This is, by my calculations, my 32nd long summer holiday. That’s one every year, leaving aside my ten-year hiatus working for The Man. (I have counted the first five years of my life too, before I went to school. Whether it is possible to enjoy a six week holiday as a pre-schooler is a philosophical question that I’m not sure I am qualified to answer, but I’m going with yes.)
Before I had children, I used to work every August. It seemed kind of rude not to. I well remember those summers when I was working as a lawyer, trapped in stuffy offices, longingly reading the Edinburgh Festival reviews with no real expectation that I would actually see any of the shows. Then spending September, pallid and grumpy, listening to everyone else’s Big Summer Adventure Story, usually accompanied by a dizzying number of photographs.
Well you think I would have the hang of it by now, this long summer break. Have sorted out the rhythms and the priorities and so on. But no, as usual, the sensation of six weeks of unstructured leisure time is, for probably the 32nd time, making me feel slightly dizzy and nervous.
So, in the absence of the school-run and a timetable to give my daily life purpose and meaning, I have fallen into my normal Six-Week Holiday (SWH) Routine. It goes a bit like this:
1. MAKE A LIST – (see what I did there?) Making a List is a very comforting activity and a very popular one among those attempting to maintain the façade of being in control of their lives. (You know who you are.) I made a joke to a friend of mine the other day that you should always start a list with the entry ‘Make a List’ so you could immediately cross something off; she turned her own list to show me that’s exactly what she had done. And then the laughing had to stop. My list always includes some wildly optimistic improving project e.g. learn Italian, study vernacular architecture, clean out shed, remain in control of children. A more realistic list would go something like: read Maeve Binchy novel, put on half a stone, empty bank account, become irritated with children by 8.30am.
2. GO TO LIBRARY – part of my holiday routine (part of my every routine) involves a large pile of books. I can only rest when I have gathered this large pile of books around me, lined my suitcase with them, barricaded my bed. Inevitably, one of these books will be left on a beach or in a caravan somewhere, or become unreadable due to spilled Ambre Solaire + sand. Sorry Oxfordshire Library Services, in advance.
3. FILL DIARY WITH TRIPS, HOLIDAYS AND IMPROVING ACTIVITIES, THEN PANIC BECAUSE THERE’S NO TIME TO HAVE ACTUAL REST – the thing about the six week holiday is, well, there are six weeks. Of holiday. One after the other. Which is fine if you have a pile of money and a swimming pool in the garden and, let’s say for the sake of argument, some staff to help you, but for the rest of us can seem a little daunting.
4. START MOANING ABOUT AMOUNT OF FOOD I HAVE BOUGHT/COOKED – in fact this part of the routine is quite comforting. Pretty soon into the holiday, I am already beginning to feel like a short order chef – SERVICE! Scrambled egg! Nutella sandwich (crusts off)! Do we have any ICE??? And then, soon after, I am so bored of providing food that I start to think about making a big basket full of Penguins and Hula Hoops, leaving it in the middle of the living room floor and hiding upstairs until September.
5. PANIC AS AUGUST BANK HOLIDAY APPROACHES and with it the realisation that the children’s homework projects are still in their book bags, no one has had their hair cut and we have spent all our money on Nobbly Bobblies and trips to Legoland and left nothing for new trainers.
This year is going to be different, though. I really am going to learn how to paint watercolour this year. There will be no snacks between meals. Violin practice will continue, every day, oh yes.
And maybe, maybe, this is the year that I will finally end up at one of those Edinburgh shows rather than just reading the reviews.
I’ll just put it on the list.
What can lists tells us about the personality of the list-maker? An exhibition in Washington reveals the obsessive and controlling sides of some of the world’s greatest artists
The Onion’s take on the list…