Monthly Archives: August 2013

When do family holidays stop? While the children were both young we loved planning holidays every summer, always looking for something new, something a little bit different from our normal life, something we could all remember together. But eventually they do grow up, and for a while, they may hate those holidays with you. What can you do then – do you drag them with you, leave them behind, send them away, or just abandon holidays altogether for a little while?

In Duncan’s view, our family holiday at the start of the summer holidays was a washout. Boat trips, fish and chips on the pier, cream teas: none of this was good. It was the holiday his sister Julie needed, but not what he needed. Duncan is at his most anti-family at the moment, most determined to reject everything we do, plotting his escape from the cloying world of home. He is abrasive, angry, critical and argumentative. When I made up my usual photo book of the holiday, I devoted one whole page to moody shots of Duncan glowering at a slice of cheesecake, or slumped against a wall. He did not smile for two whole weeks.

Fortunately he had another holiday lined up for later on in the summer holidays: a week on Gibraltar at cadet camp. I picked him up from the airport at the end of the week, and found him in the middle of a gang of young men and women, most of them two or three years older than him, all of them tanned, loud and confident. Now this was the holiday he needed, full of activity, army discipline, noisy physical games, flirting, nicknames and practical jokes. He tried (and failed) to pick up Spanish girls, and only realised later that he had been trying to chat them up in German. He was punched by one of the apes. He got to go on board one of the visiting warships. He brought back some photos from this holiday, and in all of them he is grinning from ear to ear.

Is this then the end of the family holiday for us? We had several years without them because Julie was ill; it was an effort to organise one this year. Holidays that include Julie are inevitable for some years ahead, as she needs constant supervision. But what are we going to do with Duncan if he doesn’t want to come with us? Can we organise it so that we always go away when he has a camp to go to? I can see that being quite a challenge, trying to coordinate our departures and arrivals! But he is too young to leave at home. Next year he will be sixteen, and perhaps he will be ready to spend a few days at home on his own, but not whole weeks. He can hardly feed himself, he would be lonely, miserable. He likes to say (aggressively) that he can do without us, but he is still only a boy: he does need us really, even if he can’t see it.


Thanks to Loobie1805 for the photo which can be found in full here

The hedgerows and skies at our end of the village are awash with young house martins and sparrows, newly fledged. When I went out for a walk yesterday evening I disturbed a whole gaggle of them feasting on the evening midges, and they eddied up around me in a twittering swirl of beating wings.

All the houses round about are hosts to house martin nests. We are torn between pleasure at living at such close quarters with these remarkable birds, and irritation at the noise and mess they make. They are far from tidy neighbours! There is a nest above Julie’s window, waking her in the early mornings. These birds have still not fledged, and we watch the tiny heads poking above their basket, wedged precariously under the eaves, waiting to be fed by their exhausted parents.

The other day I watched a nest on a neighbour’s house fledging all at once. Most of them were out within a matter of seconds, but there was one that did not fly out with the rest, clinging on to the wall for more than half an hour. It was tempting to imagine that what was going through its mind was (in bird speak): “Oh s**t, oh s**t, oh s**t!” The ground must have seemed a very long way down. Perhaps it had more imagination than the rest. Finally it pushed itself off the wall and within seconds was indistinguishable from its siblings, boomeranging around the close. All adults watching, humans included, breathed a sigh of relief.

I wonder whether the young birds start feeding themselves as soon as they fledge. Do they just barrel through clouds of insects with open mouths? Do they come back to the nest for a while (I could see they were trying, but failing, to master how to land and squeeze themselves back into that narrow entrance)? Do they have to roost straight away, spending that first night in an alien world, uncomfortable, cold and homesick?

Julie’s leg is slowly healing where she cut it, and she has not attempted anything else. We are all holding our breath to see how she handles sixth form in a few weeks. To see if she is able to fly or clings to the wall.


I have been ill and in some ways being ill simplifies things. It becomes easier to say no, even when the demand is very pressing. It becomes easier to sit still and listen and watch the world go by.

I spent a day in the local hospital having some tests, and sitting there on the ward to which I was temporarily assigned, I watched the other patients; perhaps eight of us in all. The other patients were all very elderly, very frail, living from one moment to the next: a typical general emergency NHS ward. By comparison with these older patients I was young and, apart from this temporary suffering, generally in good health; I was fit enough to walk from the ward down the long hospital corridors to each of my various scans and tests without the indignity of a chair. I knew I would get home that night; most of my companions did not know exactly when they would see their homes again. I was not frightened by my condition: I was confident that whatever it was would be resolved somehow in one way or another. In all honesty I was enjoying the chance to be alone, to endure my pain in relative comfort without the constant demands of family. I was a tourist in this world of sickness, but the other patients, they all seemed to be natives.

Some of my companions had attendants, husbands or children, sitting patiently beside them, translating their needs, their vague discontents, to the nurses. Occasionally, voices raised for elderly ears, rang out across the ward: “She’s just going to take your temperature, Mum!” Some of the carers were elderly themselves, but they sat on on their hard chairs, holding hands with their particular old lady, sometimes chatting to the other patients, smiles and pleasantries lobbed tactfully between beds, conversations about the weather and the food. Staff flitted from bed to bed, fetching, soothing, attentive. Time passed slowly. The woman in the next bed offered me the lemonade which she, alas, could not drink. At the end of the day I was free to leave, and I left, slightly reluctant, slightly relieved to go.

The very next day I was back in the hospital and now I was the carer, the presence beside the bed. My daughter Julie had cut her leg again, deeply, needing stitches. She had been unsettled by my long absence at the hospital the day before. She was confused and disoriented, reciting the words from the notices on the walls. Her voices had told her to cut, and now they were telling her not to talk to us, it seemed. I translated her needs to the nurses, her vague discontents. I felt happier being on this side of the equation: not the subject of the conversation but from the safe “objective” perspective of the well; on the side of the nurses. After all these years of practice I can explain what my daughter needs with great precision. I had found it so much harder to explain what I myself needed when I was the one lying on the bed. But my daughter is quite at home on the bed: the world of sickness is her adoptive country.


After two weeks at close quarters with my nearest and dearest by the seaside I have made the following lists.

Things of which my (teenage) children are afraid, although I have honestly tried to raise them to be confident and without fear:

Loud noises
Nuts (although neither is allergic)
Blemishes in fruit
Having a bad haircut
Being shown up in public
Flying insects
Crawling insects
Speaking in public
Eating in public
Walking in public
Paper cuts
Being crapped on by a flying bird (note, with particular reference to sea gulls)
Not understanding something
Bones in fish
Becoming like their parents
Being middle-class
Being mistaken for the opposite sex

Things of which my (teenage) children are not afraid, despite all my attempts to instill fear:

Deafeningly loud music
Roller coasters
Flying a plane (my son)
Taking mind-altering substances (in theory, not practice, so far, to the best of my knowledge)
Old age (because it won’t happen to them)

Things of which I am afraid:

Loud noises
Death of my children
Roller coasters
Being poor when I am old
Serious illness
Terrible pain

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