So it wasn’t the best weather, and it wasn’t the best place. The windscreen wipers squeaked double-time all the way there and there was rain on and off all week. It was cold. The upstairs shower didn’t work and the toilets were dodgy. The roof in the conservatory leaked in three places and the smoke alarm bleeped all night, until we took the batteries out, choosing sleep over fumes and crisped skin.
But we got over it. And once we got over it, it was wonderful. There was lying around and reading, and reading, and lying around (for the over 50s). DVDs and Youtube and Youtube and DVDs for the overs 18s. There were seaside towns to explore, cafes for getting warm and eating cake, and beaches, and sudden bursts of sunshine, the latter two actually coinciding once for twelve whole minutes on a beach in Cromer. The cottage was pretty, if dysfunctional, and in the evenings we took it in turns to cook, or loaf in evening light spilling gold into the back room.
And it strikes me how strange it is that we’re always taken aback when holidays, in common with Christmas and new kitchens, aren’t perfect. They should be. After all, we’ve paid for them and we’ve waded through a lot to get to them – all that planning and pontificating, making arrangements (so much of life is making arrangements). To say nothing of the daily grind that has dominated your life since your last holiday – cooking, shopping, keeping clean. You’ve gone up in the roof and found the cases, though no one’s seen the toiletries bags since Brittany, and as for the automatic cat feeder, didn’t you lend it to someone at Easter? Then there’s the whole, Shall we leave the low-energy lounge/kitchen light on, blinds up or down, curtains open or closed at the back/front, plugs in/out? And by the time you’ve packed the cases, written an essay to the cat feeder and the plant-waterer and the rubbish-putter-outer (you couldn’t possibly impose on the one person to do all of this), you sink into your car feeling you need a holiday. But you’ve got to put up with the long drive/flight before you can even dream of one, let alone the blood-pressure-raising interrogation for the next few miles or so – “Did you turn the coffee machine/iron/hair straighteners off? Did you slam the dodgy freezer door?” (This all before it starts to rain.)
So after all that, and sitting in roadworks and traffic for hours, the place had better be perfect. And if it isn’t. we’re surprised, then irritated, then annoyed. This is our holiday!
But after we’ve had a cup of tea, talked of complaint letters, unclenched a little, we shake our heads, shrug. We notice the rain has stopped, there’s a view across fields. The lounge is cosy and has a log burner, some pretty brickwork. And for miles and miles there are fields dotted with tiny hamlets, and trees and water. And arching above it all, singing, the wide Norfolk sky. It’s pure gold.
And it suddenly hits us, that holidays are a break from routine, not life. They still require us to do the things that make life work, most of the time – laugh, ignore rubbish, watch for gold. We remember, with a clunk, this hitting us last year and all the years before…But somehow in the middle of all the toiletry bag hunting and the why-isn’t-this-perfect ranting, we forgot it. Again.
I sometimes think that God, if you believe in him, and I absolutely always do, apart from on planes and once briefly in a kebab shop in Brighton, must sometimes put his head in his hands and sigh.