Wednesday, 7 September 2016

What I Learnt On My Holiday

I think I already mentioned that I went on an excellent holiday this year. Despite its excellence, I dreaded it a bit before I went*.

I always dread holidays, not only for all the obvious reasons - the need to try to focus the mind on what things are essential to your wellbeing and therefore must be taken with you, and then the need to gather those things and to pack them neatly, (neatly! When have I ever succeeded in doing anything neatly?), and ideally to not realise one hour and seventeen minutes after setting out that there was one thing you really ought to have thought of but didn't, (this realisation temporarily interrupting the revolving loop of questions that have been preoccupying you up to this point: "Did I leave the iron on, stove lit, door unlocked?" [I have been known to resolve the first of those concerns by bringing the iron along on the trip, stowed in a supermarket carrier bag, but only when the holiday is by car, as I suspect it would be hard to explain a domestic iron at an airport security check, in these paranoid times.])

Anyway, I've realised now that I mustn't dread holidays in the future, because they serve a very valuable purpose. They remind you of mortality and demonstrate how important it is to make the most of every minute.

"Holidays remind you of mortality", you cry, "So how exactly do they do that?"

Well, I'm so glad you asked me. They do it by being finite: at their start, having finally banished the dread that precedes departure, you set off with a head full of bright images of what you expect from the days or weeks that lie ahead; you are childlike in your approach to the future, you have no thought for anything but the pleasant hours in which you live right now. However, as the days pass, the shadow of the looming end of the holiday and your return to day-to-day humdrum and hours in the office begins to blight your pleasure, stripping away your enjoyment of the holiday time itself.

Having set you down in one or other lovely spot on the planet, holidays, because of their limited nature, keep you aware that you only have a brief time in which to enjoy whichever mini-heaven you have picked. In other words, they provide you with a scale model of life itself. They remind you that all good things must come to an end and that therefore you should make the most of every moment that is handed to you - whether that be a moment of holiday or a moment of its larger cousin, your own, all too short span of years on earth.

I rarely succeed in making the most of any moment, but as I grow older I realise I must try harder as I am entering the phase of life that is the equivalent of a holiday's fag end. I am all too inclined to ruin the last days of any vacation - I've never used that word before, but what a good word it is, now I think about it; a space where you vacate your normal self and occupation - by getting gloomy about leaving and fretting about packing and thinking how dreadful the trip home might be, not to mention imagining that the house might have burned to the ground when you finally reach it again.

What a waste that is, my latest holiday has taught me. I must stop looking ahead immediately and start to pretend that each day is the beginning of an individual 24-hour "mini-break" all of its own. I must try to approach each hour in as carefree manner as I would, were I setting out on holiday, and I must try to do this without feeling the need to carry my iron with me at all times.

*Or was my lack of excited anticipation actually the secret of its success? Hmm, perhaps a topic for another day.


  1. I set off on my last holiday worrying about my health and what would happen if I didn't feel well enough to drive. Then an odd thing happened: within a few hours of leaving home, all of my nebulous aches and pains disappeared.

    I think the lesson I learn from holidays is how important it is to be occupied in a meaningful and stimulating way. But I realise that for some, the importance of a holiday is that they have permission to do absolutely nothing.

    1. I usually spend the night before going on holiday not sleeping, either because I'm so worried that if I don't get enough sleep that night I won't be able to enjoy the holiday or - if, as often happens, we are taking a very early plane or train - because I'm so worried that I won't get up in time to catch it. And I always blight the end of any holiday by worrying that I am going to forget something important when I am packing and leave it behind. Thus do I successfully sabotage tranquillity and happiness. I think I like glimpsing a different world on holiday - a place where even the milk cartons are exotic