Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wish you WEREN'T here

The peace is about to shatter. Next Monday will see many of my French colleagues (and, it would appear, neighbours) returning from the beach, having left for les grandes vacances on the stroke of August 1, vacated desk chairs swiveling, Looney Tunes-style, in their wake.

For the record (and especially if the boss is reading) I have been busy with all the important stuff that doesn't go away. That said, the quieter environment has afforded me the opportunity to fully appreciate what I've missed by not joining the August evacuation (a term I use with apologies to the constipated).

Let's start, then, on a gloomy note: the summer holidays are one of two peak periods each year for relationships to end and marriages to dissolve (the other being Christmas). This is due to couples who only see each other for dinner and weekends throughout the rest of the year suddenly being compressed into each others' lives for a fortnight in the same hotel room or holiday apartment. Throw in azure waters and idyllic sunsets, and thoughts that there could be more to life than this, and before the first layer of skin has peeled appointments with divorce lawyers and relationship counsellors are being made.

Nothing brings out bickering better than a holiday. Travel brings out the worst in people, in general, as anyone who travels regularly will attest, but it also brings out the worst in relationships.

A recent survey by a "relationship care" website (actually, an online sex toy retailer...) found that three-quarters of couples will have a barney within the first two days of their holiday. A large percentage - 42% - of arguments are caused by overspending, while getting drunk represented a third.

Other disagreements were over what to do each day, ogling the opposite sex (or indeed any form of flirtation - e.g. with hairy-chested waiters or push-up bra-wielding receptionists), moaning about being ill, taking too long to get ready, and forgetting to pack something vital. Then there are contretemps about male partners who bloke it out for the first week and go without suntan lotion...only to turn the colour of the Polish flag and need hospital treatment for sunstroke. Or the male partners who get bladdered every night and then wonder why their partners have moved into the inflatable plastic dinghy for the remainder of the holiday. Or the male partners who chose unfamiliar-looking seafood, and spend the first week retching into the Arnitage Shanks. Do you notice a pattern here?

Other niggles include a partner talking too much, being tired, being ill, being old, being unfit, faddy eating and that old holiday dust-up favourite, map reading. Indeed, whether it is Brits clogging up the A303 for a Devon 'staycation', the Dutch clogging up France with their caravans and Volvos, or the Germans clogging up the otherwise empty Dutch roads with their Mercedes and BMWs, road rage is just as commonplace inside the car as outside.

According to different consumer research, navigation is a particular painpoint for holidaying couples. Evidently, when forced to navigate via map, as opposed to GPS, 95% of men would prefer to go with their instincts and getting lost rather than listening to their other half. And, of course, it's never their fault...

It would be all too easy to say that for a peaceful holiday, ditch the car and just go for the simple taxi-airport-bus-hotel-beach/pool operation favoured by those annoyingly smug travellers who also pack everything they need for a two-week break into a bag the size of a 7-year-old's pencil case.

Yes, it costs a bit, but you're paying for some P&Q, not to mention lower blood pressure just at the time you need to enjoy your annual "chillax", as British politicians seem to think it is cool to say (it isn't).

That said, flying is not exactly stress-free, either: security will be a nightmare, you will have that child behind you or, worse, that git in front of you, his finger hovering over the 'recline' button as you take off, and you will feel like you need another holiday as soon as you've touched down from the current one.

However, that's assuming you got away in the first place. Often the first holiday arguments kick off before the suitcase has even been closed. With airlines restricting how much luggage you can take for free, if you're one of those people who has to travel with every shade of shoe from your own, personal Imelda Marcos-style walk-in wardrobe, you're already asking for trouble. The truth is, you can probably make do with just the pair you're wearing.

Assuming you've managed to pack for everyone, the next explosion will be over what time everyone needs to be up. Somee treat airports like a McDonalds - in principle, you breeze in, check-in, and are on your way in a single sequence. But others see them for the necessary evils they are. It doesn't matter what time your flight is, you will encounter a traffic jam; the security line will resemble a biblical exodus, and if you don't check-in online, you will - I assure you - end up in the middle seat no-one wants. With aforementioned child behind, and Captain Recline in front.

Don't, however, for one minute think the ordeal is over when you get to the airport, sans traffic. Because it will only then occur to you that a passport, and not your gym membership card, is the only form of acceptable identification for commercial air travel. Luckily the Law of Averages has determined that for every dimwit traveller in a party there will be a sensible one who remembers these things. Still, that won't prevent the "I thought you had them?" stand-up row in front of that lengthening line of batey-looking easyJet "speedy boarders".

So, then. Car it is. Except that if you're travelling with kith and kin, you are almost certainly likely to have an argument with someone else in the car. Britain's AA, together with market researchers Populus, found that for a start, two out of three cars will befall a row at some point on a long journey. Those aged between 18 and 24 seemed most likely to kick off, with the over-65s learning to sit in silence or suck on a Murray Mint to keep the peace.

Inevitably, the single-biggest cause of disharmony was navigation, with a passenger complaining about the driver's speed being the second most common complaint. Parents in the 35-44 age group were most likely to get wound up by noisy kids. Other moans included the driver shouting at other drivers, driving too slowly, the temperature inside the car, arguments over where to eat and what to listen to. Sound familiar?

From all this it might be tempting to think that there is no escaping rows while travelling with those you supposedly love. Well, yes and know. Experts suggest that a little bit of planning goes a long way: decide where you want to go before you set off, if the "what are we going to do today?" question is a trigger for strife. Likewise, to avoid fights over spending, set a budget and try and limit yourself to only so much each day.

All very sensible, I'll agree. But perhaps there is only one truly sensible way to stay happy and harmonious on holiday. Well, two. One, don't go on holiday at all, although for some people the mere thought of not getting time off will lead them up the nearest clock tower with a high-powered rifle faster than you can say Benidorm; and, Two, go away on your own. I can personally guarantee that holidaying alone cures 99.9% of all known arguments.

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