Chosen Holiday Reading this year – the Collected Essays of George Orwell – (Penguin Classics ISBN 978-0-14-118306-0) – not an attempt to be intellectual, just I enjoy Orwell’s essays, and this was the book that I grabbed in the last few minutes before leaving the house – in short, ploughing through the likes of « The Lion and the Unicorn », « Politics and the English Language » and « Notes on Nationalism » (the last one should be required reading in all schools – might get my soldiers to read it next year) – all this has inspired me to attempt an essay* on holidays.
*For « Essay » – in my style at least – read « rambling thoughts » or perhaps « reflections » – pertinent, personnel and highly unstructured. Here goes.
Holidays. The usefulness and purpose of.
Slave to the rhythm
The purpose of a Holiday can be summed up in that well-worn cliché – « the chance to get away from it all. »
Get away from what?
Presumably the stresses, strain and familiarity of the daily routine – work, the slave ethic. Slave to one’s job, slave to one’s family, and a slave to the rhythm of everyday life.
On Holiday though, we get away from nothing. We merely replace one routine with another and become slaves to our holiday rhythm.
On the basis that we have paid quite a lot of our hard-earned cash to be somewhere different for two weeks, as opposed to the place where we spend the other fifty weeks of the year, we expect to enjoy ourselves. We MUST enjoy ourselves, or the holiday won’t be worth the money. We must rush about visiting places, or indulging in traditional holiday pursuits. We become slaves to our holidays, or at least slaves to our expectations, and we move heaven and earth to fulfil them, often failing miserably in the process. The result is that we go back to work even more tired and disappointed than when we left to go on holiday. There is little doubt that you always need a holiday after your holiday.
Lethargy or The Very Frightening Prospect of Doing Nothing.
Holidays are primarily all about relaxation. We go on holiday to relax, and we must relax – very stressful. « Chilling out », succumbing to lethargy. Your work-a-day environment has conditioned your brain and body, and suddenly, they have to relax. You have to relax – that is why you are on holiday.
Lie in the sun, unwind and do nothing. When you have been doing something all year, the prospect of just doing nothing is actually very frightening, and so you impose on yourself a holiday rhythm, which is all about filling you day with nothing. BUT, I CAN’T JUST DO NOTHING. So you fill the nothing up with something that you never actually do at home. We read books we would never dream of reading at home. We read magazines that we would never buy at home. We play board games, and we just get bored. Filling nothing with something. You will be more worn out by the end of the day than if you had spent it doing something.
Lethargy can also be a source of guilt. The thought process goes as follows
I am sitting here doing nothing.
I have time on my hands. I should be doing something constructive
During the year I never have time for anything and now I have time and I am wasting it doing nothing
BUT I’M ON HOLIDAY. I AM SUPPOSED TO BE DOING NOTHING
And this is the point where we go and visit something. You join the herds of tourists trooping around monuments, museums or queuing up for culture for hours on end in the blazing sun (or even the pouring rain) outside some gallery or museum … more stress.
« Will I get in? But I am so bored and tired standing here. Is it really worth it? »
And you just want to leave the queue, nip across the road to that tempting-looking bar and quench your thirst with an ice-cold beer, but you can do that at home. You have come all this way to see a world famous monument, landmark, painting, statue or historical site. You may never be back here again. You certainly aren’t going to sit in the shade and have a beer. What will the folks at home say?
Once In a Lifetime
On holiday, we are very much in a « once in a lifetime » frame of mind (though I suppose this depends very much on your destination). This of course brings me to the notion of « The Holiday of a Lifetime. ». Paying rather a lot of money to jet across the world to see one of the Seven Wonders, or lie on some palm- fringed beach, on pristine white sand, staring out at the turquoise sea. Expensive or impossible destinations that are the stuff of dreams. But what is it really like when you actually get there?
I have never actually been anywhere exotic enough to be truly disappointed by the reality, so I will cite a few examples.
A South American gentleman who I once met at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. He had saved up many years to afford a trip to Europe, of which one of the highlights was a visit to Paris. For the two days that he had been in the city, it had rained. He found the place dirty, he didn’t like the French, finding them very rude, and, as for the Eiffel Tower … well it was closed because the staff were on strike. His once in a lifetime was never in his lifetime. « I won’t be back » he confessed.
