Friday, 18 May 2012

Holiday Fragments

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed an almost three week long hiatus. The reason for this was simple; I had holidays and had decided, as far as possible, to take a break from everything, including writing.

While it is possible to take a break and even recharge one’s personal batteries while staying at home, in common with most people I find this easier to do if I travel, go somewhere else. The tyranny of regular routine, post and telephone and things that – apparently – have to be done is strong, and the only way to really switch it off (at least in my case) is to just go somewhere else and leave it all behind. And so, for the last week of my time off work, together with my daughter and grandson, I spent a week on the Turkish Aegean coast – back to the same village we enjoyed so much last year.

It was a week I spent – by and large successfully – not thinking about things, living in and relishing the succession of pleasant moments. Switching off is not something that comes easily to me, though I know that it does me good and I would be better off if I could do it more often. Now that I am back in the normal routine of life, I find that my impressions and memories of the week solidify around fragments, particular thoughts, incidents and observations around which the rest of that week, so different from the norm, accretes.

I. Airplane behaviour; Cause and Effect
It takes nearly three hours to fly from Cologne to Izmir and we did it in the middle of the night, arriving into the balmy warmth of the Eastern Mediterranean early in the morning. As the plane came to a halt, I observed with my customary bemusement the behaviour of most of my fellow travellers. The moment the plane stopped moving, the majority of them immediately jumped out of their seats, rummaged in the overhead bins for their hand luggage and then spent five minutes standing in the aisles, impatiently waiting for the umbilical corridor to connect with the cabin door, for okays to be given from both sides so that that that door can finally be opened and the process of debarkation can begin. As always, I refused to let myself become infected by what I have always considered to be an unthinking, senseless herd instinct. With a feeling of bored, tired superiority I regarded their pointless, uncomfortable anticipation. Getting out of the plane as quickly as possible does nothing whatsoever to speed up the process of getting out of the airport; after all, we’re all going to spend at least ten minutes (if we’re lucky!), having gone through the immigration process, waiting for our bags and suitcases to be finally spit out of the entrails of the airport onto the baggage carousel.

And then, prompted perhaps those strange twists of consciousness caused by an acute lack of sleep, I had a strange idea, maybe even a mad insight. What if the course of events composing the debarkation process is in fact different to what I have always thought? Could it be that those five minutes of impatient jostling in the aisle of the aeroplane do in fact have a purpose? Maybe the standing and waiting is a necessary part of the procedure of debarkation. Without the signal given by the passengers that they are willing and eager to leave the plane perhaps the corridor would never dock with the plane, the doors remain forever closed.

The door of our plane finally opened and we were able to continue on our way to our holiday. Thanks to the passengers, whose standing up had given those responsible the signal that they could let us out of the plane?  Maybe I should be grateful to them.

II. You Can’t do That with a Kindle!
I might have consciously decided to voluntarily cut myself off from the internet for my week in Club Atlantis, but that didn’t mean I had joined the digital Luddites – far from it. Instead of packing my suitcase with kilos of books to make sure that I didn’t run out of stuff to read (the idea of being on holiday without something to read is something I don’t even want to imagine), this time I brought my Kindle. With Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy and the last three books of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series   I was confident that I had more than enough material to see me through the week.

It’s still relatively early in the year and we were blessed with a location directly on the Aegean coast (the beach around 200 metres from our chalet) with a wonderfully refreshing sea breeze, but the weather was warm and the odd mosquito was already buzzing around. They weren’t generally a problem, as our chalet was equipped with both mosquito netting on the windows and air conditioning. But despite all this, one evening, a couple of days after our arrival, a lone mosquito found its way into our rooms. Luckily, Lara and I heard the whine of his flight and spotted him before he managed to draw any blood.

Now I’m a fairly tolerant kind of guy, but that tolerance comes to a quick end when I’m threatened by these little bloodsuckers. If they would leave me alone, I’d leave them alone too, but my particular variety of blood seems to make me an irresistible target for the winged bastards. So I’m prepared to strike first, strike hard, and f*** the damage to my karma. I had only one problem. What was I going to kill it with?

