Sunday 25 August 2019

John Masterson: 'We're all going on a summer... sorry, a working holiday'

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John Masterson

My childhood memories at this time of year are of everyone in the car singing "We're all going on a summer holiday", and Cliff sounds as good now as he did then.

People all over the country are counting the days before their two-week escape. Some head for the sun. If they ever needed it, they need it this year. Others head for their favourite part of Ireland and, as someone who probably spent 15 consecutive years in Connemara with the same group of friends, for those the sun is a bonus. I remember well arriving on the Saturday early afternoon, throwing our bags into the bedroom and going for a swim. It was an instant switch off. The after-swim drink followed by the 'children first and adults later' meal, as often as not with the fire lit, were great evenings. It was with heavy heart, and recharged batteries that some two, or occasionally three weeks later, we made the return journey to real life.

Those were the days before everyone had a friendly computer in their pocket or glued to their ear. Today it is harder to leave real life behind. Over the last week I asked a lot of people did they take work phone calls or answer emails on holiday. Without exception they said 'yes'. They did not even think of it as an imposition. Most liked to stay in touch. Complete switch-off was not an option. The majority said they made arrangements with colleagues so that day-to-day issues were dealt with and nobody would contact them unnecessarily.

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Plus, some pointed out that you do two weeks work the week before you go away to make sure everything is taken care of. That is the reality of today's world. One study found that 60pc of people said they did some work. But perhaps the holiday still has the same health and head benefits as always.

A lot of good things happen on holidays. People get better sleep, if they are not drinking too much. They are often swimming, walking, climbing or cycling and they get a little fitter. Exercise is good for mood. People have time to think in a leisurely manner and they return to work with new ideas. They may push a few boundaries whether on a zip-line or scuba dive. On holidays people ruminate about their problems less. That is the type of talking to yourself that can easily move one towards depression so reduction is good. Typically on holiday one puts on nearly a pound a week and it stays there for about six weeks. I call it muscle!

Many people have a favourite holiday spot. They replace the routine of home and work life with the routine of the holidays. They get great security from knowing the ins and outs of the place. For families with young children a holiday in a familiar and much loved location can provide many childhood happy memories and lasting friendships.

People who don't take a proper break get cranky and burned out. While I think the idea of a good two-week break is essential I am a big fan of the long weekend, whether a staycation or a quick hop to an European city. Recently on the bus to the car park at the airport, I eavesdropped on a happy 20something couple who had just been on a long weekend to Berlin where they had a great Airbnb. If ever I needed evidence of the benefits of a long weekend break they were it.

I think it might be a good idea to take a familiar holiday and a totally new one. For some people dealing with a new place and foreign language and driving on the wrong side of the road takes the good out of the first few days. Decide what suits you best. And do it.

The most chilling piece of research I read was that not taking a holiday at all increases ones chances of dying. It didn't go into sufficient detail for my liking. But I am not a big fan of death, my own in particular. I will begin packing.

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