 shampoo they just spilt, laughing as the last of their clean clothes bite the dust, and I’m thinking: “Survive driving round England with two under 4s, staying at a different hotel each night and visiting four or five attractions a day and sometimes a restaurant in the evening. Sleep all in the same room, go to bed at 7 p.m. after having had no evening to yourself, wake up at 7 a.m. and do it all again the next day with the prospect of another 140 nights of the same—then come and tell me about survival in your khaki ****ing shorts, Ray.”

They were bored, broke, burned out, and turning 40. So when Ben and his wife Dinah were approached to write a guidebook about family travel, they embraced the open road, ignoring friends’ warnings: “One of you will come back chopped up in a bin bag in the roof box.” Featuring deadly puff adders, Billie Piper’s pajamas, and a friend of Hitler’s, it’s a story about love, death, falling out, moving on, and growing up, and 8,000 misguided miles in a Vauxhall Astra.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Summersdale (July 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1849531552
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849531559
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,389,254 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Initial Thoughts:

This was sent to my by Ben as a review copy. My version isn’t the one that will be out in July (out now on Amazon.uk) but the only differences are very minor and have no effect on my review (according to Ben).

Also I should say that I am not the ideal audience as I’ve never been to England or Scotland and I don’t have any children, with that said I was very curious and I do enjoy the occasional non-fiction book.

Main Points:

This book is a very interesting combination of humour, travel advice, personal reflection, sadness, history and discovery. I felt like I came along on the journey with Ben, Dinah, Phoebe and Charlie. Ben does such a great job sharing his thoughts and feelings for every step of the way that by the end of the book I felt I had gotten to know him (and he’s a great guy Smile) but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I admired Ben for having the guts to write such personal details of his life (and his wife). Everything is in here from a food poisoning, to a car accident, to an accident with Phoebe, to Dinah’s (and Ben’s) unusual fears and many of their personal habits. This is also some very emotional moments when he writes of the visits to his very sick father.

What I liked:

The unique style of 1/4 guidebook, 1/4 road-trip,1/4 personal journey and 1/4 dealing with sickness and death works quite well (that sounds a little odd but it makes sense when you read it Smile). I also like the geeky references to things like Doctor Who, Monty Python, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, William Shanter, Mr. T and the A-Team. He makes England and Scotland (for about 90% of the places they visited) sound fascinating, fun and well worth checking out.

Ben chronicles his eventful 5 month period in his life and why not? If I traveled over 8000 miles, went to a multitude of attractions, took along my family, had a car accident, several health problems and tragically my Dad die I would certainly want to put it into a book. I imagine writing this book was healing for him and ultimately helped him grow as a person. You can see a person who wonders about the choices he made in life, regrets some but ultimately sees what is important and values the life he has chosen.

My favourite chapters follow:

Chapter 7:

Birmingham interested me. As Ben says “‘A museum, a time machine AND a coffee shop!’” how can you go wrong? I’m not a huge Doctor Who fan but this part really made me laugh. Ben pretends that the museum staff are going to kill them all and makes Dinah (and this reader) laugh several times.

The animal sanctuary part here also have several funny moments. Here’s one “ we watch a 7-foot llama put its head so casually into the driver’s window of a Ford Focus to nibble food pellets from their dashboard, it actually looks from behind like it might be giving the family directions to The Discovery Trail.” Laughing out loud 

Chapter 10:

Nottingham sounded like an interesting place and this was one of the funniest chapters. The idea that cars can’t drive in the resort while great for the environment (and pedestrians) would certainly be very difficult for a family of 4 who lives out of their van. 

Chapter 13:

I don’t enjoy reading about people suffering but this was has so much happening that I had to mention it.

There’s a small turning left up ahead and an even smaller turning opportunity opposite on the right. I slow down, indicate and start to make the right turn and just have time to say, ‘Shit!’ before it hits us. The
sound is like a bomb going off. My head smacks the trim of the
driver’s door. I come around a second later. In my driver’s side
window there’s now a man’s face. He’s in a black car that’s filling
up with smoke.”

The intensity and suddenness of the accident is described very well here. Ben (and Dinah) get to show here how tough they are. Even though they have both been in a fairly bad car accident they continue on with their trip. I think most people (including me) would have quit at this point and I admired their determination and the fact they took on the considerable expense of renting a car for almost 4 months.

Chapter 16:

The Lake district, I’d like to visit here but Ben doesn’t pull any punches and makes some of the people sound like complete assholes. I loved it when he stood up to the coffee shop owners for making his wife cry over baby food (I’m not a big fan of children but these people sound heartless!).

“and I walk out, feeling like a gunslinger spinning revolvers back into his holsters.”

Nice line. So to keep this review from getting too long I only quoted a little. Basically Ben goes back to the place and pretends to review it only to catch them in a lie about how they treated Dinah, clever and it must have been satisfying to do Open-mouthed smile.

Chapter 20:

Craster Tower sounds like one of the coolest places I’ve ever heard of. Not only is 900 years old (and supposedly haunted) but the couple who own it know (and talk with) one of Hitler’s former inner circle. An SS Officer who was a Nazi! It’s not what you’re thinking, I’m just fascinated with history (World War II in particular) and I think the chance to hear this kind of knowledge even second hand (or third hand for me) is incredible. Also while it does seem cruel it is entertaining to read how Ben scared the CRAP out of Dinah in a very clever way by comparing their last few days to the Nicole Kidman movie The Others (a good choice for a movie BTW Smile).

Chapter 21:

Ben discovers that he has a kidney stone (and stress related irritable bowl). Once more it sounds like I enjoy “Schadenfreude” but the hospital is such a great mixture of comedy and horror that it is very entertaining to read. I admire doctors, nurses and police, they really deal with people at their worst and with police, the worst kind of people. Ben says it best himself at the end:

“‘I just got in the bath. How was last night?
‘Like something out of M.A.S.H.’”

