Comment: Writer and teacher's summer holiday expectations

14th August 2009 at 01:00

Original paper headline: Holiday me is just too knackered for maracas

Perhaps I should just accept that it's not going to happen. At the beginning of the long summer holidays, time lay before me like an empty beach. I'll learn Spanish, I thought. I'll read Cervantes, pick Seville oranges and dance flamenco.

The trouble is, it's the term-time me who makes those plans, the one who meets deadlines and, er, gets up. I never factor in the knackered version of me. She just wants to eat potato salad and watch ants.

In August you can no longer blame your limited activity on someone else. If you haven't done a pottery course or abseiled off Mount Ararat, school hasn't stopped you.

Here is my favourite post on the TES website about holiday plans: "I'd like to make love to lots of women, or a few several times," says oldsomeman. He admits this is "not likely to happen", so instead he will "just sit quietly on the allotment".

He's covered everything - the wild, sexy dream, the probable outcome and the realistic hope. He then adds, modestly: "Mind you, I hope I get to go for rides on the scooter." Sounds nice, actually - scooters are fun.

Teaching colleagues fuel the expectations

So who builds up these expectations of the summer holidays? Colleagues, that's who - the holiday fascists of the staffroom. The ones who not only have a plan, but a philosophy. "Oh, the holidays are for blah," signals this type. Step away now.

There are two extremes of this. First, there are those who have languidly impressive plans. "We'll probably climb Cotopaxi, fix the boat and finish the fish pond ." They think you're pathetic if you don't have a big plan.

Then there are those who must have been maddening as backpackers - they are anti-plan and advise us to "live in the moment". Which moment - that one? Too late - it's gone! These moment-fascists are like goldfish. Perhaps they should join with the achievement-fascists and live in their fish ponds. I am so enjoying a break from that lot.

So what does the holiday deliver? Twin pleasures: finishing what you started and ignoring what you don't want to finish. Tidying a shed can be a Zen experience. Equally, deciding not to paint a fence is also a special moment. The first of these is the drink you have earned; the other is the one you haven't. They both taste good.

The best thing this holiday offers is something no other job provides. It gives you a chance to see if your other self is still alive - who you are when you are not teaching. This is the self who makes the big plans. Bursting out from under the school floorboards in July, it snatches the diary from your limp hands and says, "Right! My turn now. Let's build a village!"

But you do not need dazzling accomplishments to keep this other self alive. I have stayed in England and haven't learnt Spanish. But I have discovered Pablo Neruda's amazing poems in parallel translation, and I have some Spanish honey. It's in a plastic beehive-shaped bottle that leaks, but the honey smells of burnt oranges and it feeds my soul.

The leaky honey and the poems are nourishing the non-teaching version of me who will, one day, speak Spanish and dance in Seville. I just need a holiday first.

  • Catherine Paver, Writer and part-time English teacher.

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