I had friends who went for a fortnight to the French Caribbean. They arrived during a long period of social unrest. There was a general strike, rioting in the streets and tourists were confined to their hotels under police protection. No staff were working, no food was being cooked, no rooms were being cleaned, and because nothing was getting on or off the island due to the strike, food and drink in the hotel was rationed. Trouble in paradise.
We expect too much of our dreams. It is far better when they never come true. If dreams come true, what is there left to dream about?
A Change is as Good as a Rest
The whole holiday ethic is about change – doing something different for a fortnight as opposed to what we do for the other fifty weeks of the year. In our holiday « mindset » the change often has to be radical. Swapping our damp climate for somewhere more exotic, often as far removed from our daily lives as possible. We hope that with the change; will come a rest, however it is far more relaxing, and perhaps cheaper to stay closer to home, or even stay at home. The sheer fact of having a few days off is holiday enough in itself. Getting up late in the morning and especially getting up to do what you want to do rather than getting up for to go to work. A real and genuine change.
In recent years there has been an increase in the species known as « Staycationers » – those who spend their vacation at home. There is a lot of truth in the idea the place people know the least is the place where they live. Living and working in a city like Paris or London does not necessarily mean that you know the place. You may walk down Oxford Street or even the Champs Elysées to work everyday, but you certainly don’t know the place, or rather you know it only as a place of work. Taking time out to see your everyday surroundings from another angle is a constructive change.
Much of the time, your fatigue comes from familiarity, which as we know breeds contempt and when you begin to despise your surroundings, it is time to change, but you don’t have to travel halfway across the planet to do it. Mental change is as good, if not better than physical change. Breaking up your routine and everyday behavioural pattern is the first step on the road to true relaxation. If you go far away on holiday, but have not worked a bit on the spiritual side before, you are simply changing places, but taking all your problems with you.
We tend to forget this when taking a holiday. We work like slaves right up until the last few hours before departure. Then comes the stress of holiday preparation and the hassle of the journey. You arrive on holiday in a state of nervous exhaustion. Whether you are in Brighton or Bali, the relaxing holiday you expected won’t happen, however, we still seem to believe that because we are at least physically detached from our daily lot, we will instantaneously relax.
Journeys into the Known and the Unknown – Adventurers Vs Anthropologists.
There are those for whom a holiday must be an adventure – a journey into the unknown, an encounter with new cultures – a true Learning, and perhaps a life enriching experience. Then, there are those, like me, who pretty much enjoy coming back to the same place every year precisely because the holiday is not an adventure, just a moment to relax. The advantages of coming back to the same place every year are numerous. First and foremost there are no nasty surprises, you know exactly what to expect. Secondly it is reassuring. Out here in Corsica, I know where the local doctors are; I know where the hospital is. I know if I have a problem I am in France and things will happen just the same way as they do at home. I know too that the beaches will be clean. And of course, there are those holiday acquaintances – those people that I meet every year at the same time and whom I only ever meet on holiday – the regulars.
A few years back, I was chatting to a gentleman who had been going to the same campsite on the Atlantic coast for over thirty years. Every year, the last fortnight in August on the same emplacement. « I always go camping there because I like it » he said quite simply. I told him that if he liked the place so much, why didn’t he buy a holiday home there. The gent was quite shocked. For starters he was a camper and would never dream of renting a self catering flat or holiday cottage. Secondly as a camper, he was always free to go where he wanted, quite simply though, he never wanted to go anywhere else. « Besides » he smiled « camping is always a great adventure. »
All this of course will make « holiday adventurers » recoil in horror. It is just so boring to go to the same place every year. I must admit though, that I find the « adventurers » just a tad boring too. They fly off to the ends of the earth and… well, in the old days they would invite you round to see interminable slides of their last adventure – nowadays they set up a blog or a website so you can read about their exploits in real time – hang on, isn’t that what I am doing now? Well not really, I am just doing my usual blog, but from a different place.
I honestly think though that these « adventurer » types never take time to understand where they are going. Sure they read up on the web, they buy all the fashionable guidebooks, and when they go, they may even try to live like the locals, but they go one place and that is enough for the rest of their life. I think that in coming the same place every year, especially somewhere like Corsica with its complex history and its own unique identity, you really learn about how people tick, you get to know the locals, and when you understand more about their history, you begin to comprehend their attitudes, their behaviour, their reactions. I like to think deep down that the yearly holiday in Corsica has gone beyond the holiday; we are now in the realms of anthropology.