I’m going on holiday. I’m going on my own. It’s not as good as going with family or friends but it’s better than having no holiday at all! I wasn’t well enough to go with everyone else in the summer so now I am stealing away for a week in the late autumn sun.
The most difficult decision is not what clothes to take but which camera. I love my photography, I love that feeling of seeing reality in front of me in a new and deeper way. Taking photos often feels a lot like writing poems: trying to capture the essence of the subject succinctly and keep everything else that is irrelevant out of the frame or out of focus. I find it impossible to take good photos with other people around – it’s too distracting – so if I’m going to have to holiday on my own I’d better take the opportunity to dig out the camera.
So Portugal here we come!
Where are we going to go for our family holiday this summer? It has been the subject of much heated debate in our house this week.
My daughter, Julie’s illness has meant that we have not had a family holiday – as in all four of us together – for the past three years. This is the first year that we can even begin to imagine it happening, but there are a lot of constraints. As I found out on our brief visit to Paris, travel with Julie needs to be taken very steadily and carefully. We managed Paris by train in winter, but a busy airport at the height of summer – and we are still locked into school holidays – is more stressful. If this is going to be a holiday we all enjoy, it looks like the best bet will be somewhere that we can reach easily by car, without going through any security barriers. A good old-fashioned British seaside holiday beckons.
The difficulty is Julie’s younger brother, Duncan, now turning fifteen. His last experience of a family summer holiday was an age ago, when he was just a child – and he is now a teenager. For the last couple of years, he has been treated to holidays alone with one parent – first his Dad, then me – travelling abroad, free from his sister, seeing the world. For him, any sort of family holiday is a retrograde step, let alone one practically on the doorstep, in dismal Britain. Quite understandably, he would rather not go on holiday at all, and is petitioning to be left behind. He won’t be – he is just too young.
What can we do? My husband and I desperately want to have a holiday anywhere where we can be together, Julie has to be with us but cannot travel far, my son wants to be anywhere else than with us! It looks like there is no compromise that can be reached. The likelihood is that we will go ahead and book ourselves a seaside retreat, and have to endure sharing it with a sullen and uncooperative teenage boy.
Highlight of our (very brief) trip to Paris? That would be the cup of tea in Mariage Freres’ tea salon, tucked away in a rather unprepossessing corner of the Carousel Galleries under the Louvre. Forget the glories of the Impressionist gallery across the road at the Musee d’Orsay, forget the pale colours of winter sunshine washing the face of Notre Dame, forget the slap-up “steak and frites” dinner later on that day. The happiest moment of the trip was, weary and footsore from sightseeing and shopping, clutching our flotsam of little packages and bags, we stumbled into the tea salon, to have one of the most refreshing cups of tea, hot, steaming, scented and gently smokey. Ah tea! Here is a snapshot of the mouthwatering blueberry and blackcurrent tart that went with it. I neglected to photograph the very handsome, very attentive waiter who was also a vital part of this experience.
And now we are home again, dispensing gifts to all and sundry, and with plenty of photos and memories to mull over. Did I feel a sense of relief in returning to my kitchen, and driving the men out of it again? I must confess, dear reader, that nice though it may be to eat in restaurants for a few days, I am glad to be back.
I am taking my daughter away to Paris for a couple of nights. Each year, starting at the age when they began to appreciate travel and adventure, I’ve tried to take one of the children away alternately for a few days alone with me. I’ve used the small amount of money my mother left me to do this: she worked very hard all her life, before dying while still relatively young. It seemed a fitting way to use the money to remember her – she was always so full of life, and my most vivid memories of her are our travels together in Scotland during the school holidays. I can remember how wonderful it was to be just the two of us, the many things she used to teach me on these trips, and how I would see a different side of her, a much younger, funnier, more relaxed person.
The trips have served another important purpose that my mother might have appreciated, since she was the oldest of four children. I was lucky that as an only child, I took time alone with both my parents for granted, but I have two children, and even with two it can sometimes feel as if one of them is missing out. I use these trips to give each one special time with me for a few days, while the other gets special time at home with dad.
For the last few years I’ve taken my son to Paris, Rome and Lisbon – all much bigger adventures than I ever managed with my mother! But it has been a few years since his sister got her turn because she has been in and out of hospital herself. Last year, for example, we were all ready to go to Paris, tickets booked and planning done (and anything you do with my daughter does surely take a lot of planning because of her illness) when she had another relapse. I have been able to give her special time in other ways, but we sorely missed our adventure.
It has taken another year, but she is now finally ready to go. It has been three years since she has travelled anywhere. Many plans have been made and cancelled over those years, not just last year’s trip to Paris. So this is not just a few days away: it is a real celebration of how much stronger she has become.