Tag Archives: holiday

(Too) great expectations

20 Feb

the-view-from-dover-castleLast week was half term but this made little difference to my economic circumstances, so through a cunning (and winning) combination of kind friends, family, childcare and a 12-yr-old fired up to find her own entertainment, I managed to fit five days into four and take Friday off.

We would, I decided, have a proper day out, something which weekend commitments and work often put paid to.

I was really excited about it. I love hanging with my kids and in an ideal world – one where people funded me just to ‘be’ rather than to ‘do’, and one where school-years education was absorbed by osmosis rather than in-school attendance, that kind of ideal world – I would do it all the time. We had never been to Dover Castle and Friday, I decided, represented the moment all that would change.

However, lurking darkly in the back of my mind is the knowledge that the optimism generated from anticipation prior to a day’s adventure is rarely matched by the actual experience. Someone – usually more than one someone – is not in the right frame of mind to enjoy, and I am left trying to work out why actuality doesn’t always reach the heights of expectation. 

I think that word, ‘expectation’, turns out to be to blame. I want it to be great, not just Facebook-photo great, but actually in-real-life great. And because we’re all in the same boat, looking forward to being in the same place at the same time with no other demands, we all have the same aspirations.

No surprises, it’s impossible to match reality to these over-high expectations. It’s why in our household the impromptu (which I am absolutely rubbish at) tends to be the most successful, because no-one has anything to anticipate; but being impromptu when any attempt at it needs to be scheduled to the n-th degree, to fit in with everything else, contradicts the term and as a result doesn’t work.

Looking at it rationally, with sky-high expectations filed firmly under ‘give yourself a break’, it was a great day, when viewed upon a normal plane of greatness. We saw some fascinating exhibits – the Dover Castle War Tunnels and hospital are highly recommended – and spent the day together mostly out in the almost-sunshine without interruption. Yes, L2 became hangry on the way home, and had a ‘moment’; yes, L1 was overtired and started the very early morning off with a little bit of weeping, but why should it be those incidents that I allow to loom large in my memory when the rest of the day was what long-term memories are made of?

A perfect day is one in which we are together, and one where we can be honest and genuine with each other, without any grudges or long-term repercussions; we take the rough with the smooth because there’s no need to paper over the cracks with family.


How not to pack, but be happy

24 Oct

On Tuesday I abandoned all pretence at capsule wardrobe packing. I hefted the massive suitcase and the slightly smaller massive suitcase out from under the bed, took the ‘carry on Samsonite’ (not a lesser-known episode of the Carry On oeuvre, but our trusty in-cabin everything bag for any flights) out for good measure, and got laundering and cramming.

I have been away on numerous holidays where I have spent an age poring over women’s magazine’s ‘capsule’ wardrobe articles, then attempted to replicate them in my own suitcase. But inevitably something ends up missing from the magazine’s double page spread on the ‘only five items you need for a week in Belgrade’. Something quite crucial, like trousers, or a cardigan.

Once to be fair I did follow these instructions to the letter, and travelled without any trousers packed, but that is more a cautionary tale about why it isn’t wise to pack after a massive work night out than an attempt to encapsulate the elegantly streamlined accounts-for-all-eventualities packing that I imagine Amal Clooney to be a master at.

So for this upcoming week – the tour named #FrozenNorth2014 – I have made sure that every eventuality is covered, for me and for the Ls. Short sleeved, long sleeved, warm, furry, waterproof, thin trousers, sturdy trousers – just not ‘no trousers’. M is old enough to plough his own packing furrow, although that doesn’t mean I don’t cast a critical eye on his attempts, naturally.

Apologies to those with whom we come to stay, but at least we won’t be caught short if we unexpectedly need to dress to impress, eh.


Holiday – all that I can’t leave behind

14 Apr

After this recent trip to Finland it has come to my attention that I don’t so much self-cater as over-cater. I may be able to cast off the cares of everyday life (well, it’s poetic, that’s a start), but it’s clear I can’t shrug off the bulk-buy mentality even if we’re only away for four days and the apartment provides a ‘starter pack’ of the basics.

