Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The meaning of holidays to the retired

Now there's a question. And to answer it one needs to consider what a holiday is meant to be and why. And specifically in my new life.

Holidays, in their origins, holy days, those few days in the year of your average mediaeval peasant when, apart from Sunday, there was a day off - no sweating over a plough, or vat of urine soaked cloth, but you were meant to go to church before entering into the topsy turviness of a feast or a licensed day of foolery/drinking. These holy days of observance are there still in many of our public holidays - Easter, Whitsun, Christmas. And depending on which country you live in, there many be even more, though funnily enough the saints days of our four nations (David, Patrick, Andrew and George) are not public holidays, unless you live in the right place, and not England.

Holidays as the legal right to be paid, not to go to work, but rest from it, apply only to the employed and are there thanks to labour movement. In the UK the Holiday Pay Act was enacted as recently as 1938, after a more than twenty year campaign. Before then workers were only entitled to be paid for the eight public holidays we have. Imagine that. Now we have as of right twenty days of paid leave, plus the eight public holidays (unless you are a teacher...). It doesn't sound like much compared to the seven weeks plus I had in France, but compared to the US, is huge.

When I was working in full time employment, these were the most precious days of the year, not to be squandered, but planned and, damned it, enjoyed, and even bought more of from the salary sacrifice scheme, if that could be afforded. They were the days to spend as you pleased, to rest, to travel, and not to be under any obligation to look at email, let alone respond to it.

One year I had a precious week of holiday ruined by a manager who insisted, on pain of I know not what, that I attend a two hour conference call on a particular Wednesday afternoon. That doesn't sound like much of an imposition. But imposition it was, involving planning the entire day for the entire family so that I could be in a spot with good phone reception at the right time for the call, and it involved bringing the right paperwork with me in my luggage, oh and remembering what it was we were meant to be discussing. Sigh, but no more.

What though is a holiday now, when every day is a in effect a holiday in that I do not have to go to paid work and am always able to rest whenever I fancy? I imagine every retired person will answer that differently, but as a newbie at this malarky, here's my first year thoughts.

My first public holiday is coming up at the end of August. I am not planning on going anywhere. There seems no point in driving the length and breadth of the country for a long weekend at the coast or in the hills, when any three days chosen at random is such. No more traffic jams for me. From now on, these are days when I shall stay at home and laugh smugly at news report of mega tail backs on the M5. A public holiday is then a nothing, unless it is to be spent with those for whom it is something, my working children, perhaps.

As for the two week or more trip somewhere abroad, well, I'm presently in the middle of just such a fortnight. Yes, I am wandering, looking at new things, sitting in the sun, swimming, hanging out with my daughter, eating delicious food - I'm in the south of France - drinking lovely wine, reading, writing the odd line of the odd poem, and writing my journal and this post, but there is something much less pressing about it. I don't feel at all inclined to rush about ticking sights off on a list of things I must see. It's far too hot for that kind of carry on for a start, but also, I just feel less like being a tourist than I ever have before. No doubt when I return home people will ask we whether I went to X and Y, and what I thought of Z, and I'll feel bad that I didn't and don't, but right now, I'm just chilling.

These are, then, weeks when you do the same things in a different climate and scenery, and without the TV. Every morning, I manage to peel myself out of bed to look at the wooded valley of La Bourges in the Ardeche. It's beautiful. The quiet is punctuated by the goats bleating in the mainly oak trees below, the chime of the clock tower, or the chatter of newly-fledged house martins buzzing the village and the river. I enjoy the enormous breakfast made for me by my host whilst sitting on the terrace of the cream stone farmhouse and puzzling how the building was constructed, partly into the mountain side. I spend the rest of the morning writing or submitting or reading, then I trundle down to the river in the mint green Fiat 500 I've hired and spend the afternoon lounging and dozing on one of several little beaches, reading, and swimming in the deep pools cut into the basalt. I wander back for an evening shower and make myself presentable enough for dinner. My daughter takes my order and brings me my glass of chilled rose and my food. She's working in the restaurant in Bizet owned by her French boyfriend's mother. The menu is local, gusty and seasonal. Right now it's all myrtilles in deserts and the chutney that accompanies the foie gras.

I am very content. Blessed even. This then is my life, for the rest of it. I think I can get used to it, just about. You can call that I holiday, if you like.

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