No, I am not going anywhere nice
Forget holidays, a couch, a television and peaceful torpor are all I need
Longtailboats at a Thai tropical island. Give me the TV lounge.
‘Are you going anywhere nice for your holidays?”
No, I’m not. After a brood in a dark room, I have deduced that I haven’t been on a summer holiday – or any recreational trip of more than five-days’ duration – since 1998. This was so long ago that I had to enter an actual travel agency and speak to a living human in order to obtain a physical airline ticket. No doubt I travelled with a steamer trunk plastered with stickers featuring graphic representations of the pyramids and the Eiffel Tower.
For some reason, taxi drivers and barbers still feel the need to talk to their captive clients. Presented with a total stranger, they are obliged to begin with worries and experiences common to every human.
The obvious place to start would be the terrible inevitability of death and the ultimate hopelessness of the looming void that awaits us all. But such conversations probably don’t encourage liberal tipping. So, it is always the weather, “the match” or summer holidays. Given that I dislike filthy sun, didn’t watch the boring match and never go on ghastly summer holidays, it is not surprising that a tense silence so often falls on my taxi journeys. (Barbers ceased to be required at some point in Bill Clinton’s first term.)
Everything about other people’s summer holidays is a menace. For eight months of the year, Dublin Airport is a reasonably tolerable place to be. When you set out on a brief work-related trip, you encounter efficient, unflustered men and women who know to remove their belts at security and have mastered the art of stowing luggage without blocking the aisles. From May to August, a mass of bewildered featherheads occupies the terminal and sets about turning the place into Disneyland without the rides.
Swirls of children mill chaotically about the communal spaces. Disappointed Americans mope sadly away from a country that failed to live up to romantic expectations. Everywhere the rubicund neck of the peeling Gael attests to poor preparation for foul sub-tropical climates. Everybody is in my way. Everybody!
It is impossible to accomplish anything worthwhile in these months. This person is walking the Hindu Kush. That fellow is stuffing himself in Barcelona. This voice message confirms that Veda from accounts is yet to return from windsurfing adventures off the Horn of Africa. Since when did we shut the place down in August? Since when did we become French?
Gruesome detailsAll of this might be bearable if the rest of us – or is it just me? – didn’t have to listen to the gruesome details of these tedious jaunts. Over the last few decades, the location of your summer holiday has become every bit as much a social signifier as the make of your car or the price of your house. Until the late 1970s, holiday snobbery was, like education snobbery, pretty much a binary business. You paid for your children’s schooling or you didn’t. You holidayed at home or you went to some unthreatening part of Europe (normally Spain).
In the current era, travel destinations must make the progression from hopelessly glamorous obscurity (“Look at us!”) to mild accessibility (“A few too many Geordies, darling”) to totally outré affordability (“I wouldn’t be seen dead there”).
There is, apparently, a place in Thailand called Ko Samui. Before looking it up for this column, I had no idea how to spell it, nor was I aware that it was an island. Nonetheless, I seem to have been hearing about it incessantly for the last 30 years or so.
The initial founding legends, told when contemporaries still had their own knees, spoke of backpackers sleeping blissfully on the sand after buying herbal cigarettes from a robust old character who would later cordially rob their flip-flops. Obviously, I am making the details up. When the stories began, my mind would shut down and – preparing itself for the inevitable ordeal of photographs – drift away to reveries unconcerned with killer cocktails and poisonous street food.
But I have some notion that, as the years passed, the hotels got better, the satay became less equivocal and children began to occupy newly dug swimming pools. Now everyone goes there. Are you going there? Are you? Are you?
Travel is a wonderful thing. You learn about exotic cultures. You eat funny-looking vegetables. You get to speak English at loud volumes to annoyed foreigners. Summer holidays are, however, horrible manifestations of late capitalism at its most decadent and vulgar. Do not ask me whether I am going anywhere nice this summer. More importantly, don’t tell me where you and your peeling family have been.
To the couch. To the television. To peaceful torpor in a temperate climate.