TOO MUCHThis has never been so clear as yesterday morning. Early, so early, if the early bird catches the worm our plane was a truly tasty morsel indeed, I swung the suitcase onto the self-check carousel only to be alerted to the fact it was 2kg over the allowed weight when in principle we were only returning with what we’d taken (and a jumper from H&M which was only 3 Euros but that couldn’t contribute much, now could it), and it had been perfectly fine on the outbound leg.

Dividing and conquering was the order of the day, so the other bag was opened to redistribute contents of the excessive one. It then became clear where the problem primarily lay. The dishwasher tablets purchased in bulk for a four-day Finnish sojourn ‘because they were the cheapest per-unit option’, therefore mostly unused, lay accusingly on top of the DVD box set of The Pacific. Nestled next to it was a tube of clingfilm, because it was ‘better than the Value stuff from Tesco so it has to come home’. And, while not contributing to weight, but definitely contributing to bulk within the bag, a just-opened eight-roll pack of toilet paper, with only the one missing, because ‘what’s the point of buying a four-pack when someone might get a cold or have a stomach ‘issue”.

As a result I flew home with hand luggage  of a pack of dishwasher tablets and some bog roll, which is distinctly less rock n’ roll than an eye mask and some facial moisturising spritzer, and a copy of Take A Break (the latter ok may not be rock n’ roll, but its fun, and flight-appropriate). Actually I have only ever carried one of those three items in my carry-on baggage, but I like to rewrite history where my single-days travelling is concerned.

It’s magic! Oh, not really

6 Nov
On our awesome holibobs to San Francisco last week each of the kids had a dollar to spend in Dollar Tree. Dollar Tree is like Poundland only better as everything costs 60p in Real Money.
The kids were – quite literally – like kids in a candy store. My god daughters invested wisely in a set of fake nails, tipping the fingers with red pointy claws, and a water-pistol-giant-pencil. L1 bought some fake hair, which I wore for a while and found comfortable and liberating.
And L2 bought a magic set (“not for the plane! You’ll lose the bits, then it won’t work!” – me). He has been hankering after a magic set for some weeks now, and in fact already owned one. However the one already owned to his mind had one significant failing: it wasn’t actually magic. Our attempts to teach him the tricks fell flat since, in his view, there were no tricks to teach, just magic.
Let us take, for example, the ‘ball in cup’ trick. For L2, the concept of the second ‘fake’ ball simply doesn’t compute. What happens, to his mind, is that the real ball disappears, and appears again, with the utterance of magic words. There is no sleight of hand nor trickery, simply good old fashioned magic miracles. Initially he blamed his lack of success on an inconsistent set of magic words, but has now addressed this, tragically still to no avail.
With the purchase of the Dollar Tree magic set, he hoped that this failing would be addressed. Frankly, it will have to be to get any joy from said set, since the enclosed trick instructions bear no resemblance to the contents of the box. I have to report that from evidence last night, it’s another magic set fail for L2; who refused once again to engage with the fake ball, looking me straight in the eye and explaining “But Mummy, that is cheating”. He’ll never make a politician, my son.

A Stateside All Hallows Eve

1 Nov

We are currently in San Francisco,  prevailing upon the hospitality of great friends for a truly unique half term break. One of the reasons the kids – the Ls, and my gorgeous god daughters – were so excited we were coming this week was the presence of Halloween slap bang in the middle of our break.  We were clearly instructed to get costumes so spent a fruitful visit in Wilkinsons selecting those most appropriate to our idioms. By my interpretation, this meant for adults as well as kids, so costumes and wigs were duly purchased.

I have never experienced such an itchy hairline, but one must suffer both for your art and the humiliation of your children, so the wig was tolerated in all its glory.

Halloween itself dawned appropriately grey and murky. You could almost envisage the dead roaming the streets of Morgan, an impression reinforced by the amount of effort people had gone to bed to spookify their houses. Half-buried skeletons fought their way from garden graves, howling echoed through the night air, ghouls were pinned to trees, and bowls in porches were overflowing with candy goodies. So generous were people, in fact, that I don’t fancy our chances of getting that amount of goodies through Heathrow Customs, at least, this is the message I am attempting to communicate, to give me an excuse to snaffle a few Reeces Cups (crack cocaine for the peanut butter addict).

