TIME is flying by and some of us haven’t even had a chance to take a holiday yet this year, what with the silage being made in between downfalls, and having to stand in a gap every time the cattle are moved from one pasture to another.
Cattle were much smarter when I was young and were at least able to find their own way around the farm - with just the odd incursion into the neighbours’ aftergrass. Now they’ve become institutionalised and disorientated by slatted sheds and EU regulations.
But it’s not cattle I’m writing about this week; it’s the summer holidays. Holidays are no longer what they once were either – a break from routine combined with a couple of weeks basking in the sun, captured, for a while at least, by a few postcards to envious friends and relatives at home with the usual tantalising message “wishing you were here”.
I don’t know how many times I wrote those lines on a postcard, but I’d have died if any of the recipients had turned up out of the blue, because, really, the holiday was never what I had cracked it up to be. Maybe I’m just a natural home bird.
Holidays must make a statement now that could never be summed up on a postcard, and, for good measure, the statement must be accompanied by a few well posed ‘selfies’ in case everyone thinks you’re lying through your teeth and never went hunting for a yeti in the shadow of the Himalayan peaks. But there’s nothing pretentious about it at all.
Exotic holidays are the only breaks worth talking about now. If Lanzarotte was the best you could do this summer, then keep it to yourself and contact Francis Brennan straight away with a view to being included on his next grand tour.
The trouble is we’re running out of exotica. Everyone I know - apart from myself, that is – has walked the Great Wall of China; hunted wild game in Kenya; bathed in a geyser in Iceland in the winter and have overcome the most treacherous rapids while canoeing in the Rocky Mountains. The funny thing is that most of them are ‘scaredy cats’ at home, and afraid of their own shadows. But they have the ‘selfies’ to prove their intrepidity abroad.
The trouble is we’re running out of exotica. The way things are going and the way the world is contracting, we’re going to have to look for our exoticism in the mundane. And I think I can help there, having once during the summer holidays, a long time ago, helped my younger brother build our own Mount Pellegrino fort on a jutting rock in the river that flowed through the fields behind our house.
As I explained before in this column, the first summer holiday I ever had away from home at the tender age of 10 was in the town of Birr, home to the biggest telescope in the world until the Wilson Observatory was built in 1917. But that didn’t impress me much. The town also hosted a real life castle, around which my imagination ran riot. Castles had all kinds of unsavoury connotations when I was a child - less than 40 years after independence – and none of them, I hate to tell you, were fairy tale. Actually the only tolerable ones were those that were in ruins - visible proof through the ivy that the peasants had triumphed in the end. But this one was magic.
It was the weirdest holiday ever, and yet it was also the most exotic. I stayed in the presbytery - where my uncle was a curate – under the care of his housekeeper, and was treated like a princess. Every now and then I broke bounds like my comic book heroine ‘Beryl the Pearl’ and escaped to play hopscotch with the local kids on the mall. Every morning I got up early to mow the lawn and the mini putting green with a push mower - the garden had to be restored by a professional when I had gone home - and once I got a touch of beri-beri after climbing a tree in the orchard and eating my fill of unripened apples.
It was the biggest house I had ever seen and even had a basement. The only gap in the grandeur was the fact that I had to eat in the kitchen in the basement, while the three priests took their meals in the ground floor dining room.
This affront was compounded by the fact that one of the priests, who was a keen golfer and who was doubtlessly much distressed by the daily assaults on his practice green, referred to me affectionately as ‘snotty nose’.
Once, however, I did sneak into the dining room when they were gone and treated myself to my first ever cup of coffee from a cold pot. It was at least 20 years before I could bring myself to even look at a coffee again.
I thought of those happy times again this week when we were discussing the holiday season at the coffee morning, memories evoked no doubt by the smell of the coffee. Someone had just returned from the Maldives and someone else was preparing for a safari in Botswana, while I expressed half a notion to spend a few days at the spa in Lisdoonvarna and take the waters before the hedonistic hordes descend on the town in September.
“Are you taking the p . . . out of my safari?” asked the woman bound for Botswana.
“No,” I protested. “I love the idea of exotic holidays, but I’m not able for the hassle.”
Anyway, the exotic is relative. My daughter after a holiday on Tortola Island told me that she had seen more exotic flowers in the Burren than she saw anywhere in the Caribbean.
And I once, in reality, sailed on a cruise liner past Monte San Pellegrino and into Palermo Harbour – on a trip that was a gift from my brother before he died. But even as we gazed, from the deck of the ship, at what was described by Goethe as the most beautiful promontory in the world, I wasn’t really there at all. I was back again, happily playing on a rock in the dappled sunshine, beside the river in Dolla.