OK UK?: The English Abroad. Not A Pretty Thing...
Now, in the US, when people talk about the holidays, they mean Christmas, Easter and the like. I mean the summer vacation, known in Enid Blyton land as "The Hols."
There are two primary ways to spend the two-week break from modern mundane-ness. One, the type alluded to in a previous hub, involves staying with relatives. This is a cheerless monstrosity of a vacation. Instead of sitting on your own sofa watching “Coronation Street,” you sit on your brother-in-law’s sofa. Instead of going to the pub in your neighborhood, you go with said brother-in-law to his local. Which is completely different, yet, incredibly the same. The men run out of conversation on day one, and the women folk keep talking for the full two weeks - and call each other when they get home.
This type of vacation is proof that you are a complete loser. Stay at work or paint the out-house, or anything, just do not go. If the wife can be persuaded to go to her sister’s without you, score one for you mate.
No the holiday I'm talking about begins in the week after Christmas. The day those lovely brochures from Mr. Cook, et al arrive. Thousands of tiny pictures of giant hotels on beaches bathed in sunshine, gentle waves, and beautiful women. This is the ubiquitous package tour; accommodation, meals and flight, all neatly wrapped in a bundle that won't cost you one.
So, you and the trouble (and strife = wife) sit on your sofa, turn the telly down, and dream together.
There are several components that must come together for this to work out well. One, all and any aspects of foreignness have to be removed from the place. You want the sunshine, pool, and beach, but it had better have no overtones of Spain, Greece, or any other culture outside the warm embrace of lower middle class British-ness. They need to have English beer, English food and English newspapers, with just a couple of local components on the side. Sangria is ok, as is anything else already sampled by your friend, Maureen, and declared not bad. These small cultural diversions are quite important, as these are the things you talk about ad nauseum on your return, as in, "You should try the calamari when you go, " sounding all brave and world traveler-y, though the thing was deep fried in batter until unrecognizable. Heaven help anyone if they discover it is actually squid. (No, it's not chicken...)
The decision to go to Torremilinos made, you could go online or call the company, but to do this properly you need to go to the Travel Agent’s in the high street. The shop is identified by thousands of little cards in the window, each one promising heaven for a month’s wages, or less.
Online and ticket-less is ok for some, but to really do it properly, you need tickets in your hand. Tickets that you then place on the mantle piece in an envelope to remind you that it is real and coming.
Once that envelope sits front and center in the parlor, you can plan the rest of your trip. Step one is borrow a suitcase from Maureen, if you can't you go down the market and buy a cheap one (a “Louey Vintron,” or “Travelbro,” the best that the knockoff shops in China can muster).
Now, he'll just wear his regular stuff, only less of it, and those day-glow Speedos from last decade. He might buy a T-shirt with some message about beer, or tits, or both, but that's about it.
The ladies, however, need outfits. It is mind boggling, to a degree off the Richter scale, that said ladies honestly believe that their British bodies belong in anything resembling lounge wear, let alone beach wear. After years of bacon butties and deep-fried everything, these are not bikini bodies. Honestly, ladies, smoking two packs a day is not a diet plan - just saying...
And that thing called a cover-up, not completely working, dear.
However, undeterred, the clothes are slowly acquired and loving placed in the suitcase, getting ready for the day...
Now, it is a pesky fact of life that they do not use Pounds Sterling everywhere in the world. You will have to exchange your Pounds for Euros. Yes, you will feel like you got ripped off, and you will spend the entire two weeks converting every price you see back to pounds, and declaring loudly that it only costs half as much at home. Get over it. Yes, your ATM card will work over there, but it will give you Euros, and the good news is you won't know how much things actually cost until you get home.
The magical day arrives. You get a friend to drop you off at the airport, where you will spend the first few days of your holiday, due to the collapse of some bargain airline or another. Be patient, your turn to walk out to the plane with your luggage (unforeseen labor issues with the baggage handlers) will come. Then, in what seems no time at all, you land in holiday land.
You unload the plane, help refuel if necessary, and meet the impossibly pretty girl from the tour company, who will direct you to your bus. You load the bus (unforeseen labor issues....) and arrive at your hotel. Now, due to your purchase of the super-saver package, your hotel is not actually on the beach, but if you go up on the roof, lean out a little bit, and look through the binoculars, you can actually see the sea.
If you are lucky, most of the hotel is built, and there seems to be no one working on the construction site next door (unforeseen labor issues....) so other than the drunks and taxis on the street below, it is relatively quiet. (The nightclub does not start pumping the bass until 2 a.m.)
Bliss. You go down to the restaurant for your pie and chips supper, and somehow, from somewhere, the husband has purchased an offensive T-shirt. After dinner, a man so impossibly perky, he must be fueled by Columbian fairy dust, exhorts you to go to the "Eeenglish pub" for an evening of entertainment, (Which bears an uncanny resemblance to the entertainment at your local pub.)
The very brave, and/or very drunk, then head off to the disco "for a bloody good time," and a scene reminiscent of your Aunt Irene’s wedding quickly emerges.
No one will remember going home, but someone in your group will have a new tattoo. After a hearty English breakfast, hyper-Tony reappears, to direct you to the bus that will take you to the beach. To protect the locals, the bus has blacked out windows, thus saving them from the acres of white flesh and miniature patches of cloth masquerading as bathing suits.
The bus pours out its occupants at the beach, which at first glance, looks full. The resemblance to elephant seals fleetingly crosses one’s mind, but with towel and mat to hand, you head off to claim your little patch of paradise.
Then, you marinate, baste, and burn. Foreign sun laughs at suntan lotion bought at Boots in the bargain isle, and within ten minutes everyone acquires a nice even, all over, second-degree burn. Ten minutes later, everyone is in the handy beachside pub, complaining about how bloody hot it is, and begin the battle of fighting the excruciating pain with alcohol.
On day twelve, your skin has peeled away, you have what may be a tan, or dirt (who can shower in that state?) and it is time to think about returning to dear old blighty. You buy a couple of mementos, once again courtesy of a Chinese sweat shop, and bind your suitcase with string, due to its unexplained demise while resting under your bed.
Couple of days at the airport, load the plane, and in a blink of an eye, you are home. You have to break into your house, due to the mountain of junk mail blocking the door (and the sixty bottles of rancid milk on the doorstep.) You finally get in, put the kettle on for a decent cuppa, and sit on the sofa, looking at the blank spot on the mantle where the envelope used to be.
Don't worry, Christmas will be here soon enough, and the search for two weeks of paradise can begin once again.
Unless this year you are going to visit your sister....
Dear Hub Reader
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