Ben Ross: To leave, or not to leave? That is the question on changeover day

Something to Declare

Tick, tock. There must be an equation, somewhere, for the way time plays tricks on holiday. You know the feeling: it's the second full day of your week-long break and it already seems as if you've been away for ages. You're acclimatised, but finding new things to do – dinner here, drinks there, a nice walk yonder, probably also with dinner and drinks. Still five days more before you have to go home. Five long days!

Tick, tock. Were you not concentrating? It's day four and your holiday is more than halfway done. The day after tomorrow is … suddenly here. Last full day. Let's hope the sun is shining. Cram in everything that you can. But now you have to pack because you're going home. You're in the car. You're at your front door. You're back at work. Tick, tock, gone.

For families, week-long half-term holidays, such as the one just passed, are particularly brutal. You cheat, of course, and strategically withdraw the children from school on the previous Friday to maximise your break. But time still stretches, then suddenly contracts: back to work again.

How, then, to extend things a little? Every year, I reason that we could fool the ticking clock by making the most of our changeover day: the point in the week (often a Friday or Saturday) when holiday rental properties are emptied, cleaned, and refilled with the next wave of tourists. Cornwall, where my family and I spent last half-term, seems particularly affected by this tide, its roads clogged with incoming and outgoing holidaymakers.

My thinking goes thus: just as we try to make the most of our arrival time, leaving home at dawn to see if we can grab our keys earlier than the allotted 3pm, we can surely work things to our advantage when we leave. So what, I cry, if we have to be out of our cottage by 10am? Once we've Hoovered and cleaned the loo (and confessed to breaking that wine glass) we'll simply pack up and go to the beach, or visit the Eden Project, before driving home. If we loaf around long enough, it'll feel like a whole extra day!

And yet, it never quite works like that. Perhaps it's because holidays are all about escaping. Once we've locked all our possessions back into the car, it's as if we've been rumbled. You've had your fun, says humdrum reality. Now get back home – and no stopping on the way.

Try as you might to enjoy lying on the beach, the awareness that you're about to leave makes it far less pleasurable. Like handing your bags in to a hotel concierge once you've checked out of your room, then loitering in the bar for a couple of hours before your flight leaves. You'd really rather just get it over with.

So, time plays its holiday games. For us, it's a six-hour drive home from Cornwall, rather longer on changeover day. (The A30 eastbound is a particular treat.) We should probably set off sooner rather than later. Back to work. Tick, tock.

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