As we bustled into the friend’s family bungalow on that last Cornwall holiday, our youngest, Wallop, raided the pile of familiar games. We’d stayed here since Beebee was teeny and now she was too grown up to squeeze in the car with us for six hours. Funnily enough this year we’d come in two cars with the three boys as James had to drive Boom back a day early for a football commitment. It turned out to be Boom’s last Cornwall stint too. Time and tides wait for no mum.
The owners had poshed it up a little since we’d first come – new windows one year, new mattresses that last time – but not enough poshing to make us feel uncomfortable. It still felt like our cosy place, and our cosy games pile. Immediately Guess Who? was slammed on the kitchen table. It’s the sort of game you look at in the shop but decide wouldn’t sustain interest for longer than ten minutes but… every year, all week, click click… ‘Come on grab your swimmies and towel from the airer.’ ‘In a minute… just finishing a best of three.’
Later, Wallop wandered in with Monopoly. ‘Noooo! Not Monotony!’ Every atom in my head spontaneously split just so that more things in there could scream ‘Noooooo!’ This was a weird version with passports and different countries. Someone had been meddling with that games pile. It had been poshed up.
My brain was hushed up – we’re on holiday woman, play with the flipping kids. Hubbles took charge of the bank and the rules, which he checked every few minutes. There’s no messing with Hubbles The Incorruptible, even Boom let him take the alpha spot knowing he’d still probably win the game. Boom always wins. Wallop was itching to get cracking and I let out a long slow breath. Against the laws of logic, we all had fun. You know you’re on a proper British holiday when you actually have fun playing board games. The next day Wallop found another weird version, a really evil version with large corporation takeovers, even sharper cut-throat capitalism than the original, everything that fills me with bile – and we all had fun again. Is there something funny in this Cornish sea air?
Wallop decided to buy a Monopoly game with his birthday money. We looked in the favourite holiday toy shop but amongst the many types he didn’t settle on one. Once we were back home, looking for one on Amazon didn’t hold the charm. Back home, in real life, he knew no-one would ever play Monotony with him. Back home there’s the telly, there’s computer games, there are friends to catch up with… and siblings will no longer bond over three hour long turn-taking passtimes. Even if it is raining. On holiday, on a British holiday, a proper British holiday with at least one requisite drizzly day, probably two, you damn well play Monotony and enjoy it. It’s a time and place thing.
On holiday a tennis ball is a thing of wonder. On holiday stones are astoundingly interesting. On holiday we take home a small piece of wood from the beach and treasure it. We’d endlessly stare at water, sigh into the horizon, find a new world in a tiny fishing net, swirl around the sand at the bottom of the big pink bathtub. I don’t like ice-cream – until I’m on holiday and then it’s sanctified. I’ll wake up and fantasise about which flavour I’ll have today before doing anything. We’ll go out and watch the sunset. I’ll have a bath, albeit a bit crunchy. I might even read a whole book. All this stuff is available at home but like the idea of playing Monotony, we’ll be too busy. But next year I’ll definitely win crazy golf. Then have a mango double scoop. Or coconut. Or…
I know what it is! On holiday we become children again. There’s still driving and scrambling eggs and making sure the door is locked but apart from that, we simply enjoy ourselves. If someone whooshes me along when I’m absorbed in how high I can pile flat stones on the sand I’ll be fuming. It’s not silly time-wasting, it’s total connection with where
I am and what I’m doing. I don’t manage this at home – my head is in a thousand places at once. ‘On holiday’ doesn’t refer to the town name on a t-shirt, whiteness of sand or glowy Facebook posts. ‘On holiday’ means I give my brain a break. I don’t care what we’re going to do tomorrow, we’ll decide when we wake up. (After I decide on the ice-cream flavour-of- the-day, which I’ll change my mind about when I’m about to order it.) I only care about this next stone on the pile. Or beating the kids at jacks – my trophy sport.
Yes I can bring the treasured driftwood home… and some fudge… and a skull pendant from The Witchy Museum, but if I don’t bring home that feeling of ‘this second is important’ then have I really got to wait another year to enjoy my next second? Kids do that naturally. Until we whoosh them on to grow up. Why do we do that? They do it perfectly well by themselves, they don’t need whooshing. But at home, in real life, we get distracted by productivity, by tidying up, by preparing for tomorrow. We forget how to be absorbed in simple moments, and we forget to play.
That last day, just three of us left, I knew it would be our last Cornwall holiday. It’s a long drive to be stuck with no internet AND no older fun siblings. I took pictures of all the patterns in the bungalow. Every room’s different colourful carpet, the curtains, the array of knobbly beige wallpaper, each unmatched chair upholstery, the antimacassars, the cushions, the tiled coffee table, the stripey crockery… so many patterns. Vases of dried flowers, jars of pens and spare dice, tubs of local attraction pamphlets, shelves of holiday novels, jigsaw puzzles, the board games – all the things to make a proper British holiday. It threw sand in the face of white-walled minimalism but this place had such a calmness.
Home life is messy. I spend 51 weeks of the year trying to make space. White walls and labelled baskets mean nothing. Games don’t get put back in place, they get ravaged, re- sellotaped and re-re-sellotaped. Chaos is a powerful tide which will always flatten your castle, much like Boom will always throw a six. We might as well swim with it. How many years of a salty but magical bungalow in Cornwall did it take to teach me that?
Maybe my holiday memories have been softened in a coastal mist, or soppied-up through James’ photographs of the kids over the years. I melt over Beebee’s sea-tangled hair across the garden table entwined with tiny apples, Boom hunched on the back doorstep with a plaster on his little head, tiny dare-devil Hubbles caught clambering into Narnia, Wallop with… hang on, how old is that game of Guess Who? Look you savages – it’s still in its intact box! Why can’t we do that at home?
I… need to live in Cornwall. Cornwall is magic. Take me back to the Witchy Museum. (And to that nearby ice-cream place that did the ginger fairings flavour.) But I’m pretty sure Cornwall wouldn’t have me for longer than a week, not once I show my true lack of colour. It would drag me out to sea and spit me out on an iceberg halfway to America. ‘There!’ it would say ‘Now you’ve got all the space you want you grumpy freak. A nice breeze. And no need for sticky sunblock. Happy?’
‘Ummm… what other flavours have you got? Can I have a flake AND sprinkles?’