Lucy's Spectator column sees her manage to get on a plane to have a holiday, only to be reminded that these things are never quite the same in real life as they are in our imaginations...
We made it. A week away at what is, these days, pretty short notice. Enough time to complete legal requirements and work oneself into a state of near panic, as if planning a bank heist in which a minor error could undo the entire plot. The script of daily phone calls between ourselves and our host could have been written for Line of Duty, conversations casually littered with QR codes, PLFs, PCRs, test and release, SI not needed… or is it? We pore over every Government guideline as I become unhinged by the time frame of 72 hours (how many days is that?) and feel that a hand might land on my shoulder any moment: ‘No travel for you I’m afraid. Step this way.’
We leave everyone else at home, telling ourselves that taking the opportunity of an invitation during the school holidays could not in any way be construed as selfish and derelict in our parenting obligations, but that, on the contrary, our family will be very happy to have a week off from us. As they will not be able to drive anywhere, I bang on about what food I should leave until I get the no-nonsense response: ‘Beer and Alpen… we’ll be fine.’
“We have truly arrived to all the things for which we have a new and passionate appreciation: different smells, temperatures, sounds, people, food”
The airline staff are welcome personified. They are devoted to public relations, obviously, but they really do look pleased to see us. I pay extra special attention to the safety instructions, feeling the distant, but now familiar worry that I will inflate my lifejacket before I leave the aircraft and, in the moment that the aeroplane starts going down, I will not be able to tie a double bow. I never need to worry about high heels.
On arrival, passengers are randomly selected for testing (Zam, not me, quite a relief, as I’m sure I’ve developed a sore throat mid air — travel panic approaching mad ness). Then we have truly arrived to all the things for which we have a new and passionate appreciation: different smells, temperatures, sounds, people, food.
The house sits high in hills at the end of a road full of hairpin bends. The first thing we do is reverse the hire car into a tree. I am sitting in the back seat and, when I see what is happening, hide my eyes in my hands instead of warning the driver (Zam), who finds this habit extremely trying.
‘The woman who brought it said we are very insured,’ he reassures the other passengers. He’s right — when we return the car at the end of the week, we point out the not insignificant dent in the boot, but it is cheerily accepted by a man who repeats we are insured up to our ears, which must be why the vehicle cost more than the holiday.
“One of the cheery airline staff tells me that he’d just poured someone a gin and tonic: ‘It makes me so happy, like old times.'”
The only thing not insured, he tells us, is the undercarriage. ‘Have a nice life,’ he says, as we hand over the keys. Later, I decide he said: ‘Have a nice flight.’
And we do. More cheery airline staff, one of whom tells me, when I am waiting for the loo, that he’d just poured someone a gin and tonic: ‘It makes me so happy, like old times.’
He says he’s been working for the whole of the past year on freight aircraft. I am about to ask what cabin crew do on freight planes when the loo opens and he returns to delightedly making someone a Bloody Mary.
On landing, I find messages from home that are trying to sound relaxed, but are essentially asking what time we will walk through the door. I sense there’s something like the old Yellow Pages advert going on and more than a French polisher is required.
The house is still standing. I open the fridge to find it looking pretty much as I left it, the chicken Kiev ready meals uneaten. Obviously, there’s no beer, nor any Alpen.
Our columnist Jason Goodwin muses on reincarnation, hospitality and broken windows.
A grand country estate that's become a fine place to stay, The Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire offers swish opulence and