Book review: Road to Rouen by Ben Hatch

Road to Rouen by Ben Hatch
Road to Rouen by Ben Hatch

Do you need an amiable and amusing travelling companion for this year’s summer holiday? Hitch a ride on the rocky Road to Rouen with Ben Hatch and you’ll be laughing all the way!

For those who haven’t already met Ben Hatch, he’s the fearless and lovably foolhardy father who took on an 8,000-mile, five-month road trip in a Vauxhall Astra estate with his wife and two children aged under four to write a US guide book about family travel round Britain.

The result was Are We Nearly There Yet?, a hybrid memoir, travelogue, laugh-out-loud entertainment book about his experiences which won him more followers and fan mail than the Frommer’s guide.

Hatch’s moving account of life, travel and the death of a loved one was a hilarious, highly emotional and heart-warming affirmation of ‘familyhood.’ By the end of 2012, it was also a Number One bestseller, a Radio 2 Book of the Year and is currently being made into a movie by Island Pictures.

And now the Hatch family is on the road again… for a 10,000 mile journey in a cheese-filled VW Passat after being commissioned to write a guide book about France, despite Ben not speaking any French!

Hatch is the grown up (well, almost grown-up) equivalent of Dora the Explorer except that he uses mute ‘squishy’ bags instead of a talking purple backpack and is accompanied by long-suffering wife Dinah and their two wise and wise-cracking children Phoebe and Charlie rather than an anthropomorphic monkey called Boots.

Son of Sir David Hatch, the famous radio performer and producer, Hatch has inherited his father’s way with words but has his own inimitable, relaxed and charmingly funny style which makes travelling with him an unforgettable experience.

Here, our intrepid and wildly optimistic adventurer sets off with visions of relaxing chateaux and refined French cuisine. How wrong could he be? Ten thousand miles later, his family has been attacked by a donkey, had a run-in with a death cult and, after a near drowning and a calamitous wedding experience involving a British spy, his own marriage is in jeopardy.

A combination of obsessions about mosquitoes, French gravel and vegetable (yes, vegetable) theme parks mean the trip is more of a rough ride than a French odyssey for the remarkably resilient Hatch family.

And marriage and responsible parenting receive a very public battering as Hatch takes a stand against tyrannical French pool attendants, finds himself running with the bulls in Pamplona and almost starring in a snuff movie after a near fatal decision to climb into a millionaire’s Chevrolet Blazer.

Hatch’s farcical French anecdotes are served up with belly-laughs realism, a big helping of beautiful British irony and a poignant reminder of how our families and our relationship with them shape who and what we are.

To miss out on the Road to Rouen would be to miss out on a summer treat… and the discovery that taping baguettes to your children’s legs to smuggle lunch into expensive Disneyland Paris is the perfect way to save money!

(Headline, paperback, £11.99)