Unpacking

The house is a mess: how do the contents of a car, a roof box and 2 weeks’ holiday cause so much mess?

You are about to post an ironic tweet about it and then you stop.

Your ‘disruption’ is the result of plenty: you had a holiday. Although you cut corners and worked a bundle of extra hours marking exams on top of the day job to fund it, you still had a holiday.

That puts you in the top 10% of the world’s wealth.

You look again at the mess of excess – your house is not really a mess-and you try to move through the day a little slower and more thankfully.

France:3

It was a bridge too far.

I have wanted, ever since I found out about it, to visit my grandpa’s cousin’s grave at Villers-Plouich south of Cambrai. My grandpa was bought up with him: my grandpa was from a single parent family (so my surname should not really be Peacock), his mum died (?) and he lived with his cousins. My boy-brain wonders what someone would have made about a Peacock and a Dickman turning up at school together…

I digress.

Whilst my grandpa came home after having been briefly at Passchendaele, his cousin did not.

The night before, on our homeward journey to Zeebrugge I mapped a possible diversion but it was just not achievable.

Given more planning, some cash and the possibility of next year, I am going to try a and attempt it: it is another of my ’50 things’.

It is good to have things that you wanted to do, dream of trying, but they still remain tantalisingly out of reach…

France:2

I rarely cycle.

I have a cycle and one day I will use it more. Maybe the perverse side of me resists the switch from what was once a simple activity to what, aided by western consumerism and middle class aspiration has gradually become commodified: I am sure it is possible to cycle without spending well over 4 figures on a bike, salivating on how you have ‘up specced’ it and not dressed in bright lycra that equally costs a fortune (and most likely has been sold to you by a long adman’s description that probably includes the words ‘extreme’ or ‘attack the weekend‘).

Anyway.

The past few years, we have hired cycles and ridden along the Loire from a place called Rosiers-sur-Loire, in the direction of Saumur and back again. Always I held the ambition of cycling into Saumur, across the river and back down the opposite bank. In my limited knowledge of the world, that is my favourite stretch of river.

It was so much an ambition that it went into my ‘fifty things for 50 years’: a modest list of 50 things I would like to have a go at from 1/3/15-27/2/17. I changed job on 2/3/15 which was one thing- the effort drained me so much that I have done nothing else.

This year I did it…. and I want to do it again. My oldest son and I kept going when my wife turned back. We reckoned we cycled over 30km- which is not much, but to a non cycler is a huge ride.

It was…even better than I hoped for. I would love to do it again- maybe over a whole day and relax at a bar tabac with a plat du jour, drinking a good Cremant du Loire…

I’ll mark that down as number 2 in my list, but not so much with a sense of achievement, but one of wonder.

France:1

We have just come back from a holiday in France.

I could post a series of blogs in a smug English middle class sub ‘A year in Provence’ style. But I won’t.

During the holiday we went to Angers, and saw ‘The Tapestry of the Apocalypse’.  It is a massive 13th century tapestry featuring scenes from the book of Revelation. We went as it was a tourist kind of thing to do. I ended up being drawn into the story and moved by it. It was not something I expected: I am neither a fan of Revelation or tapestries.

I was helped in that my youngest son began to give me a commentary based on the audio commentary. In each panel, the apostle John is featured, reacting to the story.

The panel that really struck me is where the wicked get their comeuppance. One reason why I avoid Revelation is the number of scary right wing (mainly) men who take it over literally & really should get out more, but also the number of Christians who get to the allegorically dark passages and almost rejoice: ‘the baddies get it in the neck in the end’. In this tapestry panel, John just looks sad; like he is about to weep.

It was that at that point that the tapestry ceased to be an interesting medieval relic and started to come alive for me. It is easy to lose compassion in the ‘fight’ for ‘truth’.

It made me want to read a book in the Bible I have avoided- many of the dominant Evangelical readings that I was familiar with turned poetry into prose & allegory & mystery into cold, angry ‘fact’.

Maybe soon…

Unpacking

We will do a lot of this today, although we won’t be dressed like this.

The washing machine will be red hot, more possessions than is feasible from a medium sized family car will be strewn in the hall of our house, we will wonder how we will ever get the house straight and there will be rows. Pretty soon, the holiday feeling will be dissipated.

Why?

Sometimes I wonder if it will be a better idea to come in, make a cup of tea, sit down and open the post. Then, and only then, insist that everyone carry the unpacking to the right place. Then sit down, maybe reflect and recall, perhaps pray and give thanks. Only then start washing, putting stuff away etc.

I like utopian dreams so much…

(I wish I was still in France: it is a public holiday today- there will be wine, feasting, slowness….ho hum..)

What I love about holiday:4

…is familiarity..

In 2008 we found this place. We were looking for a long holiday-I was on sabbatical- that wouldn’t cost the earth. We went- the price was good, the accommodation  unbelievably good and the owners were lovely. We managed to stay for 3 weeks.

Then, a few months after we decided to book again…and each year we have been doing the same. Each year we have managed to make it long. This may be our last year, but it has provided wonderful family memories at a formative time for our children.

Familiarity can breed safety and comfort- I guess it does that, although we do some new things each time. What is does for me, however, is slow down the hyper stimulation of thinking ‘new, new, new- I must see that, tick that box etc’. We end up focussing more on each other and not just the holiday.

That can be hard sometimes: we have to readjust to each other, but mostly it is a healing and lovely experience.

I love long French summer holidays!

What I love about holiday:3

..is reading…

I take too many books and at least in the first week, overdo the ‘easy reading’. There is something quite lovely about feeling I have the space to read and not do anything else. I don’t ‘graze’ like I do at home, but put in some serious time. We also encourage the children to do so as well…which I do with ulterior motives (I want to read!).

I am taking a mix of books this year, both to read easily and to do some thinking, although I did discover a new Bernard Cornwell ‘murder people horribly in a historical setting whilst spitting’ novel….

What I like best about holiday:1

I look nothing like this: I have no green top for starters…

…is long runs…

Where we stay, there is a lake about a mile and a quarter away. Every 2nd day or so, I run out there, round the lake and back. Ok, that is not a terribly long distance (sometimes I vary it), but it is very humid and it feels longer.

There is something very cleansing about doing this: the repetition of the run, the feeling of freedom as I hit a rhythm and the turning off and ‘becoming’ the run-not thinking.

There is also the reassurance that the red wine and holiday calories and thinking I will go home as only a moderately fat and flabby 49 year old…

One day we will go to mass…

We are on holiday for a while. When we first went to this place, we found a church that did services in English for the 6 weeks of the holiday season. We liked it: being out of our culture, it was lovely to go to worship together without being a ‘professional Christian’. Then the agency that ran it stopped the funding.

Someone told us about a Roman Catholic Church nearby that had services in English once a month so we went, just to experience a church: if you get paid for going, sometimes you need to go when you don’t have to. I won’t say it was ‘vibrant’, ‘dynamic’, ‘praise filled’, kicking’ or any of the unnecessary adjectives that some apply to a church, just to show they are different- it just was what it was.

There was something about the frailty and honesty of the people, the liturgy and the after service wine and buffet (yes really) that was enough. It put the holiday in sharper focus- just to have a holiday without the chance to say ‘thanks’ with others makes it somehow ‘less’. The French RC bishops also have the sensible attitude that as there is no English protestant church for miles, anyone can have mass. That last bit for me also rendered the endless ecumenical meetings filled with hot air in Britain almost meaningless.

This Sunday, or maybe next, we will go again- the children will protest, but we will have an hour in the same place, with no electronic devices, no TV and experiencing the same thing.

I will love it..sometimes being away and being quietly thankful is enough..