Spectator: Lucy Baring gets holiday blues

We’re emerging from a summer holiday in which anticipation somehow segued into waiting. Waiting for exam results. Wait-ing to put the final touches on moving house. Waiting to go on the foreign holiday we booked last November. Waiting for BT to connect us to broadband in our rented house. Waiting for the poultice, applied by a nurse to my foot the day before we left for the holiday, to take effect.

The day before we left England, I’d taken our dachshund for a walk and, somehow, a splinter of something had come between my foot and my flip-flop. I limped home, tried to extract it, could-n’t quite see what I was dealing with and, on my sister’s advice (‘you don’t want a septic foot on holiday’), went to the surgery, where the nurse, having dug around a bit with the needle, declared the object to be unusually stubborn.

My foot, having now been excavated by both me and my sister, looked red and, to my eye, a little bit blue and the nurse had no hope of finding the foreign object. She applied what was described as a modern-day poultice, explaining that it would extract the object, which, luckily, was on the ball of my foot, so I could apply extra pressure to it every time I walked. This would aid the poultice effect and I left, taking care to press down as hard as possible with each step. I had to wait about four days for it to work.

The holiday was thus essentially barefoot and although I couldn’t actually see the splinter of glass on the poultice when it fell off, my foot began to feel better. Would I have gone to the nurse if I hadn’t been going away? Certainly not, but a strange madness comes over you when the week that has been the focus of the 51 other weeks is upon you. It’s the same madness that makes you buy spray-on plasters and antiseptic wipes, as if a holiday is an accident just waiting to happen. The fact that your country of choice probably has more chemists than your own becomes irrelevant.

Our homeward journey began with the usual degree of waiting that goes with airports, although ours became more unusual when the conveyor belts broke down and the computer system crashed. The queue of tanned Britons heading home was entirely good-natured about this-initially.

The first symptoms of unrest were only displayed after half an hour, which is when two things tend to happen in a queue. Firstly, you make new friends and secondly, you all identify one person who becomes the focus of discontent. In our case, it was the woman who wasn’t on the passenger list, who was at the front of the queue when the computer system crashed (the unspoken consensus unfairly implied she was somehow responsible) and who refused to move to one side to have her lack of seat sorted out so that, once the computers were up and running again, we could be processed.

In other words, there was the queue. And there was The Woman. To be fair, standing your ground in an increasingly chaotic airport is probably sensible, but when it eventually leaked out, via the Chinese whispers of queues (which also, erroneously held an 85-year-old woman who’d died on holiday and whose body was being repatriated, responsible), that The Woman wasn’t booked onto the flight because she was actually going to Newcastle not Gatwick, we were only degrees away from becoming a lynch mob.

We took to waiting in other queues where some of our group were standing just for a change of scene. Encampments formed as people sat on their bags and I sat down on our suitcase to make myself comfortable while I waited. And it was then that I took off my flip-flops because that thorny foot problem seemed to be returning. Which is when I noticed the drawing pin sticking into the sole, the one on which I had been taking care to press down as hard as possible.

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