The problem with holidays is they give you too much time to reflect on life - Halong Junk Cruises

The problem with holidays is they give you too much time to reflect on life


How I long for the days when my children were terrified of the sea. Photograph: Jeff Rotman/Getty Images

Post-holiday blues are as traditional in September as suicidal thoughts in December. I’m just back from 10 days in Croatia. And frankly, I’m relieved to write that. I know holidays are all about relaxing, “breathing out” and leaving all your stress behind in the duty-free shop: but I’m a neurotic. I write as a champion for every nose-peeling man, woman and child who returns from their holiday more exhausted than when they left.

Normally, I worry about work. Every possible negative outcome of every possible scenario of every single job. This year, on the evening before we left for our holiday, my youngest daughter presented me with a printed out contract to “not moan about work; not use my laptop and not discuss politics”. On seeing this legal and binding document my wife leaped faster than I have ever seen a human move to find a pen. So I signed. Obviously my toes were crossed inside my trainers — after all, Scottish referendum debates were approaching. But I signed. And I did so knowing that “not worrying about work” would be easy. On holiday, there are much more serious things to worry about.

Packing: According to my wife, it’s “so bloody easy” for me to pack. After all, she’s sorted the holiday, the cat-sitting, the dog boarding, the spare keys … But as she complains that she has to pack for the kids as well as herself it never occurs to her that she doesn’t have the extra baggage that I have.

For most of the year, I keep this baggage in the same drawer as those converter plug things. As soon as I open it, the holiday worries tumble out. “Have you got the passports?”; “Is there enough time left on them if you are trapped on holiday by an Icelandic ash cloud?”; “Is the free travel insurance you get with your Barclays account really OK?”; “Will someone burgle my home while I’m gone?”; “Why have I still not arranged Irish passports for my wife and children?” (My wife is Northern Irish, so can technically get one of these). I’ve always believed that, in the unlikely (but very likely in my head) event of a hostage situation, terrorist groups are usually after Americans and Brits. I feel comforted that my family may go free with their Irish passports while I attempt to argue with my captors that, although I am British, it’s only because my great-great-grandfather was inconsiderate enough to leave Cork in the 19th century.

Flying: When I’m flying for work and by myself I fill my head with images of my children during take-off, landing and serious turbulence to ensure that, in the event of a disaster, I am only thinking of those people who make me happiest. Sometimes my wife gets in there, as long as we haven’t had a row too recently. The problem is that on holiday I have the children sitting next to me on the flight. I can’t fill my head with their smiling faces if – something untoward happens – because their screaming, hysterical faces will be right next to me.

Activities: What happened to doing nothing? Where we were staying there were countless life-threatening pastimes on offer under the guise of “activities”. Snorkelling, water-skiing, sea-scootering. It’s dangerous. All of it. I managed to avoid most activities until my youngest insisted we go snorkelling towards a cave. A cave! Who goes into a cave? What sort of creatures lurk there? Thank Christ it was surrounded by rocks guarded by sea urchins. Apparently Niall from One Direction ended up on crutches after an encounter with a sea urchin. That put her off .

The Deep: I’m not very happy in deep water. How I long for the days when my children were terrified of the sea … like I am really. I’d pretend that I wanted to go deeper and they’d cling to me saying, “No Daddy!” Those little panicked cries that meant I had to stay in the shallows were music to my ears. Even then my wife would say: “Go have a swim Love. You love swimming.” I do love swimming. In swimming pools. With a lifeguard watching in case I have a heart attack or get cramp. I’m not like those weirdos who jump in the sea and set off towards the sunset as though the film Jaws had never been made. Even in shallow water I don’t want to swim away from a large crowd. Even if they are having a sneaky wee in the ocean. For some reason, the idea that the shark, barracuda, or jellyfish will have a choice of people to attack makes me feel happier.

Boats: Some of the best beaches we got to were via boat service from the hotel. I never feel safe on a small boat. Think how quickly a great white could flip that over. (Did you know there are great whites in the Med – and one of the most common areas in Europe for shark attacks happens to be the Adriatic? Well. Now you do. )

As I said, I’m not happy in small crafts on water. My wife and daughters guffaw every time we board a vessel, recounting The Tale of Hal on a Pedalo.

Spain, 2010 … It took an hour of my wife guilt-tripping me off my comfortable lounger to “spend quality time and build memories with your children”. I gave in. I took my iPhone. Losing my phone on holiday is a terror to me. Think of the bills if someone steals it abroad. They won’t be turning the data roaming off to save you “substantial charges”. Furthermore, I’m in a job where a missed phone call is a missed opportunity – like a big break on TV. I once got a job at very short notice via a holiday phone call. Another comic had jumped off a pier and broken her arm. I got her part on the prime-time standup show while she paid the price for taking part in holiday activities.

Anyway, back to Pedalogate. Watching my then nine and 10-year-olds taking turns to go down the pedalo’s slide with no thought of timing, balance or boat rocking set off a chain of imagined disasters. That pedalo rocked. The water all around was being disturbed and splashing up to where it could wet my iPhone. It could malfunction. I’d miss calls. And didn’t this splashing mean we were “taking on water”?

My wife and I got into a row. These worries were all pouring out loudly and with agitation. She couldn’t see the masterful captain within me wanting to look after the crew, passengers, craft and iPhone. It ended with an explosion of me shouting: “Get back on the boat! Get back on the boat! I’ve never seen swells like this at sea!”

General angst: At the end of every day I sit down with my family to a lovely meal. Surely nothing here can stress me out. With magnificent sunsets above and around us, it’s idyllic. Then I start wondering whether my kids are having as good a holiday as I had as a child. Are they getting enough culture as they sit there Instagramming and iMessaging? Answering my inquiry of: “Where would you like to go tomorrow?” with, “pool”, rather than: “Well father, a trip around the old town of Dubrovnik would be fascinating.” I know kids like that are weird but, dammit, I want one!

Am I a good-enough father? Will my kids turn out fine? Should they just enjoy themselves anyway because it looks like we’re heading towards nuclear war with Russia? Will our flight be targeted by Islamic fundamentalists now that the terror threat has been raised to severe?

That’s the problem with holidays: they give you time to reflect on life. Reflecting on life can soon spin out of control. When you’re a neurotic, you want to keep your worried brain active with the small stuff, like work, money and “when’s the next series of Long Lost Family?” It’s nice now to be home and consumed by these worries that will kill me gently and gradually, not suddenly like a shark attack, a plane crash or a pedalo capsizing.

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