Sarah Johnson Home Front
The summer is another country: they do things differently there. They do without things. Doing without things, and learning how to get by without the things you regard as essential for the rest of the year, seems to be the main point of summer holidays.
My 13-year-old daughter is currently discovering what it is like to be in an idyllic Mediterranean paradise... and to have run out of English language reading material. The only solution, she is rapidly discovering, is to write a story for herself.
(The rest of us are discovering what it is like to be without the 13-year-old daughter, and are resolving never to let her go away for so long again.) Boredom, caused either by the withdrawal of habitual pastimes, or by one’s parents being too busy to take one out on endless treats, is as great a mother of invention as necessity, I have often found. And boy, can summer holidays be boring. I’ve just discovered an attempt at a holiday diary kept by one of my children some time ago. On the first page it reads, “Day 1. Not terribly good.” The second page: “Day 2. Only did a little.” I can only hope that the blank pages which follow indicate that we subsequently became too busy for the keeping of a diary, rather than that things became so dull as to peter into emptiness.
Last summer my children had to get by without British television or computers for two whole weeks. They are used to managing without computer games for the odd spell, but doing without these and also having their television viewing restricted to the Olympic Games as seen through the eyes of Italian television was a new challenge.
So the eldest one, after lying completely motionless on the loggia for about 48 hours, suddenly leapt to his feet and introduced us to an ingeniously subtle kind of cricket, utilising nothing more sophisticated than scraps of paper spread out on a table top.
I won’t tell you the manner of play or the rules in case my son decides to patent the game one day, thereby making himself a fortune, but I have to say it was one of the most brilliantly devised games I’ve ever known.
One of its best aspects was that each player first has to pick their own cricket team. Anyone could be chosen – living, dead, fictional, and not necessarily human. This was enormous fun and we spent an entire day devising our teams. Mr J’s Ethical Philosophy AllStars turned out to be a particularly strong side, featuring John Paul II (slogger) and Immanuel Kant (steady lefthander).
I think they were bowled out in the end by the sevenyear-old’s spinners, Moomintroll and Ricky Gervais, but not before building up an impressive second-innings partnership.
At church, too, we have to do without for the summer. We lack our regular choir during the summer holidays, so Family Mass takes a diminuendo turn from its noisy joyousness to a hushed, almost dreamlike feel. Churches are particularly wonderful places to be in the summer, when you step from brightest sunlight outside to the dim coolness within.
When you are travelling with children in a hot country, a church suddenly becomes for them a memorable place of comfort on a weary day. When they are wilting with the heat and you don’t want to go back home yet, suggest slipping into a church to cool off.
After moaning “Oh no, not another church”, the children will breathe in the cool air gratefully and dip their fingers a little more deeply than usual in the stoup; the stone floor is blissful to step on and if you can get a child to sit with her eyes closed for a few minutes she can listen to the gentle symphony of footsteps, rustlings and murmurs which is the unmistakeable background music of a church.
If the light is in the right place when she opens her eyes, she will see sunbeams doing that corny Hollywood thing of slanting diagonally across the sanctuary and illuminating the altar as if angels were sliding down into our lives, fixing a perfect little moment into your child’s mind for ever.