Lara and I looked at the Kindle in my hand and the old-fashioned paperback in hers. She marked her page, handed me the book and, with one well-aimed swing, I mashed the little bugger onto the wall.

Lara grinned at me, “You can’t do that with a Kindle!”

III The Obsessions of Little Boys
One of the pleasures of this holiday – though occasionally accompanied by an inevitable soupcon of chaos and stress J – was the chance to spend a week with my five-year-old grandson. It was an opportunity to observe at close quarters a world I left so long ago, that of a little boy. As I don’t have sons, the distance is one of nearly fifty years.

For over a year now, one of the most important figures in Ryan’s life is a certain Lightning McQueen. The anthropomorphic automotive hero of the Disney Cars is a frequent topic of conversation and, apart from the films on DVD, he also has a large number of model cars, T-shirts, sandals, a jacket, pyjamas, a bath towel, and heaven knows what else, all sporting motives and images from the films.

Three little boys meet at the hotel swimming pool:

“Wow! He’s got models of Lightning and Mater.”


I’ve got Finn McMissile in my room. You push the boot and two machine guns pop up out of the bonnet. You want to see it?”


“Okay, I’ll bring it with me this evening when we come to dinner. Maybe we can play Cars there …”


Boys! When I think about it, in fifteen years time the only thing that will have changed is that the cars are real.

I’m holding forth on the subject of perfidious Disney, the corporation’s eagerness to exploit the images which fascinate children by marketing everything imaginable and thus pull millions and millions out of the pockets of all those who have anything to do with kids, pestered and nagged into buying all these products with which those kids are confronted at every turn.

As I’m really getting into my stride, a recollection surfaces from my magpie-like memory, a recollection nearly half a century old. I’m six years old, writing a letter to Santa Claus. My biggest wish for Christmas is a model of the amazing car driven by my favourite TV character – the Batmobile.

The marketing may have become more pervasive, the range of products expanded, but otherwise, how much has really changed?

At any rate, I have seen some signs that Lightning McQueen may be facing a new rival. His new swimming-togs, proudly worn every day at the pool, featured Smiling Stan Lee’s most famous creation … Spider-man.

* * *

All too soon the holidays are over and I’m back in my normal routine. Spidey has taken off his costume and returned to his real identity of Peter Parker. And although I won’t deny that there was a slight touch of resentment in my feelings as I returned to work yesterday, at the same time I know that continuous holidays would quickly pall. It is the fact that they are an exception, a time away from the normal, the routine which them so special, so precious. Peter Parker is the norm, Spider-man the exception. Though personally, I prefer taking a few weeks in the sun to spending my “exceptional” time as a superhero rescuing the world. That would be far too strenuous and, as Spider-man frequently finds out, you don’t even get much thanks for it as a rule.

Pictures retrieved from:


  1. I'll have to cross off fly-swatting from my list of 101 uses for a Kindle, including:

    reading files from Gutenberg

    portable music player


    web browser

    compendium of my own writings

    offline reading of things on the web, such as your own essays.

    I'm off to Amsterdam on Monday and if all the other passengers are like you and me, happy to sit and wait when the plane stops, I'll test your hypothesis. But it occurs to me that the pilots and cabin crew will definitely want to get off, and it would be impolite for them to leave first. So they would come round prodding us with sticks if we continued our sit-in.

  2. This is a fun, cool, interesting post. Thanks, Francis! Did you have time to read "The Hunger Games Trilogy"? My 52-year-old son did it in one week-end. Then, he saw the movie the next week-end. He was very moved by the whole experience. I'm looking forward to hear your own reaction.

    Allow me to offer you this little gem I discovered, years ago.
    FORGIVENESS (W.H.Davies)

    Stung by a spiteful wasp
    I let him go life free.
    That proved the difference in him and me.
    For, had I killed my foe,
    it had proved me at once
    the stronger wasp
    and no more difference.

    With a wink, and laughter.:-) Be well, friend.

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves. As a proud Luddite, I would have had a good sized book or two for reading and mosquito slapping.


Your comments are, of course, welcome. I've had to reinstall captchas recently as - like most other bloggers - I was being plagued by spambots.


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