Our columnist, ever the reluctant tourist, laments his removal from country life for a family holiday.
By the time you read this, I’ll be far away. Instead of lolling on the lawn, in the sun, reading Un Noël de Maigret, I’ll be hammering down a French motorway, hurling euros into a net bag at péages. You’ll see me frowning at the curling cheeseboard in a hotel restaurant of the 2ème classe, rather than picking courgettes at the bottom of my garden and watering the basil.
The beds will be narrow and strange and it will be dreadfully hot, but there will be nowhere to swim, and all because I’ve lost my battle against a summer holiday for fear of being branded a curmudgeon by my family.
It’s not that I’m against travel, unlike the retired lawyer who hadn’t seen the inside of a plane since June 1983. He was specific about the date, because it was then that he lost his biggest and most promising client, a family of Swedish cement manufacturers.
‘Our eldest son has nobly volunteered to stay at home, so at least the dogs won’t be getting kennel cough, but will he bother to pick off the dud and dwarf apples?’
He got back from a week in Tuscany to learn that a crisis had blown up in his absence and that the account had been placed in the hands of an office rival. Month by month, year after year, he watched as the detested rival became indispensable to the family, gradually amassing so much experience that he became a renowned expert on the interpretation of cement-based law.
His rival grew rich. My man stopped going out much. The rival was invited everywhere, ushered onto committees and put up for clubs, finally made a full-blown judge, decorated with honours and handed a pension. It was like a Maupassant short story. Thirty-five years on, the thought of travel still made my friend feel sick.
I, on the other hand, look forward to it – except right now, in August, when everyone goes away. We tend to visit cities because we get a lot of beach and greenery at home. There are galleries out there, restaurants, low dives, museums, but, in August, half the inhabitants are away on their own congés and their places are taken by people like us. I want to see a city when it’s at work, not merely taking our money at the turnstile.
The last thing I glimpse when we get into the car (Passport? Tickets? Mobile phone?) will be the blush on the first tomatoes as they begin to ripen. Our eldest son has nobly volunteered to stay at home, so at least the dogs won’t be getting kennel cough, but will he bother to pick off the dud and dwarf apples?
How will he ever notice if the late seeds I sowed are being eaten by birds, withering on the stalk or smothered by weeds?
When we come back to marrows and woody beans, it will underline the essential sadness that always lingers around the return from a summer holiday, like Sunday evenings in term time. The season has blown and there’s autumn in the air. We’ve had our fun and now must go into the dark, into the rain and the firelight, shouldering our responsibilities. I’ve seen ripe blackberries in the hedge already.
For now, the weather is superb at home. The roads are full of holiday traffic and the beaches littered with happy grockles. We should be more like them, as I pointed out to the children. We could stay in a farmhouse close to the sea, with three splendid dogs and unlimited wifi, eating lobster and fresh organic vegetables every day.
If that doesn’t sound like a real holiday, I’m even prepared to drive them up and down the nearest motorway for a few hours and make them talk French at suppertime. Pas de chance. Fasten your seatbelts.
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