Wednesday, 5 October 2011

On holidays

I'm not one of nature's holiday takers. I don't really like to travel much, or be away - although I find I enjoy it more and more as I get older. Also, I like to have everything to hand at all times, which either means absurdly OCD packing or leg twitching and anxiously staring into space.

However, I think that the real reason that I am not a holiday fan is because of Hunstanton 1995.

I think that this holiday was three weeks of the most exquisite purgatory. I think, anyway. Because as far as I can recall, the whole break lasted a thousand years. There's a chance I'm still there now. I want to stress that no names have been changed or occurrence exaggerated in the following.

August 1995 was one of the hottest and driest British summers then on record. I was 15 and my brother was 12. My parents, who I tend to call mum and dad, were 39 and 41 respectively. Yeah, I know. I've got young parents. Get used to it. As we arrived at the alarmingly named LOOK OUT holiday park in Old Hunstanton (its the bit of Norfolk which faces the east, aka The Olden Days), and I'll never forget this, my mother said "OOH, we've got the detached chalet. Well that's a bit of luck".

If it was in a cartoon, this chalet would have been up a mountain, with a jagged path, bats and a storm cloud perennially hanging over the roof. It was even more of a portal to Hades than Dana Barrett's fridge. For one thing, Dana Barrett's fridge worked. The benefits of our detachment - additional privacy and ability to make more noise - were immediately negated by the fact that the toilet window opened directly onto the main path for park dog walkers and that within hours we'd all stopped talking to each other.

There wasn't particularly much to say. Once we'd established that if you opened the windows the chalet filled with flies and wasps, that if you shut them you would boil and die, that there was an anthill in one of the bedrooms and that the microwave had just exploded, most conversation topics had been exhausted.

The reason the chalet filled with flies and wasps as soon as the windows were opened was because it was really very hot and the entire park's bins were piled up just out the back. On the first evening there was at least some respite from the insect menace, when some rogue farmers piled up all their old tractor tyres and set fire to them in a field, shrouding the entire area in a dense, choking fog.

In many ways, there were several portents of doom. The carpet was completely covered in dog hair. The bins. The flies. The eye contact with elderly strangers when you were having a shit. The fact the glasses were all so cheap and flimsy that within a week my brother had managed to break three of them by no greater expedient seemingly than using them to hold fluids. One of them, I swear to god, met its end when an ice cube went through the side of it.

The laws of physics having been temporarily suspended around us, my brother took advantage by hitting a golf ball's sweet spot so true on the pitch and putt course that the resulting anti-gravity missile nearly killed our father. Who was, by this point, covered in beef curry after a pub mishap.

Everything that could have gone wrong did. For three whole weeks. At least twice we attempted a trip to Norwich only to abort out of sheer boredom, frustration or our increasingly strong desire to disband and join other families. The wretched misery of the whole thing, exacerbated by the oppressive and relentlessly cheerful hot weather, drained our will to live every bit as much as the painting awaiting our return to the chalet each evening, which depicted a crying child. After two weeks I snapped, drew a smiling face on a bit of paper and blu-tacked it on, in a brief respite from killing wasps. It didn't help. It only reminded me of the bloke who walked his dog, seemingly in sync with the movement of my bowels.

Come the end of the trip, the wordless car journey home was enlivened by my dad ploughing off the road. Had he died? Had he given up and decided it would be best for humanity if we all went out with him? No, he needed a wee, and an emergency lay-by pit stop was the only way. What was interesting was that although we've all spoken of the incident since, no-one batted an eyelid at the moment it actually happened. As if we all knew the coup de grĂ¢ce was all that could save us.

The catharsis of telling my uncle and aunt about our woes that Christmas was so total, so explosive, that not one of us wasn't left weeping with laughter. It was the strongest indication to me yet that life in a sitcom isn't necessarily funny for the people involved. Terry and June were in fact enduring a desperate existential crisis which threatened to engulf their sense of self. Frank Spencer had probably become entwined in a Faustian pact.

There isn't even an overarching moral to this tale, that's the worst thing. None of us came away any wiser. Nor did the release of telling the story (which before we'd all agreed must never be uttered again) bring us closer together or help us to a greater realisation of the importance of family in our lives. None of us were made by it. None of us were broken, but it definitely didn't make anyone stronger for the experience, either. It was just a shit holiday. A really really shit holiday.

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