Sunday, 19 June 2011
Four red cars in a super good red line
IT was supposed to be a relaxing holiday, a week in which to unwind, to switch off, count to ten and reboot ourselves in the midst of a busy few months at work. But it felt strange; my mind could not switch off. It did not want to read nor watch the world go by. The plan to have a quiet week simply wouldn’t agree with me. Here I was, confined within a hotel, desperate to see what lay outside of its (admittedly very lovely) walls. We were a 30 minute walk from the UNESCO World Heritage city centre of Split, Croatia, and yet, rules being rules (albeit self-enforced), we weren’t out exploring. I wanted to see everything there was to see, to know all that there is to know about Split and Croatia generally; and yet, at the same time, I did not, for I could remember how exhausted we have been on all previous holidays because we’ve tried to do too much. It was peaceful and tranquil: I was distracted.
I hid behind my book, but I was watching the clientele.
A couple just ahead of me were having some drinks delivered. What a place I’m in, I thought, to have waiter service by the pool. The couple gestured at the waitress to shoo, her job done, her purpose fulfilled. How rude, I thought.
A lady turned over, the first time in an hour, to allow her back to tan. I wondered how red she would be that evening.
Five beer-bellied, overly tanned Englishmen were drinking beer at the opposite corner of the pool complex. As the beers kept coming, their volume increased. They would hail the waitress and keep her talking as they ogled her: a young, fit, Mediterranean twentysomething in the presence of five balding men in the midst of mid-life crises. I tried hard not to watch their pack behaviour, attempting once more to delve into my book. But a thought crept into my mind. Had I found a corner of Croatia that is forever Benidorm?
The lady next to me on the plane smiled. She seemed pleasant enough, but she was putting on a brave face. As we took off, she clutched the arm rests and began to pant. The wheels folded back into the hold and the ailerons manoeuvred to keep us on course, and with each clunk and creak she would mutter a discrete profanity, embarrassed that anybody might notice. I politely asked if she was alright, which was a stupid question, but she graciously humoured me. That is, until we hit turbulence.
It was now quite impossible for her to pretend that she was OK, and equally impossible for me to pretend that I hadn’t noticed. So we struck up conversation, punctuated with the occasional mild panic or cuss as the flight progressed to its next terrifying sound effect.
“Is that normal?” she would repeatedly ask.
She was bound for Frankfurt, where we would be changing flight, to the head offices of a renewable energy firm that she worked for. It sounded like a good deal, a company that provides, as standard, a three storey crèche for employee’s young children and school runs for older children. Its green credentials could be debated, however, given that they were flying her out for a two hour meeting when a teleconference would have sufficed. No doubt she would have preferred that, too.
She told me more about her job, her family (who live down the road from our flat) and why she was so terrified. She had once been a rep for Thomson holidays, based in some of the better hotels in the south of Spain.
“If you’d have heard the stories I heard on the job,” she remarked, “you’d be terrified of flying too.”
“We used to compete among us reps to not have to deal with certain kinds of tour groups. Nobody ever wanted to receive the flights from Heathrow or Manchester. And the Scottish flights... they’d come crawling off the plane pissed as anything – though the flights from Finland were far worse for that.”
She was glad to have moved on, even if it did mean the occasional business flight.
“I have to learn to deal with it. I can’t keep my family confined to the UK either – we went on holiday to Barcelona recently, and once we were there we had a really nice time. My son loved the open-topped bus tours. It was good to see something different – I’ve never understood those tourists... you know the kind... who go all that way with the sole intention of propping up the English pubs, run by the English for the English. Cheap beer and terrible sunburns. Benidorm? I couldn’t think of anything worse!”
Sat by the pool on day one of our holiday, watching the middle-aged men who should know better, I wondered if perhaps I had arrived at a kind of sophisticated Benidorm. What good, after all, is a two-pool, sauna and steam room complex with luxury spa, fine dining and poolside waiter service if you can’t escape the English?
Irritated by their behaviour, I retreated to our room and sat, overlooking the pool and the sea, on the balcony. From here the pool area resembled a battle ground, clientele keenly defending their territories with subtle rearrangements of sunloungers, carefully placed towels and parasols. A bikini-clad lady with a handkerchief on her head was shaking hands with a fully clothed, larger gentlemen on the adjacent sunlounger, two strangers bonding through some form of pact or clandestine negotiation. Behind, a sunbathing couple seemed to be sitting, facing, on top of one another on the same sunlounger. It seemed innocent enough – it had to be in such plain view – but the little hoppy bird that had come to join me flew off in disgust at such a sight. The larger gentlemen left the pool area to carry out his side of the pact.
The sun began to fall over the Adriatic and the last few ferries returned to port from their adventures to the islands so close to shore. The pool area slowly vacated, the day's dealings, interactions and unique stories came to an end. The ghost of Benidorm departed along with the beer-bellied Englishmen, and the beauty of Split returned for all to see. I had managed to read only a handful of pages of my book.
Such was day one of our attempt at relaxing and shutting ourselves off from the distractions of the world for a whole week. We gave in immediately: day two involved sightseeing, exploring and lots and lots of ice cream.