WITH the peak holiday season approaching, let
me state my tourist credo. I do not enjoy holidays; I undergo them. I
see myself and other sufferers as the modern equivalents of medieval
pilgrims who journeyed arduously, sometimes whipping themselves or
otherwise mortifying their flesh, to reach a hallowed spot.
While waiting at crowded airports for delayed flights, mortifying
my flesh in cramped, plane seats or staying in hotel rooms next to
building sites, all-night discos, air-port runways or restaurant
kitchens, sounds from which suggest serious Sicilian feuds, I sometimes
whip myself into a frustration frenzy as I realise that I have only
myself to blame for suffering torments undreamed of by Dante in his
Inferno, and paying to do so.
This week, after a holiday in Brussels, my wife and I visited
London’s Dali exhibition where, among sculptured and painted melted
watches and meticulously distorted statues, I realised that holidays
were also surrealistic zones.
In Brussels, we decided to visit - as one does - the site of the
Battle of Waterloo, and arrived at the Gare du Midi bus station at 9:15
am in search of a relevant vehicle.
The station was deserted except for a blonde-haired, black woman
and a female, gum-chewing, far-eastern teenager. Responding to my
fractured French, they firmly denied knowledge of the bus.
After vainly seeking help from an international mix of resident
Belgians, a sympathetic bus driver drove us, free, to a bus stop several
miles away where, he assured us, the bus would arrive in time’s
After 30 minutes wait at an unidentified suburb and with no
information from other bus stop standers, I sought help at a nearby
bank. Entrance was by electronic key code. Randomly, I pressed numbers
and an alarm brought a minion who mutteringly opened up.
Inside, bus information was crisply unavailable, so I tried to
leave. I keyed all numbers. The door seemed rattled but remained shut so
I fronted an indignant queue, shouted frantically at a teller who
sullenly let me escape.
After an hour, with the question, "Who are we and what are we
doing here?" on our lips, the bus arrived - and surrealistically roared
Despairing, we taxied to the bus station and were about to
abandon Waterloo to its ghosts, when a helpful local pointed to our bus
about to depart. Frantically, we clambered aboard and exhaustedly met
Surrealistic, too, was Moorea, a paradisal island off Tahiti,
that we visited some years ago for an afternoon excursion. There, we
took a ramshackle local bus to breathe in the atmosphere instead of a
sanitised coach tour.
After juddering along for about 30 minutes, the bus stopped at a
village where the driver told passengers to get off and wait for
another, more reliable, vehicle. The locals departed but, dutifully, my
wife and I waited.
Two hours passed, full of bird sounds and sweet airs that gave
delight and hurt not, but we wanted to get the last ferry to Tahiti that
would depart in 40 minutes, enabling us to catch our flight to
Australia. Fate had gone out of its way just to make us miserable.
Eventually, helpful natives aroused a somnolent taxi driver whose
vehicle jolted us to the ferry about three minutes before departure.
Surrealistically worse was a trip to Paris in the early Eighties.
Arriving by rail at Dover to cross the Channel, we were told that
waiting buses would take passengers to the docks.
The only bus was empty, but seven coloured men - from Senegal, we
discovered - carrying suitcases labelled "Paris" were boarding and we
did too. Eventually, other passengers arrived and we set off - into the
hinterland. The bus was taking a fishing party to some local river.
Told about our predicament, the driver deposited my wife and me
and the dark strangers at a small railway station, where, after phoning
for docks-bound taxis, that arrived 30 minutes later, we waited, while
the wind twanged a threnody in the telegraph wires and the surrealistic
day wore on.
What is needed is a realistic, anti-holiday, fee-paying club
offering counselling and therapy to persuade those with persistent
holiday urges to stay at home, save money, time and health, and, if
necessary, pile up furniture behind their front doors.
Perhaps some people could organise it - if they’re not on