So we're at home this August - and with no way to save face. Friends who have been hard-hit by the recession can at least pretend they're spending their holiday money on a new roof or a solarium. I've been so hard-hit that I don't own my own home.
But I'm determined to make the most of things. With a bit of imagination I can come out of this month feeling more refreshed than if I had spent the entire silly season in a luxury hotel staffed with full-time nannies.
Perhaps the word is not imagination so much as mind control. The first thing I do when I open my eyes is count my blessings. I congratulate myself on this cottage we're renting - in some lights it almost looks Tuscan. But it's so much better equipped then anything I could have rented in Italy for twice, maybe three times the price] What a relief to take my clothes out of a chest of drawers] How nice to walk across the floor without stumbling into an open suitcase] To walk into the bathroom and not see half-dry underwear draped over the side of the tub] Where else could I have milk and post delivered to the door? And an English language newspaper which I leaf through for bad news from elsewhere.
As I feast on the beauties of my garden (how foolish it would be to abandon it at its peak), I conjure up holiday horror stories. I could be sitting in Gatwick Village, waiting for my much- delayed flight to be announced while I drink my third overpriced orange juice and the children nag me for T-shirts in Global Hypercolour. I could be standing in a cove, deserted and unspoiled the last time I saw it, and now the site of a holiday camp. I could be drying terry nappies on the steps of the Pyramids. I could be running out of money in Rome; losing my luggage in Miami; fishing possibly polluted ice cubes out of a drink in Mexico - or forgetting to do so and taking the consequences. I could be standing in front of my burgled car in Aix-en-Provence; driving on the wrong side of the road in Switzerland, remembering too late that I forgot to buy a cuckoo clock for the cleaning lady; breaking down at a beach on the Ionian islands where you can't see the sand for loud Athenians eating cold garlic meatballs on their car bonnets and you can't go into the water for jellyfish.
These are not feats of the imagination. These are memories, memories I edited out of holidays I went home to proclaim as unqualified successes. People today lie as much about holidays as Victorians lied about sex.
So here's a tip for those spending August at home. Keep reminding yourself: 99.9 per cent of the things you have to do when you go on holiday are unpleasant, boring, and/or dangerous. If that thought is not enough to dispel the fantasies created by dishonest neighbours and misleading brochures, I suggest you visit a friend getting ready for a 5am departure. Listen to the mother mumble about the things she forgot to buy like insect repellent and insurance. Listen to the edge in her voice as she asks her husband, hiding behind a map in the corner, if he could possibly lift himself out of his chair and dig out a pizza from the deep freeze. Watch the hungry, unruly children mess up the piles of unpacked clothing. If they all hate each other now, how are they going to feel after a month together in a tent?
They say that a change is as good as a rest, but a change of scene, if you ask me, is rarely worth the expense. Far more valuable, and much, much cheaper, is a change of routine. Wake up later. Let the children miss their bedtimes. If the television programmes you let them stay up for are even mildly unsuitable, or if you buy them the latest computer games that their better travelled friends' parents will not be able to afford, they'll be eternally grateful . Go to the supermarket and buy luxuries. Even if you down champagne and caviar, you're still saving thousands by not eating them in the South of France.
Our latest holiday treat is to drop in on old friends, ask to stay the night, and then stay two or three nights, drinking and eating them out of house and home. We regale them with inappropriate confidences until four in the morning, sleeping late the next morning in the guest bedroom that also happens to be the study with the computer.
But - as we assure the friends - they can always do the same to us. Our house is their house. There is no place as exotic as Oxford in the summer. Why go to Europe if the capuccino/tapas/ ice-cream is better here; the water in the council pools cleaner than the Mediterranean.
You say it's not quite the same? That the whole point of travel is to immerse yourself in a foreign culture? That's why you're still longing to get away? You've forgotten. The recession isn't as bad on the Continent as it is here. We may not be able to get to Europe, but they can certainly still afford to come to us. If I want to immerse myself in a foreign culture, all I have to do is go to the city centre. I haven't heard English spoken there for weeks.
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