My mum and dad will be celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary this Easter. And, along with the big family party that I’d planned, I’d arranged to take them to one of our parcs in Brittany. It was what they said they wanted. No new Denby dinnerware, no 800 inch flatscreen TV.
The date was set. Just me, a Skoda loaded up with Yorkshire Tea and Baileys, and a couple of octogenarians who’ve been married for 60 years. Born during the second world war, lived through the three day week and a million other mini catastrophes, treated me to 20-odd summer holidays. Every year, without fail. Lavished on me all the time they could give.
And now it’s my turn. Time to give them the only gift they wanted – for us to be together for a week in the sun, just like old times.
Time – that commodity my parents (yours too, no doubt) suddenly have to reckon with in a whole new way, as they’re asked to retreat from the world. From their loved ones.
Dad was particularly excited about the oysters. He can shuck them like an Olympian. If there’s a limpet, cockle or mollusc within striking distance of his penknife, he’ll not rest til he’s wrenched it from its rock and doused it in vinegar. He’s very French like that. Mum couldn’t wait to browse the shops of St Malo, loiter over a seaside lunch, glass of wine, ringside view.
Both of them were literally counting down the days (and I mean literally. They were marking them off on their Castles of Scotland calendar in the kitchen with mum’s bingo dabber.) Mum had a suitcase open in the spare room, slowly filling it up with jazzy flip flops and Rennies.
I’ll be honest with you, when I booked it I was chuffed for them, but ever so slightly
apprehensive about it all. Just the three of us. In a mobile home, with sketchy wi-fi and that
famously unpredictable Breton weather.
And now, of course, the holiday’s not happening. At least, not this spring. And I hate myself for, even slightly, fretting about it. Because right now, the thing I wish for more than anything in the world is that it was. I wish that Dad was gorging himself on oysters in Cancale, that mum was buying French eau de toilette in some ridiculously overpriced parfumerie in St Malo, and that I was hungrily storing up all those memories to keep me warm later.
That’s the thing about the stuff that surrounds you – the summer holidays, your mum and dad being, you know, the way they are, the shops on the high street you used to love but stopped going to quite as often. All that stuff that you just don’t have the time to really focus on. Until it’s gone, and you wish that you’d paid attention before it was too late.
There’s a tendency to think of businesses as faceless monoliths. I know – I do it myself. Especially now, when we’re all so angry at microscopic enemies, chances are it’s the poor woman from the mortgage company, or the Saturday boy in Boots who’ll get it in the neck. Because we can’t shout at a virus.
Yes, I write for Eurocamp. But this isn’t a marketing campaign. This is just my story. Because I’m just like you. So are my colleagues here in Northwich and across Europe, on parc. We’re all just doing what we can – dabbing off one day at a time. Because, really, all any of us want to do is take our parents on one more holiday. Even those of us who don’t have parents anymore. So when we have to cancel holidays – ours, yours – it really hurts.
And now the travel industry’s facing a fight for its own survival. It makes me think: imagine a world without it. Imagine a world without the hoteliers, the cabin crew, the wiley bed and breakfast landladies in Blackpool, the nail technicians in the all-inclusive resorts, the cleaning crews, the holiday reps and the kids’ entertainers always ready to turn your five year old into Simba with the flick of a crayon. Because it’s not the businesses and corporations that make these memories happen, it’s the people.
My best memories are of my Dad teaching me how to fly a kite on the beaches of Brittany – that’s why we’re heading back – of mum barbecuing sausages in a force ten gale on the Isle of Skye, of the first time I learned how to float, in the luminous waters off the coast of Mallorca. Holidays, every one of them. The moments that lift you out of the everyday and place you, for a fleeting moment, into some kind of eternity. It’s just that you don’t realise it at the time.
Right now, it’s fair to say holidays are the last thing on our mind. Right now, I’m thinking about how incredible our NHS is. Without them, we’d be facing a whole new world of pain.
But after this? We’re all going to need a holiday. Because after it’s over, that’s exactly the sort of medicine we’ll all need. Our NHS friends more than ever.
So what I care about is that, when the dust settles, we can all give those we love the holiday they deserve. That our holiday industry (and I don’t just mean Eurocamp, I mean all the amazing people who work for other travel companies, and the ancillary staff, supply chains and seasonal workers) gets through this. And that we all come back to them before it’s too late.
Mum and Dad? They’ve been on plenty of holidays. They’re remarkably unphased about all this, and give me that look every time I tell them to wash their hands. But I know, deep down, all they’re hoping for is one more holiday. So our trip to Brittany? I’ll never cancel that. It’s on hold.