London-based writer, columnist and master of meme culture, Raven Smith, shares his travel aspirations for life after lockdown, as well as the rosé-tinted and sun-drenched memories of vacations past.
Like Judas at the last supper, Coronavirus is here, the dubious guest at every social gathering, lingering in the corner like cheap architrave. The houseparty guest that’s overstayed its welcome and won’t leave as the birds begin to chorus. Under government advice we’ve huddled indoors. I’m safer but I am a prisoner of Alcatraz, dreaming of escape. I’m Pinocchio-wishing for a long evening of supplì on a little side street in Rome far from the madding crowds at the Trevi fountain. I’m praying for a night at the opera, in a slightly-too-tight tux and those little binoculars. I want a dry scone and pot of tea to ease my feet after an afternoon meandering at a stately home. I want a camel. I want the Pyramids. I want out.
We’re all doing it, aren’t we? Travelling in our heads, an infectious thought pattern, a rash across the incarcerated. We’re dreaming of the future, of something outside our Churchill bunker homes. We’re fantasising about all the gallivanting to be done beyond the radius of our daily walk. We’re like those Jurassic Park mosquitoes in amber, travel hardwired into our DNA, but currently we’re suspended. Lockdown is necessary. We’re resigned to all the Netflix and banana bread, but travel aspirations find a way through. They seep through the walls of lockdown like the good mould that makes penicillin.
Breaks are sinew keeping our busy lives strung together, not so much rolling the turd in glitter, as bathing it in suncream and a salted breeze. We rest on these interludes before climbing back into the saddle of the rat race. In the galaxy of infinite busyness, we used to create black holes for vacations but the game has changed. We now desire a break from the infinite nothingness of isolation. Forced to find sanctuary at home, without the noise of normal life, we crave escape more acutely, balms to soothe the new status quo.
Vacations needn’t be death-defying to make an impact. No need for extremes of adventure—iced-swimming, bungee-corded adrenalin rushing, the juggling of curved swords. I’m feeling very Dick Wittington about future proceedings, happy to traipse to central London without the promise of fame and fortune and streets paved with gold. Ready to combat the free radicals of the city for a prawn cocktail and an omelette off the secret menu at Brasserie Zedel. History has seen me Boris Bike to Spitalfields for a slice of this slabbed Ottolenghi apricot cake that you can see god in, if you look hard enough.
The world will trickle back in after lockdown. I want to feel the tilting hull of a boat under my deck shoes and the threat of seasickness in the pit of my stomach. To dive into Cornish waters with their jellyfish to swim-off a stodgy pasty. I’ll doggy-paddle through Durdle Door before a picnic of Babybels and hummus as my skin salts on the beach. I picture the hustle of the Frome farmers’ market, with its quietly handsome bakers proved in a provincial town. Michelin stars are nice— the caviar on that baked potato in Paris is appealing—but have you ever eaten a grab bag of Quavers en route to Alton Towers? At this point in the fevered summer dreams the fetishisation is frenzied, I’d even take the temperature spike of the Central Line in August, or a spilled cup of tea.
Not that I’d mind a break farther afield. I’d suffer through those hideously early cheap flights out of Luton in exchange for thawing in the desert, massaged by near-oppressive African sun. I’ll ignore the tacos of sweat appearing under the armpits of a linen shirt. The swim shorts, worn to a restaurant, dangling over the balcony like Michael Jackson’s blanket. I want to say that a good vacation is all fine wine and cheap eats, but nondescript table rosé has a special place in my heart, especially if there’s a cheese course.
I will squeeze lemons in a bid for strawberry blond hair, and eat enough watermelon to get diabetes. I’ll want to drink responsibly but inevitably slip into excess and become the adult terriblé of my family for a few nocturnal hours, sheepishly waking with a sore head after noon. I’ll lightly apologise. You can get away with almost anything in holiday, as long as you hydrate. Holidays, like a bottle of Ouzo, tend to pass too quickly, waves upon the sand of modern life. Before I know it I’m at Gatwick with an airport Toblerone under my arm like a French baguette.
The second we’re freed like Mandela, catch me outside nursing multiple drinks (it doesn’t matter what’s in the glass as long as I haven’t had to pour it myself). I’ll toast our freedom, mine and yours, our vacation astral projection made real. Time will dawdle, the evening will amble. After a glass of water before bed I’ll lie back and think of the most picturesque parts of England.
In the meantime we continue to dream, panning the past for nuggets like a hillbilly in the gold rush. Dig deep and you’ll find then, pearls of emptiness between conference calls and working lunches. Holiday memories are a time capsule, and in times of stress it’s important to Dyson-suck at the precious shards, like boiled sweets on the motorway. Your brain is the bank vault that you’ve invested in with balmy beaches and dashed minibreaks and January jaunts. A treasury to reach into for a dividend of cultural treasure. Explore the time capsule as the hours pass. You can’t always get what you want, but you may just manifest what you need.
Raven Smith's book Trivial Pursuits is available to purchase through Waterstones.