Cloud cuckoo land, that's where I've been. All those irate parents, in the papers, on the telly, harping on about how it's more package steals than package deals when it comes to booking a school summer holiday, well it has gone whoosh over my head until now, because until now we've travelled off-season.
A phone call to Michael, the local travel agent, should have been a routine affair, until he started quoting ridiculous figures. "WHAT?" I cried, when he told me that Club Med in France, normally cheap and cheerful, would cost £8,000 for the five of us mid-August, without the bloody flights even. "Well," he said, staying calm, "tell me your budget and we'll take it from there." So I told him my budget. And there was silence. "Is there any room for manoeuvre?" he finally asked.
Plan B: let's try booking online. Expedia, known for bargain bucket prices, would surely come out cheaper. Hell no, the quote for a recommended hotel in Cyprus on similar dates was a hair-raising £12,000 for two standard rooms, bed and breakfast. Jeez, that could buy a new car, a new kitchen and a year's supply of groceries.
Angrier than a disturbed wasps' nest, I call my best friend who is a primary- school teacher. Forced to travel at the most expensive time of year, surely she, on her modest wage, must be similarly outraged. "Well," she says, "it is frustrating and it is a struggle, but teachers get more paid holidays than most professionals, which kind of balances out the pain of not being able to afford something really nice. Besides, it used to be much worse. Low-budget airlines have brought prices right down."
I hold the receiver away from my ear and pull a face into the mouthpiece. Clearly my friend hasn't booked on Expedia. "Come on," I say, resuming the conversation, "I want you to be angry about this, to fight for the right for extra holiday pay." My friend laughs (she doesn't do anger) and tells me that she really is OK with it, and that since she has started a family of her own, this holiday issue has become far less of an irritant.
The strong euro has experts recommending travel outside the EU (Dubai, South Africa, USA) to avoid feeling the pinch, but long haul with three young kids isn't that appealing. Unfortunately, the more affordable camping/home-swap options don't really push the right buttons either.
"I'm not sure we can afford to go away this summer," I venture to Claire and Oliver as we walk to school for the first day of the summer term. "How does a wigwam in the back garden sound?"
"Are you joking?" checks Oliver, the spring quite disappearing from his step. "Half-joking," I admit. Oliver stops in his tracks. "I'd be very sad," he says, solemnly, "because I love going away."
The hurt expression, the puppy-dog eyes... Holidays are educational, goddamn it, my son should have one. Where to take the matter, to a consumer watchdog, or straight to the top? The PM is having a bad run of it lately – he doesn't need criticism, he needs ideas, a new policy to win back the housewife vote. As luck would have it, I've just the thing. For the second time in just under two months, I pick up pen and paper and set to writing, politicisation fast becoming an addiction:
We've got the Child Trust Fund (great idea, by the way), but what about a Child Holiday Fund? A few hundred quid per school- child say, to lighten the load when it comes to paying for a summer holiday..."Reuse content