Bird-Watching in France

I was never much one for big holidays.

During my working life I was often harried by the Human Relations team into taking holidays. Unlike my colleagues, who would often have their entire year’s holiday booked well in advance, I was always too focused on my work to think of when I would be taking my next break. I would never say that I was a ‘workaholic’, I never took my work home with me and I always gave myself time at the weekend to ‘depressurise’, as they say. However, once I found myself absorbed into the corporate world of endless meetings, presentations and lunches, I found myself happily occupied and, dare I say, satisfied.

Whenever I was eventually forced into taking my mandatory holiday by HR, I was rather at a loss of where to go. Without a wife, family or group of friends, I found myself in a strange state of isolation. Outside of work I had precious few human relationships and my sense of adventure was somewhat limited by this. I took the time off, but I never used it to travel or explore the world outside my neighbourhood of London. The 30 days or so of holiday that I was granted every year were usually spent reading in silence in my study, redecorating my home and attending to other such thrilling maintenance issues – they were not times that I looked forward to.

As my retirement grew ever closer, I began to give myself the opportunity to dream, to imagine myself in some far off land with a rucksack on my back and a camera hanging over my head. With every documentary and movie that I watched the fantasies grew ever stronger until they became all that I ever thought about. Although I longed to take myself away in an exotic foreign land, I was still a little nervous about taking such a brave step into the unknown.

A few months before I was due to leave work I decided to take the pro-active step of booking a holiday villa in the South of France. I know this might not sound like the most adventurous of steps, but it nonetheless felt momentous to have put a plan in action and, in some ways, make the fantasy a reality.

In July of this year I stepped aboard a plane for the first time in decades. When I alighted at my destination I found myself in a foreign land, drenched in sunlight and new, strange smells. The few weeks that I spent in Languedoc were some of the most rewarding that I’d spent in my life. It felt scary and liberating at the same time having so much free time on my hands with no agenda other than the one that I would set for myself. Each morning I would wake up in my private villa expecting to be running late for my train, but then I’d remember where I was and hesitantly lay my head back down onto the pillow for another hour of sleep. The bags under my eyes, which I’d assumed would be with me for life, slowly began to fade and a healthy glow returned to my face, which I’d not seen on my skin since I was a boy.

I might not have spotted too much wildlife whilst I was there, but my trip to the South of France was certainly one that I’ll never forget.

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