Illustration: Kelsey Davenport


The hell of holiday prep (and whether it’s even worth going away)

Liz Dashwood discovers that she's not alone in spending a hellish pre-holiday week packing for the whole family. And then there's all the crap to deal with once you get there…

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A war artist could paint us. Swap men staring glassily at their pints for women staring bleakly into glasses of prosecco, caption it “Before the Fight” and we are indistinguishable from any group of old friends having a last drink before heading off to bloody conflict and an unknown fate.

We are mothers in the pub who are all due to go on holiday with our families in the next few days.

“What are you dreading most?” asks Maria, draining her glass and motioning to the frightened 20-year-old lad serving us for another bottle.

“The packing,” says Ilona, instantly. “Enough shit for 14 days for four people plus emergencies does not fit into any suitcase or any car I’ve ever known.”

“Plus enough for finding out that the washing machine in the place you’ve rented doesn’t work.”

“And complaints that this T-shirt’s too small, those shorts are too big, that cardigan’s too itchy. I might just take 20 yards of burlap sacking this year and tell them to wrap themselves in that whenever they want to go out.”

“I hate the fact that the beds are always too small,” says Sam. “I’ve got a superking-size at home. Andy and I basically sleep in different postcodes. But on holiday – he’s right there. And he thinks it’s great.”

“And it encourages them to want sex,” says Emma, darkly. “You either have to give in or spend half the night slapping It away from you. Either way, your sleep’s ruined.”

“The days are worse,” says Ilona. “You’ve got to do stuff. Al thinks every minute has to be spent frantically having New Experiences. I used to wonder where he got the energy and then I realised – he gets it from never lifting a fucking finger at home.”

Think of it as a work trip and you might find it relatively relaxing. It’s only when you measure it against the pre-kids version of the thing that it fails

“I don’t get why I’m supposed to enjoy going somewhere less well-equipped than my own home, with a less-clean toilet, where I still have to do everything I did at home, but less efficiently and with kids who are as high as kites because they can see the sea and smell chips all the time.”

“You just need to stop thinking of it as a holiday,” says Hana, philosophically. “You know, like how brown rice is terrible if you think of it as rice, but fine if you think of it as just another food entirely. Think of it as a work trip and you might find it relatively relaxing. It’s only when you measure it against the pre-kids version of the thing that it fails.”

“Like most things,” agrees Sam.

I am very committed to drinking, so I say nothing. But it does strike me – increasingly often, actually – that if you were to put our husbands together in a group in the pub on this very same day, they would not be having this conversation. An upcoming holiday would not be dominating their thoughts because they would be looking forward, in uncomplicated fashion, to a nice break or not really thinking about it at all. Because someone else was shouldering the burden.

I don’t quite know how or why – I have some theories, but I don’t know – things always fall out this way, but they do.

Fortunately, another bottle of prosecco provides – as another bottle of prosecco so often does – the solution. Or at least a solution.

“We’ll all go on holiday together. Twelve years from now, when the kids are 18 – we’ll all go somewhere hot and just lie around and do sweet FA. That’s what we’ll call ourselves – the Sweet Fanny Adams. I’ll have T-shirts made.”

We raise our glasses. I’m looking forward to it already.


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Illustration: Kelsey Davenport
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despatches from the school gate

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