It wasn’t the generosity of the sweets that made it such a great night, however. It was the community spirit demonstrated. The spookiness was just enough to make little ghouls feels a frisson of fear, while the safe environment and parents out in force enabled slightly older monsters to roam freely without fear, which is ironic, but good.

With Halloween becoming more prevalent in the UK and also in our village, where for the last couple of years it has engendered a similar sense of community event, it is worth thinking about some of the codes of best practice they have over to make it fun not irritating,  ensuring that those with no interest in participating don’t get dragged in. That’s got to be key. It seems to work here via a lights on or off rule; sounds sensible to me.

But now we have an entire Ghiardellis of candy to ship back and the contents of some of my more, um, interesting cakes secured for months to come. That’s epic, as I now say (new Stateside word).


1 Aug

Pre-Ls, and in fact pre-M, I went for a long weekend to Czechoslovakia.  We had a 7am flight from Stansted; I was an East London dweller at the time so figured that it would be an easy journey.  So, the night before, I went out with work, unpacked, unprepared.  A supplier was taking us to Zilli Fish; we’d given his company a lot of business, it was the early 2000s, so the night was expected to be legendary.  But I wasn’t going to participate in any of this nonsense, oh no.  I was going to have a celebratory glass and a nicely chargrilled swordfish then head home to pack my bag, obtain an early night, and pick up my dearest friend for our girls’ weekend in Eastern Europe.

The night was, in fact, beyond legendary.  I know this since I did not leave til the bitter end.  At about 10pm I suggested to my friend that instead of driving to hers, I got a cab.  At about 11.30pm I offered to collect her from her flat in said cab, missing out a transfer to her car which would lose valuable time, I reasoned.  Shortly after that, I booked the cab, and went on to a club.  Nice work.  This can be viewed as a very belated apology for such behaviour.

I got home about 1am (sensible and early for those days, deary me how I have changed.  Not sensible and early with a 7am flight to Prague though, perhaps).  I packed my small suitcase with all the necessities for a long weekend in Eastern Europe; passed out; woke up with the cab hooting outside my maisonette; and somehow made it on the plane before I passed out again.

It transpired that the necessities for a long weekend in Eastern Europe were, in my ‘tired’ and ‘full of swordfish’ condition, five pairs of trousers, two pairs of ‘undergarments’, and a single top.  There was a cardigan, of sorts, and fortuitously my toothbrush made it in there too.  It is fair to say that it wasn’t my most glamorous weekend away, but following that night, one of my soberest.

The point of this lengthy digression, apart from reminding myself that once upon a time I did find it possible to do such things, is to highlight how far my attitude to packing, these days, is removed from this.

I have two lists on the go for our week in Sweden and Denmark (note, please, that both places we are staying are fully equipped with washing machines).  One, in my planner, is the Must Not Forget At All Costs.  It is in my planner since I look at the planner all the time, so its contents become seared into my brain.  The other is on a piece of paper which acts jointly as a prompt for M to email the lovely people whose apartment we’re in in Denmark (critical questions include: can we have their WiFi password?) and as a multi-functional list for all four of us, with different combinations depending on a wide variety of factors (eg. Ls: 5 pairs of pants; us: 4 pairs of pants – theory being, you see, we are less likely to encounter any ‘issues’ in that area and there are washing machines, so the kids essentially have ‘one for luck’ pre mid-hols laundry session).

The ‘throw it all in, get it wrong, buy something inappropriate at the airport as a substitute’ packer is replaced by the ‘if anything’s forgotten it’s personal failure and five strokes of the cat o’nine tails’ packer.  Tonight is phase one, always only phase one on the penultimate night as I always work late then to allow for phase two on the final night.  Tonight is ‘things we can manage without for two nights’ – fresh toiletries, Veet (no time to de-furr with all these packing complexities) and unread books, plus underwear, naturally.  Tomorrow is more critical.  I will update, then, if I can, but it’s pretty all-encompassing, so that update is unlikely…  Meet you on the other side therefore…