Paul Flynn: We’ve booked our summer holiday. Hopeful? Yes. Delusional? That too

For 2021 I vow to appreciate any future freedoms and never take anything for granted again

We’ve booked our family holiday for 2021 in a sleepy little coastal village on the Costa Brava. There will be 10 of us, two families. I’ll cook, when the mood takes me; I’ll swim, drink wine, listen to music and laugh a lot. There are coastal treks where I’ll practise for my next Camino, and every little rocky cove will be a new delight. I’ll be carefree again and I’ll relish every single bit of it.

I’ll look back on 2020 like a bad dream, but I have vowed to appreciate any freedom we get in the future and never take anything for granted again. I’ll suck in the sweet, salty air, unimpeded by a cursed mask.

My wife was reluctant to book it. She is deemed by our children to be more of a pessimist than I am. I knew this already though. This is a woman who watches Air Crash Investigation on TV before Saturday service, because no matter what lies ahead in the restaurant that evening, it can’t be as bad as a catastrophic plane crash. A customer’s overcooked steak will keep her from her sleep.

I need something to look forward to. Otherwise the cold dark nights will envelop me

However, I need something to look forward to. Otherwise the cold dark nights will envelop me. Having a holiday booked has given me hope, even if it is somewhat delusional.


The first lockdown passed quickly, but it didn’t seem so at the time. There were lots of long walks and sitting outside in the sun. Utter bliss when I look back on it. School was apparently happening in the girls’ bedrooms, but they might have been planning a military coup for all I knew. They didn’t allow me in as I always went into orbit over the mess.

I get bored quickly, so on the first day of May, we started doing takeaway in the restaurant. That went well. I liked the fact that we were being productive and there was purpose to the day. It was also something different – that in itself is stimulating.

When we were allowed to reopen, I did it with a stripped-back kitchen team, as I didn’t think we were going to be busy. A big mistake. Staycationing was a very real thing, and chefs were impossible to get. Let’s just say I felt my age at the end of the summer – I was the cliche of the crotchety old chef. There were a few nights I questioned the wisdom of my calling.

I’m keenly aware though, that being busy was a blessing and many others were not so fortunate. It stood us in good stead when we entered Level 3 and the restaurant closed again.

The pandemic has taken its toll on people commercially, but more importantly mentally. It’s the unseen that’s worrying. We all miss things and the simplest things the most. Meeting friends in the pub, going to people’s houses without having to think about consequences, planning a weekend away and the nerdy restaurant research that precedes it. I love a good gallivant, a festival here, a city break there. Normal people call it balance.

I had plans to jaunt around the country with my girls. We were all looking forward to the adventure

We all need something to look forward to and, when that is taken away, our lives are diminished. But you’ll be relieved to know that I’ve found my mojo again. Now that winter is here, the little bit of extra time has given me back some space. The realities of living in a seaside town mean we are used to the ebb and flow of the seasons.

I have a little project that has cheered me up no end. At the end of last summer I bought a clapped out campervan that I’ve been doing up (well somebody else has). I had plans to jaunt around the country with my girls. We were all looking forward to the adventure. My wife was less convinced, as the shower had made way for a wine cellar. A very sensible decision in my view; negotiations continue.

Next year has to be better, doesn't it? It would be a blessing not to talk about it. There are other distractions, of course. Polar ice caps melting and unsettling global storms that affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Refugees from war-torn countries risking their lives crossing turbulent seas in the hope of a better future. Forest fires raging through California's affluence. Nobody is spared. And then there's Brexit. Oh for the days when that was all we talked about.

It puts things into perspective, when all I do is write recipes. Still, I find food a comfort and I’ll keep cooking and writing as long as I can. I want to be a contented, dignified, calm influence on my chefs, like a happy old cat. That will be me next summer – wait and see.