So I just spent two weeks eating. I walked. I talked. Every so often I visited a church. And then I ate again. It sounds like a wild time, doesn't it? (Well, it does if you're an Austen sister.) But I was actually on summer holiday in Napier with my family.
One afternoon, I was in my fifth cafe of the day sipping on my fourth coffee, and realised that I'd never known anything different. All our holidays have been similarly debauched romps through suburban cafes and farmers' markets. They all begin in the same way, too.
This year, just as last year, I woke up one morning in mid-July to a three-way Skype conversation. And I knew.
"Dad," Mum says, "It's time."
"Mum," Dad says, "it's time."
"Verity," my brother says, "it's time."
"Guys," I say, "I have to pee. But when I get back, I agree that it's time."
Time to organise our summer holiday.
You're probably wondering two things. One, why is our summer holiday always planned so far in advance? Two, why is it treated with the gravity and severity of military invasion? The answer to both is that my family cannot take holidays. Not proper ones.
I don't mean in the sense that we don't get along. I mean in the sense that we really just don't understand how to take a holiday. Does one relax? Does one unwind? Does one ... frolic? How does one frolic? What even is "frolic"? (I have yet to read a satisfactory instruction manual on "letting one's hair down.")
We're stuck in the unfortunate situation where we want to take a holiday, because it's the right thing to do and we'd really quite like to be "holiday" people, but we just don't know how.
And so it needs a lot of time and planning. Mum begins packing in August. She stockpiles medicines, hoards toiletries and cultivates box after box of muesli bars. (Which none of us eat because we've all got PTSD from the previous year's not so wondrous "Cranberry Wonders".) Dad begins to plan the logistics, producing maps, diagrams and squiggly lines pointing to countries that don't exist anymore. My brother compiles PowerPoint presentations to cover every scenario from me catching malaria to Mum getting sold for a camel. My job is to sit about eating things - although occasionally I also dribble on important documents.
This stage takes about four months. It's a deliberate stalling tactic to stave off thinking about the holiday itself - like where it will be or what we will do. Eventually, with a few weeks to go, Dad seizes a map, jabs at a town and we all agree, because it's too late now anyway.
It's a useful tactic. We all know that we don't have a clue what to do when we are on holiday. But we don't want to admit that. So luckily Dad has a talent for choosing towns where the principle attractions are a factory and a fat pigeon. This means that we can blame all our inactivity on Dad. Of course we should just spend our holiday eating and observing road kill - what else is there to do in Kaitaia?
We did try going to fun places. It's dangerous. When we go somewhere fun, where people are visibly doing interesting things, we have to confront our own failure as holidaymakers. When we lived in England, we spent two miserable weeks in Amsterdam drinking hot chocolate in a department store cafe, fully aware that everyone else was off doing interesting, experimental things with art, weed and butt plugs.
But our holidays primarily exist of eating, walking, eating again, looking at things, taking public transport, restocking up Mum's pharmacy, and eating again. We can't do anything else. So it's good to go to boring places; no one there will show us how thoroughly pinned up our hair is.
And while it doesn't sound great, I've actually come to enjoy our holidays. I've seen a lot of churches. I've taken a great variety of buses. I have visited many, many markets selling spoons or jam. (We never buy anything - that would be too much fun.)
And I've had a chance to talk to my family. Yes, there's a lot of repeated stories and irrelevant family asides. (Do you remember Great-Aunty Betty? You weed on her once.) But I've also had some fantastic chats.
And that is the one redeeming feature of spending two weeks in Napier over Christmas. I get to talk to my family.