If you have horses, dogs, cats and all the accoutrements of country life, holidays can be rare.
Firstly you have to choose a window in the competition schedule, which is not easy to do. To anyone else, missing Little Piddling on the Marsh Annual Horse Show and Gymkhana may not seem much of a sacrifice, but you know you will always wonder if this would have been the year nobody else turned up and your pony swept the board of trophies and rosettes.
Next there’s the massive headache of arranging cover for while you are away. Good house-sitters don’t grow on trees. Even if you can find one, you have to write pages of notes and instructions for them. You even have to make at least a token effort to tidy the house so they don’t run off screaming when they first step through the door. Then of course you spend your holiday checking your phone for missed calls tagged urgent.
Finally, there’s the cost. Riding soaks up money like a sponge, and holidays can tumble down your list of priorities after the cost of a new horse, a new saddle, or a scary vet bill.
But sometimes, especially when there are non-riding family members to be appeased, the holiday mountain has to be climbed.
Last year, we decided on a family holiday at the end of the summer. There was a big party of us. I was so organised. I booked our flights and accommodation months ahead of time. I found a lovely house-sitter. There were no big competitions to hanker after while we were away. What could possibly go wrong?
With two weeks to go, it suddenly occurred to me that the manager of our accommodation hadn’t been in touch for a while. So I contacted her to get the final details sorted.
“Ah” she said, “I was going to ring you. Unfortunately the owner of your apartment has just sold it, and the new owners won’t be renting it out”.
It seemed futile to ask when exactly she had planned to ring me. Better to put the energy into finding somewhere else for seven people to stay at very short notice in one of the busiest weeks of the year. Fuelled by the adrenalin of a tight deadline, unbelievably, we did, and the build up to the departure date continued.
With five days to go, an email from my house-sitter pinged into my inbox. She was devastated to let me down, but the date of an operation had been moved forward and she could no longer come.
I tried every channel possible to find a replacement, steam coming out of my laptop, my phone and my ears. Nothing. At this point, if someone had said “Don’t worry, it’s all cancelled, you don’t have to go any more” I would have given them my first born child.
Then just as I was about to throw in the towel and resign myself to waving everyone else off with a pitiful “It’s ok, I’ll stay here, you all go on without me”, someone who had originally said no came back and said yes. A miracle.
Julie discusses the woes of weight gain and loss
Add to this a last-minute panic when the new accommodation lady went awol for several days without giving me the address and arranging the keys, and by the time our leaving date arrived I was so traumatised I had to be scraped off the tarmac onto the plane.
The final irony is that like most people, I had dreamt of shedding a few pounds before swapping jodhpurs for shorts. But on this occasion, those last few weeks were definitely not the time to give up chocolate.
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