Archive for April 2011

On Returning from a Short Holiday

25 April, 2011

The sun came out in the days we were away. The trees along the street became a little fuller, greener, in our absence. Now, from over a fence, unseen, bubbles the sound of children at play. The house is still here, as we left it. No door or window has been forced, no pipe has burst, no meteorite has struck.

If our stay had been for longer than a weekend then there would have been the inevitable pile of post waiting on the mat, some welcome but much less so, and a fridge demanding immediate replenishment. If we had been abroad and even more deeply out of touch with the flow of life-as-usual then there would have been all that news to catch up on: the stock market up or down, the state of the health service, the latest shocking crime, the scandals, the celebrity misadventures, the various forecasts and harbingers of global doom.

Only a long weekend. Not long enough for much to alter but the bittersweet taste of change is still discernible. A purer sort, perhaps, without the imposition of practicalities like having to go to the supermarket or finding a current newspaper. From normality to vacationeer and, then, back again. How much of the significance of any period of travel, whether for business or recreation, to resort or cottage or campsite, is marked by this experience of returning home? The experience of contrast, where the familiar is now tinged with some sort of fresh difference? As we open the door the boys push past and run up to their rooms squealing and tumbling, glad to be home, embracing its familiarity. Making sure that their faith in its certainty has not been misplaced. But after even this short time away it all seems to them refreshed, novel, available for rediscovery like forgotten toys from the attic.

I breathe a sigh of relief, too. It is at moments like this that I notice my centre of mental gravity. Notice as well, however, that there are changes nonetheless, inner ones. I know now, for example, that I do not enjoy camping, even the sort of glam camping we have just done. Not on the cold mornings at any rate, not when it takes the supposedly romantic woodburning stove two hours to get hot enough for a cup of tea.

All this reminds me of watching Mr Ben as a child. A city man dressed in pinstripes and a bowler hat who would set out to work at the start of each episode, passing the children playing their make-believe games,  before finding himself irresistibly drawn into the mysterious costume shop on his route. He would be tempted by some costume that the owner, a man with glasses, a fez and a paternal air, would invite him try on in the changing room. Mr Ben would then emerge through a hidden door into a fantasy-world where his costume became the vehicle for some daring adventure.

A study in quiet rebellion against the conformity demanded of his class and the yearning for carefree childish things. At the end of each episode, Mr Ben would walk home along his familiar street. This time the children in his street would still be playing, though now as characters in sympathy with his latest journey. Cowboys and indians; cops and robbers; knights and dragons.

Transportation and return. Though, as far as I can tell, none of the children in this Mr Ben’s street are playing at camping in a freezing field.

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