A few days ago, I closed the shop for ten minutes and carried out a yearly ritual started by my dad in 1948 and which we have observed in his memory ever since.
And why not? After all, where would we be if life became so busy and complicated that we no longer had time to pause and remember those sunlit days when doctors said tipped cigarettes were good for your throat and it took four months to get over whooping-cough?
So this is what we do. With my devoted assistant Norman standing at a respectful distance I pin up the holiday-list on the back of the stock-room door and intone the time honoured phrase: “Which two weeks do you want?” to which he replies: “I suppose you’ll want August Bank Holiday.”
Although there are now only two of us in the shop since the lad on work experience was arrested for sawing off his electronic tag, we go through this farce every spring and probably always will.
Round about the middle of April, Norman will say something like: “Have you thought about drawing up the holiday schedule, boss?” to which I will reply: “Goodness, is it that time of year already?”
I then write “HOLIDAY LIST” on a piece of cardboard and rule enough lines to accommodate the staff of the John Lewis Partnership. Then I say: “Can you give me your vacation dates as soon as possible because I’d like to get things finalised. We might have to get some temporary staff in.”
We look at our diaries and consult our wives. We may even bring in brochures for snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands and bus tours of the East Anglian tulip fields, but we know we’re not fooling anyone. In our heart of hearts, Norman and I we both hate holidays and will do anything we can to avoid them.
And with good reason, if you ask me. My last holiday was four years ago – a horse-drawn caravan trip through rural Ireland. It ended abruptly after two days when the horse went berserk and galloped, with the caravan and two screaming grandchildren, into the sea outside Klonakilty.
The one before that ended equally unexpectedly when a package hotel in Tunis was raided by police at 3am and turned out to be a thriving brothel – a fact which was not mentioned in the brochure.
And of course there’s always the chance that something awful will happen when you’re away. For instance, I once returned bronze and reasonably optimistic to find a waterpipe had burst and ruined three boxes of badminton shoes, and there was a letter from the Inland Revenue casting serious doubt on my tax returns. Oh yes, and the dog had died.
Norman has always resisted going on holiday and particularly to faraway places with strange sounding names but last year his wife Enid insisted on arranging a holiday to a destination Norman only knew as “Abroad”. It turned out to be the Norfolk Broads.
In my experience, holidays can bring out the worst in us. During a brief sojourn in a department store many years ago I had an under manager who couldn’t remember anything.
Consequently, when he booked his holiday for the first two weeks in June, he came into work as usual on the Monday.
No one said anything. By Wednesday, bets were being taken on how long it would be before Eric realised he should be on the beach at Frinton but the following week he was still coming in to work as usual and the department had a festive air.
It was apparently the funniest thing that had happened in years. One or two of us felt that we ought to say something but didn’t want to spoil the general enjoyment.
It was left to the head buyer to deliver the denouement at the end of the second week.”Enjoyed your holiday, Eric? You look much better for it.” Personally, I thought it was quite a good way to spend a holiday.
Now Norman, whose idea of a really good holiday is to spend a week in his shed repainting his garden gnomes in the colours of West Bromwich Albion, is already trying to persuade me to have a proper break this year for reasons that I haven’t yet discovered, but which fill me with foreboding.
I’ve got a feeling that the dates he’s suggested for when I’d be away coincide with the annual visit to the shop of the local ladies’ skittle league to try on their new Lycra sweatshirts, and the look in Norman’s eye when they arrived last year wasn’t something you’d want your auntie to see.
So it might be wise not to go too far away this year, but on the other hand everyone needs a break away from it all, relaxing and doing something different.
And the local garden centre does have a rather good set of gnomes which I reckon would look really great in the colours of Wolverhampton Wanderers.