You know when you go on holiday and all your neuroses fade away? All your usual preoccupations, worries, anxieties, hang-ups, concerns; all the stuff that oppresses you just somehow washes away in the sun and the sea (or the hills or the lakes or the ski slopes) and leaves you free? ‘Why did I bother about all that stuff?’ you ask yourself, giving a deep sigh of contentment that it’s all gone away.
Well my theory is that your neuroses are not dead, just slow to wake up. They lie around and yawn and stretch – but after a few days they realise you’re not there. ‘Hang on lads!’ they say to each other. ‘She’s gone! Who’s going to feed us now?’ So they all stand up and shade their eyes against the sun, looking this way and that – and finally they spy you on the beach. ‘There she is lads!’ they cry. ‘Off we go!’ And one by one these shadowy figures set off up the road and one by one (since some of them are slower than others) they catch up with you. But if you’re clever you can immerse yourself so deeply in the holiday that they won’t find you. They’ll scrabble about in the sand dunes or the nursery slopes and scratch their heads. ‘Where’d she go boys?’ they’ll say to each other, and shake their heads. And if you can avoid them till you go home you’ll have a nice break when you get back, until they realise you’ve outsmarted them and rush back down the road after you.
That’s how it is with me. My neuroses are like weights on my shoulders; while I was away I felt free and relaxed, but a day or two after I came back I began to feel the weights piling on again. True, it’s not so bad as before – and if you’re smart, since they come back one by one you can start to deal with them individually – but in the end they will overwhelm your resistance. Of course it’s not so bad as if you hadn’t been on holiday; the neuroses haven’t been fed so they’ve faded somewhat. But they’ve not gone away.
Mind you, I can’t help wondering if holidays are what they used to be. Most of the people I know seem to spend half the year away. At least half a dozen times a year they’ll say ‘I’m away that week,’ or ‘I’m going on holiday in November’ or ‘I won’t be here for Christmas or New Year’ or ‘don’t count on me in the summer because I’m back and forth’. So I wonder if holidays perform the same function that they used to, or whether if there are too many of them, they become a way of life that is almost work.
For me, holidays – especially foreign holidays (let’s not think about how badly Brexit is going to screw all that up) are a kind of reconnaissance, a way of finding out what life is like somewhere else. Of course I do my fair share of lying on the beach with a good book, but above all I like to get a feel for the place. What is it like to live here? How do people here think differently from us? What can I learn from this place? The idea of touring around looking at the sights and never interacting with local people is anathema to me, which is why wherever I am I always try to learn at least a few words of the language. A propos of which I learned the word ‘merse’ in Scotland (salt marsh) and that they call a bus stand a ‘bus stance.’ (This amused me with the thought of buses standing around in a variety of striking attitudes.) But my main impression of life in the Lowlands (or Southern Uplands, if you will) was that it was sensible. There seemed to be a feeling for civic and community life – free car parks, free and open public toilets, libraries etc – and a sense of open space, wide streets not enclosed by privately-owned malls. In the (free) museums people would show you round with great enthusiasm and never once try to sell you anything.
That’s it from me and the lads. So it’s goodnight from me – and it’s goodnight from them.