July is a month of leisure and fruitfulness, holidays in which to bask in decent weather and drink exotic cocktails, cereal crops that swell and ripen in the fields. All ought to be well with the world, except, and I am fairly certain this is a failing of mine, I have neve r been completely comfortable with holidays.
As someone who lives in the English countryside, I don’t really understand the desire to be separated from it at any time of the year, least of all in July. Neither do I understand the point of intentionally ceasing work (unless dead, or at war). Probably that is my upbringing. I find the concept of being at 30,000 feet in a tin can inherently absurd.
The pressure to post perfect pictures on Instagram is unfortunate. The idea people feel that their holiday
was less glamorous, or that their husband was more grumpy, or that their children
are not quite so perfect as the next person’s – and then become actually upset by it – makes me really sad.
Personally, I confess to a pressure not
to find my children more annoying than usual when cooped up with them, inevitably, in a smaller house than usual. There is also the day or two at either end that are
lost to productive labour and all the fuss that accompanies any expedition. I am the holiday grinch.
Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t take holidays (beyond a day here or there) but I am not left to my own devices. My wife Sybilla sees to that.
Sybilla made the whole process much easier a decade or so ago by finding Blakeney. Blakeney is a little town in north Norfolk with a medieval high street built almost entirely of unknapped flint that runs down a steep hill to the marsh and then to the sea.
In high summer the high street is festooned with huge hollyhocks that grow in the cracks between the street and the walls of the houses. Whilst hollyhocks have fallen out of fashion, they are a huge favourite of mine. Especially the singles. People avoid them because they can get a little rust. Who cares? It is a small price to pay for the explosive flowering rod that is a hollyhock, once known as St Joseph’s staff. Our little garden has ferns which I cut and put in the house. A silver tankard is best. The simplest and most pleasing arrangement going.
When in Norfolk, Walsingham, a place where heaven seems in some imperceptible way to touch earth, is never far away. Simply finding Walsingham is a joy, crossing into a mysterious pocket of gently rolling country.
Opposite our little Norfolk hideaway is a Catholic church, so when the thoughts of my own imperfections start to fill a newly resting mind, I know just where to take them. For me at least, if leisure is to be true leisure, it is always best accompanied by the comforts of Mother Church. There is a proper place to take the foam and fury of a newly resting mind.
The topography of the north Norfolk landscape slowly seeps in and gets at you. The huge skies and easy marshlands and happy faces leave their mark. It is not the bawdy wonder of the Scottish Highlands or the bracing appeal of the Cornish coast but the gentle tap tap tap of this ancient North Sea archipelago. And, I have discovered, it is possible to get alongside one’s children when on holiday in a way that simply isn’t possible when busy at home, a little proper time with each of them, even a moment
here or there, mounts up. So perhaps
extended holidays can be a string of holy days after all.
With five children and five dogs, there are stresses and strains involved in taking any holiday, so I prepare myself for these in advance and accept that they will inevitably emerge. Whether I am better at riding them out or not is a question for my family.
The dangers of leaving one’s own garden are well documented, the chief of which is not being available to water it. But there is a huge joy in coming back to a garden that has survived without you. My garden finds a little more of itself in my absence and I find a little more of it upon my return. A holy day is quite different from a modern “holiday”, but the best thing the latter occasions is, of course, an opportunity for a joyous return.
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