In praise of….holidays
Just say that magic word and immediately I feel full of anticipation, special, singled out. There was a family tradition when I was a child that when my father came home from work the night before a holiday was due to start, he would walk through the front door, throw off his suit jacket and shout excitedly. ‘I’ve broken up! I’ve broken up!’ We all clapped, cheered and capered around the house, joining in the refrain, rushing around knowing that we had to be doing something but not quite sure what it was.
When I had my own family the ritual I unwittingly introduced was the mandatory singing of Cliff Richard’s ‘We’re all going on a summer holiday’, as we left the house, bags packed. As my children grew older the squeals of delight at my breaking into song were replaced by groans and much eye rolling, yet they could never quite manage not to join in.
I’m revelling in having just spent ten days by the sea on a beautiful, remote part of the Greek mainland where the daily preoccupations were of the simple variety, such as finding the goggles for the early morning swim, checking there was enough feta, olives and tomato for lunch, and wondering what page of my book had I got to before falling asleep last night. This and using my eyes in a very different way from usual: not looking at a screen.
Apart from the luxury of warmth and fresh local food, what struck me particularly this time was the ability to gaze happily at the world around me without any particular aim apart from seeing what there was to see at that particular moment. Nowadays of course mindfulness has become de rigueur; we’re all encouraged to be aware of what is going on, inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. I’m not thrilled by the money-making industries that are being spun out of the concept, but having the chance to ‘stand and stare’, with apologies to W.H. Davies, was what made this holiday so special. I was also struck by the tranquillity of my surroundings being somewhat at odds with the financial turmoil Greece is experiencing – this could perhaps be attributed to the greater self-sufficiency of people in a rural setting, but maybe if I could have understood what everyone was saying at the vegetable stall I might have formed a different view.
So here are a few of the things I observed, without the medium of the internet or any social media, and please forgive the whimsical nature of some of the following:
- The changes in the sea over the course of the day; early in the morning the sunlight sparkling on the water made it look as if shimmering fairy dust had been sprinkled over it. Then settling to be perfectly clear and smooth so that I could observe each of the pebbles on the bottom. Later becoming a churning cauldron as the wind picked up. At these times when swimming it was as if I was rolling around in soft oil, strangely pleasant and nurturing.
- The eggs we bought from the village shop came from the owner’s chickens, which could be heard clucking out at the back. I made an omelette from them that was so yellow that you’d think we’d added a tablespoon of turmeric.
- Some fishermen who had been camping on the beach nearby were packing up and throwing food scraps into the sea. The silence was broken by the furious squawks of a flight of seagulls that arrived in perfect formation, circling the area, each one at an identical distance from the next. Who needs RAF training? Squadron leader – eat your heart out. Then one gull swooped down with a triumphant cry and seized the food from the sea. The rest of the birds veered off and dispersed within minutes, presumably to seek pastures new.
- Eating out at a restaurant offering free wifi, I turned on my phone and became absorbed in emails, messages and notifications. The meal arrived and I continued to scroll through the data. With a start I realised I wasn’t actually tasting my food.
The phone was turned off forthwith.