This week marks for many the beginning of a much-needed, much yearned for summer holiday. Not satisfied with our hottest year in history, thousands of Brits will be leaving the country over the next six weeks, swapping their desks for deck chairs and tea cups for Cosmopolitans and ice cool beers by the pool. Teachers are counting down the days until the end of term so they can kick back and relax. A summer holiday seems now to be more a necessity than a luxury and we all dream that it will be the perfect escape, a place of thorough relaxation where all our worries can be left behind in the shithole that is Britain.
But really, do holidays possess such magical powers as to eradicate all worries, nasty thoughts and stresses? Does changing the physical environment around us have any impact on our thought processes, our moods and the way we deal with lifes niggles? And with modern technology - iPads, iPhones, Blackberries, wireless internet and increasingly cheaper roaming charges, are we not just carrying all of the work we have left behind with us - a constant reminder of what we 'should' be doing, hence forcing us to feel guilty about kicking back in the sand for a couple of weeks?
You can take a Brit out of Britain, but you can't take the shit out of Brit. Wherever we go, we go with flashing neon lights, whether we are the 18-30s drinking lager at 7am before takeoff, the nagging older couple attacking the poor check-in crew when told there is an hour delay or the upper middle class guardian readers who sit with their noses well in the air whilst being pushed onto a coach full of inferior Brits on their way to inferior apartments at the far side of the 'posh' resort. We are all guilty of carrying one or other form of Britishness with us at all times, all too often as an embarassing badge of honour. I digress into cynicism before I even begin answering my initial question, my point being though, that the holiday itself does not have the capacity to change who we are, the way we act or the things we are open to experience.
A few examples, beginning with my own parents. Both in their fifties, my dad works for Emirates and my mum is the headteacher at a school for pregnant teenagers and teen mums. They are Guardian readers, early getter-uppers, creatures of routine, everything well planned, well in advance, not spontaneous, cultured but led by guide books and, most aptly for this piece, extremely stressed. They run busy lives and both careers are ones that lend themselves to a decent break, time to get away, enjoy each others' company and forget for a while. Before their trips or holidays, I wish wholeheartedly that they would make the most of the oppurtunity to chill the hell out - something neither are very good at - but I always know that they won't quite get to the level of chilled-outness that I am desperate for them to have. They would probably say the same for me. Their flight, hotel and transfers are meticulously planned. They leave behind a note with details and numbers of flights times, flight numbers, hotel numbers, addresses, everything. They fuss over who is carrying what, how early to book the taxi, they carry documents tidily in a plastic wallet which dad must be in charge of for reasons known only to himself. Once there, they continue to rise early - not with the sunlight but with the bloody alarm clock. They must know the time at all times, everything must be planned in advance. Lunchtime has to be lunchtime, dinner time remains dinner time and bedtime remains bedtime. The same routine, different place. More enjoyment may be gained from the prettier sights, the laid back locals and the rare laugh here and there, but the watches are still relied on, the guide book is out constantly and my mum will still answer calls about work. The worry, the stress, the routine they run with to deal with the chaos of England is too deepset to be gone. It's a shame.
I am a lucky lady. Just a few years back I realised, and had it pointed out to me, that I carried many of the traits of my parents when it came to worry, stress and the exceptional talent for making mountains out of molehills. What changed? The influence of my boyfriend and his whole family - probably one of the most laid back, earthly, relaxed family I have ever met in terms of how they live their lives. Not quite a bunch of hippies, but people who seem very content in themselves, never too pushy or needy or selfimportant - everything is done with a shrug of the shoulders, nothing is too stressful or worrying - life just sails by and they sail with it. I love them all dearly and my boyfriend's eternal laidbackness does seem to have gradually rubbed off onto me. They really know how to holiday, gurus in the art of carefreedom (new made up word for moi). I should perhaps add here that they spent a few summers at nudist camps in the South of France, an idea which I warm towards every year. My (hopefully one day) mother-in-law to be told me just last week as we shared a bottle of wine whilst watching boats sail past our infinity pool in Turkey, "If I ruled this country I would do one thing. I would make every person have a naked swim every morning. It would be a much better place". I believe her, and if you haven't tried it, you should. Despite the fairytale feel though, there was still talk of jobs and money and moving house and the future, spattered with heated debates and discussion over where to eat, what to eat, where to go... even with the 'perfect' no-stress family, it isn't all plain sailing.
And the rest of us? My parents and my boyfriend's parents are polar opposites on holiday - but what of those in between? I cannot help but think that we, as a nation completely lack the ability to let ourselves just be, to go with the flow of another country, to blend in amongst other cultures and to adapt, scrap routines and leave everything behind. We are too reliant on constant communication, the time, the date, thirst for information, maps, timetables, satnav, gossip... Have we forgotten how to live without gadgets and gizmos and grinding habits? Sadly, it is obvious that many of us have, and unless we can reverse that, no holiday will ever be stressfree.
So, with many thanks to a certain Mills family, here are my top tips for leaving as much stress as possible behind (unfortunately, Cliff was lying, perhaps a few worries were in the smallprint):
In the event of delays, do not shoot the messenger.
Rather than fannying about changing the time on your phone, turn it off and leave it off.
Leave the laptop behind.
Embrace the change, enjoy the small things.
Take off your watch and be led by senses, not time.
Try local delicacies, games and activities.
No news is good news.
For God's sake go further than the pool.
Be thankful, you are lucky, make the most of it.