Do people really enjoy holidays?

Do people really enjoy holidays? I don’t think they do. I’ve reached this conclusion after being incarcerated in a large holiday hotel in Tunisia for three days. I was there to work, but most of the people were on holiday.

There must have been at least 500 people in the hotel. They were mostly Europeans: German, Italian, French, and a few monoglot Brits. They were all ages and mostly obese. It was an “all inclusive” set up, meaning that breakfast, lunch, and dinner were included; and for the highest paying guests alcohol too was included.

I encountered people mostly at the scrum of the meals. There was a vast array of food, some of it being cooked on the spot. Most was, to be charitable, unsubtle, and some of it was disgusting. The food might best be described as mock European, although a vast platter of couscous, big enough to swim in, appeared one night. The queue for the coffee machine was sometimes 10 long, and the restaurant resembled Waterloo Station during the rush hour, except that everybody was carrying plates rather than briefcases. You had to keep your wits about you to avoid sauerkraut on your swimming trunks.

The first clue to people not enjoying their holiday is the absence of smiles. People have faces very like those on Waterloo Station, but instead if rushing for the 5.37 to Caterham they are battling for the last of the Chinese style fish. I began to count smiles. I saw few. Instead, and not only in the restaurant, I saw people looking lost, unsure what to do with themselves, and bored. Elderly couples sit in silence. Parents try to persuade their children not to throw food. Young couples look like they wish they could go back to bed. On the beach people stare emptily out to sea, hoping perhaps that somebody will come and rescue them. People paddle unhappily as if crossing the Styx. Under the palm trees people smoke mournfully. In the evening drink provides some relief from the tedium as does the thought of the anaesthesia of sleep.

And people look so uncomfortable and awkward. Old men in droopy swimming trunks and brightly patterned shirts that emphasise their misery. Fat women in bikinis with oily sunburnt shoulders who seem, in a very unfeminine way, to have ceased caring what they look like. Usually smart men, possibly commuters through Waterloo, wearing socks and sandals and shorts with spots of Ketchup.

This doesn’t look like fun, and perhaps they’d be better off at the class on “Creating Comedy” that my brother teaches each summer on a Greek Island. “It’s therapy really,” he says. “I’m getting people to laugh who haven’t laughed in years. Most of the women have been through divorces, some of them ferocious. The men are just lost.”

My conclusion is “forget holidays.” Probably, and especially if in a dull job or unemployed, you need a break, but much better to go for therapy, learn a new skill, or do something that requires no thought. My favourite holiday is tramping a hundred miles in seven days, probably a third of it in the rain. It’s like being in a monastery in that it’s a “total institution.” You get up in the morning, eat a huge breakfast, put on your boots, walk all day, take your boots off, have a bath, drink five pints of beer and eat a meal, go to sleep, and do it all again until somebody tells you to stop.

But the truly blessed don’t need holidays at all because, as I heard John Cale say recently, work is more fun than fun. It has to be the right kind of work, but good work is life’s richest blessing, which is why people who have no need of money–think Rupert Murdoch, perhaps every billionaire–work until they drop and painters like Lucien Freud are still painting the day they die.

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