There’s always something slightly unnerving about arriving home after a two-week holiday and finding your old life waiting for you, just where you left it, but somehow different. Our house always looks so much bigger and cleaner than I remember, which is handy as it provides the perfect antidote to all the ‘Let’s pack up and move to the countryside’ conversations that have fuelled the past fortnight. And seeing the cat lounging at maximum-moulting angle on the kitchen worktop induces an unfamiliar desire to pay her some attention as I’m flooded with homecoming sentiment.
And then comes the dark side to seeing my old life with fresh eyes. All the things that I’d stop noticing needed attention are flashing neon signs in the grey London sunlight. It turns out I still can’t play the piano, our house still isn’t in the catchment for a no-gun-policy secondary school and, oh my god, the walls are completely plastered with small dirty handprints that I had totally overlooked pre-vacation. Within ten minutes of arriving home late last night I was rummaging through the suitcase for a pack of babywipes to scrub a month-old mark off the wall of my study, a room I had no need to even enter for at least 48 hours with a bank holiday, four loads of washing and a boot full of French wine and chocolate to entertain me.
Stepping over the doorstep home is a guillotine-style end to the holiday for me, and normal life [aka domestic duties] must resume immediately or some unimaginable dire consequences will occur. I must unpack at least the kids’ suitcase before going to bed after a 14-hour journey home because it will be one less thing to do tomorrow. Tomorrow being the day I have to make several important diplomatic calls to the leaders of warring nations and review the government’s tax plans for the next quarter before distributing holiday gifts around the neighbourhood and repainting the hall, stairs and landing. Clearly I will have no time for unpacking. It must be done tonight.
I just need a way of hanging on to that feeling I get for the first five minutes when the real life we’ve returned to seems just a little bit skewed, a little bit bigger, and anything is possible. And if the house stays a little bigger, there will be room for the piano.