AIDA AUSTIN: It’s happening already. My holiday expectations drop from 50 to 40

THURSDAY evening and I am just two sleeps away from the holiday of a lifetime: Greek islands! On a boat! Hurrah!!

All arranged by my sister-in-law Lou and her husband Stephen. Hurrah! Greece! 

Where the sun is God and I will be his chosen one! Hurrah!! With wine! Hurrah! Siestas! Hurrah! 

And ‘The Cairo Trilogy’ by Naguib Mahfouz! Hurrah! Hurrah! HURRAH!”

Home, Friday and I am one sleep — one black night — away from impending doom: Stephen is phoning me at 10pm. 

It’s a night for doom all-round it seems; our dog’s already met hers for my husband has just clipped her. I look at his handiwork; the dog is looking mournful, as well she might. 

“When the phone goes,” I tell my husband, banging dog-hair out of cushions. “I’m not answering it. It’ll be Stephen, calling again about the boat. He said he’d call. You can tell him I’m not in.”

“Why don’t you want to talk to him?” my husband says. “You always have a right laugh with him.” 

“Families are systems,” I say. “And when change occurs within that system — or outside of it for that matter — the balance of it can get upset. I have never done ‘family-at-sea’ but if it’s anything like ‘family-by-car’, we’re f****d.”

“What on earth are you talking about?” my husband says. “I thought you were dead excited about the boat.” 

“When it comes to families,” I say, replacing cushions, “small changes can have big consequences.”

“What are you on about?”

“You were there when Stephen called,” I say, “you heard him.”


“On Monday,” I say. “When he phoned to tell us he’s registered you and me as ‘sailing crew’ on the boat.” 

“So?” he says. 

“If I’d known I’d be swabbing the deck, I wouldn’t have said ‘yes’ when he invited me to go.” 

“Swabbing the deck?” my husband says. “It’s a boat, not a fecking pirate ship. For god’s sake, putting us down as crew is just a registration formality.”

“If it’s just a formality,” I say, “why is Stephen calling again tonight to ‘drill down a bit’ into my sailing knowledge?” 

“For fun,” my husband says. 

“For whom?” I say.

10pm. My husband is on the floor, trying to cheer up the dog. 

“Seriously,” I say. “When the phone rings, you’re answering it. I am dealing with an extremely delicate matter right now.” 

“You’re banging the hoover around,” he says. 

“That is only what you can see,” I say, “not what you can’t.” “What can’t I see then?” my husband says. 

“Inside my head, I’m managing my expectations,” I say. 

“Of what?” he says.

“Our holiday,” I say, turning off the hoover. “I’m trying to get my expectations down to 50 from 100 — 100 being unrealistically hopeful and zero being fatal disappointment. They’ve been set at 100 since Christmas. I’m finding 50 quite a shock. I’m afraid if I talk to Stephen, they’ll sink to zero. And looking forward to a holiday is half the fun.”

10.30pm. The phone rings. My husband picks up the receiver. “If that’s Captain Pugwash,” I say. “Tell him to walk the plank.” 

“Stephen wants to know what you understand by the terms, ‘midship’ and ‘safety-rail’,” my husband tells me.

It’s happening already: My holiday expectations drop from 50 to 40. 

“He says it’s important you know stuff for when the wind picks up and all hands need to be on deck. He says do you know what the ‘genoa’ is.”

I take the phone. “What are you?” I say, “the bloody Glossary of Nautical Terms?”

“The word, ‘gunwale’ mean anything to you?” Stephen says, “or ‘a tender?’”

And there go my expectations again — whooshing down from 40 to 30. 

“Ever heard of a ‘starboard winch?’” Now dropping to 25...  “‘Backstay?’” ...and down again to 20. 

“Now,” Stephen says, “this is important. Do you know what port and starboard are?” 

“Things on a boat,” I say. 

“Christ,” he says, “I’m not looking for a lot.” Dropping now, from 20 to 10... “Seriously though,” he says, “I ought to warn you, the boat is quite... cosy.” ..and straight down to 5. 

“What do you mean, ‘cosy?’” I say. “Cosy how?” 

“Six people, small space, one toilet,” he says.

5 down to 3... “But we’re in and out of harbours all the time,” he continues, “so you sort of learn to train yourself.” ...3 to 2.

“So,” I say, “basically, what you’re saying is that I am flying to Greece so as to learn how to constipate myself at sea?” 

“Sort of,” he says. ...2 to 1.


“If you want to put it like that,” he says, “then yes.” ...and there we have it: zero.


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