There has been an outbreak of intense sexting among my girlfriends: whispers of desire; shared fantasies and sensual memories. “We’d just lie somewhere shady with delicious snacks and NOT TALK,” writes one. “Remember reading quietly in the air-conditioned library in Bologna? I want that,” says another. My friend H goes all in. “There’s a soft lagoon breeze in our tiny pensione courtyard,” she types, cruelly. “White peaches from the Rialto for breakfast.” “We find the perfect bar with good pastries,” I counter. “After two days they make our cappuccinos without us ordering, so we feel like Commissario Brunetti” (Donna Leon’s most Ocado of fictional detectives).
In reality, we’re going nowhere. We can’t trust the government’s rickety air bridges and even if we could afford it, we probably shouldn’t be flying, for ecological as well as virus reasons. It’s desperately unfair that mine and my parents’ generations went wherever we liked, and now preach about carbon to young people who have barely had a chance to go anywhere, but the planet is self-evidently on fire.
Maybe this is the perfect time to wean ourselves off summer holidays. I don’t want to tar you with my own misanthropic brush, but do you really crave more quality time with your family right now? There are good reasons my friends and I are indulging in all our vacation fantasies à deux (or, my deepest, darkest desire, solo). Here’s why it might not be the worst thing to miss out on a family holiday this year.
Preparation Much holiday conflict is rooted in the tension between spontaneity and planning and it starts here. Someone thinks that packing is an unnecessary faff, the preserve of controlling fusspots. Someone else may “forget” to pack that person’s pants for a fortnight, I merely observe.
Travel One of you is absolutely convinced you will miss the plane unless you are sitting on the gate floor three hours before boarding opens. Everyone else is scornful of the uptight one and will wander off to browse duty free at the crucial point at which the queue finally moves and recriminations will be mighty.
Navigating I will not cover this painful topic, we’ve all been there (where “there” is 17 times round the same roundabout, shouting).
Accommodation Only hedge-funders can afford anywhere as nice as their normal homes. UK self-catering means squabbling over the one decent-sized mug and shelves full of Danielle Steel novels swollen with damp. Self-catering abroad is thimble-sized coffee cups, mosquitoes and a cavalier attitude to curtains (if you haven’t found yourself fashioning makeshift curtains from towels and tinfoil, you haven’t been abroad with a baby). Hotels require sharing an extremely small space with your loved ones and the uneasy conviction you are haemorrhaging money.
Generally, spending is problematic For any two people on holiday there is one with an ashen face and bitten tongue as the other blithely purchases an inflatable unicorn for the price of an actual racehorse.
Activities 18 must-see churches face off against “Let’s play it by ear.” This is extra-challenging with teenagers; frankly, holidays are. They would rather be a million miles from you anyway, and commandeer all the adapters. But the slump of a teenage shoulder forcibly woken to trail resentfully around a once-in-a-lifetime heritage site is a universal signifier of a family vacation.
We always fight on holiday Surely everyone does. It’s the painful gap between fantasy and reality: that perfect pensione would smell of drains, the peaches would be wasp-infested and the atmosphere tense because I insisted on walking miles to see a saint’s fingernail (unsuccessfully: closed after midday). It’s partly also, I think, because compromise and conciliation feel like our day jobs and we should get a break on holiday, when of course, they are required more than ever.
So why bother? Because every fraught, imperfect family holiday has weird, luminous highlights, impossible elsewhere and absolutely memorable. Mine include: the impenetrable fog of a boring Highland fortnight lifting to reveal the cottage owner’s spectrally white buttocks, nude gardening; a sulky 14-year-old momentarily transfigured with delight at winning an ice-cream in an incomprehensible poolside contest; an hour’s respite from fighting in rainy Rome while exploring the wild layers of history beneath the San Clemente basilica; collective hysteria at spotting Cliff Richard in a hot tub.
Infected bites, airport chips and the thing that might have been a seal, but was probably a plastic bag: these moments shape our family histories. The pictures are lost on a hard drive somewhere, but I don’t need them, they’re perfectly clear in my heart. Damn. Holidays might be harder to give up than I thought.
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