Heaven is ….

Sitting in the sun, but under a parasol, with a good book and a view of the sea. Hotel accommodation – but not all-inclusive and not in an isolated spot. Within a four-hour flight from the UK, but not the UK. Accompanied by my husband and two daughters. That is holiday heaven for me .

Sun and warmth are a key ingredient for my annual holiday. Partly, I think, because so many childhood holidays were spent in pursuit of that elusive bit of blue sky, when you could briefly predict being able to expose your flesh to the elements. Jumpers and cardigans were not an unusual sight on a beach, even in August. We were a hardy bunch and as a young child it didn’t bother me at all – in or out of the water. As I entered my teenage years we all wanted that Duran Duran ‘Rio’ suntan and unless we slavered on the innovative (at the time) Duo Tan it just wasn’t going to happen on a beach in Westward-Ho !

The Parasol is important. Firstly, it protects from the blazing heat of Southern European summers, yet it still allows some rays through. You still feel as if you are sitting in the sun. Along with my Factor 50, a lesson learned too late to save my mottled skin from the die-hard sunbathing of my youth, it allows enough protection to spend the day outside enjoying the sun’s rays without burning or over-heating.

Reading – I love good story-telling , so definitely non-fiction. I always feel self-indulgent as I pack my reading selection for any holiday. These books represent that I will have nothing to do, nothing to feel responsible for. That I can choose to pick up any one of them to read, whenever I want, without feeling as if I should be doing something else. And no, not a Kindle. I tried that and discarded it. It has to be a proper book.

Having lived in one of the UK’s counties furthest away from the sea, the first sight of the sea has always filled me with a deep sense of joy, relief even – like being able to take a deep breath for the first time in ages. For us Inlanders, who didn’t play The First Person to See The Sea on their family holidays ? For me, no view surpasses the sight of sea meeting land and so it is of absolute importance for my summer holiday. And it has to be sea – I have dismissed the Italian Lakes for this very reason.

My house is at the end of a no-through road. I don’t see much from my front-facing kitchen window ; the odd delivery person, the postman, the neighbour next door or the inquisitive sort who thinks it’s a short cut to somewhere else then has to turn round and do the walk of shame back past my viewpoint. Hotel accommodation, therefore, is preferable to a villa holiday because I like to people-watch. I enjoy the hustle and bustle for a change – especially a hotel in a resort rather than one standing alone on a headland.

Villa holidays also mean self-catering – which involves trips to the supermarket and preparing food – even if you eat out once a day. Yes, you get more space – but space isn’t an issue for a week or fortnight when your holiday isn’t going to be blighted by bad weather. Villas can also have a tendency to be dark inside, partly to keep out the heat – but the result is rather gloomy . I like the white, brightly lit walls, silky sheets, and generic art work of hotel rooms, along with a balcony to sit out on in the evening -somewhere to spy on the world from above.

Half-board is my preferred meal option. All-inclusive can make you a prisoner of your hotel – and the quality of food, drink and the inevitable queuing frequently unappealing. However Bed and Breakfast isn’t enough. As a family we are poor at making choices – we make good choices but take too long to make them. This can have a detrimental effect on finding a restaurant for an evening meal. In the past we have finally sat down for a meal only for a younger eldest daughter to announce that she was not hungry, tired and wanted to go to bed. The meal was aborted. Half-board has solved this issue. We all know where we are going and at what time.

A four-hour flight maximum from the UK. Yes, it is limiting and I could be persuaded to travel further, but why for the holiday I enjoy ? All the necessary requirements are reachable in four hours, with enough variety there to keep it interesting. Why spend a whole day of my precious annual leave, sitting on a plane sipping room temperature white wine, hemmed in behind the seat in front for longer than is necessary ?

But the UK itself will not do. The uncertainty of the weather, the slightly sad and quirky seaside hotels with their carpeted bathrooms, the abundance of pebble beaches and freezing waters is only really week-end material. Then, it doesn’t matter if you have to pack a brolly and scuttle between teashops to avoid the downpours.

And finally – my preferred companions – my husband and girls. Yes, we argue, yes we like doing different things – but it works and we can be ourselves. No-one is going to feel offended – well not for long, anyway. Irritation can be addressed freely and still we shall all be talking at dinner time. Holidaying with others, whilst enjoyable, does require a bit too much compromise and biting of tongues to be a truly restful break.

So that’s the kind of holiday I would like this year. As my eldest daughter forges her own life now, the opportunities for just the four of us to be together are fewer and therefore more precious. I hope this year will be one of them.

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An Olive Grove in Tuscany

Photo by Julia Sakelli on Pexels.com

Do you ever think back to what you dreamed your adult life would be like? Does your life now look anything like what you had hoped for ?

I dreamed of living in Italy – looking out over a Tuscan olive grove. I had vague ideas about what I would do, but nothing concrete – nothing to work on really. My dream was a precarious one as I was always a home bird and relied a lot on my Mum for emotional support. Therefore things started to unravel the moment I waved goodbye to my parents on my first day at Uni and I sat on my bed, in a shared room with another girl, who I didn’t know. I felt sick with longing to return home.

Eventually after trying to fit in and struggling with the workload, I gave up. The dream of my Dad had ended. I was supposed to get a degree, any degree. But that was not meant to be. What followed was a series of jobs for a temping agency, none of which was very interesting. Checking crystal glasses for imperfections, calling out phone calls on an intercom while reading Mills and Boon novels and phoning directory enquiries all day asking for three phone numbers at a time to make up a contacts list, to name a few.

Having fallen for a Portuguese guy whilst on a summer course while I was still at Uni, I aimed to find a job in Portugal, so I could be near him. This resulted in a foray into the cut-throat world of timeshare. It was a disaster – in two weeks I only managed to convince two people to go and look around the hotel we were promoting. I spoke to the well-spoken lady who had recruited me in London – she was ‘in a relationship’ with the aggressive American in charge of the selling. ‘You’re too nice for this job” she said. Her American pit-bull just called me a drop out.

I never made it to my house in Tuscany. But I did make it to a house in Lisbon, where I lived with my husband – the Portuguese guy – for the first years of our marriage. We looked out on an area where gypsies had made their ramshackle homes, with their evening bonfires and frequent brawls. (These homes no longer exist and the people who lived in them are now rehoused in tower-blocks – a sort of cleansing before the European Cup in 2004). So I ended up with a city-scape on the Atlantic instead of my countryside retreat on the Mediterranean – but Portugal is my second home now. I can speak Portuguese and I love their food, wine and beautiful weather.

Bringing up children brought me back to England. But to this day I somehow feel I don’t quite belong. I have a job in a Drs surgery -a job that interests me and which I enjoy going to. but it will never pay for an interesting retirement or be anything more than a means to feed and clothe myself.

I still yearn to be somewhere else – yet I have no means of knowing how to do that. I am waiting for youngest daughter to finish college or Uni and then I will have to think. Fear makes me want to be safe – to be where I know how things work, where I have the NHS, where I have family and friends. But I also have another fear – a fear that somehow this is it – this is my lot.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful and happy for all that I do have. I know that many people are not as fortunate as we have been. But I want to surprise people – I want to be able to go “Look ! look what I have done!” And I just want my life to be more than general housework interspersed with shopping trips, being a taxi service and dealing with prescriptions.

I don’t want an olive grove in Tuscany any more. But I do want something different – something I can show my teenage self with pride – something to surprise those that love me.