I am now old enough for holidays to become a serious thing. Aged seventeen, I am at the age where everything is “just becoming” something: homes becoming halls, boyhood becoming near-adulthood, and the month of May becoming the bane of my existence. Holidays are no exception, and while we’re meant to embrace those changes, apparently, that doesn’t mean that they don’t feel strange: suddenly, a holiday is no longer a family occasion, but is now something I’m expected to have with friends, or my girlfriend, or both, and the very idea of cohabiting a Bed and Breakfast in the Brecon Beacons with my mother and two younger siblings shakes me to my core. Suddenly my friends are arranging travels together to Amsterdam (presumably out of a love for Ian McEwan’s literature), or planning day trips to the beach, and we’re all having Serious Grown Up Fun.
Recently, I graduated from the institution known as the Family Holiday. After seventeen years, I am now an alumnus. My future is now my own, and I am free to do what I want in the seven weeks between early July and mid August. My dad said, “We’re going away, but you don’t have to come if you’ve got other stuff going on,” and that was that: it was over. The most fundamental part of the family holiday was gone forever: that part, of course, being that it is indisputably compulsory to go.
My family holidays were always awful. The house was always either too hot, too cold, too small, too haunted, shared with another family that owned a Rottweiler that they let roam free, or in the middle of nowhere. The outings were always disappointing, and the weather would never hold up. Due to the rain, we would often eat our sandwiches in the car, and one of us would always complain that they had been given the wrong sandwich and someone else had eaten theirs.
They were disorganised, messy, and always extremely off-the-cuff. Whatever plan my parents had devised had most likely dissolved by day two, and by day four nobody had any clue what was going on. By day six, we had reduced to full-on anarchy.
They were rubbish, but my happiest childhood memories are from that rubbish. There is joy and honesty in a rubbish holiday that doesn’t exist anywhere else in nature: it is impossible for a family to maintain the facade of being of high culture or taste as they drag themselves around a modern art gallery for the sole purpose of finding the tea shop at the other end. There is something human about family holidays: I have a vivid memory of watching my dad capsize a kayak on the Dordogne and just climb back in, crying with laughter. Nothing really mattered, in a way that doesn’t exist any more. Now, dissertations and assignments await me at every turn, and even when away with my friends it’s impossible to run away from them. I love my friends dearly, but we don’t create our own private universe in the way my family did on holiday. Serious Grown Up Fun isn’t protective: we are citizens of the world now. Grown-ups. Adults who Need To Be Informed.
Gone are the days of wellies, “are we nearly there yet?”, and three-hour-long singalongs down the A1. I am older now, stepping slowly away from the hearth and making my way into the unknown, with nothing but some ham and crisp sandwiches to sustain me on my way.