Remember to go before you go

19th July 1996 at 01:00
Once upon a time, we arrived at the airport for a holiday flight a whole two days early. Imagine - board out the cats, wave to the neighbours, heave your whole life into a suitcase, check passport, tickets - did anyone read the tickets? Not now, dear, just wave to granny and granddad who have come all the way to the airport to see us off. How embarrassing.

We slunk home via Tescos - having emptied the fridge before leaving - and hid from the neighbours, being reluctant to unpack, having little to wear, and preferring not to discuss it.

Happily, our youngest child thought that his half-day in the departure lounge was the holiday, and loved it. This caused us to think twice about the wisdom of actually going away at all. And of course, like all the best disasters in which your pride is the only real casualty, it went down in the family annals, so that ordinary holidays are quite disappointing by contrast.

Several times we have driven to Portugal, and the travelling tales are usually better than what happened when we got there. Like the time the children pulled the curtains down - don't ask me how - in a motel in the middle of a baking Spanish night, and my husband stood on a table to put them back, and the table collapsed onto the bed which tipped its junior occupant into flight in the general direction of the wardrobe. Anyone mentioning Laurel and Hardy got a filthy look. Pride again, you see.

Or the time - twice, would you believe it - when we were racing (I chose the verb advisedly) for the Santander ferry home, and I was dying to go to the loo and there was no time to stop. No. No time at all. Absolutely not. Do you want us to miss the boat and be stranded here? Surrounded by fields of sunflowers under wide Spanish skies, this was quite an attractive prospect, but impractical. Cross your legs and it won't be long now. Aahh but it will, because there is a law of the universe which says there is always a traffic jam in Torrelavega and no you can't get out and dive into a cafe because the traffic will move as soon as you do and we may never see you again.

During one of those nightmares in Torrelavega, the radiator sprang a leak. What irony. It was agony to watch. But suddenly there was time to stop at a garage. By the time I had emerged from the loo, they had discovered there was no time to fix the leak, but my husband had jettisoned four litres of lemonade (wails of consternation from the children, two of whom to this day have neither forgotten nor forgiven him) in order to carry water from frequent fill-ups on our race north. He plugged the hole with Blu-tac and a toothpick and we didn't need a drop of water for the next 1,000 miles. Shame about the lemonade.

You don't go on holiday for moral dilemmas - well, not at our age, surely - but I had one when we were burgled, and almost the only thing left was the marking. Discriminating burglars scattered them, even left footprints on them, but disdained to carry them off to the black market. There was a suggestion I should dump them and pretend they'd been stolen like everything else. Would I do such a thing? No I returned them, safe but grubby, a week later. It was worth it for the glee with which the class played detective - "Definitely Nikes, Miss".

And what prompted the reminscences? Partly the physical reminder of waking to a Portuguese morning, in a bedroom rippling with light reflected from the pool, with a view across the village to the ocean. And it's partly the luxury of being able to lie here and think, without shooting into the shower and gathering yesterday's scraps of imperatives into the seamless business of today. It's gone nine, and I've already had a three-hour lie-in. Bliss.

Hilary Moriarty is deputy head of the Red Maids' School, Bristol

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