You know September is on her way because it’s Clinique Bonus Time at John Lewis, and because the sunsets get redder and the skies stop being cobalt blue and go a bit anaemic in the evenings. Yesterday evening it was slightly ambitious to sit outside a pub, but I did, with light Kentish Town breezes getting the better of me and having to shrug my jacket back on at 7.45pm. The white wine tastes metallic and harshly chilly. But the street was still half lived outside front doors; dogs poised on white-painted sills awaiting the return of their owners from the tube, children and mothers stopping to talk in the fading half light and sash windows pulled up and open into the North London night. And yet, the lamps were on by eight o clock, and the shutters were pulled, and the hatches were soon battened down.
Yesterday it became Keats-like and I left the house in a slightly rain splattered mist. But this time of year can fool you. Summer is in its dog days and rendered fickle. Here it comes, today, bright skies and sunglasses and a blast of warmth on the bridge of the nose, but then the world reminds us its soon to be autumn, and days flecked with sandals and sticky ice cream residue on the fingertips are propped up by days either side where shoulders, sunburned from that Italian holiday we’ll be paying off until November, shrug into Zara cardigans. The best thing to do is to chase the sun into the corners of the garden, where you can decamp with cups of tea and that novel you didn’t read on your holiday because you can’t read on holidays (more on that further down the bloggery). Mediterranean sun rays are deeper, less frivolous and too sensual to allow you to concentrate on books. But the English tepid sun, as watered down as Robnson’s orange squash, is unlikely to allow your imagination to hold itself hostage to dry, sun-drenched beach dreams. The temperature is right for reading.
This is also a strange time of year to be packing for a break outside of London. The rest of the country is coming home and I’ve flipped into reverse, counting the kilo weight of the hand luggage bag, folding jumpers up and siphoning out my under-100 ml liquid bottles. This week the air fares halve and if you don’t have children of school age now is an ideal time to chase the last summer rays or, in my case, actually have to go somewhere where it will be raining and 5 degrees colder. I have to watch that I remain within the rules when I am packing hand luggage, as have previous dastardly history with getting it so wrong. When I tried to fly to New York they had to remove a 8 inch knitting needle from my hand luggage. A flight to Rome was nearly one Bluebird less when i realised I was carrying half my cutlery drawer of spoons and knives. Another time a massive safety pin that is used for embroidery, a huge grey thing like a Victorian baby’s nappy pin was confiscated from me when I was en route to Bordeaux. Once I even managed to lose my passport in a WH Smith branch in Luton Airport between checking in and getting on the aeroplane on a school trip. When the school realised they dragged my mother away from her birthday lunch (yes) so she could drive 40 miles to the airport with my birth certificate so they’d let me on the plane. This they did, but it didn’t solve the problem of whether the French were going to let me in. Eventually, they did, thanks to a violently persuasive Physics teacher who talked at the French in English for 40 minutes until she exhausted their natural xenophobia and granted me access to their hallowed country and their 15 year old boy-populated, snowy, cold and terribly daft, Alps. It was only when I got there that I realised they were expecting me to strap two pieces of wood to my feet and propel me from a mountain. Fools. Absolute fools. I refused and decamped to my bed with a Barbara Taylor Bradford novel for a week.
