I’ve never subscribed to the theory that holidays are some sort of energy recharging exercise. The perceived wisdom is that we run ourselves down, gradually but inexorably by week upon week of endless work and chores, and then like some human mobile phone, plug ourselves into a fresh supply of sun, sleep and relaxation to power us to the next filling station on life’s journey.
No – my experience is that a holiday is done when it is done. In fact, partly due to the effort of getting back on the treadmill, but mainly because of the sleep shift from 2am – 10am back to 1am – 7am, I usually feel particularly tired and listless in the few days back after a holiday.
Why go on holiday at all, one often wonders; as we return home to an avalanche of letters, voicemails, facebook notifications and emails. All wanting something from us; offering us something we don’t want or telling us something apparently vital which we have a less than peripheral interest in. The magic pixies and all their little helpers have not rattled through our “to do” list in our absence, nor welcomed us home with flowers and a bottle of wine. Actually, just a carton of fresh of milk would be magical.
Nor have our family and friends secretly plotted and schemed, broken in, finished the bathroom refurbishment and repainted the living room in some great makeover surprise.
Au contraire, the grass seems to have mischievously grown a foot longer whilst we were not watching, dust seems to have settled (despite the complete absence of human life) and suddenly we notice all those blemishes and defects in your house which you had become blind to by familiarity before we went away. And where is the glistening swimming pool and stunning view across the rolling hills to take our mind off them? Meanwhile our sunburn is smarting and the insect bites are itching under our jeans and fleeces.
So we are back in the house 5 minutes, mildly depressed and a whole extra two weeks further behind schedule. Then we return to work to a mountain of demands and unresolved issues. And people ask us if we are feeling recharged and refreshed.
So why do we go on holiday, if not for the mythical recharge? For the memories, maybe. Although we remember so little in reality anyway. However much we photograph and write down in holiday diaries, it is hard to recreate in our minds the fresh warm breeze brushing our skin as we sat by the pool, smelling the barbecue, listening to the distant sound of our happy children, taking another measured gulp of the local cheap red wine. Hard to remember those when we are sat in a meeting discussing the finer points of database deadlocks with overweight men in suits.
Maybe we go on holiday so that we can talk about it endlessly to our friends or to post 215 photographs on bragbook – all in the mistaken believe that other people will be fascinated by our minor adventures and thrilled by our pseudo-artistic shots of coastlines with red flowers in the foreground (but do check out my photos when they arrive).
Maybe we just have to enjoy them for what they are, not for how they will leave us, or how we will remember them, or how we will describe them to others. These are days of our lives just as all other days – and they are special, because we are somewhere different in mind and body. We are probably somewhere warmer, somewhere (if we plan carefully) with our very favourite people – and somewhere without (here comes a recommendation) internet, phones and any way of communicating to, or being reached by, the outside world. We had a TV this time, because realistically you can’t have 9 days of unremitting quality family time without a little external input. Or at least we can’t. Homes under the Hammer and 101 Ways to Leave a Quiz Show seem only to enhance rather than subtract from the whole family holiday experience. Or if we go a little upmarket – who can get more than 2 answers right in University Challenge?
So we just enjoy it whilst we are there – in the middle of it. Each day a gift untarnished by things to do or deadlines, unpolluted by issues and problems, and unspoiled by the need to be someone to anybody. This is true relaxation – the sun and the pool and the barbecue, yes, but more so the ability to do whatever you like without any expectation of achievement or success, as judged by anyone else. So we have unbounded time to read, to swim, to walk to the village, to cook for pleasure, to eat out, to debate, to tease, to play cards, to watch some inane late night american movie, to kiss and to cuddle or to just sit and close our eyes and listen to the world in all its wonder.
It is this we should pack up and bring home in the suitcases of our lives, rather than the dirty washing, cheap souvenirs and grains of sand. The ability to slow down, stop and breathe and soak in the beauty of the world, its sounds, its images, its aromas. To immerse ourselves in the way a shaft of light dances across the grass, how delicately wind caresses a flower, the way a scent provokes and evokes, the taste of the sun or the rain, how words in a book stimulate and educate, the love and loving of our loved ones.
This is the what we need to bring home and plant in the gardens of our daily experiences – so that these shine above the jungle of anxiety, disappointment and frustration we so often wade through. These are the important things, the simple things, the things of wonder. Not achievements or trophies in themselves, things we do or produce, but things we receive and can enjoy wherever we are.
This is nothing new or profound – only what the Poets and Psychotherapists have been telling us for years. But it’s the soft wet sand under our feet and the balmy fragrance of summer in our nostrils. Not just on holiday, but on every day.