Half term. And, for me, that means the chance to get on with some writing while the kids drift in and out of the house making few extra demands, except for the odd meal, drink and snack. Perfect.
I love having days off at home. I like being able to take my time over all the things that are either rushed or don’t get done in a usual working week. I love drinking at least a pint of Earl Grey at the breakfast table, taking leisurely baths, pottering in the garden – even hanging up the pile of discarded clothes in the bedroom and having the chance to regain some sense of order.
Summer Holidays, Easter holidays, and even Christmas holidays always seem to come with a pressure to “DO” something. People always ask what your PLANS are, what you are going to DO, where you are going to GO – but half terms come and go more quietly, with less expectation from the outside world and so, for me, are a wonderful opportunity to quietly wallow in the gift of extra time.
But this half term, Ad Man’s 11 year old son has announced he wants to come and stay, so AD Man has taken a week off work, and my planned week of pottering is instantly replaced by a flurry of plans for Father/Son bonding activities.
“Why don’t we go camping?” suggests Ad Man.
“Or, we could stay at home and do some day trips..” I offer, hopefully.
“But I’m on holiday,” he protests. “I want to DO something.”
Of course, I should be more sympathetic. For Ad Man, the usual working week means getting up before the birds have even realised it’s time to start chirping, and then commuting two hours into central London to work a full day, before commuting the two hours home again. He goes for months hardly seeing the house in daylight, so I can understand that he wants to make the most of his time off.
I try a bit harder to be sympathetic – but camping, in a now chilly May.. really?
“It will be great,” he reassures me. “We’ve got that new tent, with separate sleeping pods, so the boys can have their own space, and we can snuggle up together. And there’s a new camping cooker… “
Not wanting to seem churlish, I weaken. But fast forward a few days, and I’m somewhat regretting my decision. I’m on a windy ridge in Dorset, trying desperately to tame three square metres of flapping tent fabric, while Ad Man runs around shouting instructions above the noise of the gale that is whistling between us. Meanwhile, of course, both his son and mine sit cocooned in the warm car with their noses in their mobile phones and oblivious to it all.
“We’ve nearly done it!” Ad Man yells, trying to keep morale high while gripping furiously onto three airborne corners. But it’s beginning to rain, and out of the corner of one eye, I can see a family further down the field rushing in horror after their tent which has taken off and is now flying away from them and over their parked Audi Estate.
Finally, against the odds, we manage to hammer in the final peg, and I have to admit that the tent is a triumph. It sleeps eight and has a central living area that is tall enough even for Ad Man to stand and walk around in. But it towers above everything around it like a WAG-style mansion in a field of modest semi-detacheds, and, not used to such grandeur, I feel rather embarrassed as I unpack the car and shuffle in and out with our bedding and supplies.
It has now taken us nearly two hours to set up home in a field and the boys are starving, but it’s too wet and windy to barbecue the family pack of burgers and sausages we’ve brought with us. Instead we decide to try and cook inside the tent and so balance the new camping stove precariously on top of the dog’s metal crate (I'd rather call it 'bed') in the awning area. Then, to keep the dog safely away from the food and cooker, we zip up the fly screen so that the boys, dog and I are sealed in on one side, in the main body of the tent, while Ad Man and his new cooker are screened off in the awning.
It’s a preposterous set up, but unable to think of a better way of managing the situation, we spend the next 20 minutes, repeatedly unzipping a small gap in the fly screen in order to pass cooking utensils, burgers/sausages and ketchup backwards and forwards between Toyboy chef and us diners – as if it were some sort of sophisticated mosquito-proof serving hatch. Of course, even when the frying pan catches fire and threatens to engulf the tent in flames, it does nothing to deter Ad Man’s enthusiasm – so I try to be a better person myself, ignore my desperate craving for a glass of wine and not to growl at the boys if they want something from “the other side” of the screen.
Amazingly, we manage to finish dinner without any trips to the vets or A & E, but then I look at my watch and groan. It’s only half past eight and it’s still light, but it’s also still blowing a gale and all I really want to do is go to bed.
Ad Man, on the other hand, decides to brave the wind and sets himself up outside in a chair, with beer, Kindle and pipe, so he can take in the great outdoors, and enjoy the view of Corfe Castle and the steam train meandering through the hills.
I’m exhausted from a day of being ‘plucky’, and so retreat to my ‘pod’, but under the shadow of a hoodie, a sleeping bag and Melin Tregwynt blanket, there’s not enough light to read the weekend Guardian, so I give in and go to sleep..
Well, that’s if you can call a night of gale force winds, Ad Man snoring, flapping tent fabric and resonating car alarms a “sleep”…
The next morning I realise I have to do as my granny always told me and ‘be true to myself’.
“I’m going home,” I tell Ad Man.
“I know,” he says.
And so now, I’m back in my kitchen, drinking my Earl Grey, and writing. Everything is as it should be. But of course, there’s that little part of me that wishes I was in that windy field in Dorset where Ad Man and the two boys are still battling bravely on. Fickle, me?