Each summer, for the past twenty years or so, we have packed up our car, bundled the kids in the back and headed off to the Lot-et-Garonne region in France. Two adults and four children with luggage in a seven-seater Galaxy easily filled the space and the ability to stretch out or unfold was a valuable commodity.
This August, however, it was just the two of us. Our kids are no longer kids, and even if the youngest two siblings had wanted to join us, they couldn’t. Without a double vaccine, adults are currently not allowed to travel to France without an ‘essential reason’. Going on holiday is unfortunately not deemed to be essential and the two of them had not been double-jabbed at the time of departure. So with just us parents in our seven-seater, it certainly felt a little different.
When we first set off, I looked in the rear view mirror and saw empty space – a void that I was not used to. No teenagers slouched in their seats precariously held in by their seat belts; no limbs tangled in a blanket or draped over bags and no mishmash of piled high luggage limiting my view of the traffic behind.
I had taken advantage of our new ‘empty nest’ situation and had lavishly packed a multitude of items which would cater for any possible occasion on this holiday. I had a bag for my yoga blocks, belt and mat; a bag for my latest crocheting projects; an unnecessarily large wash bag; a bag for more clothes than days and a separate shoe bag with a range of footwear that I would probably not wear whilst away. Yet despite this, the luggage remained a meagre pile which lay low and lost in the boot.
The car was eerily quiet: no child had started on the snacks within five minutes of leaving home and no child was throwing up into a discarded empty plastic bag which had been found in desperation in a hidden side pocket. In the silence, I relished the idea of belting out a few tunes or enjoying a podcast at a higher than necessary volume. However, due to buying the wrong connector for my phone to access my playlists and podcasts (which I didn’t discover until underwater in the Eurotunnel) I soon realised that my entertainment was going to be limited to CDs. The upside of this was that it meant a trip down memory lane, delving into my music collection from years gone by.
As we drove, I felt strangely liberated singing aloud in-and-out-of-tune with no criticism from the back. There was no one to complain and no volume control needed to be maintained. I sang along to songs that I knew word for word which I hadn’t listened to in years: Barclay James Harvest, Melanie, Scouting for Girls and more.
At lunchtime, as family tradition dictates, my husband and I swapped the driving. Taking up the passenger role, I was free to fill the baguettes – baguettes which had been bought from a crowded and somewhat unsavoury service station. This year, it was quietly noted that we only needed one baguette. In the past, the kids’ unspoken rule was that I was the trusted lunch maker and with nostalgia, I recalled which family member had which filling. In my opinion, you can’t beat butter and marmite.
On these trips, crisps would often be passed back and forth, but it was hit and miss whether the bag would be empty before us adults in the front would even get a look in. This year, however, gluttony was rife as the crisps stayed firmly between my husband and me in the front.
After a doze, I became aware of an unusual comfort in my surroundings as I realised that I didn’t have a child’s foot propped at the side of my headrest. I sort of missed that foot, but I was equally enjoying the agreeable reclining position of my seat which had been newly unleashed in the space available.
As we swept past familiar fields of beckoning sunflowers and the undulating landscape of vineyards, I smiled a contented smile. Filled with nostalgia of the past and enjoying the tranquility of the present, I mused on how perhaps one day, when my husband and I are old and frail, we may be passengers driven by one of our children on this same journey through France. Will we be the ones snoring in the back, complaining about aches, asking for food and awaking from intermittent car naps asking, ‘Are we there yet?’