For most parents, summer holidays are usually given initial thought around February half term.
After the excitement of Christmas - lying in front of the TV, pigging-out (a perfectly acceptable policy that takes on a momentum all of its own) - it’s the first break of the year and serves as a reminder that school only accounts for 35 weeks of the year, therefore demanding advance planning to fill all yawning gaps.
By the middle of February 2020, there were scary stories about quarantined cruise ships and people fleeing northern Italy. Change was in the air, the word ‘lockdown’ swiftly replacing Brexit at the top of each news agenda. Surplus internet time surfing possible summer escapes was ditched in favour of PPE acquisition and bulk-buying at Aldi.
Then Easter arrived, subsumed in a sea of terrifying nothingness, punctuated by the permitted one walk a day, too much Scrabble and a great deal of moaning.
May and June proved similarly limp, daily bulletins delivering hideous statistics and little hope for the future. I was becoming used to lockdown life, applying myself to mealtimes and post-shop bleaching sessions.
Then suddenly, at the beginning of July, after months of inertia, the lid was lifted on our Truman Show existence. Action was required, expected.
Eight weeks of summer holidays to fill when camps, voluntary work and holidays with friends all cancelled.
The idea of popping our social bubble had, until this point, been a misnomer; travelling abroad was a definite no no, so we turned to the incredibly busy domestic self-catering sites.
You had to be quick. Much like hairdresser appointments, good properties - even pretty mediocre ones - went in a flash, so the whole booking process was laced with anxiety; once a date and location were chosen, a nail-biting 24 hours ensued while waiting to ‘be approved!’
We made the cut, but that was just the start of it. Self-catering is, as any parent will know, not a byword for relaxation. Preparation starts days - possibly weeks - in advance (milk to cancel, plants to re-home, the feeding of non-travelling pets to negotiate) and that’s before cleaning out the fridge and debating the merits of transporting that half pint of milk or soon-to-be-too-old cucumber lurking at the bottom of the salad compartments.
So, in addition to the normal ‘great that you are staying and here’s the code for the front door key-safe’ email, it was with heart in mouth that we received ‘Covid world’ instructions from the letting agency.
In addition to the usual paraphernalia for a family week at the sea, a guest ‘super list’ dropped into my Inbox, creating a greater thud than those cheery epistles from HMRC. The pressure was on with a dazzling array of instructions for the struggling guest.
Apparently, oven gloves are a new danger zone - to be avoided at all cost - so personal ones must be brought and make sure too that you pack board games and DVDs, those have also been confiscated.
First-aid kits with thermometers and paracetamols are, as Prince Charles said a, “Non negotiable,” requirement.
Wind-breaks must also be considered to jealously guard your personal patch of beach and ward off straying infants or pets.
Same goes for any, hitherto provided, picnic blankets. These puppies are on the baddie list so it’s time to breathe life into the moth-addled tartan number skulking under your stairs.
Condiments too have fallen victim to Covid’s demands. Salt and pepper are now high traffic virus hot spots, removed and banished - possibly forever - from all rental properties.
‘Ticketing up’ must be considered.
Plan, plan, plan. No more spontaneous days out on a whim of good weather and rare family harmony. Now we were advised to be prepared and book, book, book, know where you want to go and when.
We were also asked to consider bringing our own towels, pillows, pillowcases, tea towels, hand wash and clothes detergent, “in case of frequent face mask washing while away.” Goodness, did someone say this was a holiday?
As well as these requests, bin bags featured on the essential items list. Despite the home owner providing them, “they may not know how much rubbish you may accumulate on holiday so best to be on the safe side.” So there.
I felt I could resist the temptation of bringing an entirely disposable wardrobe and single-use linen cupboard so, daringly, we left these off the list.
Even the dog didn’t escape the diktat with “own blankets, bed, food bowls and towels being essential.”
Surveying the accrued kit-list and before even a spare tee-shirt or bucket had been accrued, our car was full.
The sacrifice? Food. Which of course entailed an immediate trip to the local supermarket and much splashing of cleaning materials once home.
All very doable, just a little exhausting, but disappointing to note that, even with our precise precautions, briefly visiting public conveniences in Aviemore, and despite the weighty 50ppp charge, no soap was available.
But, tah dah!
With the nimble fingers of a heart surgeon, I produced hand soap and a freshly minted, fluffy towel from the car.
“You see,” I reasoned, “there was method in being prepared and I’m really sorry you had to sit on three pillows and a wind-break all the way up the A9.”
“Are we nearly there yet?” was the only response.
And for that particular question, even after all these years of practice, there is absolutely no preparation, however many lists you make.
26 July 2020