The other kingdom – a farewell to summer
Autumn always comes with a jolt. August turns to September and we’re back to the busy schedule of work and school with the prospect of the long slog to Christmas. A brief moment of peace over the summer is finished for another year.
This year has been no different. Back from a wonderful holiday in the Austrian Alps it has been straight back to the demands of the STP and all the challenges of running a NHS organisation in the current climate.
Summer holidays have always had a very special place in my consciousness. Much to the annoyance of my family, I can remember the things I have done on the holidays over the years with an intensity it’s hard to bring to other aspects of my life. They are enjoyed in anticipation and retrospect just as much as they are at the time and it is always important for me to finish the summer with a clear idea of where we will be going next year.
Holidays serve many purposes. At their most basic they serve to provide a period of rest and relaxation, a chance to down tools and recharge the batteries. That is a very necessary objective and we are all the better and more productive for being able to rest from, time to time, from our work. If God needed to take a day off after the labours of creation it stands to reason that mere mortals should follow suit.
Holidays can also be the opportunity to indulge in pursuits for which there is insufficient time or occasion to follow at other times. In particular they are the time for reading and my holiday luggage is always weighed down by an enormous pile of books, some of which, at least, I manage to get through.
Holidays provide the chance to learn about new places and immerse oneself in new cultures and new histories. With a lifelong love of history I have always enjoyed stomping around archaeological sites, historic monuments, museums and art galleries, relishing the opportunity to see both the special places I have long heard about but never previously visited and the new discoveries which open a new strand of interest.
As a child many of my summer holidays were spent staying with relatives in Wales. Without their hospitality we would have probably struggled to go away and I am enormously grateful for those times which in addition to being great fun, cemented my love of Wales, its people and landscape.
In my youthful imagination there was something very special about the views of the mountains of Snowdonia across the Menai Straits from Anglesey, the Edwardian castles of Beaumaris and Caernarfon, the grey stoned chapels which peppered the roadsides, the open skies and the foam speckled sea. It expanded the bounds of my imagination and contrasted so strongly with the mundane everydayness of the city I grew up in. Being Wales there were many rainy days but if anything they did as much as the sunny ones to engender the sense of otherworldliness associated with those childhood holidays.
This potential of holidays to provide an opportunity to escape not just from the practical details of everyday life but also from its imaginative constraints is something which still remains with me in middle age. It is the time I feel again that sense of open possibilities, so easy for a child for a child to envisage and so much harder to recapture in later life. A good summer leaves one refreshed and rejuvenated both physically, psychologically and imaginatively.
However, like all good things in life holidays inevitably come to an end and, in doing so, bring a sense of grief and loss. This year we visited the Wörthersee in Austria where Gustav Mahler took his summer holidays and wrote a number of his symphonies in a small composer’s hut overlooking the lake. On the walls of the hut there was a quote from Mahler which captured the sense of sadness when the time came to leave his summer idyll and source of inspiration.
“Today I go away from here with a bitter heart. To know one must wait another year is tragic.”
As I left that special place it summed up feelings exactly.