Last week I spent my longest time yet apart from my son, when I was sent to Spain to review a spa for this very paper. My account will be out in due course, so I’ll say nothing save that it was so fancy that at one point Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem sat down in front of me at lunch, all real and gorgeous, and presumably wondering why they’d sat so close to the palest and most bewildered man in Spain.
Getting to go to spas, or do photoshoots showcasing my favourite socks, is a nice perk of a sometimes unsteady job. Some people might have been torn up at leaving their wife and child for four days, but I was ready to embrace the upsides: uninterrupted sleep, sunny skies, a lack of viscous fluids on every surface. Besides, things like this are not merely pleasurable in and of themselves, they also pay my bills. Memories of such gigs also help a writer feel smug and important during those more idle months where you end up doing that thing where you put water in the very-nearly-finished bottle of washing-up liquid and swish it about a bit so you get another few goes out of it. ‘Isn’t it grand to be an artist, darling?’ we call to our adoring partners, as we peel the teabag from its spoon and place it to one side for re-use later.
Cruz and Bardem didn’t look like they did the thing with the washing-up liquid, or the teabags. And here I was among them, living my best life. Or at least a slightly aerated version, where I walked around this beautiful place and found myself feeling more empty about it all than I expected.
I was, pretty soon, marvelling at how much I did miss my family after all. The revelation that I did so was, let me be clear, extremely annoying. It’s not like I was going on a 12-year whaling expedition, returning in time to arm-wrestle a beer out of my bearded son’s hand. It was a four-day trip to Spain to be professionally pampered. I’d expected to miss them a little, of course. After I called them, perhaps, or any time I stepped on a clean floor and the absence of tiny little globs of food in every direction brought my son to mind. But, no. I didn’t even just miss my wife and son themselves, but the rhythms of home life I’d so happily left behind. The noise, the clatter, even the Sisyphean rounds of hide-and-seek involving that one curtain in the living room he’s used 14,000 times. ‘Ugh,’ I’d think, catching myself dreamily reminiscing about my son’s laughter, or his penchant for nuzzling into my neck at storytime. ‘Pull yourself together.’
It was a bit like how you feel when you want to sneeze but can’t. Or when you sit down to a much-vaunted meal and find you’re not hungry enough to enjoy it, or how the Cruz-Bardems must have felt when that same meal is mildly ruined by the melancholy Irishman two tables over, flicking through baby photos and counting the hours till storytime comes again.
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats