Article - Holidays

In the last few days, following all the end of session dramas of Parliament, I have found myself opening a number of new tourist facilities in West Dorset. 

In many ways, this is entirely natural - as we are now entering the busiest part of the year for those (many) West Dorset businesses that rely on tourist trade - even though it inevitably seems a bit strange to regard this as the start of summer, when it already feels as if we have had one of the longest, hottest summers that any of us can remember. One has the dreadful, lurking suspicion - not, in my case at least, founded upon any empirical knowledge - that the summer (in the sense of sun and heat) may be nearly over before it has chronologically begun. 

But, be that as it may, the large numbers of hard working people who sustain West Dorset's biggest industry are now buttoning down to a long, hard slog, just as the rest of us begin to contemplate the possibility of taking a holiday. 

I shall myself be mixing time abroad with time at home in Thorncombe and time at work in London over the coming weeks - so I have some sense of what it feels like both for the holiday makers and for those who are working away to make their holidays possible.

But this prompts a question which is rarely asked: namely, why do we take holidays at all? 

This question might well strike some readers as absurd. Taking holidays is so usual and traditional that it may seem to require no explanation. But of course mass holiday-making and mass tourism are in fact fairly recent phenomena. Our distant ancestors certainly celebrated holy days and observed the Sabbath; but they did not have the opportunity to remove themselves from their work for any sustained period of the year. So it is not unreasonable to ask why we now regard it as so natural to do so. 

Maybe some historian or sociologist will be able to provide a convincing answer to this question? Which for me remains something of a mystery. 

But one thing, I do know: taking time off restores equilibrium and a sense of proportion - and often enough, problems that seem to be intractable before the break appear much more soluble after a few weeks (or even a few days) away. 

I had an extraordinarily vivid illustration of this when I was involved, some decades ago, in the restructuring of the electricity supply industry. Several dozen engineers, industrialists, economists, bankers, lawyers and civil servants had spent months failing to reach agreement about the solution to what seemed insoluble problems, until someone made the inspired suggestion that we should take off ten days for Christmas and New Year. So far from disrupting the process, those ten days away proved to be a salvation. The problems evaporated within a few weeks of our return. 

We can but hope that something similar will happen when Parliament reassembles at the start of September.