So far this year my gardening has mostly consisted of standing on the lawn, wearing 5 coats piled on top each other, looking despondently at the lengthy grass, the weeds and the plants in desperate need of repotting. In the face of wind speeds not out of place on the deck of an oil rig these sessions have always lasted less than five minutes and have usually ended with me scurrying back indoors again to put the kettle on. This approach has been good for neither my waistline nor my garden.
Though spring has clearly nearly sprung, there is another reason why my attention has been diverted from outdoors. We are currently renovating. The chaos within has supplanted the chaos without. There are casserole dishes and baking bowls stacked at the end of our bed. The laundry basket is precariously perched on the huge mountain of stacked ephemera in the spare room. It includes but is not limited to, furniture, pictures, curtains, boxes of books and a 20kg bag of potatoes. Sleeves of un-ironed shirts on top wave gently in the breeze coming from the freezing-cold, as yet un-insulated en-suite toilet like the triumphant national flags planted at the crest of the world’s other great peaks.
Right in the middle of the planned removal of our central heating, and the tracking of practically every floor in the house so that new radiators can be installed, fall the school holidays. This means that instead of depositing small one at school in the morning where she is, at the very least, highly unlikely to electrocute herself whilst falling through a ceiling, she will be staying at home with me. What fun.
Ah! A holiday club! I thought. The perfect plan. Foolishly I floated the idea with small one, and she agreed that it sounded ace.
Feeling virtuous and organised (in fact the very the model of a perfect mother), I filled my thermal coffee cup and stepped out into the swirling snow at 8.15 on the Saturday morning that I had circled on the calendar. The holiday club registration was at 9.00. It had been snowing all week and with temperatures well below zero, I decided that 8.30 was the earliest time I was willing to present myself at the relevant venue. Surely anything earlier would be totally uncivilised?
I was briefly imagining myself giving parenting seminars for other more unfortunate and less organised families than ours as I drove into the car park. Suddenly, however, an uncomfortable realisation dawned. There were other cars already parked there. A lot of other cars. On my way to the door I passed a line of (now abandoned) camping chairs dusted with snow. How bizarre, I thought. Who on earth would be sitting outside on a morning like this? And a Saturday morning at that. As it turns out, a lot of people. A huge number, in fact. I opened the double doors. There was a slight hush as the many, many already seated parents observed my arrival. I made my way to the back of the queue. This took some time.
I sat down eventually and one of the organisers came over with a clipboard. “Thanks for coming,” he said. “I’m just taking down names for the reserve list. We’ve already filled all 250 places and are taking names for the 20 reserve places.”
“What number am I?” I said brightening. Perhaps there was a light at the end of the tunnel after all. There was a slight pause.
“277,” he said “But I can take your name down anyway?”. He said this in the hopeful and palliative tones of someone telling a child that they had not got the part of Mary Poppins, but would be invaluable as one of the tellers in the background of the bank scene.
I briefly contemplated having to take the long walk of shame back to the door and decided to take him up on his offer. Clipboard man chatted over my head to the person behind me. Apparently, people had started queuing at 6.15 that morning. 6.15! I tried and failed to process this information. 6.15 on a Saturday morning? In the dark and in a snow drift?
By this point another mother had arrived and discovered she was number 278 in the queue. She was as surprised as I that her plan to arrive at 8.40 had not resulted in success. At that moment a realisation dawned that turned out to be of great comfort. We were not destined to get into that holiday club. It was never going to happen. We were simply not the kind of people who get up at 5.30 on a Saturday morning - other than in the event of having to catch a flight, deal with a life threatening situation involving a loved one or to give birth. Instead, we sat in the warm hall and chatted comfortably for an hour while we waited for our turn, after everyone who had actually received a place, to fill in the registration forms. In the end we didn’t even get a real form to fill in but just wrote our names and phone numbers down on the back of an old envelope. This simple act still made me feel better though. I had left my name and number. It had not been a wasted trip.
On return from the registration debacle I had to break the unfortunate news to small one. I was worried about this but she took it surprisingly well: “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, Mum, but I didn’t actually believe you would get up in time.”
I have, in the past, made the critical error of setting my sights too high for school holidays. I now know that this is a strategy destined to fail. The daily to-do list is so easily felled by a round-robin vomiting bug or a spell of unexpected torrential rain or uncooperative moodiness (on my part, obviously).
These days I am all about managing expectations: mine and everyone else’s. On this basis my plan for the Easter holidays is as follows:
- Keep daughter alive and unharmed.
- Try to prevent her from watching more than 17 hours of YouTube videos about Lego each day.
- Feed everyone things at times.
- Go outside at least once.
With a fair wind however, and potential stomach bugs permitting, we’re highly likely to fall into our usual holiday groove. High-octane it is not, but our priorities are rest, relaxation and spending time together. So as long an activity fits those three categories it’s fine by us.
With the average morning in the Thompson household having all the serenity of an air raid it’s good to take the chance to share a couple of lazy breakfasts round the table in our jammies. Bacon butties or homemade pancakes are always a winner. Or we might go the whole hog and prepare the quintessential ‘Ulster Fry’. Naturally each family member has their own very specific preferences when it comes to soda and potato bread inclusion, and we have an egg allergy to deal with, but as most of the elements are cooked separately it’s fairly easy to accommodate this. For a simple healthy version, we might grill some bacon medallions, cook some mushrooms and cherry tomatoes with a little balsamic vinegar, and serve on some delicious sourdough toast. It’s also a tremendous treat to go out for breakfast in a cosy cafe. Pyjamas in this setting are generally frowned upon but on the upside someone else takes care of the dirty dishes.
There’s nothing simpler nor more relaxing than communing with nature. An afternoon spent searching for treasures on the beach, or for pine cones and brightly coloured lichen in a local wood, is ideal. If we’re heading further from home we always pack a picnic so we can eat when we find the perfect picnic table with the perfect view, or whenever someone gets too hangry to continue, whichever comes first.
We also make good use of our National Trust membership. Many of the properties arrange seasonal family-friendly events and activities during the school holidays which are fun and budget-friendly. If we haven’t been organised enough to get to the right place at the right time (a frequent occurrence when holiday mode has made us a little ‘too’ relaxed!) a walk followed by tea and a bun in the coffee shop is just as pleasing.
But all of these are my secret plans. They are not discussed. They are top secret. I don’t breathe them out loud. I don’t tell anyone. Not a single soul. Because clearly, that would just be asking for trouble.Back to all Articles