Sudden travel

A close member of the family - well, the closest, really - is very keen on going away. For a vacation, I mean. It happens that we live quite astonishingly close to the airport. She loves airports. We drive past it now and then. And as we do so, almost as a matter of course, she remarks, ''It's quite a thought, isn't it - all we have to do is go down there'' (her non-driving hand airily indicating the line of taxis gathering up an outrush of conspicuously bronzed Glaswegians just back from the Algarve or the Isle of Man or somewhere). ''Just park the car, wave a credit card or two around the place, and we could be in Paris or the Black Forest or Leningrad within an hour or two.'' There is a pause , for wonderment, I presume. ''Or Switzerland,'' she adds.

''Or Switzerland,'' I echo, trying to sound as pensive and longing as possible.

''I love Switzerland.''

''We'd need passports,'' I point out.

''We could just go back home and get them,'' she counters.

''Yes. And who would look after the dog? And the cat? And the ducks . . . ?''

''And the goldfish and the greenhouse: I know,'' she sighs. But it is the sigh of the undefeated.

It can't be easy for her. She went and married a regular stay-at-home, stick-in-the-mud, non-holidaying, unvacationing, pottering kind of fellow who, in all honesty, is quite as happy watching the bulbs grow in the garden just outside the sitting-room window as he is clutching a Blue Guide in a rainstorm while watching the drenched changing of the royal guard in Stockholm; or writing dutiful post cards in deck chairs to friends who must not be forgotten because they did not forget to write post cards to us when they visited New Zealand; or trying to buy toothpaste equipped with an inappropriately large traveller's cheque and only two words of Italian. . . .

But somehow we once again manage to pass the airport without a sudden and alarming diversion to Vienna or Siena, and the crisis passes. Instead, we spend a delightful hour or two meandering through a favourite bit of local Scottish countryside and then haste us back to the security of home and hearth and garden. We both love home - so why should we long to go away from it?

That, at least, is the official version of my wife's husband's Policy on Holidays. But I must admit - since I discuss the matter with him now and then, and it is a fairly frank exchange of views - that Something Erosive Is Going On. There is a wearing down. As of proverbial drip on proverbial rock.

For a start, I am faced with the thorny question of guilt. It is true that we have managed - apart from quite a flurry of delightful inland excursions of vividly accelerated brevity - to escape foreign travel for some time now. Together, that is. Nevertheless I have myself been overseas alone, twice (strictly on business). In her eyes this is unquestionably not altogether fair.

Then I am faced with the matter of changing attitudes. After all, everyone is more or less open to development, and it has not been entirely easy to hide the fact that my cruise in the Baltic (a business cruise, strictly) and my weekend visit to Florence (a strict business visit) were, not to put too fine a point on it, sheer and unmitigated pleasure. Two or three days, I have decided, is just the right length of time to go anywhere: enough to plunge headfirst into a different culture, even taste the remains of a remote era, without losing contact with things routine and familiar. The ideal trip is one of extreme contrast - as different, perhaps, as 1983 and the renaissance - experienced suddenly and briefly. A kind of weightless walk, safely tied by umbilical cord to spaceship Home.

It looks rather as though I might be starting to see some sort of light, holidaywise, though to what this enigmatic about-face can be attributed I couldn't guess.

And finally I am faced with what I can only describe as a conspiracy of enthusiasm. Both the ingredients are present. The enthusiasm is persistent enough to be almost considered an art form. A great artist cannot help painting. My wife cannot help watching every holiday program on television, cannot walk past a travel agent's window without stopping and starting, reads guide books in bed, and reminisces at the drop of a hat on past trips 'round Hungary, explorations of Paris, new horizons in Switzerland, ancient architectural wonders in Pompeii and Rome.

And as for the conspiracy, that is even more blatant. In fact, it is not really a conspiracy in any clandestine sense; it is more a matter of drastic action.

She has (I believe) hidden nothing from me. I know what she has done. I was there at the time. I can't work out how it happened; though there is no doubt who was the prime mover.

I may as well face it. We've gone and got ourselves booked up for a trip to the mountains of Yugoslavia. It was brilliantly managed. I am still rather dazed at the deftness. And I never even talked it over with the goldfish.

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