Susie Lau on whether we can really relax in August
What are you doing this summer? It’s a question that seeps into most polite conversations these days with well-meaning intentions, but my evasive answer of “I have no idea” sends me down a rabbit hole of mindless panic. My Instagram algorithm picks up on that and starts showing me reels of rustic villas with tastefully tiled pools (which are inevitably already booked). I leave the Airbnb search option with “I am flexible” and still can’t find anything. I look at flights on Skyscanner with departures at odd times (3am? Sure!) on budget airlines with off-budget prices.
I’ve always dragged on summers, allowing June to run full blast, then July being interrupted by an insufficient week in a vaguely warm place with the kid (which obviously makes me need some other holidays after the children’s holidays). Then exhausted from planning “summer”, I’ll stroll through London in August, floating with the tumbleweed of beer cans, empty Calippo tubes and cut-out festival wristbands.
But there is a new urgency for this summer. This is of course the first post-pandemic summer, full of opportunity, with most travel restrictions lifted and Britons no longer crawling Covid pariahs. Rescheduled destination weddings are enabled. Big birthday backs are on. Any reason to walk away will be justified and justified. Our hopes and expectations channeled into buying, say, a new seersucker bikini, are now manifesting tenfold.
And yet, finding a good block of time to spend an uninterrupted summer, as opposed to little getaways, always seems ambitious. Even with the extra bank holiday this year, our summers are still scrappy compared to our European counterparts. Just got back from Milan where the kids were already throwing shaving foam and colored chalk powder at each other to celebrate their last day of school, and so started their three month summer vacation, compared to the six week that my daughter has. We will all be used to tipping over to this trendy restaurant in parts of France, Italy and Spain, only to find the shutters closed as people really relax for the month of August. I seethe in front of my laptop, with wet summer rain falling outside, as out-of-office emails from agencies and brands in Milan and Paris begin to pile up.
They left. They cannot be reached. They will respond on the first of September. Countless questions on Reddit and Quora are popping up from curious Americans, confusing how European countries work by taking away the month of August.
A progressive British company, 64 Million Artists (admittedly, it’s a creative catalyst company), is offering its employees the whole month of August on leave with full pay. According to its founder, Jo Hunter, she hopes she’ll be back on September 1 and sincerely tell people she’s fine when they ask, “How are you?” With a vaguely legitimate reason that I am currently 20 weeks pregnant, for the first time in my working life, I will be setting up an out of office email for the duration of August. The same way people are trying to convince me that belly chains and bootcut jeans are a thing again, I’m trying to make August Break happen. I drop it every chance I get. ‘I take August OFF. As in OFF-OFF!’
Come August 3 after two days of doing nothing, I might give in. A brief will land in my mailbox. A fun or lucrative mission. And then shit. I’m going to tell myself what I tell myself every year. Summer in London is the best.