Illustration by Clara Nicoll

Mindful life: My holiday from independence

Spending every Easter with two families makes me long to rely on a community for more than just a week
May 10, 2023

I have spent 21 Easter holidays in the same cottage in south Devon. My parents first took my sister and me there when I was four and she was six. In my memories, it is the place where my childhood happened. I may be sitting on the shabby sofa in my London flat, but when I close my eyes, it is to that cottage that I am transported. I am walking down the cobbled path lined with daffodils towards the front door, knowing that a plate of scones sits inside on the dining table and ahead of me is a week of spring sunshine. 

People on TikTok are obsessed with the concept of “core memories”—a few memories that are so deep and important that they shape us forever. There’s not much scientific evidence to support their existence, but my ability to recall the specific shade of pink of the blossom on the tree in the garden is proof enough for me. In the face of peril, or what a more resilient person might call minor inconvenience, 20 or so deep breaths can take me back there. 

A memory this powerful is not really about place. It is about people. There is my family, of course, but also the people who rent the cottage next door—a family of five from London that has also stayed at the farm every Easter for decades. Through annual snapshots of each other’s lives, we have formed a friendship with a kismet quality. I was excited to see them when, a few weeks ago, I packed my clothes—and my obsessive-compulsive disorder—into my suitcase and sped down the M5 for this year’s annual trip. We came together for our usual activities: strolling to Dartmouth to eat Cornish pasties; descending, as a caterwauling group of nine, on various unsuspecting National Trust properties. On a spring day, Coleton Fishacre—a house in the Arts & Crafts style with glorious gardens that overlook the sea—is as close to heaven as you will find on Earth. 

And, for a week, we fell back into the marshmallow of each other’s kindness. Over 20 years we have weathered heartbreaks, griefs, professional failures and mental health crises together. In Devon, the burdens that we carry in our individual lives are shouldered by the group. In twos and threes—composed not of members of one nuclear family but an intergenerational blend of two—we walk miles a day, celebrating and comforting and listening to each other. This year, four of us took a morning plunge in the cold sea because it was an item on one of the party’s bucket lists.

It makes me wonder what it would be like to rely on a community for more than just a holiday. The week is a reprieve from the constant pressure to be independent in modern, capitalist Britain—fighting for yourself, fending for yourself, striving for nothing but your own betterment. They say it takes a village to raise a child; when did we stop acknowledging that sometimes it also takes a village to keep an adult alive?

The rituals of a holiday—from shuffling as foot-passengers onto the car ferry across the river Dart to wolfing down honeycomb ice creams (garnished not with a common Flake but with a local fudge stick)—might seem like small pleasures. But for me they take on an almost religious significance. They are what we have always done. In the darkest times, when the thick smog of obsession has obscured the path almost completely, they are tiny lights in the distance, nudging me back on course. The reminder that you are capable of happiness can be happiness enough. 

A few weeks ago, as I walked up the hill from the harbour in the sunset and looked out to sea, I felt both sadness and joy. Here I was again, for the 21st time, still worried, still obsessive, still not convinced that everything will be OK. But if I fall, this group of people will catch me. And whatever happens, south Devon will be waiting for me next year.