Summer’s nearly over, but don’t give up yet. Here is our expert guide to extending the alfresco season
Yesterday I wore a halterneck swimming costume to work. Not on its own, you understand. I paired it with some high-waisted jeans, popped a bra underneath for the sake of propriety, ignored the fact that the halterneck made the bra 75 per cent visible to the greater public — thus rather undermining my attempt at propriety — whacked some pool slides on my feet and off I went! I did this not because I was going swimming later, but because I just felt like it.
Today, in very much the same spirit, I am wearing a virtually see-through kaftan top tucked into a denim miniskirt, the hem of which is frayed in the interest of seeming yet more casual. (I severed it myself with nail scissors only this morning.) I travelled to the office in battered old Birkenstocks, a pair of “proper” shoes in my bag, shoes I intended to change into, at some point . . . Only it’s nearly home time, and what do you know? I never did! Tomorrow I think I’ll take my laptop and work from the side of my local lido. When I’m finished, I’ll almost certainly walk the long way home, across the heath; possibly barefoot.
Welcome to the dog days of my “fake-cation”: my faked vacation, the semi-permanent holiday zone I inhabit from earliest June until whenever I fancy, during which time I persist with the outfits, lifestyle choices and general attitudes of a person who is on holiday — without actually being on holiday. Which I’m certainly not. I had my real holiday in late May, and anyway, not being on actual holiday is the whole point of the fake-cation, how you distinguish between them and the (better known, less fashionable) staycation. One works throughout a fake-cation — you just take work slightly less seriously than you would otherwise; you turn up a little later, you lunch a little longer, you can’t quite understand what it is you normally get so stressed about all the time!*
(*This may or may not be a consequence of you taking up a little light lunchtime drinking.)
Why fake-cation? Because it’s so hot again! Because a paltry fortnight of real summer holiday is not nearly enough. Because the Olympics, and the celebratory light relief they offered, are over. Because this weekend signifies the last bank holiday of the summer, which sort of signifies the official end of summer, and that is frankly too depressing to bear. Because we are not ready to give it up just yet, are we?
I know I’m not. I also know I’m not the only person enjoying this lifestyle at the moment; fake-cationers surround me. I know them by their wardrobe choices and their posturing, and they know me for the same reasons. We saunter leisurely round farmers’ markets for the purpose of our weekly food shop, spending three times as much as we usually would on olive oil, treating the whole thing as if it’s a great laugh and a leisure activity; entering a supermarket only to bulk-buy the Magnums that now (somehow) make up part of our emergency freezer essentials, the frozen peas of fake-cation season.
Fake-cationers do padron peppers and calamari rings for tea; we casually griddle halloumi on a Tuesday night, even though it sets off the smoke detector and winds up the neighbours. We always always opt for the outside pavement café seats and order Aperol spritzes and affogatos, even if it isn’t that hot. We queue outside ice-cream bars in our lunch hours, waiting for our turn to order ice cream (ideally matcha soft serve, aka summer 2016’s ice-cream phenomenon) with quite uncharacteristic patience, acting like people who would never dream of tutting and huffing our way through the most perfunctory of service delays under normal circumstances, because: relax! We’re all on holiday here! (Sort of).
We strip down to our bras in parks, blocking out the sun’s rays with carefully angled Kindles, novel-reading our way peacefully through time we’d more generally spend compulsively checking emails. We wear virtually no make-up, yet keep our toenails in a constant state of glossed-up pedicure, because we can’t remember the last time we wore shoes that weren’t sandals. Our legs are perpetually shaved, because we always have bare legs at the office/never know when we might be inspired to strip down to our pants because we appear to be on some manner of spontaneous day trip to Brighton. Fake-cationers like: afternoon naps, early morning/evening swimming, salt-spritz sprays for our hair (which we haven’t had professionally blow-dried since spring) and waiters who wear shorts. Fake-cationers have forgotten what the restrictive grip of tailored cloth even feels like. And don’t get us started on socks!
