This year we’ve won the jackpot of an actual summer getaway! We’re not a gambling family, so anything that involves a passport has already been vetoed. The traffic light lottery system is not for us. Wales is as foreign as we dare to get. And we know all about UK weather, so expectations are suitably low. Still there is a sense of freedom in the air, especially for Grunting Teen, who is ‘well pleased’ that the school term has not yet ended and he’s escaping before the holidays officially begin.
The upside to missing out on last year’s trip to the now red-flagged France is that we didn’t have to deal with the Nearly Beloved’s pre-departure checklist. Unlike the government, he doesn’t trust the citizens of his household to behave in a responsible manner. Guidelines and suggested advice are not for him. Instead, boot space is allocated well in advance. Requests to include frisbees or beach balls need to be submitted for approval. Both denied. And bags have to be packed the night before.
After so many years of marriage I’ve almost reached the required standard, although the hairdryer only just passes inspection. Grunting Teen, however, fails miserably on his first solo attempt at shoving things randomly in a case. ‘Why have you got three packets of Oreos and two phone chargers but only one pair of jeans and no underpants?’ asks the Nearly-Beloved despairingly. The teenager opts for a non-confrontational approach. He simply shrugs and returns to his more important texting duties, occasionally glancing up from his screen with a half-concealed smile as his father finishes the job for him.
But the next morning he’s in for a shock. There’s no lying in until legs-eleven. We’re on the road by 9am. Estimated arrival time at our rustic log cabin – early afternoon. A clickety click at the garden gate and we unload the car to create our own full house. Freedom Day may not yet have arrived in Pembrokeshire but the view of lush fields and rugged coastline gives me a sense of deliverance from the last sixteen months of virtual imprisonment. Unfortunately, there’s a reason the grass is so green…the heavens open and our holiday soundtrack becomes the drumming of rain on the roof rather than cicadas on the terrace.
Grunting Teen is all for staying indoors. He’s happy with the hand he’s been dealt. He’s recreated his comfort cave and been conducting his blossoming romance online… until the wi-fi fails. So, to avoid an adolescent meltdown, it’s time to cash in the metaphorical chips and go looking for the deep-fried variety. Plus, I’m not expecting to do any cooking this holiday – I’ve been promised a seat at the high-stakes table. So, we don cagoules and walking shoes to hike down to the nearby village. However, today our luck is out. No steak for us. There is only one restaurant. Despite being half empty, it’s fully booked. The manager is most apologetic. ‘Can’t get the staff, see?’ he explains, ‘No more summer jobs for EU students. And a pingdemic amongst the locals. I know what I’d like to do with that bloomin’ Track and Trace app, isn’t it?
Before the air turns blue, we make reservations for the remaining nights and head to the sea-front sell-all store. Deeming it safer to leave the Nearly-Beloved to the mercy of the crashing waves, Grunting Teen and I venture inside. As my hand hovers over a tin of corned beef, my son swipes it out of reach, placing an army of pizzas, a frisbee and two beachballs in my basket instead.
‘Won’t be needing a mask from the 19th,’ I say, making conversation with the cashier.
‘English, is it?’ she replies, with a hint of disapproval. ‘Yes, well your Bojo’s a bit of a Russian roulette player. Good luck with that! Our Mr Drakeford is less of a betting man.’
But the following day, the odds are for once in our favour. The sun comes out and the air warms up to Mediterranean temperatures. So, what if there’s no air-con and that a swim in the sea is less of a dip in a warm bath and more of a brain freeze in a plunge pool? So, what if our long-awaited Freedom Day fails to live up to expectations? For now, freedom is a blue sky, the sound of seagulls and the joy of a long-awaited break.