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14 July 2021

As plans for our family holiday crumble, our only option is a staycation in the garden

The disappointment – even after this year of disappointments – was sharp and piercing. We are all tired of putting on a brave face.

By Tracey Thorn

I should be on holiday now. I thought I’d been so clever. When last summer’s trip to Cornwall was cancelled, I looked ahead and thought, “I bet we won’t be going abroad next year either.” With that in mind, I booked a house in Dorset, in an area quiet and wooded, but close to the sea, big enough for me and Ben and the kids, plus a friend or partner for each of them. I’ve been looking forward to it for the best part of a year, imagining us all on coastal walks, or fossil hunting, or picnicking on some hillside, or drinking wine in the garden late into the evening, all together, contented and relaxed.

But the closer it got the more it moved out of reach. When the final lifting of social distancing was postponed until mid-July, our plan suddenly broke the rules: there would be too many of us, from too many households. As I looked into scaling down the holiday, my phone rang. It was my daughter, calling with the news that her boyfriend had Covid, and she was now in self-isolation. She told me that many of her friends were in the same boat, which was alarming.

I went downstairs to break it to Ben, and bumped into our youngest, who was emerging from his bedroom to say that he had just been contacted by Test and Trace, and would have to go into self-isolation. Our holiday was crumbling. It made no sense at all for Ben and I to holiday with a group of young people who were all either riddled with Covid, or about to be. The disappointment – even after this year of disappointments – was sharp and piercing. 

So we are now having what many believe to be a true staycation, ie going precisely nowhere, except out into the garden. And yes, yes, I remind myself that we are lucky to have a garden, and lucky in so many other ways, and that the loss of a holiday is small beans in the scheme of things.

[see also: In my newly wildlife-friendly garden, damselflies mate to a soundtrack of London traffic]

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But I think we are all tired of being disappointed. Tired of putting on a brave face. Tired of counting our blessings. The rising case numbers have been a wake-up call for me and Ben. We are both double-vaccinated, but as an immune-suppressed person, it is uncertain how protected he is, so we still have to rely on levels being low in the community, and hope that Ben doesn’t come into close contact with infected people.

I want to be able to relax about Covid, and all this is a reminder that we still can’t. So with two of our kids at home with us, we are back to being cautious. I read of people complaining about wearing masks in a shop, but we wear our masks in the kitchen, and avoid hugs, and perform endless lateral flow tests.

One of the things I have found hardest during this whole period has been the horrible and counter-intuitive knowledge that our kids might be a risk to us. It goes against all my maternal instincts. I want to reach out to them, and protect them; to gather them in and hold them close, but instead I have to regard them as a potential danger to me, and especially Ben. It’s an awful feeling, and brings guilt in its wake – as though I am being a bad and cold parent – and resentment, which is aimed not at anyone in particular, but at the situation in general.

During a heavy downpour of rain a week ago, we discovered that one of our drains was blocked, and we discovered this in the worst possible way, when a toilet in the basement backed up and overflowed, causing a minor, but extremely unpleasant flood. Next day a man came and heroically unblocked it, and if not for Covid I could have kissed him. Last night however, in another bout of steady rain, our house sprang a new leak, this time in the ceiling of the upstairs bathroom.

It is all, frankly, too much, and as metaphors go, way too on the nose. Being under siege, having water flooding in on us from all directions, our safe space being contaminated by actual shit – well, it’s too literal for my liking, and if I found myself writing a scene with such basic symbolism I would edit it out.

[see also: How many people will delete the NHS app as self-isolation alerts rise?]

This article appears in the 14 Jul 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Apple vs Facebook