I’ve written in the past about what it’s like to go on holiday without access to the internet – even for a tech addict like me, I find it surprisingly easy to switch off – but it’s nowhere near as relaxing and therapeutic as going on a holiday where you get away from people, as we have just done.
Live in an urban area and work for a large company as I do, and being surrounded by people – and all the demands and stresses they inevitably create – is a fact of life, pretty much 24/7. Which is one of the reasons why I enjoy staying with one of our old university friends at her place in the village of Malleville-sur-le-Bec (near Rouen), which I remain convinced has a larger population of tractors than people. If you want to get away from the world without climbing a mountain in the Himalayas, this is about as good and convenient as it gets – less than a three-hour drive, virtually all of it on autoroutes, from the Channel Tunnel.
We only go for five days every two to three years, but I typically come back from our trips more relaxed and rested than after a two or even three-week holiday. (Or as relaxed as you can get when you have three kids under six in tow.)
How quiet is it? At one point one morning when the others had gone out food shopping, the only sounds I could hear were the gentle whirring of a tractor on the neighbouring property and the strains of Kara playing The Wanted’s ‘Walks Like Rihanna’ on the iPad. (It was so nearly perfect …) No people, no cars on the village road, no nothing. Just me, a toddler obsessed with pop music and my own thoughts.
I also went out with Isaac and his bike on a couple of occasions, exploring the roads in and out of the village. Except for the occasional passing car, all we could hear for the most part were crickets chirping and the rustling of leaves.
At night, there’s no familiar tungsten glow of a thousand street and house lights to cast a haze over the clear night sky. If there’s no moon, there’s no light – only proper darkness.
There’s no sound either. This is agricultural land, a series of properties scattered across a wide area. Standing in the middle of the plot, I could just about throw a stone through the nearest neighbour’s window – but only just.
Truly, Malleville is the middle of nowhere in a way that most folk rarely experience, unless you’ve lived on a farm. Or maybe a small island. Or in a cave.
At home and at work, we’re so caught up in our modern day lives that we forget how stressful they are – and indeed how much more stressful they have become in even the 20 years since I started working. Back then we still sent internal memos rather than emails to which we expect an instantaneous response. We booked meetings by talking to people about their diaries rather than firing off electronic invites. Travelling time in the car could not be interrupted by a trilling mobile phone. And when we went home in the evening or at the weekend there was no expectation that we would remain contactable – because we weren’t contactable by email, mobile or smoke signal.
And that’s the appeal of spending five days in Malleville-in-the-middle-of-nowhere. It’s more than just a break from work – it’s a break from the sea of white noise that comes from being surrounded by people and technology. When you’re far from the madding crowd like this and the biggest decision you have to make all day is what to buy for lunch, the stresses and strains of modern life soon melt away. We should all do it more often. It’s good for the soul as well as for the body.