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There is holiday hell and then there is self-catering

No salt and pepper, no spices, not enough loo roll – welcome to your holiday cottage

“Welcome basket”. It sounds so nice, doesn’t it? So … welcoming. Driving up the M1 to the holiday cottage you booked online, you picture the delights that await you, and smile inwardly even as the sign ahead says: “Queue after the next junction.” You know already there’ll be a lemon drizzle cake from “our local farm shop” (ie a factory in Derby). Also, a jar of marmalade, a bottle of apple juice and a loaf of bread. There always is. But everything else – ginger snaps? Black pudding? A Peking duck? – is still, at this point, subject to the kind of moderately wild imagining that has you pushing your foot down just a little harder on the accelerator.

What you’re forgetting, of course, is that welcome baskets are not, in fact, even remotely welcoming. They are passive-aggressive acts, timed to remind you of both your own desperation (“How much did we pay for this, again?”) and of the fact that a “self-catering holiday” is basically a contradiction in terms (true in any year, but never more brutally so than in 2021). The first rule of the welcome basket – congratulations, you’ve arrived! – is that it will not be a basket at all, but a cardboard box or a plastic bag. The second rule is that, though the house is for four people, it will invariably contain only two, or six, of everything: two yoghurts, two scones, six sausages. (You do the maths, as they say.) The welcome basket’s essential message is: please don’t imagine for a minute that you’re going to be able to get away without visiting Tesco tomorrow.

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