The truth is, I just don’t like going away from home – or London – at all, because I’ve never seen the point of it, nor has the point been sufficiently explained to me. Now I love a cultural break as much as the next vulture, but I don’t mean them. I mean going on holiday. I mean every single year, by the beginning of April, someone asks you what you’re going to spend your money on this summer, and you feel compelled to actually book something and do it. Most of the time we lie to ourselves and pretend the process has been distinctly enjoyable. It hasn’t. Everything I need (with the exception of the occasional, guaranteed three weeks of unbroken weather in the high 70s every few months) is here. I don’t understand why, if this is such a world city, of worldlike qualities, other people don’t just come here. It’s much simpler. We have hotels and buses and taxes and room and before you know it everyone will be having such a fine time. But no, people think we want to fly about the place, polluting what’s left of the air and stamping a massive carbon footprint around the globe. And the other problem is, when you are going on holiday, everyone assumes you will have time to read, and asks you “Oooh, what book are you taking?” But that’s hopeless – you won’t have time to read. Holidaying tends to be disastrously social, so no sooner are you on the plane that you are forced to talk to people, and unless you are flying off to delirious isolation in a Norwegian fjord for a fortnight, I am hear to tell you, dearest traveller, that no, this will not finally be the fortnight you knock off that dusty Penguin of “Anna Karenina” which has been squatting on the top shelf, emitting supercilious intimidation down at you since 1993. You will return from the inevitable break with the same inevitable sense of incompletion and failure because you have not read the book you said you would read, as well as a whole host of irregular bowel conditions due to you being taken, so rudely and inefficiently, out of your normal routine. The foodstuffs you adore have been temporarily removed from you, your usual brand of tea and coffee become nothing more than a hallowed and distant caffeine dream, the temperature and wind and environment a jarring and unsettling difference from your own, the airports a mass of seething, nasty, polyester-clad humanity and yet – and yet – they call it a holiday. A holiday from what? Well, the obvious answer to that is a holiday from your normal, homely settled environment and other nice things. And this, to me, seems a bizarre method of relaxation.
I don’t think it’s just me, you see. I think we’re all creatures of habit in one way or another. Homo sapiens seem to be programmed this way. Habit, structure, routine, the little physical signals we give our bodies throughout the day that keep it in its correct lane on the motorway. The problem with holidays is they make no sense. Their intrinsic holiness doesn’t exist for most of us, for one thing, and they are about as far from relaxation as they could be. In fact, they are very hard work. And work is something for which we should be paid. That is the law. But going on holiday, with its packing, its travelling, the exhaustion, the social conventions one is expected to undertake on arrival, the lack of the European sit-down toilet, the disgusting infringement of the liberty of the private individual that is airport transit, is something we actually have to pay to do. It is not surprising, dearest readers, that most of us secretly come back, fling the passport in the drawer and return to work with a secret thrill at the idea of “getting back to normal”. How many of us sit down at our desk after a holiday and think, truly think, we have just undergone an experience that has offered us any value for money at all? Perhaps there are four or five holidays in your lifetime that have made you feel this way. Well, that’s find and dandy, until when you remember that you have had to go on holiday every single year of your life. If you were to add up all of those holidays it probably amounts to not much less than the whacking great bunce of lolly you had to slap down as a house deposit. And you’ve really enjoyed living in your own home, haven’t you? Even though, bring British, you’ve been forced to pay far far too much to do it. It wasn’t as if you had to fly there, or get mosquito bites there, or have unfortunate sex there with a man called Robin who you meet on a Cypriot curry night on the beach. In fact, you’ve probably had really great stay-cations there, watching telly and hanging out and – yes – even that nebulous thing – you’ve caught up on reading “Anna Karenina”. As energy usage becomes more and more important in our every day lives and the carbon emissions build up, how long is it going to be before we are morally bound to holiday in England? And what could be more environmentally aware than holidaying at home? Well, not necessarily in our house where there seems to be a plethora of falling asleep with the television and various other electrical gadgets on very loudly and at high speed, and spending the sleeping night farting on the sofa, but the sentiment to help the planet is there.
The end of the English summer is about the onset of reality. But it’s also about the onset of the beauty of our autumn and, as we head into my favourite time of year in England, I’m still in my pyjamas typing this with the hand luggage half filled and the passport by the front door, I’m already looking forward to coming home. I’ve decided to have a holiday from holidays for a bit. Or, rather, go away, come back and have an immediate, well-deserved holiday at home, here in London, amidst the falling red leaves and the long September evenings, probably still be sitting outside the chilly pubs in Kentish Town trying to pretend it’s still warm enough to be quaffing pinot grigio, despite the fact that the local residents are walking around in ear muffs and long overcoats. Then we can all start complaining about the weather again. But it doesn’t matter a jot. Because it’s home.
Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this. This blog is updated in two weeks, so I shall see you again on September 12th, unless of course I have an unfortunate episode in the airport again whilst trying to take a John Lewis breadknife on board a RyanAir flight, in which case I’ll probably be back on here tomorrow.