Lucy Caldwell: The story so far


I wrote a story, once, about a twentysomething girl who, returning to Belfast for a holiday, gets caught up in a mass of cancelled flights and meets the love of her life, who turns out to be her older sister's childhood sweetheart. I couldn't believe the irony when, trying to get home for Christmas, I found myself stuck in the chaos of fog and grounded flights at Heathrow. But the only thing I travelled home with was a rotten cold to which, one by one, all of my family succumbed.

We spent last week in Andalusia. My sisters and I had optimistically packed bikinis. But we arrived to find it so unexpectedly cold that the first thing we did was rush out to buy fan heaters and woolly jumpers. What with the cold, and feeling so wiped out, we couldn't muster the energy to do more than huddle around the electric fire cradling my dad's legendary hot whiskies.

Luckily, the house we were staying in belonged to an elderly American couple who first came to Andalusia in the early Sixties, when it was a mecca for hippies and artists and writers. There were shelves crammed with all sorts of books: crumbly, yellowing old paperbacks, artists' sketchbooks, New York Times Best Sellers and philosophy tracts. In between reading aloud gruesome accounts of modern-day exorcisms, my sisters and I squabbled over Marian Keyes's brilliant Rachel's Holiday, which has one of the best unreliable narrators I've ever read, while my dad got stuck into some mystic Sixties poetry. My mum - from whom I get my love of books - read, in quick succession, The Kite Runner, the first instalment of Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy and Hisham Matar's devastating In The Country of Men.

The mountains of rural southern Spain are beautiful at this time of year: the air tastes like a long, cool drink of water, and the light really does seem to pour down from the sky. But we hardly left the house. On the way home, Mum remarked that she felt she was returning from Egypt or Afghanistan in the Seventies, rather than modern-day Spain. The whole holiday, in fact, was rather like driving through Europe when I was a child, when Mum and Dad would be imploring us to look at the beautiful scenery, and we'd reluctantly glance up and murmur a half-hearted "wow" before going back to the books we were engrossed in: even now, I don't remember where we went, so much as what I was reading when we were there.

By that rationale, I fear that my woozy, Lemsip-addled memories of Andalusia are for ever going to be a strange blur of poltergeists and drug-addiction clinics. Never again will I complain that family holidays are boring.

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