I don’t know about you, but this is by no means my first fake-cation. I have never been afraid of a sarong in the city, a cut-off short in an allegedly formal situation, I tan well, have never seen the sense in hiding that fact from the greater world, and when the sun comes out in the UK I dawdle in its borderline-oppressive heat with conviction. But this year, my longstanding activities have been reinforced and supported by fashion trends, which have become as déshabillé as hell over recent months. Shirts and blouse styles have slipped down off shoulders, dresses have lost structure and gained frills and flamenco flow, bags have been substituted for wicker off-down-le-marché baskets, jeans have loosened up and had their hems removed. As fashion relaxed, so attitudes relaxed with it, and we’re now all wondering why on earth we don’t always drink rosé from a carafe, and out of flat-bottomed glasses, with extra ice cubes on the side, of an early Wednesday evening . . .
The bliss of the fake-cation is that — unlike actual vacations — they can be maintained for as long as we can maintain our own faith in the holiday head-state (you know, like fairies for five-year-olds), or at least until the weather makes swimwear-as-daywear untenable. I intend to make my fake-cation stretch at least until mid-September. I thoroughly encourage you to do the same.
Beach reads for the bank holiday by Daisy Goodwin
Lie with Me by Sabine Durrant (£14.99, Hodder & Stoughton)
A man’s past catches up with him on a Greek island. Funny and compelling.
White Sands by Geoff Dyer (£16.99, Canongate)
Funny, wry with flashes of the profound. Dyer’s essays are mostly set in the Los Angeles sunshine.
My Husband’s Son by Deborah O’Connor (£7.99, Twenty7 Publishing)
Gripping psychological study of a couple brought together because they have both lost a child — but what happens when one child comes back?
When in French: Love in a Second Language by Lauren Collins (£12.99, 4th Estate)
Acute account of an American learning to love her new husband’s native tongue.
Not Working by Lisa Owen (£12.99, Picador)
One of the funniest books of the year about a twentysomething who quits her job to find out who she really is. Makes work seem quite enticing.
Dress like you’re in Provence by fashion editor Harriet Walker
Current fashion trends are reinforcing the fake-ation way of life having become as déshabillé as hell in the late summer. Shirts and blouse styles have slipped down off shoulders. Dresses have lost structure and gained frills and flow.
It-bags have been replaced by casual wicker baskets. The look, even if you’re actually on your way to work, is very off-down-le-marché.
Adriatic cotton dress, Ace & Jig, £255, matchesfashion.com
Just looking at this picnic blanket-check cotton dress makes me feel like I’m on holiday, but the tie waist tones down the beachiness levels to something that is more than city-appropriate, too.
Printed dress, Zara, £29.99, zara.com
A summer dress you can wear into autumn, too. Wear with tights and boots when the weather turns, but for now, enjoy the boho floatiness with strappy sandals.
Pretend you’re in Sicily, serve crab linguine by food editor Tony Turnbull
The key to a foodie fake-cation is to channel the spirit of what you eat abroad, but do a bit more work behind the scenes, to add a sauce here or throw in a few extra ingredients there. In short, I’m afraid to say, to do a little bit more cooking.
There’s nothing I like more on holiday than freshly cracked crab with a squeeze of lemon juice. Back home, though, I’d probably upgrade it to crab and chilli linguine. Pick up a couple of dressed crabs, stir the brown meat into cooked and drained pasta, lubricate it with lime juice and good olive oil, throw in some chopped chilli and coriander and scatter over the white crab meat. Perfect.
You can get away with plain grilled lamb and a feta salad on a Greek island, but come September I’ll probably bulk up the salad with couscous or bulgur wheat and make a sauce paloise, which is essentially a minty hollandaise and great with charred lamb. If I’m feeling lazy, though, I’ll serve the lamb with whipped feta. Simply crumble a couple of blocks of feta into a liquidiser, add a few tablespoons of oil and water, and blend to a creamy consistency. Then drizzle it over the lamb or salad, maybe with a bit of pomegranate molasses on top. Honestly, you won’t believe how many people ask for the “recipe”.
