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Nuala McCann: Proust may have had his madeleine but it's the smell of Hawaiian Tropic that does it for me

I miss lugging suitcases from the attic, stuffing them with clothes we'll never wear, packing the Paracodol. Proust may have had his madeleine but it's the smell of Hawaiian Tropic that does it for me

'I miss lugging suitcases from the attic, stuffing them with clothes we'll never wear, packing the Paracodol...'

THERE is always a moment before we go away on holidays, when we halt the crazy hunt for the passports and the Imodium and the rush for our own teabags, because those continental types do cat's pee for tea.

Then one of us says: "Why don't we just pull the curtains and lock the doors and pretend we've gone away?"

And the other of us smiles and thinks how perfect that would be... but that was pre-pandemic. We've had our share of solitary bliss at this stage.

I miss that holiday crisis moment.

I miss my friend's raised eyebrows when I tell her we're leaving for Dublin airport at 6am even though the flight doesn't take off until 2pm.

Focus on the dirty great airport fry – you won't know whether to eat it or set a new Olympic record jumping over it, I tell her.

Besides, you never know what might happen on the way to Dublin airport, I tell her. But that does not butter her parsnips.

Early for your own funeral, my friend sighs.

In heaven before the divil knows I'm dead, I hit back.

The overwhelming dread of organisation triggered by even the most pleasant of events – like a holiday – is genetic.

The day before all eight of us broke a world record by piling into our Volkswagen Beetle and heading to Co Kerry, you would find my mother scrubbing out the garage.

"Am I mad? I've six children to pack and all the food to get sorted," she said to her friend, who found her with the scrubbing brush in the garage.

But it was just thinking time, displacement therapy.

Looking back, where's the holiday in heading off to self-catering with a clatter of kids?

It's making dinners in somebody else's kitchen where their saucepans stick and the tin opener's lost.

It's making up fresh beds for all and dealing with the disputes about who goes in with whom.

You may travel far but you bring your domestic problems with you.

Long ago, in the heady mists of new parenthood, we imagined a break in a hotel in Donegal would be just what we needed.

Our fella was at that tricky two-and-a-half years old stage... never terrible but with a fascination for poking small digits into electric sockets.

So we sailed down to the hotel breakfast – bliss when somebody else is making fresh pancakes – and spent the whole time moving the glasses/bowls/knives away from our boy's reach before he hurled them across the dining room.

It was a frantic game of chess played out in a room full of judgy guests.

The words "Can you not control that child" hovered in the air above the white linen tablecloths, the silver cutlery, the cut glass.

We realised that for the next 16 years, we were better with Ormeau pancakes back home.

Now when we have all the time and none of the toddler, I miss the mad table torment days and the playlist we made for the car - the Octopus's Garden; Beautiful Boy. I miss chucking Percy Pigs over my shoulder to himself in the back seat of the car.

We'll draw a veil over the time I made us get up at 5am to drive to Cork and he threw up his breakfast somewhere around the Cooley peninsula.

This year, we have no holiday stories and we have no pre-holiday crisis because we have no holiday.

For months and months and months, we have closed the curtains, locked the doors and been "not here".

Nobody has come and nobody has gone.

A work colleague reminded me how I wrote about my whole three weeks of isolation following radio-iodine treatment.

It seemed like a big deal before this pandemic.

Three weeks? Cue hollow laughter.

In these summer days, I've become addicted to holiday porn.

Get me on the internet and I'm looking up five star hotels in Paris; adult-only luxury resorts with "swim-up" rooms in Greece and a trip to see those enchanting lemurs of Madagascar.

I'd even take a wet weekend in Carnlough.

I miss lugging suitcases from the attic, stuffing them with clothes we'll never wear, packing the Paracodol.

Proust may have had his madeleine but it's the smell of Hawaiian Tropic that does it for me.

I sit clutching the bottle on the stairs and sniff and yearn for crystal blue waters and swim-up hotel rooms and weaker-than-water tea.

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