A lot of us are spending an awful lot of time worrying about whether we will get to go on holiday this year. A foreign holiday is spoken of almost as a human right, like running water or food. If, God forbid, a holiday abroad is not possible then that is simply terrible. Our only option – horror of horrors – will be staying somewhere in the UK and, as everyone else is in the same boat, that will doubtless be exorbitantly expensive because everything will be booked up.
As a small corrective to this panic, it is surely worth remembering that holidays are often not really that enjoyable. They are still worthwhile, as it’s nice to look forward to a break; whether it turns out to be any good doesn’t really matter. But if the idea is to live in the moment, those golden moments are often somewhat lacking.
As a teenager, the more I looked forward to a holiday the worse it turned out to be. I would head off somewhere hot and sunny with a bunch of mates, all intent on getting smashed and copping off (as we used to call it) with girls of all nations. It was only the drinking bit that I was any good at, unlike my mates who, to my considerable dismay, always seemed to succeed on all fronts. Woe was me. It was often hellishly miserable but, hey, it was a holiday and that was the main thing.
One summer in Croatia, I spent weeks on end not to talking to any girls at all. Eventually, bored with my own incompetence and intoxicated with plum brandy, I approached a German girl of quite staggering beauty. All I could think of saying or doing was offering her a cigarette. “Möchtest du eine Zigarette?” I asked. My heart leapt as she reached out and took it. But she did so without even looking at me or uttering so much as a danke. I shrank away humiliated, or gedemütigt, as they say in Germany. Fantastic holiday otherwise though, obviously.
I have never felt like I needed a holiday more than when babies and toddlers came into the picture. And it was wonderful, apart from getting there and getting back and a good few occasions in between. For some reason it never occurred to me that kids would wake up at the same time – ie the crack of summer’s dawn – even when they were on holiday. Incredible. It was great to get away, though.
The holiday I looked forward to most wasn’t much fun at all. After we left university, a friend and I decided to walk across Wales, from north coast to south, finishing in Gower. We were beside ourselves with excitement about the whole adventure. Half an hour after setting off from Llanfairfechan, as we slogged up a very long, steep hill, we were absolutely knackered. Gasping for air, we asked ourselves and each other what on earth we were doing. We camped that evening alongside a babbling brook somewhere near Betws-y-Coed and decided perhaps things weren’t so bad after all. Overnight, though, it hosed down. I was woken by water seeping around my neck. By morning, that sweet babbling brook was a raging torrent. And so it went on, day after day. The nadir came near the end when, running out of time, we decided to walk all night. We collapsed with exhaustion at four in the morning and slept in the vestibule of a jeweller’s shop in Pontardawe.
In all, it was two long weeks of untrammelled misery. The first moments felt great and the last moments, knee deep in the Bristol Channel at Swansea, felt even better. What came between those two moments was, bar the odd collapse into the uncontrollable mirth of desperation, a different story altogether. But does that even matter if looking forward to it was wonderful and, more importantly, I’ve had a lifetime enjoying the memories? This conundrum has troubled me ever since. Is a holiday ever about the holiday itself, or only about what it looks like through the windscreen or rear-view mirror? There’s something to ruminate on if you do get away, whatever the weather. Happy holidays, everyone.