It’s our last holiday before the arrival of baby Ramaswamy, or as he is known in familial shorthand, Boyo. Before the advent of the recession, the dog and my pregnancy, holidays meant a last-minute internet booking, sun cream grainy with sand, hot salted skin and a humbling amount of time spent in one’s socks in airport security queues.
And now? They mean a car journey, a cottage, a dog walk, a pair of activity trousers and a fire. Holidays are a bit like music collections: they can tell you how old someone is, what stage of life they’re at and even whether you might get on.
This one is to Mull with a group of friends and Tiny-but-Deadly and her partner J. A whole glorious week in an old house on Scotland’s fourth-largest island: a green, rugged place of unexpected mountains and elusive sea eagles. It feels special here, but then everything feels special in these last weeks before the arrival of Boyo.
Before all the firsts, after all, come the lasts. Some of these pass unnoticed. Others are shot through with the heady combination of nostalgia and operatic hormones that characterise much of this third trimester of pregnancy. The last fish and chips on a Scottish pier with no-one but C and a few irate seagulls for company… The last time I’ll see Tiny-but-Deadly before I’m a mother and she’s an aunt... The last unadulterated, uninterrupted holiday sleep… The last lingering three-course meal with eight grown-ups and no tears, feeds, puke or peas used as missiles. And so it goes on.
I’m not the only one at it either. “I was at the cinema the other day,” T-but-D tells me with a sigh. “And I realised it will probably be decades before we go to a double bill at the flicks again.”
“But we only did that once,” I point out. “It was in 2002 in Glasgow on my 23rd birthday. And one of the films was that dreadful Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore romcom…”
“Still…” says T-but-D. And I understand exactly what she means.
To be honest, everything has changed already. Our friends go on six-hour boat trips and long, uphill walks. They shoot videos of puffins on top of cliffs, spot a lone sea eagle perched on a treetop, indulge in a long boozy lunch in Tobermory and stay up late drinking whisky.
C and I are on a different schedule, one of early nights and early rises. We go on short forest walks with Daphne and stop at the top of every slope while I get my breath back. We sit on warm felled logs when I get tired and watch golden eagles and buzzards soaring high above us.
We picnic in the middle of paths and turn back halfway round circular walks. There is a lot of stopping and starting, a lot of what guide books call ‘slow travel’ and a lot of clarity, the kind that comes with not having a hangover for months. It’s frustrating in a way letting all the old, quick, indulgent ways go, but then again, in these last precious weeks of quietude and focus, why rush?
Growing a life teaches you all sorts of things. The baby takes up more and more space in all senses: in your belly, in your thoughts and, finally and most forcibly, in your life. You must make room for him: your body and, just as crucially, your mind demand it. And on holiday pregnancy teaches you something else that’s invaluable in this too-fast life. It teaches you how to slow down. And maybe, in doing so, I can cheat time and eke out some of these last moments, make them last even longer before the first moments come along and nudge them out of the way. n