A few months ago, I told a friend about the package holiday we were taking to Ireland. She told me a funny story about her grandad who, on having booked a similar retreat himself, was said to have been telling everyone who’d listen that it was ‘all-exclusive’.
This was very funny when I heard it, but rather less so when I realised our own package holiday was about as all-exclusive as they come. Our booking fee hadn’t given us access to the resort’s many attractions and services, so much as allowed us to sleep in their cabins and use the plug sockets and footpaths provided. Were we desirous of any other activities, we would have to pre-book, and pre-pay, separately.
We ended up with a timetable of fun and frolics that was strikingly full, and bank accounts strikingly not. But what price joy? (This is rhetorical).
And the joy was real. These types of holidays strike me, even now, as inconceivably fancy: chalet-living, on-site swimming and loads of fit parents and kids cycling everywhere? This was very like the Platonic ideal of active, middle-class families I saw on British TV as a child – the kind who did stilt-walking challenges on Children in Need, who ate in restaurants and had Sky TV, and could have Vienetta every night of the week if they wanted.
I had a happy, well-nourished childhood, but this sort of thing was beyond a family of 12. We had many small luxuries, certainly compared to my parents, who must have considered their children so privileged it’s a wonder they didn’t mention it all the time. My father merely mentioned it a lot of the time, usually when we reacted badly to one of his stirring speeches regarding the conservation of toilet paper. These often dovetailed into lectures on how much toilet paper was sufficient for each movement, complete with folding gestures, often delivered at the dinner table. Mostly, he was just delighted that we had things which would have been fantastical during his childhood. He just wanted to ground us with how lucky we were to have them, which is understandable.
Certainly more understandable now that I’ve spent four days with my son in scenes of such bucolic opulence I find myself making sure he’s smiling and alert at every swim, cycle and watersport I can price to the last penny. This came to a head at a pottery class that involved us defacing pre-bought crockery to the point of uselessness, for a combined additional cost of €70.
Grimacing as I totted up the numbers in my head, I looked over to see my son in raptures as he daubed perfectly awful blotches on a clay racing car. I had. Inwardly, I scolded myself for my curmudgeonly ways, attacked my coffee cup with sparkly red paint, and committed to letting my happiness be as all-inclusive as his own.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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