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Sniping at the holiday choices of politicians is a fixture of the Silly Season. Whatever they do, they lose. They are either self-indulgent and free-loading (Tony Blair) or grimly and self-consciously puritanical (Gordon Brown).
Politicians, like anyone else, need their downtime. It seems generally unfair to make this an issue of comment but there are circumstances and individuals (austerity and David Cameron) which make me question that rule of thumb.
In the week that we learned that the Prime Minister was about to take his fourth holiday of the summer, I was speaking with a middle-aged couple who epitomised the “hard working families” so beloved of political propaganda. They have not taken any holidays for three years because they need to save for their winter heating. There was no tone of complaint and both made a point of saying that they were far more fortunate than many. Nonetheless, the contrast between their enforced austerity and the insouciant sense of entitlement displayed by the author of “we're all in this together” was difficult to take.
Our expectations and choices about leisure breaks has largely become another 'positional good'. Holidays are indicators of our social status and level of disposable income. They have also, in many instances, become something of a consumerist tyranny.
Whatever goes unexamined has an increased likelihood of dominating us. It seems to be received wisdom that 'getting away' must involve the torment that is air travel to arrive at an experience put together on the assumption that sun, sea and alcohol are essential components. It surprises me how many people come back from their packaged leisure full of complaints as to the stress it entailed. It surprises me even more when they seek to do it again as soon as possible.
But tastes in holidays differ. I am aware that my ideal of walking in wild country, with the odd gallery and museum thrown in, is no more attractive to some people than sitting on a beach or by a pool would be to me. What matters is that people should be free to make thoughtful and informed decisions as as to how they may best refresh and recover themselves. Keeping up with the Joneses on their way to Cap Verde may not necessarily be the best means of doing this. Originality is permitted.
This need to re-calibrate our perceptions and rhythms may not entail long distance travel. The 'staycation' has become more popular recently, though this is not necessarily less expensive than holidays based around cut-price air travel. It may be reasonably argued that people whose working lives are not particularly stimulating and who may live in some of the less attractive parts of the country are in greater need of a change of scene with the potential to enlarge the internal landscape which this can bring.
Unfortunately, like the couple I mentioned above, they are the least likely to be able to afford it. Even a day trip to the nearest coastline can make heavy demands on a tight budget. And what of those who due to unemployment or disability have even less chance of breathing a different air for a few days?
The freedom to make restorative choices about holidays is not just a matter of freeing ourselves from others' expectations and the tyranny of holiday advertising. Inequality diminishes all our freedoms and entrenches injustice even at the deep level of 're-creation'. The Christian socialist Richard Tawney makes clear the difference between uniformity – itself a form of tyranny – and the gracious and liberating effect of true equality: “While ... natural endowments differ profoundly, it is the mark of a civilised society to aim at eliminating such inequalities as have their source, not in individual differences, but in its own organisation."
To eliminate those differences in the area of making holy-days should be of concern in these times of increasing inequality. Affordable access to a vacation is not just a matter of justice. By increasing well-being, creativity and good health, it benefits the whole of society.
Is it too much to ask that the legislators who can afford to take extensive and numerous breaks might consider the funding of some form of holiday credits for those whose need for the common grace of the seventh day may be just as great?
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet