Notes from a small Mediterranean island

I’m writing this from San Lawrenz in Gozo. It’s perhaps the best place of which you’ve never heard. While it’s getting towards thick coat weather back home in Northumberland, out here it’s well over 20°C every day. In fact, right now I’m under a parasol to prevent my skin getting burned.

Last year, in early 2014 while I still worked for Mozilla, we had planned to relocate here for six months. It didn’t work out in the end and we’ve since moved on – both literally and figuratively. It remains my second favourite part of the world (albeit of the parts I’ve visited so far).

Heading on holiday with your family is different from going on holiday with your wife. Last time, we were here for a long weekend to find a suitable house to rent and to figure out things like schools, tax, and transport. The children stayed back in England with my parents. Around the logistical stuff we spent time talking, drinking coffee and eating cake.

This time each day is simultaneously more relaxed and more structured. You have to be when looking after kids. Have they got enough sun cream on? How much sugar have they had today? When was the last time they had a drink of water? There’s always an element of lazing around the pool, but even that is tempered with a vigilance to ensure they don’t drown on your watch.

One of the most insidious things to happen to the family holidays over the last 10 years is always-on email. As this quotation from Bill Murray (found via Patrick Rhone) points out, holidays are for things outside of your usual routine:

“Everyone needs to take a vacation from the sort of automatic things you do, you know. The automatic things you do are basically those things that keep you from doing the better things you need to do.” (Bill Murray)

This holiday in been climbing rocks with my son, playing cars with my daughter, and playing cards with my wife. While they’re not spectacularly ‘different’ things, they’re qualitatively different from the automatic stuff I do at home.

It could be argued that typing this with my thumbs while my kids play in the pool (supervised by my wife) constitutes an ‘automatic thing’ I ordinarily do. Maybe so. But writing and reflecting is a useful creative act. It’s not checking my Twitter feed, Medium stats, or interacting via Slack. In fact, I’ve removed those three apps from my iPad Mini while I’m here.

Instead of deciding not to pack any electronic devices, the difference here is one of emphasis. My focus is on researching places we might visit (using the Web), sharing what we’re up to with family (Path), and playing the occasional asynchronous game with my wife (Words With Friends). 

I’m not checking any email while I’m here. The accounts have ‘out of office’ auto-responders turned on, and I’ve deactivated them in the settings on all devices. Being on holiday is as much about mindset as it is about location.

I very much enjoy reading but it takes a while for me to unwind enough to enjoy the kind of books I really enjoy reading. Right now, about half-way through our holiday, I’ve reached the second level of holiday relaxation. There’s at least one more level, but that (in my experience) requires at last two weeks away in a tent. The first level, of course, is waking up in a bed other than your own after successfully negotiating the travel from your home to your destination.

When I’m at the second and third levels of relaxation I read philosophy. Or, at least, works that could be considered ‘philosophical’. This time I’m diving, somewhat arbitrarily, into Simone de Beauvoir’s work, ‘The Ethics of Ambiguity’. I, fascinated by the topic, and it is, in fact, the subject of a paper I wrote with my thesis supervisor a few years ago, and a chapter in my book-of-the-thesis. 

Every time I’m away from home for pleasure rather than business I think about the serendipity, random left-turns, and seeming acts of fate that brought me to this point. I’m satisfied with my life and am perhaps happier than I have ever been up to this point. Neverthreless, these days I’m worldly-wise enough to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ – financially, physically, and emotionally.

Right, I’d better go. My kids are asking me to join them in the pool. While I enjoy writing for public consumption, there’s no comparison when it comes to the joy they bring me!