Greetings and salutations from Salou, where you join us on what is most likely our last family holiday for some time. Our stay here is half board, presumably named because within 48 hours of dining in the resort you will be half bored of the entire concept of food. This isn’t helped by me, Ireland’s meanest dad, trying to maximise the investment I made in breakfast and dinner by insisting that all the kids eat is meat. Obviously this didn’t work as they all figured out that the buffet style meals means that really they could eat whatever they want, and there was nothing I could do about it because I am painfully middle class, and the only thing I fear more than not getting value for money from a buffet is looking like an angry oik in front of other parents. So choke down the rage and a fourth helping of veal, counting down the seconds until the mini-disco winds down and I can properly give out to them as they fall asleep in my arms.
I had some grand delusions coming here – I was going to get so much work done, I would be sitting in the hotel lobby enjoying some excellent coffee and deep thoughts, with other families looking on impressed at how important I was that I had to work on me holibobs. Obviously this was complete fantasy, as I had somehow imagined that I would be taking a holiday from my responsibilities as a parent, and my wife would be sitting by the piddling pool on her own, unable to even blink in case one of the boys tried to water board another one with a sand bucket and beach towel. No, we were trapped there, being parents, all day every day in the blazing heat.
But then a call from home; a death in the family, and I was on my way back to Ireland. There was even a tearful goodbye in the hotel lobby, with the four year old holding onto my leg, begging to come home with me, which, it later transpired, was so he could play Playstation and eat ‘the nice crackers’ he gets in Lidl.
In the back of my head I have notions about time – that if I didn’t have kids, I would have the time to do amazing things. Then I find myself alone at home without them and realise that while I often see being a parent as being like a prison, in reality I am like Brooks from Shawshank Redemption – unable to function without the rigors and routines of the rather open prison that is family life.
Funerals are a strange affair – you’re happy to see everyone, sad that it’s under such circumstances, and spend your time halfways between roaring with laughter and openly sobbing. Sad as it was coming home for a funeral, knowing that everyone was going to be there made it easier, even though the absence of a veal buffet did jar a little on my palate after all of my fine dining overseas.
I was back in Salou before I knew it, to hugs and accusations about who was boldest in my absence. My trip home was a reminder that time is finite, that maybe I should stop resisting its passage, or arguing with myself about how it best spent. On the last day in Salou I brought the kids to see the olive trees outside city hall, some of which are estimated to be a thousand years old. They were duly unimpressed, because to them time is an infinite resource. I waffled on about all the human endeavours those trees have lived through; wars, famine, pestilence, plague, fidget spinners, Love Island, my holidays. They still didn’t care. But the whole trip was a lesson in how I should try to be more like the trees – rest and be thankful that I can go on holiday at all, soak up the sun and stop sweating the small stuff.