Thursday, 7 April 2016


I’m crap at unpacking after a holiday. The cases sit around in the spare room for days. I nip in there now and again, remove something, try to decide what to do with it: find somewhere to put it away, or put it in the wash. And this return from holiday is worse than usual because I’m exhausted - we all are - by the 16 hour trip home, which went like this... 

We pitch up at Toulouse airport after our lovely little break, on Thursday evening, and a woman in the check-in queue in front of us says, “The flight's cancelled. We just took the last two seats back to the UK on Monday, the next ones are… Tuesday.”

Tuesday? Give us a break, we can't hang around until Tuesday, and we arrived at the airport in such high spirits as well, agreeing about what a great time we’d all had with our friends. It's a horrible blow.

Turns out it’s because of an air traffic control strike, a French one (oh, the irony) which is due to end next day, at 5 pm. All Easyjet can offer us is a flight back from Nice on Friday night… to Luton, everything else is taken.

“How far is it to Nice?” I ask.

“About 600 km," says the Easyjet woman.”

Not so far, I think.

My husband puts his head in his hands, Youngest starts to cry because he wants to go home, Eldest swears and kicks his luggage, Middle One slumps down against the wall, everywhere people stare at us because we're making a spectacle of ourselves.

“Let’s get the Eurostar,” says Middle One.

Actually I’m happy to wait until Tuesday, I think, mentally driving back to our friends’ house on the hill by myself, holing up there, sitting around eating cheese, drinking wine, headphones jammed in my ears, reading material propped in my lap, staring out toward the stunning Pyrenees… possibly forever. But I don’t say this. 

I do say, “Look, let’s not fall to pieces here. We need to work it out, hold it together. It’s not the adversity that matters; it’s how we deal with that adversity. We’re not war-traumatised Syrians walking across all of Europe with only the things we can carry.”

They all look at me - my boys - and miraculously they calm down, for the moment…

Anyway, I'm thinking about all of this as I unpack the luggage in the spare room, dumping dirty washing in a pile at my feet, putting skirts back on hangers, looking about for my other Converse trainer, because I’m sure I packed two…

At the airport I check the train prices on my phone, which Easyjet won’t cover, about £950 for all of us at such late notice, out of the question then, obviously. So Eldest and I sort out hiring another car, a bigger one, because we've already handed back the tiny Renault and we drive back to our friends’ house in the dark for one more night with them (they were always going home separately, and their flight is mercifully unaffected). At ten a.m. next morning we set off to Nice.

Look at the map. It’s a fuck of a long way from Toulouse to Nice, if you’ll pardon my French. But most of it's autoroute, so we make speedy progress. We zoom past Carcassonne, Narbonne, Montpellier, Nimes, Arles then on past Aix-En-Provence and the turning to the seaside resort of Frejus, where a lifetime ago my parents had a mobile home (which it wasn’t, mobile that is) where we spent many long hot summers when I was a teenager, and where I fell in love with a Norwegian boy called Eric when I was about fifteen, not that he ever knew anything about it because I was much too shy to tell him.

Near Frejus.

We make it to Nice airport in plenty of time. We eat burgers. We go through departures. We stand for hours like cattle, waiting to board the plane. I chat to a glowing honeymoon couple, arms wrapped round one another, who when they hear we’ve driven from Toulouse say we look remarkably chilled.

“This isn’t chilled,” I say, “this is catatonic.”

We arrive in Luton at one in the morning local time, not much of a welcome, freezing cold, the taxi I've booked to collect us nowhere to be seen; but I don’t mind, I’m just so glad we made it home.

The taxi eventually turns up. We get back to south London. We sleepwalk through most of the next day - Saturday - especially me. We don’t have much energy on Sunday either. So you'll understand why it’s taking so long to get round to unpacking. 

Love E x


P.S. My other Converse trainer is nowhere to be found, by the way. I guess it’s lost in France somewhere, footloose and free.

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