August 10th, 2002

Aug 9th

Going on holiday means always having to say you’re sorry.

My own experience of holidays begins with Mrs Winterson and the annual week in Blackpool. The factory my Dad where my Dad worked, making black and white televisions the size of Portacabins, shut down for a ritual fortnight in August. That meant one week for him at home, painting the coal hole and outside loo, and one week for us at a seaside resort with a Gospel Tent – that meant Blackpool.

I am travel- sick on coaches, and as coaches were my mother’s preferred mode of transport, our first summer purchase was sick-bags. I thought these had gone out of fashion until I saw them in a chemist last week, re-packaged as Seal-able Pouches for Upset Stomaches. Such fashionable kangaroo-wear is now opaque blue, but in my day, they were transparent so that you could see just how bad things were.

‘If you had prayed before we set off, you wouldn’t have been sick’ was all the comfort I got by bout Number Eight. In the end I had to use my bucket – as in bucket and spade, and Noddy got a Big Ear-full.

Our holiday was full of apologies; my father saying sorry for buying the wrong brand of Corned Beef. The B and B owner regretting that we couldn’t have a corner room on the Esplanade, and yes, the bed-spreads were purple when he bought them, (this was the 1960″s), and no, his son was not on drugs.

My mother always wrung an admission of failure out of the Gospel Tent brigade for not providing enough Chorus Sheets, and she usually got us free suppers from the Chip Shop in return for Blessing the Cod. This was not as benign as it sounds – she started by disputing the quality of the cod, and threatening the owners with Food Standards. Her solution was to bless it, and then demonstrate how it had improved by eating it herself.

All this was conducted out -loud, with a queue of Believers waiting in line. As this particular Chip Shop offered 10 per cent off if you were Saved, my mother had them by the tail.

Holidays have frightened me for years. I have tried to be grown up about it and just go, but when I get to the airport and see the heaving mass of miserable humanity, I have (twice) turned round and gone back to my desk.

There are plenty of philosophers who say that human beings cannot expect to be happy. We must have absorbed this gloomy prognosis when we developed mass transport. Why would anybody want to be wedged tight and smelly as an anchovy? The tragedy is that most people do it every day going to work, then do it again in shorts, and call it going on holiday.

If it were just the journey, maybe it would be worthwhile, but look what happens at the other end – thousands of people you hoped didn’t exist, sitting on a towel next to yours.

I just came back from Capri, where I can usually hide, but I did stay in a fancy hotel for a few days, and every morning a woman from Manchester appeared by the pool, took off all that she could without being arrested, and not caring that her skin had the look and texture of a walnut biscuit, started to do her stomach firming exercises. That’s what she called them – in fact it involved eating a specially made bacon sandwich with her legs in the air.

‘They put it on Ciabatta – but it is bacon’ she told me, because she liked sitting next to me, even though every other sun- lounger was empty, Then her husband appeared, and she kicked him into the pool – I am not making this up – shouting ‘Get in yer wimp!’

I managed to re-locate myself next to a quiet woman from Bristol. Then I over -heard her confiding in her friend – ‘Sex in the morning, then I take the kids to the beach, then we have lunch and it’s sex in the afternoon, then I take the kids on a trip, then I have to dress for dinner, and he doesn’t say a word ,except “‘This is nice darling.” I can’t wait to get back to the school run and have the day to myself. We aren’t used to spending time together.’

My best friend has gone camping with her brood, and being endlessly cheerful, she told me ‘I know I’ll be shattered when we get back, but that’s what holidays are for.’

My tree surgeon – a woman – has gone to Ibitha – ‘I’ll be wrecked – but that’s what holidays are for.’

I always knew it – first Blackpool, then the world. Think of me in Greece.