The trouble with holidays is they come to an end. We've just arrived back from the French Alps. A week of breathtaking scenery, fantastic skiing, loads of family time, great friends, lots of laughing, too many vin and chocolat chauds, pommes frites, baguettes with French butter (how can another country's butter taste so sublime?), and not a utility bill, Tesco queue or traffic jam in sight. Heaven. We were all sad to leave, flatter than Flat Stanley, wistfully watching the mountains disappear behind us. On the flight home I did some thinking. Could we sell up? Could we move out? Eat baguettes and unsalted butter forever? Bask in the sunshine, breathe the air, feel the tang of snow-chill on our skin, throw out the television, declutter, downsize, choose the simple life? It would mean sending the girls to a French school, of course, which they would fight against. But we'd convince them. We'd argue the importance of language skills in this day and age. Fluency in a second language would set them up for life...sod leaving all your friends and having to learn the French for you're it and no you can't have my kit-kat get your own. Combine the language proficiency with fresh air and healthy living and what better gift could we give them?
This type of post-holiday thought process is not unusual for me. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't considered moving to Majorca, the Dordogne, Tuscany, Naples, Cornwall, Devon, even Norfolk, in the time spent travelling back from these places. But then again, I spend most my life living in imagined unreality. I'm under no illusion that this character trait (flaw?) is the principal reason I write fiction - hiding in fanciful other-worlds, immersing myself in a crowd of made-up friends and enemies, spiriting myself away to a wordy haven of anywhere other than the-same-old-same-old. I am, it has to be said, a professional starer into space.
By the time we walk into our freezing house I'm feeling the full impact of a serious case of the holiday blues. What seems like a hundred suitcases now block the hallway, all of them stuffed with grubby clothes (good intentions to work the washing machine in the apartment went out the window amid a flurry of those-socks-have-at-least-another-day-in-them and let's-have-another-gin-and-tonic-instead). We have six dead house plants, a towering pile of post heralding the return of life-mundane, and the spectre of Monday morning school run drudgery looms large. 'That's it,' I state. 'We're moving. We're really doing it this time.'
Before I get on the internet to search for houses in the snow, however, I do what any self-respecting Brit does when they've been away from the homeland for any length of time. I make a cup of tea. When I take a sip I let out an unfettered sigh. It's the best cup of tea I've had all week. Then I hear my youngest daughter squeal with delight as she rediscovers the toys in her bedroom. My middle daughter is cooing over her hamster who seems genuinely pleased to see her (though I must admit, I'm not an expert in reading small rodent body language), the cats are purring, and I have a surge of warmth as I think about how pleased the dogs will be to see me tomorrow - tails wagging so frantically I'll worry the silly creatures will dislocate their hips.
Mr J shouts through from the living room that he's lit a fire. I glance at the suitcases and decide it won't do any harm at all to leave the clothes unwashed for a day, or maybe two, and instead I make a plate of toast, suddenly remembering how delicious a toasted slice of bread is, and how, when crowned with lashings of melting salty butter, it tastes like nothing else on earth. Mr J and I sink into comfy, familiar sofas with the younger two, and turn the television on. It's Ski Sunday. Maybe promising to give up the telly was a bit rash...
Then my eldest wanders in to join us, grabs a piece of toast and stretches out on the floor in front of the fire. 'That was a great holiday,' she says, her mouth full of toast. 'But I have to say, it's cool to be home.'