Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Holidays at Home

It has been our custom over many years to spend holiday time in Dieppe on the French Normandy coast. Four or five days there has been enough of eating, drinking well, renewing acquaintances, sitting with a glass in hand to watch people pass by, and to come home laden with wine – mainly everyday plonk that we buy from French supermarkets at half the price of the equivalent in London.
As it was a holiday for us, the cost of these trips was expected to be – well, holiday prices all round and quite acceptable.
I/we would reside in the same hotel in which I had stayed just after the war when it was being built.
To reach Dieppe just after the war with the little money that the British were allowed to take out of the country, was to escape rationing at home and to rejuvenate a deprived body with some of the missing and good things of life.
And so it has continued, with our hotel owner leaving the place to his son, and the son now allowing his daughter to hold the reins.
In all that time I (and then we) have taken the same room, only to change it for a smarter one overlooking the plage when a kite or retro motor festival was taking place on the vast area of grass between the hotel and the sea.
There have been only two main changes in Dieppe over the last 60 odd years. The harbour entrance “pier” has been extended outward, and the ferries that docked in the middle of town to disgorge their passengers on to a train for Paris or hotels in town, have moved to a dock in the tidal outer harbour (making space for a smart marina). Otherwise time has stood still, with only shop owners and some restaurants changing hands.
It was almost like having a second home in a busy French fishing port, but without the trouble of ownership abroad.
But if Dieppe has hardly changed, we have. And one of the main reasons for that change has been the cost. Inflation is rife (especially in France) and everything involved with our holiday outing has now become rather expensive.
The added car insurance for just a short trip abroad has risen in cost, as has the price of petrol, both here and in France. Prices of the sea voyage, cabin, then hotel, food, wine, bar drinks and restaurant meals have risen too much. Only plonk wine has remained excellent value, and buying this in French supermarkets certainly helped to defray the overall cost of our trips to Dieppe. But now inflation has gone too far and begun to spoil much of our holiday pleasure. The gilt has finally fallen off the gingerbread.
So what’s to be done?
“Holidays at home” has become a sort of catch phrase that we think of as a good idea until coming across B&Bs where the cost of a room depends on how many inhabit it (unlike in France). Petrol is suddenly expensive in England, and good food available but often difficult to locate – and pricey.
But holidays based on one’s own home, where bed and pillows are to one’s liking, is surely the answer nowadays when wanting a break.
Mark down a few days in the diary for self-indulgence. For those days avoid the computer. Don’t make appointments, refuse invitations, and do not entertain. Make a list of holiday diversions, like exhibitions near and far, towns to visit, favourite treat places in which to eat and drink, theatrical performances to see, areas of town to explore, and so on.
Then enjoy a real holiday at home – without the hassle of any tedious delays or documentation. But of course this is not for everyone, like those who want to lie in the sun all day or see the world.

Monday, April 02, 2012


An academic institution is, to me, a select club, difficult to join, steeped in ritual, elitist, innovative, selective and channelled. It is a place where cloistered brains reside and knowledge distributed.
It is also an institution that I would never have been able to enter, even if the 2nd World War had not arrived at a vital time in my education.
Academic language, and the way it is used, is hard for me to encompass. In fact, I find its “in-language” close to being an alien method of expression.
Although I took 25 years away from painting and sculpture to write books and articles, I still would not have had it in me to then write a good academic paper.
My wife, Margreet, has just been awarded a BSc. from the Open University. I would love to have been able to help her in her studies. Except for checking for the odd typographical error I was useless in any way other than to offer encouragement.
It was with enormous pride in my heart that we went to the degree presentation ceremony at The Barbican Centre in London.
Beautifully organised, Margreet was robed in fetching black, blue and yellow, photographed wearing a mortarboard, had her name announced to much clapping and cheering, and then presented to Lord Puttnam, Chancellor of the University.
The seriousness of years of study, tutorials, submitted papers, research and reading (all done when she was still working for the Dutch Foreign Service), culminated in this day of splendid accomplishment and sheer joy.
The clapping and cheering of families helped to dissolve the serious panoply of academia to become, for all graduates, relaxed expressions of outward joyfulness and proud inner feelings of a job well done. More than one tear ran down a cheek.
We needed a good lunch after that.