To finish, I’d go for a lemon tart: clean, simple and very summery. The best recipe you’ll find is from Theo Randall’s book My Simple Italian. To fill a pre-cooked 26cm sweet pastry base, he melts 300g of butter with 300g of sugar and the juice and zest of about five lemons until the sugar is dissolved. Then he adds six eggs plus nine yolks (yes, you read that right) and cooks them without boiling until the lemon curd thickens. Then he pours it into the case and slides it under a hot grill to caramelise the top. It will be the best lemon tart you have tasted.
A final tip: the biggest post-holiday letdown for me is that tomatoes do not taste as good as they do in Spain or Italy. There’s not much you can do about our climate, but you can boost their flavour considerably by roughly slicing them and putting them in a sieve with plenty of salt. It will drain out the water and leave a much more concentrated flavour of tomato.
Everyone’s having an aperitivo
What do you mean you don’t know what a Crodino is? It’s the non-alcoholic Italian aperitif that tastes exactly like Aperol — but without the booze, so you can drink one on your lunchbreak. Everyone’s doing it. Ten bottles from £6.99, amazon.co.uk
An alcoholic tonic made by essentially spiking tonic with pedro ximenez sherry. Serve it with gin and lots of ice. 200ml for £1.90, Waitrose
Buy cheap wine (and top up with ice) by wine critic Jane MacQuitty
2015 Taste the Difference Bordeaux Rosé, France
Bursting with easy-glugging fruit, this rosé is the perfect summer food-friendly choice — particularly when drunk alfresco.
Sparkling Blanc de Blancs Burgundy Brut Cave de Lugny, France
This year at the Coachella festival in California everyone was drinking fizz on ice — this stylish French blanc de blanc is drier than most and bursts with light lemon zest and granny smith apple fruit.
2015 Atlantique Sauvignon Blanc Loire, France
This refreshing white is the pauper’s sancerre, and great with fish.
If you must leave your garden . . . by Tom Chesshyre
Go on a UK safari
Pigs, deer and cattle roam in 3,500 acres at the Knepp Wildland Safaris’ park in West Sussex. Join an open-sided vehicle or sign up for a guided walking tour. The owners say it’s as “wild as the African bush”. Details A safari is from £25 (kneppsafaris.co.uk)
Head for a secret beach
You get to the pebbly beach at Birling Gap in East Sussex, tucked behind the vast Seven Sisters cliffs, by wooden staircases that cling to the chalkface. There’s fine shrimping and crabbing here, as well as good surfing. Details Free (nationaltrust.org.uk)
Escape to the moors
More than 180 hectares of rugged scenery await at Blacka Moor in South Yorkshire, including heathland, boggy mires, twisting streams and copses of birch trees. This nature reserve is home to a prized herd of red deer. Details Free (wildsheffield.com)
Go on an old-fashioned rollercoaster
Check out the rides at Dreamland, an amusement park in Margate in Kent with a wooden rollercoaster, dodgems and a rollerskate disco. Afterwards, pop by the Turner Contemporary gallery or go for a drink at one of the buzzy bars. Details (visitthanet.co.uk)
See lions and tigers
Head out to see the camels, giraffes, lions, rhinos, tigers and elephants of Longleat in Wiltshire. Watch out in the monkey section because they are known to leap on vehicles. Details Adult from £28.85, child £21.20 (longleat.co.uk)
Step back into the 19th century
The open-air Black County Living Museum on the edge of Dudley re-creates life in the 1830s when the region’s iron manufacturing rose to prominence. There’s a canal-side village with characters in 19th-century dress, a coal mine and a period pub. Details Adult £15.95, child £7.45 (bclm.co.uk)
Go for a long walk
A network of footpaths criss-crosses the grass and woodland by Yellowcraig beach in East Lothian, making it perfect for walkers and beach lovers. Details Free (visitscotland.com)
See an eccentric village
The rollerskate disco at Dreamland in Margate
Portmeirion in north Wales is a bizarre, Italianate “tourist village” of colourful cottages, restaurants, a hotel and shops. There’s a small beach and a spa. Details Adult tickets £10, children £7 (portmeirion-village.com)