And like M.A.S.H. even though it was about war you still laughed at some episodes, you find the humour in it (I’m not actually a fan of M.A.S.H. but I like the reference).

Chapter 25 & 26:

Aside from the appearance of John Cleese these are the chapters where Sir David Hatch (Ben’s father) dies. I know it might sound strange to single them out as among my favourites but they are so emotionally powerful and touching that I had to. To share the last few days, hours and minutes of your father’s life is such a brave act that I have to commend Ben for being able to do it.

Most people consider death to be very personal and private affair (myself included) to open this private part of his life is wonderful as it will help those who have (or will) go through it to deal with it. It made me think how that no matter what race/religion/country/whatever you lay claim to ultimately we all end of dealing with death, it is sadly what makes us all human and is shared experience.

Ben says some very true things there like, “Up until this moment Dad’s death felt removed somehow. It was akin almost to a king having died. A  figurehead. Someone mighty whose absence left a
giddying feeling of uncertainty. But on the doorstep, watching the
jeep pull out of the drive with Katie, Claire and Mary clustered
around looking on, it hit me: my dad was dead.”

And one more part rang true for me: “‘And now we must look after each other,’ she says.
‘We must.’
‘As he would have looked after us.’
I hug Mary. Dinah strokes her back.
‘Because I’m your adopted mum now whether you like it or
not.’”

Chapter 28:

There are many chapters where Ben reminisces about his Dad (and I loved all of them Smile). He sounded like such a great guy. I picked out this particular chapter though because it has a very funny part where Ben puts Dinah in a situation where she can have sex with Prince William since he only has 1 hour to live. Dinah is stubborn and even in a fantasy never admits she will do it (well in the end she does but only to shut Ben up Winking smile).

Also here I enjoyed how Ben brings his kids to a place where his own father brought him. He brings things full circle and it’s a touching moment. The flyover by the jets must have been incredible too (and very lucky to see as Ben points out.)

Another very touching (and true for me personally) moment occurs when Ben hears a tribute to his Dad on the radio. “ And it’s a confusing
feeling sat here in this random Cornish hotel, arranging scatter
cushions across my bare feet because it’s cold with the balcony
door open, feeling a massive swelling of pride for my dad, who I
want desperately to ring, but a fraction of a second later realise I
can’t because he’s dead.” Life happens in strange ways and sometimes it takes a stranger or a public broadcast to make you accept reality.

Chapter 30:

Ok I’ll admit it, I love Billy Joel. I even had tickets to see him but the show was cancelled Sad smile. As such I was thrilled with this bit:

‘Your next record, Sir Ben?’ she asks.
‘Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”,’ I say.
‘Not “Uptown Girl”, Sir Ben?’
‘No, Kirsty.’
‘Because you only like certain Billy Joel records?’
‘That’s fucking right, Kirsty.’

“Piano Man” is one of my all-time favourite songs. It is also one of the only songs I can play worth a damn on the piano.

I love seeing music incorporated into any story (in particular music I like Smile). So here’s another well-written, touching moment:

Dinah takes out her iPhone and syncs it to the car stereo.
‘Homeward Bound’ by Paul Simon comes on. It’s a song we’ve
played intermittently since Liverpool. We’ve played it so many
times we have new lyrics the kids have learned.

They sing there own version of the song (which is very clever and a delight to read) and as they pull into their driveway “The setting sun bleeds shimmering gold into the darkening sea as I turn up our road. I crawl to a stop outside our house.” Very nice imagery and a lovely line, now I have to do my critic/reviewer/honesty duty next. Dis-likes:

As you’ve seen I enjoyed this book very much, but there are things I would have taken out/changed.

First off sometimes Ben gives us too much information. I didn’t need to read this:

“Wobbling about in the bathroom, I experience a strange inside-out-like
sensation down my dick.”

Or this:

“there was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen –
a bat covered in my shit  flailing about in the toilet water.”

I’ve never had a kidney stone (or a bat in the toilet I used) so maybe the importance of these events is a little lost on me but I felt leaving a little more to the imagination would have been better here.

There is also a part which uses toilet humor that I didn’t care for. This kind of humor is quite literally one of the basest forms of entertainment and not something I usually enjoy (those this particular section was a little amusing). 

I also thought he overdoes it sometimes with the use of codes and abbreviations such as:

“Thrust2, the former holder of the land speed record is here, along
with ThrustSSC, the current holder, and there’s also a ThrustSSC
simulator.”

and

“it doesn’t seem quite right to charge around the M45 and
back down the M1 just to stare at some East Midlands footwear,”

I know this is nitpicky but I can’t help it, it’s the kind of thing I notice. Also for me when he references many British shows, celebrities, figures from history, politicians, I just don’t know who he’s talking about but I suppose this would be very difficult to fix and he’d probably say the same if I wrote a non-fiction book Smile.

Also I felt the book goes on just a little too long. I would have ended it as they pulled into the driveway. I understand that emotionally he didn’t feel the journey was done (he wanted to show his feelings on Phoebe’s first day of school) but for me this is just a stylistic choice to end the story as the physical journey ended.

Final Thoughts:

Ben Hatch is a talented writer, a brave and funny man and someone I wish all the success to in the future. I’ve always loved British humor and I’m certain his dad was a very funny, warm, generous and brave man like his son. I will be sending Ben money for a signed copy, I must have a book I not only enjoyed but am mentioned in Winking smile. Strong 8/10 from me.Thumbs up This book doesn’t make me want to have kids (or drive 8000 miles with anyone) but I sure enjoyed reading about the physical and spiritual journeys Ben and his wonderful family went on.Vampire bat

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