The long curtain that hangs between the patio door and our little room in the B&B in Biarritz is fluttering in the afternoon breeze, the shutters gently rattling again the wall outside. I keep getting up from my seat to gaze across the gardens and out to the sea in the distance just to look at the vague hint of sunshine breaking through the clouds. I close my eyes and breathe in the fresh air with gratitude – thankful because it is not raining and today is the first day in the week that we’ve been on holiday so far that the morning hasn’t been marred by showers or biblical downpours. You’d think we would be outside but Tom is asleep in bed after being quite unwell yesterday (his 30th birthday) and is sleeping it off. Bodhi dog stares longingly at me from his place half-asleep on the bed, wondering when he’ll be taken for a walk. I have just spent the last five minutes attempting to microwave a pre-packaged Croque Monsieur from the supermarket and I’m now gulping down the lukewarm ham and melted cheese like it’s the first thing I’ve eaten in weeks – spurred on by a mix of boredom and needing something to soak up the bottle of rosé I sank last night. Last night, last night – running through the streets of Biarritz in sodden sandals, the wind snapping my umbrella and leaving me with no protection from the torrential downpour. The streets running with rivers of water, the most committed of smokers outside bars, huddling under canopies and watching the smoke waft up towards the turgid rainclouds. It seems like a distant memory now – the way that alcohol and darkness blurs everything at the edges, and morning comes to renew and wash away.
The point is, I think, that life never really is what you plan it to be. Life is a half-cooked microwaved croque monsieur when you were anticipating steak frites on the veranda (I think that’s the weirdest sentence I’ve ever written). Life is an early bedtime on your birthday because you don’t feel well. Life is a pair of sandals drying on the decking, soaked through and dirty. Life is a week of rain on holiday. Life is choosing a restaurant, walking for 25 minutes and finding out it is closed. Sometimes life just feels like a series of things that never quite seem to go to plan. Being the control freak that I am, I find this hard to digest (like the soggy croque monsieur). One of the phrases I find myself most often uttering, usually whilst shaking my head and raising my hands in despair is, “Why does nothing ever go right?” or “Why is nothing ever simple?” Of course what I really mean by this is, why do thinks often not go according my plan? Why has the image in my head of how this would go, and what this would look like, not been realised?
I think in a culture of carefully tended and aesthetically created social media profiles, it’s easy to strive for – and feel hopeful for – perfection and ease in all areas of your life. I’ve realised recently that whenever I feel an unhappiness with life it’s often due to my inability to control the outcomes in a way that meets my expectations of what it should look like, on both a granular level and a big picture level. And I have high expectations. This holiday for example – I imagined lazing on the beach in Biarritz with a cold cider and a book, or lounging on the pool deck of the B&B, earning a golden tan and a freckled nose. In the evening I would don a floaty dress and wedges and we would sashay down into the town and drink red wine and eat Brie whilst a man on the corner played an accordion and we marvelled at just how wonderful France was and vowed to move here in a heartbeat. The car journeys to each hotel or campsite would be punctuated by stops at the beach and then hopping back into the van with sandy feet, wrapped in towels and eager for the next destination. At campsites we would set up the table outside the van with views of the ocean and drink wine long into the night, waking in the morning for a swim in the pool and long walks along the beach. I count down to these moments for months, I dream of sunburned noses and condensation on bottles of Normandy cider.
Here is the story of my holiday so far. Biblical, torrential rain every single day. Rain in Quiberon, rain in Ile De Ré, rain in Biarritz, rain in the Dordogne. My holiday wardrobe has been my raincoat, jeans and trainers. I brought five bikinis and they sit crumpled and buried at the bottom of my bag. My umbrella broke in the wind. Our journeys have involved watching rain stream down the windscreen, the wipers working overdrive. On the one day of beautiful sunshine in Capbreton I sat on the beach with Bodhi watching Tom surf. A woman shouted at Bodhi and swiped at him as he ran past her, and he quickly got too hot and had to come back to the van for shade. We tried to re-book the ferry tickets to come home earlier but we weren’t able to.
And oh how I have whinged and whined and riled against the sheer unfairness of it all. This wasn’t supposed to be what our holiday would be like. But there is no such thing as supposed, is there? If there is a grand plan or a higher being, it probably isn’t concerned with whether I get to wear my new ASOS bikini teamed with the perfect red nail varnish I picked up in Sephora. And so – if life isn’t a perfectly curated Instagram feed, if life is, instead, a microwaved Croque Monsieur or a broken umbrella, or a wet holiday, or an injury in the warm up of the football game, then how can I stop being so bloody disappointed and whingey all the time?
Here’s a thing – maybe it’s enough just to go to France. To experience the world (even in the rain). Maybe the moments that really matter are the messy, unexpected ones that make you grateful and help you grow. I started writing this blog post a week into our holiday when we were in Biarritz, and I thought I couldn’t take another day of rain. We’re now ten days in and I finished writing this in the Notes app as we drove through the pouring rain towards our penultimate stop. It’s gutting, it’s disappointing but it’s just the way it goes. France is pretty beautiful even in the rain, and there will be other holidays, other bikinis, other beach days and other opportunities to get a freckled nose. And that’s worth being grateful for.