I’m sure there was a point in my life when the prospect of going on holiday didn’t fill me with an all-consuming dread. I definitely recall there was a time when it was enjoyable, exciting even, to speculate over where to go and then look at lots of over-filtered sunny pictures in the process of narrowing it down. I have a friend who told me years ago she found the whole holiday-booking process horrendous. I laughed politely and murmured agreement, not actually getting it at all. I’m sorry, Liz. I understand now. It’s truly terrible.
My husband and I have spent the last few months talking about going on holiday. It’s now August, and we’re not going on holiday. To sum up the issues involved: I wanted somebody else to plan and book the entire thing for me, but I wanted it to be perfect and cheap and I didn’t want to pay this person or have to interact with another human being because I’m also tight and suspicious and I know I’m capable of using Google.
Post-child, there seemed to be so many more factors to consider. For the first time as adults we’re living within visiting distance of friends and family, and now that we have a toddler they’re paying us more attention than they have in years. I believe the solution to fitting a holiday in between social engagements is to plan it in advance, but that’s for people who can manage to get through a calendar year without having a baby/moving 300 miles/buying a house and a car.
All we could seem to agree on is that we wanted to go to a villa or an apartment somewhere in the world. Anywhere with a separate room for the baby. And we wanted to be able to cook because the thought of hotel buffets made us both very anxious, food being the essential point of any holiday. Genuinely, a bad meal has ruined many an evening out and created much relationship drama, so this is an important consideration.
Aside from that, the whole of Europe was up for grabs. We didn’t know where to go. We didn’t know where to find anywhere to go. We didn’t know how to manage all the logistics of going abroad with a baby. We knew there were answers to be found, but the time involved in finding them seemed always to be beyond our grasp. When it comes to research, D and I approach it from a position of competition. We both secretly feel we are better at it, and distrust everything the other person comes up with. Any suggestions must be researched by us both individually. It’s a time-consuming process. We felt like we needed a holiday to plan our holiday.
The entire thing was making me feel exceptionally anxious whenever I thought about it. It was really almost a relief when we realised it was entirely a moot point, as the whole having a baby/moving 300 miles/buying a house and a car scenario had rendered our available holiday funds basically non-existent. Instead we’re staying in Edinburgh for a week. We’ll go to festival shows every day and the only decisions involved will be gin and tonic or white wine. I can’t wait.
Dear reader, I write from north of the wall, at great distance from the capital where I lived, loved and ate brunch for nine years. It may surprise you to learn that connection to the internet is even possible outside of London and yet I am here to report that life does indeed go on beyond zone six. Here’s a guide to help you weather the trauma of the transition.*
Fear not – hipsters exist beyond Shoreditch. Kombucha and kimchi are just as available where I now live as they were in London. I was relieved to find turmeric lattes on the menu of my local coffeeshop too – I never want to order one, but I like to know that I could.
Be prepared – your perception of distance has been irretrievably warped by London life. You consider two hours commuting a day perfectly normal. Most people you meet outside of London consider that akin to travelling to Mars. Try not to get frustrated when they won’t traipse across the country to visit you. Remember how much you grumbled when you had to go from North to South in one evening and learn to appreciate life in your immediate locality.
People will speak to you all the time. On the street, on the bus, in shops…They’ll make chit-chat about your baby, the weather, your shopping…It’s odd but really quite nice.
Related: you are no longer anonymous. Outside of London, if you leave the house with baby-sick-encrusted clothes and unbrushed hair, you will immediately bump into your ex-boyfriend’s mother, your former boss and five people you went to school with. When you discover a great new playgroup to go to with your baby, you’ll find out that everybody else you know who has ever had a child has been going there for years.
Do be warned that you will need to practise mnemonics to distinguish between your new friends. Outside of London, everybody looks the same. It’s a much more monocultural world out here in the provinces. That said, compared to my childhood, when virtually everyone I knew was a shade of mottled pink, it’s gradually getting more diverse.
You’ll need to embrace your new community, because to everybody in London you’re effectively dead. They said they’ll come to visit you – they never will.
There’s a certain narrative everybody you meet expects you to follow. They want you to tell them how busy London was, and how relieved you are to have escaped. They will watch your face narrowly, on the alert for any signs that you are secretly longing to be eating overpriced bao on the Southbank. It’s easiest just to agree that London was dreadful and since leaving you have newly discovered the joy in living.
I left my job along with London, but I have it on good authority that jobs anywhere else are basically a piece of piss. Sometimes my husband actually finishes work at five, so essentially mid-morning. Can you imagine! Obviously in London we were all chained to our desks with unpaid interns standing to attention in front of us with carved wooden platters artfully dusted with organic cocaine for us to snort through rolled-up euro notes, so it’s quite the culture change.
Random observations for parents: fewer people sing along in baby classes outwith London; but go to a class with your child and they will invariably receive a sticker. Make of that what you will. Does class-going outside London require a reward system? Has the tube sucked all the embarrassment at public exhibitionism out of London parents? I need answers to these questions!
You will slowly come to the realisation that even before leaving London, you weren’t really living in London at all. You lived in a village within London, a bubble which post-baby you didn’t leave much except to occasionally visit other bubbles. The London you once experienced was over for you. The good news is that it’s still there, just a train journey and a babysitter away.
*Advice applies if you are a female, early thirties, ex-media-professional-turned-stay-at-home-parent-to-one, Ottolenghi apologist, brunette Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. Otherwise it probably won’t help.